21 January 2010

Some Dogs Can Run, Others Prefer to Herd You

A MAN’S friend is not always his best choice of a running partner. The same can be said of man’s best friend.

It’s a lesson that Michelle Powe, an English teacher in Midlothian, Tex., learned last summer when trying to run with Mookie, her 90-pound Catahoula.

“He kept trying to herd me,” she recalled. For the entire three-mile run, Mookie displayed the kind of herding behavior that is typical for the breed, throwing his weight against Ms. Powe and nipping at her legs.

“By the end of it, my knees were sore from having 90 pounds constantly bumping into me,” she said. “It was fun for other people to watch, but not so much for me.”

Like many dog owners, Ms. Powe assumed that her young, healthy dog would make a natural running companion. After all, dogs love to run, they love spending time with their masters, and they rarely tire of chasing a stick before their owners tire of throwing it.

But not all dogs are born to run, particularly the way humans go about it: in a straight line, with little regard for scent. And there is nothing fun about running with an untrained dog. Indeed, it can be dangerous for both you and your pet.

“Invariably active dog owners wake up one day and say, ‘Today is a beautiful day, I’m going to go run with Fluffy,’ and they’ve never run with Fluffy before, and they set off and realize it really stinks running with Fluffy,” said Alexandra Powe Allred, a Dallas-based trainer and author of a book on dog obedience (and Michelle Powe’s sister).

The first step for anyone thinking about running with a dog is researching the breed, Ms. Allred said. Some of it is common sense: small dogs — teacup poodles, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers — will have trouble running at high speeds or for long distances.

But other problems may not be so obvious. For example, dogs with flat noses — pugs, bulldogs, some boxers — may have trouble breathing during strenuous exercise. And while some hunting or herding dogs are physically built for running — like border collies and Rhodesian Ridgebacks — they may be more interested in chasing prey than staying on the sidewalk.

Once you have determined whether your dog is built for running, it is important to teach it some commands. “Stay,” for example, is useful should you want to put down the leash long enough to tie your sneakers. But trainers say that if you teach your dog only one command before running, it should be “heel.”

[Source: NY TIMES]