In this day and age it has become commonplace for athletes to step forward with confessions of sins and transgressions. I am going to follow suit and admit to my use of PEDs over the past two years to improve my trail running. Yes, I am admitting that I have used Performance Enhancing Dogs to become a better runner. As with any athlete, I never saw myself using dogs to improve my running but it just happened and now I am addicted to running with my dogs.
The following is a first-hand account into of how I traveled down the path to using dogs to improve and some guidelines to help you safely run with your dogs.
To people who know me really well, it will not come as a shock that I grew up not liking dogs. I was not raised in a home that had dogs as pets and I was never around them. When I was ten years old I was bitten in the face by a neighbor’s dog. The dog lunged up and caught me below the eye and literally took an entire chunk out of my lip.
I ended up with fifteen stitches or so with the majority of the stitches on the inside of my lip. The next thirty years of my life I continued a non-relationship with all dogs, never petting one let alone owning one.
This all changed when one day my girlfriend, Angie (I am not from Notre Dame and she is very real and very alive) announced she wanted a dog. Angie had the polar opposite upbringing of me always having had a dog. She had recently lost her black lab Dixie, who was stolen out of her yard. I have a very vivid recollection of our conversation about dogs.
Angie: “I want a dog.”
Me: “No, you don’t need a dog they smell, shed, cost money and are generally a pain in the ass.”
Angie: “I want a dog and I am going to get a dog so get ready.”
Me: “Ok — whatever.”
I secretly hoped that this would pass and she would either quit looking or would not find one. No such luck as she informed me one afternoon that she had found a dog on Craigslist and was on her way over to my house for us to meet. Great I thought-she got a smelly dog. I was not happy about this, but I knew it was important to Angie to have a dog so I had to be a good boyfriend and try to tolerate this dog the best I could. Angie soon arrived and brought “The Dog.” I was sitting by my fire pit enjoying a nice cold beverage when “The Dog” came running up to greet me. I reminded myself to be “open-minded” as she approached.
The first thing “The Dog” did when she came over was she picked up an empty beverage bottle and gently handed it to me. I am not sure what she meant by this gesture but I was quickly endeared to her sweet nature. I soon learned “The Dogs” name was Molly and she was an eighteen month old yellow Labrador retriever. Molly was purchased as a present for a young boy who quickly lost interest. Molly had to exist on a ten by ten concrete slab outside, under a porch with little exercise or human interaction.
Over the course of the next few weeks Molly totally changed and reversed my forty years of thinking. She was so sweet and just wanted to please us. I had never understood people treating dogs like children and now I was one of them. I bought her toys, treats and would take her everywhere I could.
Angie adjusted Molly’s food and I began taking her on short trail runs. I had never run with a dog before and the first few runs were tough on both of us. Molly seemed to think she was in the Iditarod and thought I was the sled. She was so strong and powerful and would drag me for two or three miles before tiring out. We eventually got used to each other and I got to the point where I could let her off the leash. She would run just a little ahead of me and would come back to my side when we encountered others on the trail.
Molly eventually slimmed down and could easily do fifteen miles on the trail with no problem. She loved to run trails and got really excited when she would see me pull out my trail shoes. More importantly, Molly became a family member that just loved to be around people especially the kids. She loved me but if I started wrestling around with the kids she became protective of them and would nip at me. She was awesome.
One day in May we headed up to Raccoon for an hour run. It was warm that day but I did not think it was dangerously hot. About forty minutes into our run Molly started to slow and lag behind.
I kept encouraging her, but she really started to suffer. I knew we were about two miles from being back to the Jeep so I kept trying to get her to run back. Molly eventually laid down next to the trail and refused to move.
I started to get worried and picked her up to carry her. I carried her about half a mile until I got to the stream by the power lines. I laid her in the stream thinking she would rebound but she did not seem to recover. By this time I was totally panicked and called Angie to come get us. We rushed Molly to the vet but it was too late. Molly had suffered irreversible damage from heat stroke. We were both devastated and I had tremendous guilt knowing that I had caused her death. My main reason for writing this article is to let people know great running companions dogs can make but also to let people know how to safely run your dog.
Following Molly’s death I had a tremendous void in my life. I had come to really love that dog and now she was gone. I realized my life had been forever changed and I was going to always have a dog in my life. We were dog less for a couple of months. We eventually found an eight week old female dark chocolate Labrador retriever that we named Lucy. Lucy was great but unable to run due to her young age.
I had a jumped into the world of dogs and I soon found myself wanting a second dog a little older. I scoured Craigslist for months until I found one. His name was Beau and he was owned by a traveling salesman who did not have the time to devote to such a high energy animal. Beau was an eleven month old male milk chocolate lab with the sweetest disposition. I knew instantly upon meeting him he would be awesome. His owner did not want anything for this gorgeous canine, he just wanted to know that he was going to a loving home.
