or should that be What Have I Learned – either way,
I have learned A LOT.
Let’s back up a bit, I started running with Bennie back in May.
He is our hyperactive, spastic, long-legged Jack Russell Terrier, who has a mind of his own and is easily distracted.
We got Bennie over four years ago from the local Humane Society and he came to us with many, many things he needed to unlearn. The biggest one is that if you let him off the leash or he escapes, he becomes the poster child for the poster – “live life, like they left the gate open” and will run off.
He also sucks when it comes to being on a leash. The few times before May, that I had tried to run with him it was crazy and just a little dangerous.
Who would have thought that our lovable little Bennie, would become a demon when you tried to run with him.
Needless to say running and training him to run with me has been an adventure, but we recently ran over 4.0 miles and had fun, so he is learning what is expected of him.
There have been two major benefits from starting to run with him:
- He is calmer – at least for him
- He is not nearly as clingy and doesn’t need to be right beside us all the time now.
Now all the things that I have done or write about here probably will not work the same for you, they are simply my experiences and observations after running with my dog.
1. Deciding to run with a leash or not.
This is a huge thing and something where you have to know your dog’s personality and ability to respond to voice commands, along with where you are running.
Check your local leash laws – in many, well most places, including trails and parks there are leash laws in effect – though sometimes, I have a hard time believing it. As much as these leash laws are ignored by some/many dog owners.
With Bennie there is no choice, he will always be on a leash when we are outside simply because:
a. where are you running with your dog? We run mostly on dirt roads down-back or local trails. In other words we share down back’s one-lane road with cars, horses, bicyclists, other runners, plus three neighbors have free-ranging chickens, a disc golf course (yes he would play fetch), lots of woods, where the deer, coyote, bear, skunk, racoon, fischer cat, bobcat, moose and other critters play, so there are lots of distractions (scents) for him.
When I have run on other trails with him – out of respect for the other people using it, I keep him on a leash.
b. does your dog follow voice commands closely, even when distracted? Bennie does not so I can’t trust him to respond appropriately or immediately to my commands.
c. does your dog become aggressive towards other dogs? Bennie does, no matter their size or breed, well except Pugs – he loves pugs and Boston Terriers.
d. does your dog chases cars – Bennie does, which is dangerous for him and distracting to drivers
e. does your dog scare or annoy other people? Bennie jumps up on and barks a lot – which scares or annoys people, especially children.
f. is your dog easily distracted? Bennie is easily distracted by the littlest thing and he lives in the moment.
These are things we have learned about him and one of the joys of having a rescue dog, who has what we consider bad habits ingrained in him by his experiences. We have worked on these things, but he hasn’t changed a lot in the 4+ years we have had him.
So due to Bennie’s personality and behaviors, he stays on a leash 100% of the time.
Which means my 155 pounds can make his 25 pounds do what I want, including picking him up like a rag doll. Being on a leash effectively controls him in most situations to either stop him from being overly distracted, stoopid or protect him from other dogs who may or may not be leashed, who he pisses off (which I have had to do).
2. Speaking of the leash, what kind of equipment do I use to run with Bennie.
I run in trail running shoes with a rock plate. When running with Bennie, I am more focused on what he is doing than where I am placing my feet and I have learned the hard way that stepping on rocks, sticks or other stuff in road shoes, is not fun. Even when running on the tar, when vehicles go by, we attempt to get off on the shoulder as far as we can, and having the extra grip and protection that trail shoes provide can make the difference between staying upright or going down.
I have found that a 6 ft leash works the best for us when running. We found that running with a 4 foot wasn’t long enough and a longer one, became a dangerous weapon that was used against me.
At first, I just ran holding the leash in my hands and this works okay for short run, but you cannot settle into a nice arm swing with one hand holding on to a running dog’s leash, It makes running uncomfortable and more difficult than it needed to be and my shoulders were taking a huge strain, every time Bennie wanted to suddenly stop and sniff or do his stop/drop or leg lift. I tried threading the leash through my leather belt, but that really, really bothered my lower back, so that experiment didn’t last too long.
It got so that, I just didn’t want to deal with holding onto the leash, so I had my old target quiver belt and did a little jury-rigging and created a nice dog running belt. This setup works great for and the best part is that I didn’t have to spend $30 or more for a system that wouldn’t have worked as good for me.
3. Expect the Unexpected.
Like most runners, I tend to zone out a bit and relax on my runs.
Not when running with Bennie.
That first month or so, was a big-time learning experience for us both, he had to learn that he couldn’t suddenly change directions, stop/drop or lift his leg without getting dragged a ways before I stopped, now he tries to slow down a little to give me some warning that he “HAS” to stop.
I learned the hard way that I need to pay attention – close attention to what he is doing.
