Last year, after my first son was born, I was looking for some way to get back in shape and picked up running for the first time in my life. I had recently found barefoot shoes and they made it possible for me to jog without shin pain. This was the best thing ever. Not only did it get me back in shape, it also gave me half an hour three mornings per week exercising with my dogs. I was doing the Couch to 5K, and only made it to week 7 before giving up because I was pregnant with my second son, born this April. But, when he was 3 months old, I picked it up again and have managed to keep going!
So now, I’ve done it- I’ve completed my first 5K and am signed up for my second one (the Yulefest 5K in Cambridge) and couldn’t be happier about feeling so fit. But really, what has kept me going is how good I feel when my dogs have been exercised properly! Living in a small apartment in the city with two kids under two years old and two dogs leaves us with a huge need to exercise them or face the consequences. There’s no yard and Beskow can’t go to the dog park or be off leash when there may be other dogs around and just walks weren’t cutting it for her exercise needs. Now she runs about 20-30 kilometers per week between me, my husband, and my sister running with her. This has been a huge benefit to her mental well-being.
My other dog, Kaylee, tends to pudge up a bit when I’m pregnant. I don’t know whether it’s the beagle part of her, but even on a relatively small amount of food, if she doesn’t get enough exercise, she manages to pack on the pounds. Since we started running, she has dropped 5 lbs – going from 32 to 27--- that’s 15% of her body weight. Not too shabby! This has been such a huge health benefit for her and her speed on the agility course has improved, too.
Besides the mental and physical benefits, I think there’s just something to be said for spending time with my dogs- enjoying their physical prowess, their ability to run next to me, and the pride I feel when I’m running through busy Cambridge with my two dogs ignoring pedestrians, traffic, bikes, and waiting patiently at traffic lights. It really is quite the experience, and is now, quite definitely, my favorite form of exercise!
When it comes to fitting dog training into your life, this may not be the easy way to go- your dog already needs to know how to heel if they are going to run with you safely- however, in terms of fitting your dog's physical needs into the day, it does seem to be a really good use of time. It means that your work out and your dog's exercise all take up the same time block. Especially as a mom to small kids, I love that- I can get it all done before my husband leaves for work so no babysitting necessary. I would recommend:
1. Starting slowly. Your dog needs to learn how to jog, too! Starting a dog that has never run on leash at your pace before requires some thoughtfulness; probably don't run 5K the very first time you go out.
2. Bring treats. Even with my dogs, I'll give them a treat every so often for maintaining a heel at jogging pace. My beagle-mix, Kaylee, did not generalize her heeling skills to jogging very well and took a little extra training.
3. Plan on a variable pace. Your dog may still have to pee or poop. They may still need a sniff break at a really good tree. Remember that you can pause Endomondo (or not), and that your record times probably won't happen when you have your dogs with you. That's okay! It's not about just you, it's about them, too.
4. Teach your dog "right" and "left". This is a very handy skill to have when running so that you can turn more easily at street corners without losing your pace by tripping over your dog...
I'm sure there are lots of people out there with many more tips, but I think that's probably what I have to share at the moment. Have fun, keep fit, and enjoy your time with your pooches!