The one thing I did do was immediately was change his name to Linus. To me Beau sounded too much like no. The house immediately was chaotic but I wouldn’t change it. Having dogs filled a void in my life that I never knew existed. My floors constantly have muddy paw prints, my Jeep has dog hair and smells of wet dog, my windows have smudged nose prints and I spend a big chunk of dough on food/meds but I would not trade my dogs for anything.
The following are guidelines that I have researched that will help people safely run their dogs. Dogs will make the best running partners but you have to be careful and pay attention to them. Dogs will literally kill themselves to keep up with you or please you so you have to spot when they have had enough and back off. You need to read their body language and look for non-verbal cues od what they are trying to tell you. Once you accomplish that you and your performance enhancing dog can have a great relationship.
Guides to using PEDs safely
Man’s best friend can be awesome on the trail but you need to be careful in using your performance enhancing dogs. After Molly’s death I began to research about running with them and with these guidelines I hope to save someone from going through what I went through with Molly.
Perfect Running Breed
There is no perfect running breed. Some dogs like to run more than others. Labrador Retrievers, German shorthaired pointer, Weimaraners, Greyhounds, Border Collies and Vizslas are all breeds that like to run. Really big dogs and really small dogs cannot go as far. Pugs and bulldogs do not make great running dogs either as they have a tough time keeping cool. Common sense on your dog’s build will help determine if they can run well.
Ultimately the best way to determine your dog’s ability to run is consult your veterinarian. Tell them you want to run your dog and ask their advice on how far and fast they think your dog can go. Additionally you can research your dogs breed and help determine how good of a runner you can expect your dog to be.
Watch the heat
Imagine putting on a sauna suit covered by a fur parka and going out for a run. That is basically what your dog is doing when they go run with you. Dogs do sweat but only through their feet. The majority of their cooling comes from panting. Temperatures below fifty are ideal for your dog; above fifty you need to carefully monitor them. Be very aware if your dog starts to slow down, pants profusely, has a bright red tongue, has thick drooling saliva and demonstrates a lack of coordination. All these are signs your dog is getting too hot. If your run is more than thirty minutes you should provide water for your dog. My dogs will run ahead of me until they start to tire. Once I see them fall behind I know it’s time to be done.
Ease your dogs into running
You probably did not start out running ten milers, and your dog should not either. Dogs like humans have to condition their bodies to go further and further. After consulting your veterinarian on your dog’s ability to run start them off with shorter distances. Error on the side of caution and ease them into. Carefully monitor your dogs as they run to see signs of fatigue. If in doubt cut your run short. Dogs should be at least a full year to eighteen months before tackling anything beyond a couple of miles. Their hips are still developing and need to be full grown or damage may occur. Again listen to the advice of your vet.
Watch Fido’s Feet
Your dog’s feet are very tough but also prone to injury. The foot pads of a dog can become cut or become raw with too much running. This is yet another reason to ease into the running to allow your dog’s feet to acclimate to the use. Look for signs of your dog is limping or stopping to lick its paw. Dogs can’t tell you things but learn to look for non-verbal cues.
To Leash or not Leash
To start a dog off running I think it is a good idea to use a leash in the beginning. In fact most places require your dog to be on a leash or you could be ticketed. For sure if you are on a road or near traffic always use a leash. If you do decide to let them off the leash you need to consider how they will treat strangers. I have been lucky with my dogs in that upon meeting strangers they immediately return to my side. I usually grab their collar and step off the trail allowing others to pass.
If your dog is the least bit aggressive, jumps up on people or does not like other dogs it would be best to keep them on a leash. I would recommend a harness that goes around their front legs as opposed to a regular collar. This will eliminate pressure on their neck as they attempt to pull you.
The Best Training Partners Ever
Your dog will always be excited to hit the trail and will NEVER complain that the pace is too fast or too slow. He/she will motivate you to get out the door and provide companionship throughout your run. Your dog can offer at least a perception of protection and will love you unconditionally. I find myself almost mesmerized watching them out in front of me running-such grace and such athleticism. If you have never run with a dog in your training they WILL make you a better trail runner and remember a tired dog is a happy dog!!!
After failed career attempts as an underwear model and a MMA fighter Tom Sell eventually settled on a career as a middle school PE teacher and high school cross-country coach. Tom has a B.S. and M.Ed. from UTC. Tom is currently working on an Ed.S. degree from LMU and will graduate December 2013. Tom can be found a lot on Raccoon Mountain chasing his chocolate training partners Linus and Lucy. Questions or comments: [email protected]
Amber Nagle says
Great article. It’s a sad story, but people need to read it and think about it. So many of us love our pets and love to run with our dogs, and we need to know how to keep them safe. Thank you! –Amber
Michael Scott says
I miss Molly! Am glad you have found soul mates to run with. I have been there with Cooper too many times wearing chunks off his pads and pushing him. You just think dogs can do it all. I run Cooper off leash always. It takes years to train a dog, but in the end they follow leadership. You are the pack leader Tom.
Charlie H says
There’s definately a lot to find out about this topic. I like all the points you’ve made.