Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trail Running with Your Dog - Part II

You may remember that Rio and I decided to sign up for Trail Running with Your Dog. So, last Sunday was the first meeting that Rio and I attended. Looks like the workshop will be held once a month during Austin's "cool weather" months. We arrived at the Hill Country Running Company on South Lamar and were led through the store to an outdoor area in the back. Sheri Elkins, Lead Trainer of the Lee Mannix Center for Canine Behavior led our class. There were around 7 or 8 other dogs there of all shapes and sizes. Shari explained that we'd be doing our trail work over on Town Lake trail about one half block from the store.

Before starting an exercise program like this with your dog, a visit to your veterinarian is a good idea. Discuss with him/her your plans and make sure your dog is up to starting an exercise program. Decide with your vet, the duration of time your first exercise session will be and how many times per week he/she recommends for the exercise sessions. After you and your dog become comfortable with your starting point, Sheri recommends increasing the length of time you exercise by 10% each week.

Sheri first explained the equipment we would need for trail running. She prefers using a Martingale collar, a 4-6 foot leash and your dogs favorite treats. She also explained that feeding your dog a big meal prior to running was not advisable. Also, not a good idea is allowing your dog to drink a great deal prior to your run. (Imagine how you might feel running immediately after finishing Thanksgiving Dinner or after drinking a Route 44 cherry limeade from Sonic). Shari also told us, that dogs that are running regularly and doing long distances may need to have their diets changed or increased based on their metabolism and the increased calories they are burning during exercise. She recommended a product called Zuke's Power Bones for dogs doing long distance. These treats can be given periodically throughout the course of a long run. They are organic "power bars" made by a company called Zukes based in Durango, CO. Corn and wheat free, they are made up of simple and complex carbs easily broken down by doggy athletes. They are also excellent for dogs doing any type of high endurance exercise such as agility, hunting, hiking, swimming, etc. You can read more about them at .

She also stressed the need for proper hydration for your dog as well as yourself. If you run on a warmer day, she recommended allowing your dog a dip in the pool or lake prior to a run, so that his body is cool when you start . Additionally, allow him to stop along the way for another dip to remain cool. She talked about how to tell if your dog is getting overheated by checking the shape of their tongue when they are panting. Dogs who are getting overheated will have tongues that widen at the end as opposed to tongues that are the same width from top to bottom. Finally, as one might expect, poop bags are in order as the dogs body functions become stimulated during exercise. She recommended a short walk prior to beginning the run to encourage the dog to void prior to the run.

With that information we started on our way. We went to a place on the trail that wasn't as heavily used as the main trail and did a few exercises. These included how to loose leash run with your dog. Should your dog want to stop to sniff or investigate during a run, Sheri recommended gently pulling on the leash downwards and forwards at the same time so as to minimize pressure on the dog's neck. She also recommended utilizing a key phrase such as "Let's go", "Come on", or "Leave it" so that the dog recognizes this phrase to mean "run now, sniff later". Should your dog begin to pull on the leash, Sheri recommended immediately reversing direction. This shows the dog that you are in charge and that the dog is going where you want to go instead of vice versa.

Finally, we were running. Just a short distance up the trail and back so the dogs and owners could familiarize themselves with a pace that would be comfortable for them both. Sheri coached us to run with our dogs on our right sides. This is so the dog is always on the outside of the trail, thereby placing the human runner in between other dogs or people coming the opposite direction on the trail. This was a challenge at first for Rio and me, because I usually walk her on my left side as I walk against traffic in my neighborhood and this keeps Rio on the outside of the road. After a few tries, Rio quickly picked up running on my other side and seemed to really be enjoying the exercise.

It was a warm humid day though, and soon I looked around and realized what Sheri meant about the width of a dog's tongue changing when a dog became overheated. The tongues of several of the larger, more heavy dogs definitely had become wider near the end of the tongue then they were near the base. I had never noticed that before. As,we gave the dogs a water break, Sheri explained to us how to pass others on the trail. It was a little awkward and something that Rio and I will have to work on. Basically, you encourage the dog to pass behind you to move to your other side, in order to keep yourself between your dog and the person you are passing on the trail. You encourage the dog with a treat, by first showing the dog the treat and allowing the dog to sniff it. You do not release the treat to the dog until he passes onto your other side, encouraged by and following the hand holding the treat. Easier said the done. Once again, you employ a key phrase, such as "Pass" or "Other side" so the dog recognizes this as the time to move to your other side. Rio and I will definitely have to practice this trick.

Finally, nearing the end of class time, we gathered in the grass under a tree. This is my favorite part of a run-the cool down phase. Sheri shared with us tips on canine massage. She demonstrated a few different areas to massage on your dog post run and had us practice with our dogs. She also recommended a wonderful book, Getting in T-Touch with Your Dog: an Easy Gentle Way to Better Health and Behavior by Linda Tellington-Jones. Check it out on Amazon

As the class broke up, Sheri reminded us that the class would meet again next month and she also handed us a flier on an upcoming multi-distance running/walking event that benefits the Schrodi Memorial Training Fund on December 5th. For more info, check it out:

Hmmm, maybe Rio and I will sign up. At the end of the day, the class was well worth the $20 spent. The joy of interacting with my dog on a gorgeous November Sunday in one of the coolest cities in the country.....priceless.

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