By Guest Blogger Cristine Travis for Pet News and Views
The first time I ran with my dog, Brody, I returned to my house breathless, exhausted and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Knowing how much exercise could benefit both Brody and myself, I stuck with it. Then something amazing happened: Brody became a different dog.
Brody is a Border Collie, a high-energy and high-intensity dog who tends to get into trouble. After several weeks of running, my hyper, obnoxious monster of a Border Collie turned into a calm, trainable friend.
Most people know that dogs need plenty of exercise and that running with a dog is a quick and fun way to provide them with it. But running doesn’t just keep dogs healthy and slim. It also offers numerous psychological and health benefits to owner and dog alike.
When dogs are under-stimulated, they tend to become destructive and hyper. Running helps to burn off nervous energy, which is especially helpful for puppies and dogs with separation anxiety issues. It also provides dogs with access to hundreds of new sights, sounds and–most importantly–smells. People often forget that dogs are led by their noses. When I began allowing Brody the opportunity to smell new people, animals and objects, the change was truly remarkable.
I now know that an ideal run for Brody is about two miles, and I purchased a Garmin sports watch to help me track our distance as well as keep track of my own pulse.
Because running is how dogs bond, running together is especially helpful for promoting various relationships. Brody, for example, had trouble getting along with my other dog, Zora, but as soon as they started running together I noticed more cooperation. He and I also built a sense of camaraderie together, with him slowly accepting me as a pack leader. This enabled me to relate to him as a friend rather than a strange interloper attempting to destroy everything in my house.
Brody was never an aggressive dog, but his lack of socialization often caused him to behave badly around dogs he didn’t know. Aggression is the most serious behavior problem dogs can exhibit because it poses both safety and legal risks. Running helps to eliminate aggression because it burns off energy and socializes dogs to new surroundings.
I knew that running could improve both Brody’s and my health by preventing obesity. But as it turns out, running doesn’t just keep dogs trim and fit. It can also help them live longer. Dogs are susceptible to many of the same illnesses people are, including stress-related health problems.
I had often worried about the effects of Brody’s anxiety on his health, but as he grew calm, I knew he would live well into old age. He’s now eight, and despite his breed’s predisposition to a host of chronic health problems including hip dysplasia and dementia, he’s still running strong.
As I learned on that first miserable day of running that it’s not so easy. It can, however, make a huge difference in a person’s mood. Heavy aerobic exercise releases powerful endorphins that not only improve mood in the moment; they can also reduce depression and anxiety over time. Even better, the more I ran, the more I learned to like it because of this strong endorphin rush. Now I can’t wait to get up and go running with my best friend.
Cristine Travis is a dog lover and certified dog trainer who hates running alone. She not only runs with her dog, Brody; she also frequently pushes her two-year-old niece, Grace, in her stroller.