Why I like to Run with my Dogs
By Patrick Shannahan

August 27. 2012

As the National Finals get closer, I am always worrying about having my dogs in shape. A double lift final requires a dog that has both mental and physical stamina. Taking a dog that is in poor condition will only make you regret your lack of preparation.

A few years ago, I tried to get my Open dogs in shape by working them. This required repeated training and drilling for long periods of time. Boring for me, but extremely boring for a dog that is fully trained. A few dogs might be okay with it, but many either lose enthusiasm, or possibly get on their own agenda to stop the boredom.

So, a few years ago, I bought a treadmill. Not necessarily for me, but for the dogs. A friend suggested it could really enhance their stamina. I tried the dogs on it, and one liked it, but most were not comfortable on it. So, instead I started running on it. Not huge distances at first, but mostly to get myself back in shape.

I finally realized that I could both get the dogs and myself in shape with running with the dogs at my side outside. So, one morning I set out for a run. Both the dogs and I loved it. I live on a relatively quiet road, and took the dogs on leash. Besides the benefits of getting both of us in shape, I was surprised to find other important benefits.

The most important aspect I found is that it gives me extra "alone" time with my important dogs. Since I have about 10 dogs that I train and own, I struggle to give each dog the quality time that I think is important to them. When dogs are fully trained, they don't get all the time the young dogs get while I train. The older dogs get training time, but don't need to be drilled and worked in the same manner as the inexperienced youth.

While I run, I can feel the appreciation of my dogs of our time together. They enjoy running, but most importantly, enjoy being important enough that they get to do something special with me. It enhances the bond that I have gotten through training and life. I appreciate the time that we can spend together as well, as it a time that we can usually spend without our roles as handler/sheepdog.

Another important advantage is that it also gets the dogs feet prepared for a lot of different surfaces. I live in the desert, but I usually work my sheep on irrigated pasture. Lush, green grass is not the best way to build tough pads for some of the different trial terrains. Running on sandy soil, or pavement helps build their pads for most any type of tough topography.

The final benefit is that it gets me out with nature, a place that I love to be. Even if it is running on a paved road, I love seeing the changes that are occurring in nature. The dogs and I enjoy the cool mornings, and at the same time, still enjoy nature when the temperatures rise and it is warm.

Now, I know quite a few people use a four-wheeler to exercise their dogs. Although this is better than nothing, it falls short of running with the dogs. First, running long periods at a slow lope or trot, builds the right type of stamina to run big courses. Running fast for short periods of time (like some do with four wheelers) actually can make them prone to more injuries. Second, it is hard to connect with your dog while you are racing on a four-wheeler.

While I am running, I usually keep the dogs on a leash. The leash is mostly for safety, but also to keep connected with them. It is surprising to see how many times they look at me, as we are jogging down the road. At the same time, I keep them leashed for the sake of safety. Most of the time they would stay right with me off leash, but I am not willing to risk putting them in danger with even a quiet road.

Now I don't usually run with my dogs at a trial, unless they are now working for a few days. Depending on the dog, I don't usually want to make any dog tired for a trial. But on occasion, I have used it to get my dogs ready for the changes in climate and altitude. When I went to the finals in Virginia, I ran with Riggs a few times to get him acclimated to the humidity and heat.

If you can't run, but can walk, the benefits are still huge. It still will get your dog in much better shape, and the added benefit of helping you get in shape. Training all the dogs, including the young dogs and the older dogs, is always better if you feel you have the energy and stamina from being in condition. I see way to many handlers struggle with dogs because that person is not fit and cannot get properly to a dog.

If you haven't tried a routine of either walking or running with your dogs, try it for a few weeks. I think you will be surprised at not only your physical health improving, but your mental health as well. You will find yourself more confident and assured next time you have to give your dog
a physical challenge, because you know your dog in
good condition.

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