Vehicles were and are still a big challenge, he wants to chase/bark/lunge at them (he does good walking – well for the most part, because we stop and do the sit & wait routine). While running we slow down and move over, but as much as he wants to, we don’t try to bite the tires as they go by. His latest thing with vehicles is that he slows way down, to let the vehicle catch up and when they are beside us, kicks in 4-paw drive and we do a wind sprint, until I decide it is time to slow down again (so we just call it doing strides), it is easier than trying to hold him back.
One of the drivers, who goes by a lot, had her window down and was urging him on “come on boy, come on” as she slowed down for about 100 yards and then sped away laughing, while he was digging extra hard to keep up, while attached to this big anchor. I was laughing and grimacing, because I had to go a LOT faster than I wanted to that day.
Even though Bennie has finally gotten the message (for the most part) that running takes priority over his hunting instincts – he still has his moments.
Especially, when some of the local deer population believe it is a good idea to cross the road in front of us. He was all for a cross-country run through the bog to follow them 😉 . No we didn’t go after them, but he sure did want to.
So wearing ear buds or listening to music and/or zoning out, while running with a spastic Jack Russell named Bennie ain’t happening.
4. The leash is a deadly weapon!!!
It isn’t nearly as bad as it was at first, but he goes from side-to-side/back and forth and accidentally wraps the leash around my legs if I am not paying attention.
I haven’t kissed the road yet, but I have come close several times, especially when we are running faster.
You learn to judge your dog’s body language, how to anticipate his actions and to pre-empt them with a quick tug on the leash or as a last resort either jump the leash or do a quick pirouette (which I am sure is funny to watch this uncoordinated old fart do).
Otherwise, I will quickly have a leash wrapped around my legs and end up doing a heavy make-out session with the road.
5. More aware of the weather
You HAVE TO THINK MORE ABOUT THE WEATHER, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT IS HOT.
Let’s face it while dogs can run a long way, they do not do as well in the heat as we do (they do not sweat, they pant). You must pay attention to how your dog is running in all types of weather, but especially when it is hot. Know your course and which ditches will have water running in them even when it is dry, to let the dog wade and drink.
If it is hot, go slower and/or not as long, learn to know when your dog is fatigued or overheating. Carry water with you for them.
6. You will not run a consistent pace.
While running with a dog, especially one who is easily distracted or has too many mannerisms to unlearn – like Bennie.
Your pace is going to be ALL over the place, one minute you will be going faster than hell, with the dog pulling hard and then he is suddenly stopping to sniff something in the middle of the road or leaving something there. Over the months we have run together, he understands better what is expected and doesn’t do sudden things as much as he used to, but at the same time we still haven’t had a quarter-mile at the same pace, we are still working on 50 yards.
7. Your dog has a BIG HEART
Most of our dogs do have huge hearts and will push themselves further than they should to please us.
I know that Bennie will try to please me by keeping going even after he is tired of running and wants nothing more than to find a bush to pee on and sniff some good scents.
It is up to me to keep Bennie safe and I have to be very aware of how far we have gone, what the weather conditions are and how he is responding to it.
Bennie is a lead dog type and when he starts to need to be pulled to catchup, it is time to stop running and finish up walking.
8. Always give your dog time for a cool-down.
Whenever I run with Bennie, I give him at least a half mile walk to cool-down, preferably a mile. It gives him time to get his sniff’s in and do his duties, while getting his tongue off the ground.
9. You will get one hell of a workout
You might not run as far as you would by yourself, run at a consistent pace or be able to relax while you are running with your dog, but you will get a hell of a workout.
I have run more consistently since I started running with Bennie than I have for a long time. When you see this face on the other side of a computer saying “is it time to run yet?”
There is a sense of obligation to your running partner to get out and run with him.
Also with that big padded belt around my waist, I get a great lower back/ab workout. When Bennie goes into 4-paw drive, I have to tense my body to slow him down and there is a lot holding the leash to direct or hold him back (especially when sharing the road or trails with others: cars, horses, bikes or other dogs are around), so there is a lot of arm strength training going on during our runs.
Finally, there is some agility training going on too. You have to be able to either jump the leash or do a quick pirouette, avoid the rocks in the road or other obstacles that just suddenly appear when we are running together.
The reality is that
No, running with Bennie is not always easy or even fun.
Yes, it can be frustrating as hell.
Especially, when he gets distracted or we are bothered by other dogs who’s owners do not respect others enough to leash their dogs.
Even with all the negatives that there are about running with my dog.
I LOVE running with Bennie.
He has been an important part of my running rehab this summer.
While some people have called my Bennie runs, as “cheap runs” that artificially inflate my mileage totals. I would challenge anyone who believes that to run with us and then say that they are not great training runs, that add variety and quality to my running.
Here is to Bennie, my new training partner.
What is your experience running with a dog?