I’ve always wanted to have a running dog. By that I don’t just mean a dog that can run because obviously most dogs can race around the yard or park. What I wanted was one who would be my running dog, a partner on my early jogs.
For twenty-six years we had Golden Retrievers. Now I know many golden owners would disagree with me but my experience with our two was that they really didn’t like running a lot. Our first golden beauty was Sandy, a family pup we got when our kids were eight and ten. She was their constant companion and I was the caretaker, feeder, cleaner, walker. Unfortunately Sandy had hip issues from the age of six and just couldn’t motor a whole lot. Sadly Sandy passed over the rainbow bridge at thirteen. Then along came Dusty, the sweetest, gentlest soul you could ever imagine. Dusty was really my baby, the kids had grown and moved out, so she became my sidekick on many long, long walks. Dusty was definitely not built for speed. She was a large girl and could walk up to ten miles a day in her prime but she loathed running, so much so that when she saw me put on my running shoes in the early morning she would go back to bed and pretend to be asleep. Dusty too passed at age thirteen.
Then the following year little Joni Mitchell came into our lives. We waited until after my foot surgery that January to allow me to heal and be ready for a young puppy’s energy. During the two months I spent with my foot up I researched all kinds of breeds to find the perfect match for us. We’re quite active, love camping, canoeing, walking and running. We were also so tired of the blonde hair on everything we wore and on every surface in the house, we knew this time we wanted a non-shedding breed. After a lot of research, phone calls, talks to people who had various breeds, I decided that a Portuguese Water Dog would be a good match for us. I found a great breeder, Big Bay Portuguese Water Dogs, just north of Toronto and put our name on the wait list. When we met the litter of eleven puppies the first time at five weeks we fell in love with all of them but were able to narrow it down to our four favourite little girls. At seven weeks we went back and one little darling just ran right over to claim us. Joni Mitchell became our little sweetheart and we brought her home.
That summer my foot was well enough to allow me to walk but not run yet and that was fine because most of the research said not to run a young dog for twelve to eighteen months to allow their bones to fully develop. Joni was also full of beans and at first didn’t walk at all well on her leash so it would have been dangerous for me to run with her too. We worked on leash control, manners and lots of other good dog skills. Finally the following year she was ready to be the running dog I always wanted!
My foot surgery has slowed down my running speed a lot and I am now what I could call a jogger. That’s ok because I still get out and move reasonably fast. Joni can run like the wind if she wants to but I’ve discovered that she is quite happy jogging at my speed, staying right by my side. She is a highly active dog and I’m not sure she would ever need a break but she graciously slows down when I need a minute to recoup. When it’s dark in the morning I put a light up colour on her because she’s black and if she did get off leash she would be hard to spot. One time, early on in her training, a dog’s bark startled her and she jumped and pulled me over so that I lost the leash. Fortunately she has excellent recall so she came right back and other than my skinned knee all was well. Over the last year Joni has become an excellent jogging companion. She’s always ready for a run in the morning so that on days when I’m feeling a little tired she’s my new motivation.
We live in the city close to the lake and I always use her leash whether walking or running. I’m not fond of the retractable leashes because they are trip hazards for other runners and walkers if the dog stray too far from you. A lot of runners like the kind of leash that wraps around the human’s waist so that their arms are free. Again I find that this type of leash makes it easier for the dog to stray in front of my feet and it’s an accident waiting to happen. I like a fairly short leash held in my hand in a loose manner but ready to be tightened if my dog is distracted by something on the route.
I used to run with an ipod but now I leave them at home so that I can be very tuned in to what is happening around me. My dog is super aware of her surroundings all of the time and I sometimes need to respond and let her know that everything is fine. If an off-leash dog sometimes runs up to her I can take control, ask the other owner to call their dog and quietly say “Leave it” to Joni and she’ll keep running with me rather than be distracted by the dog. If I’m tuned out in my own music I can’t be as on top of any such distractions.
Joni is a natural runner. I found it interesting that she regularly stretches before we go out. She is the master of both downward dog and upward dog. I also didn’t realize was that dogs can get a runner’s high. When she comes home she will charge around the house a few times and grab a toy for a victory lap! She is definitely my perfect dog match.
It’s important to find a breed of dog that loves running. Working dog breeds, like Huskies, Dalmations, Border Collies, usually make great running companions. Because we’d had Golden Retrievers in the past we wanted a water dog but also a non-shedding breed. I researched a lot of breeds and found the Portuguese Water Dogs were highly recommended. The American Kennel Club calls Porties affectionate, adventurous, and energetic. Bryan Barrera, a professional dog runner from Washington, D.C. says “They are working dogs and basically treat the run as a job by putting their heads down and hammering out miles”. *
A few tips for your running dog:
- Wait to run until the puppy is 12-18 months
- Choose a breed that has the right build and energy level to become a running companion
- Train your dog well with good leash manners and recall
- If running in the city use a non-retractable leash
- Try to find your dog a soft running surface like grass so that’s easy on their joints.
- Use a light up collar if running in the dark
- Be sure there is water available on your route on warm days
- Make it fun for you and your dog
*Dalek, Brian, July 2016, The Best Types of Dogs for Runners, Runners World