Run Detroit (With Your Dog)
Written by Justin Craig
I’m often asked by new runners & walkers about ways to stay motivated and on track to reach a goal. My advice is typically centered around having an accountability partner. For many, that means a friend or coworker but for some of us that means our trusted dog.
As long distance runners Alia & I took our lifestyle into account when we adopted ACE!, a German Shepard mix 9 years ago. While his running days are winding down, he still motivates us to get out there daily no matter the weather for a long walk. And, if he can steer us towards the river, a nice swim.
Early on I began training ACE! to be a good running partner. For ACE! & I, running together is like dancing, it works a lot better when we both know the steps. From the beginning, ACE! has always walked on our right side and gentle corrections were given if he tried to cross in front of us. This laid the foundation for a safer run for both of us. Tripping over a 100-pound dog mid-run isn’t something I want to experience! Because we’re good dancing partners, ACE! and I stay really close to each other. I hold the end of his lead in my left hand and have a gentle draping to my right hand. This allows me to hold the leash at a higher angle for better control with his Sprenger collar.
We started by using verbal commands during every walk even before ACE! was old enough to run. ACE! now has a strong directional vocabulary. He knows both “Left” & “Right”, as well as “Soft Left” & “Soft Right”. The “Soft” command means we’re moving in the same direction, but moving around an object or person. It’s worth noting that when we do pass someone on the sidewalk I try to pass with ACE! on the opposite side of them. While we love dogs, we understand that not everyone does and this simple task lessons the chances of startling a stranger and keeps my running partner safe.
I recall one day we were running on a remote trail were ACE! was off lead about 50 feet ahead of me. I called out “ACE! Left” (his name precedes any command) and he made a flawless left turn down a single-track path. The only problem was the car was to the right! When I realized my mistake and called out the correct command you could see the confusion in his eyes. He knew he did right, so some eager ear scratches and a “Good Boy” were called for before resuming our run.
ACE! knows “Stop” as well as “Slow” too. I typically lead with “Slow” as we’re approaching an intersection that we may need to “Stop” at. Since they can’t read signs, it’s important for us to communicate beforehand what needs to happen. If we do end up stopping, “Up-Up” is our command to start running again.
Most of our runs have been in the city, so we’ve encountered our fair share of broken glass and crowds. To help protect his paws from glass, I may tell ACE! to “Get in the grass” to which he promptly steps off the sidewalk to avoid the debris. “OK” signals that it’s safe to move back to the sidewalk.
When we do encounter a group or narrowing where we can’t run side by side, I prefer to lead so “Get in the back” signals him to tuck in behind me. I may use this on a blind corner, preceded by “Slow” as well.
Like any athlete, dogs need to train to run farther or faster so it’s important to start slow and short. Use these early runs to lay the foundation for you dance. With time, you and your accountability partner will be logging miles and working in rhythm.
Justin is the co-owner of RUNdetroit, a dog friendly running specialty store in Midtown. ACE! earns his kibble by working weekends at RUNdetroit and enjoys semi-retirement with long walks around West Village or swimming on Belle Isle during the week.