I‘ve been lucky enough to run with two very different dogs over the last few years. Both have taught me a lot; each different lessons about being with dogs on a trail. Bailey, my Border Collie, is smart as whip and in her prime would out run me in speed and distance every time. Luke, my girlfriend’s 2 year old lab, is a bull in a china shop and not a natural on the trails. Here’s a lot of what I learned.
- When they’re younger and their pads haven’t hardened expect that they will tear. It’s normal and has happened to both our dogs when they were each less than a year. I’ve seen a vet but there’s not much they can do. Keep the area clean and try to keep them from licking it obsessively. It’ll heal and ultimately their pads will harden. Thorns are a whole other story. Those will always be a pain in the pad.
- Dogs have preferences too. Bailey hates hills and water but loves technical challenges. Luke loves hills but is not a speed demon on the flats. He also loves water. It’s important to note because your run is affected by their preferences. For example, if I take Bailey on a hilly run she’ll just lag and I have to circle back or wait on her; really not fun for either of us.
- On leash or off leash. Usually we obey the rules. On true dirt trails we evaluate. Where the trails are usually empty we’ll let both off leash. Where we might encounter people, we leash them until we can get a sense of what others are doing with their dogs and take the pulse of the runners and hikers. Knowing how to play it also depends on the dog. Bailey is always fine off leash. She stays out of other people business and responds to commands nearly perfectly. Luke loves people, jumping on them and listens so so for the first 3 miles. After 3 miles he settles in and follows me better than Bailey.
- Safety. When they are off leash they must stay behind me. They never lead. The comnand we use is “Behind”. They both understand it and there are no exceptions. Luke does have a tendency to break left or right and disappear in the woods. Knowing how he operates I allow this. He circles and comes back with a whistle and command of, “Here”. Are his romps through the woods safe… Nope. On some level I’ve reconcilled the potential danger against he’s freedom and enjoyment.
- Water and Food. We now bring both and Luke has his own pack. A couple of close calls on water made the investment in the pack easy.
- Experience. The more they’re on the trail the better they get at it.. Being off leash and lagging behind after displacing too much energy has taught Luke to be more reserved at the start. They also don’t don’t go tearing away if they get off leash. Been there, done that, no reason to act crazy.
We try to keep them relatively safe while being mostly respectful of others. It’s a joy having them out there. That much I know for sure.