Dog Days on TrailsFind your ultimate running companion
Think humans were born to run? Try dogs. Working dogs run circles around their sheep, easily negotiating terrain that could put a kink in any human runner’s stride. Indeed, their relative the wolf covers ultramarathon distances in a day when stalking prey.
With sleek, spring-loaded legs that store and release elastic energy, dogs make perfect distance-running companions, particularly for those of us who wend the solitary ways of the wilderness.
Dogs keep us company without requiring constant banter. They spur us on as they wait— wagging and panting—at the top of a climb, and elicit a smile (or sometimes an expletive) when they careen down the trail dragging an oar-sized stick.
Robbins of Vancouver, British Columbia, started training with his dog, Roxy, five years ago. Currently, Roxy logs around 60 miles a week with Robbins. “Many a monsoonal day,” he says, “I’ve said to myself, ‘I never would have left the house if not for this silly animal!’”
Training Your Dog
It is crucial to exercise restraint at first. Intense training early in a dog’s life can permanently damage growing joints. Dr. Erica McKenzie, a seven-time ironman triathlete and associate professor of veterinary medicine at Oregon State University, explains, “It’s important to wait until your dog has developed appropriately. For small breeds, this could be nine to 12 months, while for larger breeds, you may have to wait until they are 18 months to two years old.”
Even as adults, dogs need to work up to long runs. McKenzie suggests starting slowly with a few two-to-four- mile runs per week at an easy pace, then building up distance and speed over several months.
Robbins emphasizes the importance of cultivating good trail etiquette: Keep your dog under voice control or use a leash to prevent it from harassing other recreationists and wildlife. He also recommends training your dog to stop off to the side of the trail by giving it a gentle bump when it brakes in the middle of a singletrack.
It should go without saying, but always pick up after your dog—and don’t leave poop bags next to the trail, even with intentions to collect them on your return trip.