Man's best running partner
Exercising with a dog can be motivating. Best of all, there's no talking
REBECCA ECKLER | August 27, 2007 |
As soon as the park comes into sight, there are "a lot of excited cries and bouncing off the windows inside the car. The usual stuff when they know they're going for a run," says Calgary lawyer Tom Mix. Usual? Who, you may ask, gets this excited about exercising? Mix's "best friends": Chet, a 77-lb. German short-haired pointer, and Oliver, a 60-lb. Irish setter.
Mix is among a growing number of pet owners who do a lot more than the basic twice-daily walk-around-the-block with their four-legged friends. In fact, man's best friend has become man's best exercise motivator. "We run 20 miles," says Mix, "about once a week, usually on Saturdays." Other days, he'll take the dogs to Nose Hill Park in Calgary, where they can run off-leash with him for at least 10 or 11 km. Without a doubt, he says, he's in better shape because of his dogs.
Mary Moran, 46, a Calgary travel marketing consultant, got back into running after she got Lucy just over a year ago. Lucy is the 75-lb. Rhodesian ridgeback Moran takes running for at least 40 minutes a day. "Some days, she'll get both a run and then a 40-minute bike ride," even though, Moran explains, it's twice as much work running with Lucy as running by herself. "We usually do the same route. It's totally downhill on the way there. So Lucy is usually running at warp speed and dragging me all the way. Then, at the turning point, she'll decide that's enough for her. So I'll be dragging her uphill on the way back." Moran uses a leash around her waist. "But when we go mountain biking, we let her off-leash."
Mix admits running with his dogs can also slow him down -- for another reason. "There is a certain amount of, ahem, 'maintenance' that comes with them being outside, and if you're running for more than a couple of hours, this can happen more than you think," he says.
Barbara Russell, a co-owner of Buddy System, which makes a hands-free leash specifically for running with dogs, knows people who run 50 km with their dog. She emphasizes the importance of pet owners training their animals and cleaning up after them. "No one likes to work out in a place that is filled with dog waste or constantly be assaulted by unruly pets." It can be scary for pedestrians out on a leisurely walk to witness a dog coming at them full speed. "I do sometimes get totally freaked out, especially if we're going bike riding, and she'll run in front of my bike," says Moran. "And some people do freak out. The other day Lucy was running as fast as she could past these two little kids and she cut in front of them and the father yelled, 'Get your dog out of the way!' But Lucy is so focused on just running and getting the energy out of her system."
Russell says exercising with pets is a result of people being time-crunched. "Finding activities that allow pet owners to not only achieve their personal physical activity goals, but also that of their pets, is important. Kind of an 'exercise multi-tasking.' "
Suitable exercise regimes vary, Russell says, "and can range from daily walks to 20-mile runs and hikes." Size, age, physical condition and capabilities of the dog need to be taken into consideration, as well as the intensity of the exercise. She suggests owners talk to vets for advice. "Not all dogs are suited identically for certain activities. This is especially important with puppies. If pups are exposed to certain intense conditions at too young an age, they can develop lifelong physical problems. For example, when our chocolate Lab was a pup our vet recommended we not take her on runs more than three miles until she was at least six months old. He cautioned us that this type of intense activity at such an important time in her early growth could result in injuries to her hips and/or knees."
Kim O'Mahony, who co-founded the Calgary dog-walking business Dawg Tired, takes 10 dogs out for two-hour daily runs and hikes. She warns that dogs, like humans, need to keep hydrated.(Most of her dogs have learned to drink out of a water bottle.)Also, their paws can get calluses if they're running on hot tarmac, so they need to keep them cool. She'll often put sunscreen on their noses and apply mosquito repellent. She, too, says she now does way more exercise than she has ever done: "What's good for the dog ends up being good for us."
And the best part of exercising with your pet? "I don't have to talk to Lucy," says Moran. "I don't get as winded. When you run with a running partner, you have to talk."