Don’t Run Before You Can Walk!
Sometimes, running with your dog just doesn’t seem to go according to plan. Your dog might lag behind, or he might want to stop after just a few kilometres or he may even run in front and trip you up. All of these can take the pleasure out of sharing a run with your four legged buddy. So what can you do about these problems? In a nutshell, it all boils down to training.
Any behaviour has a reason behind it: a dog might react in a certain way in a particular situation because of fear, excitement, previous training, or because of an innate breed-related behavioural characteristic. Dogs are also very good at picking up on cues you give them, and they learn what’s going to happen next. That’s why lots of dogs get excited when they see their lead – they know they’ll be going out. If you’re trying to train your dog to run well with you, then it’s worth considering bringing in one or two new cues which he will learn to associate specifically with running. You might use a running harness he doesn’t wear at any other time, or you might choose a really tasty food treat that you never give him except when you’re running. Over time, your dog will learn what’s expected of him when that particular harness or treat is in use.
A border collie’s herding instinct could get in the way of your running because she might keep trying to run around you – to round you up. She might not do this with anyone else in the park; because you are her “flock” it’s you she wants to herd. Border collies can be trained to drive sheep ahead of them, so in this situation I’d encourage her to run just behind you so she can herd you from behind. Every time she gets ahead, stop her, and ask her to continue once you’re a step ahead again. You’ll need to start this at walking pace before moving up a gear. Alternatively, go back to basics and train her to walk at heel then gradually increase your pace while always rewarding her for staying calmly by your side.
Maybe your dog loves running, but she wants to go faster than you, and she wants to choose the route. You end up being pulled along, and then tripped up when your dog crosses just ahead of you because she’s just noticed an irresistible smell on the other side of the track. The problem here is that your dog isn’t focussed on the job in hand – running with you – and the reason for this is almost certainly that you haven’t made yourself more exciting than the other smells around her. Again, you’ll need to start at a walking pace, and choose whatever motivates your dog best as a reward – usually food or a favourite toy – to retrain her to stay at your side.
Does your dog love running round the park with her friends, but drag her feet when she’s out with you? You’re just not holding her attention, so if you don’t mind, she’d rather be at home with her feet up. What you’ll need to try here is running a short way to start with, using your chosen method of keeping her focussed on you, and stop before there’s any sign of boredom. You might not get very far, but when you’ve finished the run, give your dog a great reward – fresh chicken, or a game with a special toy. Try cutting back on treats at any other time, so that running is her only activity associated with treats. You should be able to gradually build up the distance you can run. Another option is to go out with a friend and their dog. Sometimes having another dog to run with keeps the enthusiasm high.
Have fun with your dog, but remember that, just like us, some dogs are just not cut out to be marathon runners. If a short 3 or 4km run is all your pup is interested in, then enjoy that with her and head out for your extra few kilometres on your own or with a human friend.