I am a dog person, and like any dog person, I know that my dog needs to expend energy. I am also a Border Collie mom. If you know anything about Border Collies, you know they have lots of energy. I got my first BC, Tucker, 12 years ago. Unfortunately, I had to my Tuck down a year ago. In his life, however, he spent a month backpacking the Appalachian Trail with me. He loved it. When I was looking to get a dog, I knew I wanted an active dog. Tuck was definitely that, yet he had his quirks. He tended to want to herd things on wheels. This translated in lunging at cars, bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards, scooters, etc. I tried everything to get him to stop, but it was unmanageable. My favorite walking/running spot is Bayshore Boulevard. Tuck managed to tear a biker’s t-shirt and almost sent a rollerblader flailing into the street. As a responsible dog owner, I knew I needed to keep him in check, so I avoided areas where he could become aggressive. He loved the woods. I trained him to carry his own backpack, drink from a camelback, and sleep in the tent. I did keep him on a leash, as he would want to chase forrest animals. We had a nightly ritual of picking off ticks, those uber disgusting blood-sucking parasites (oh, I hate ticks). If I took Tuck running, he had a bad habit of plopping down in the middle of the sidewalk whenever he felt like it. He did love a good frisbee throwing session and the beach. Ultimately, he just loved being outside with me. My new Border Collie, Charlotte (Charlie for short), is learning to enjoy these things too. She doesn’t have Tucks wheel chasing trait, but she’s shy. I’ve taken her on a quick, overnight backpacking trip, and she loved it. I am taking her to the AT this summer, and I am training her to go on the Stand-Up-Paddleboard with me. She will go on shorter runs with me and enjoys longer walks.
That being said, there are some things I have learned about fitness with dogs.
- I need to know the strengths and weaknesses of my dog. With Tuck, I couldn’t take him on runs or anywhere where he’d experience wheels. With Charlie, I have to be leary of men (she’s still a bit afraid of them). I also would not take my dog on a 20-mile run without training AND consulting a vet. Personally, I wouldn’t take her on a 20-mile run regardless; these runs are often my personal meditation. Worrying about another being might take away from that meditation.
- Any dog can participate, but maybe not in all activities. When I took Tuck on the AT, I saw a couple hiking with their two Yorkies. I laughed hysterically at this. But then I thought about it. If my 50-pound Border Collie putzed out on the trail, we were done. If the 5-lb Yorkie putzed out, their owners could pick them up and carry them. The Yorkies eat less than my Border Collie, thus less food to haul. And the Yorkies loved it. Ultimately, you know your dog. Try things with them. If they like it, great. If not, try something else. Some dogs are much more active than others. Dogs who get more exercise don’t often chew your shoes or tear up your house.
- I must take all precautions to keep my dog safe. Outdoor activities mean bugs. Bugs mean disease, especially for dogs. Mosquitoes carry heartworm, ticks carry Lyme disease, and fleas are incredibly irritating. Speak with your veternarian about proper protection from these and which vaccinations your dog may require. Additionally, some dogs may benefit from foot care items, reflective materials, and specific grooming products. Microchipping is also a beneficial investment. Some dogs may also need more food if they participate in strenuous exercise. Again, consult your vet about this.
- Dogs should be well-trained. Sometimes a dog escapes his or her leash, and sometimes they meet other people and wildlife. They should know sit, stay, and come with strict adherence. Like humans, they should also train for longer endurance activities. It’s not a good idea to take a dog on a 20-mile hike when they’ve never walked more than a mile. Build up to it.
- You can burn energy getting your dog involved in agility, flyball, herding or other dog sports. There are lots of local groups that will help train your pal in these areas.
Ultimately, fitness with your pooch can be a great way to bond and a great way to get out their pent up energy. My dog is definitely not an attack dog, but she does serve as a deterrant. I know that our relationship is better because I include her in the things I love to do. I have a friend who called his diet “the Get a German Shepherd and Lose 30 Pounds Diet.” While I’d love for everyone to experience the joy of fitness with your dog, I don’t condone getting a dog you don’t have the time or money to care for. If you do, go for it. Go get a German Shepherd or a Border Collie (do your research first) or a dozen. Better yet, rescue the entire shelter.