Fitness with Fido
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Fitness with Fido

Fitness with Fido

by Bob Babbitt

Richard Verney ran a 2:19 marathon at Boston. Why did he run so fast? If you ask him, it had a bit to do with his training partner. His four-legged training partner, Cassidy. "He's part Doberman, part Rhodesian Ridgeback with a pinch of German Shepherd thrown in," says Verney. "He's a real mixture. I just like to say that he's a black-and-brown dog."

A black and brown dog with a heckuva good running base. At eight years old, Cassidy has been Verney's running partner for five years. They started with short runs, but then the two running buddies worked their way up to 16 miles at a crack. "While I was training for Boston, we ran between 40 and 50 miles per week," remembers Verney. "Cassidy was so fit that he beat top German triathlete Jurgen Zack in a 10-mile training run. I think Jurgen's still upset about it."

As Cassidy has gotten older, they've eased back on intensity and the distances they run as a pair. "He loves to go out every day," says Verney. "But now we try to keep the runs to five or six miles max."

The upsides of running with Cassidy are endless. "He's a great companion for nighttime running," says Verney. "There's an extra sense of security I have knowing that my wife Diana has Cassidy with her when she's out running the streets or the trails. Plus, there have been a lot of times when I've come home after a long day and the last thing I wanted to do was go for a run. Cassidy has definitely helped me get out the door when I didn't feel like it. When he sees us putting on our running clothes, he gets so excited."

After finding Cassidy at the local dog pound, Verney ran with him right away. "I bought him because I felt he could be both a great pet for the family and a dog that I could go out and run with." Verney was cautious at first, however. "I wanted to condition the pads on his paws before putting in too many miles," he says.

Are you having a problem finding a partner who will run your pace, love every story you tell and never sleep in and leave you waiting at the trailhead? Richard Verney would tell you to check around and find a Cassidy of your own. "He is definitely the best training partner I have ever had," admits Verney. "No question about it."

Richard Verney's doggone good tips:
  • Make sure you buy a dog that fits your lifestyle.
  • A dog is like a kid. It takes time and it takes patience to build your partnership.
  • Your dog makes a great partner for nighttime running, providing both companionship and a sense of security.
  • Don't start them running too young. They need to develop the pads on their paws. The rule of thumb is that it takes about a year for the pads to harden sufficiently for distance running.
  • It's good to carry treats at the beginning, to teach your dog what you want. But you have to eventually wean them off the treats. Otherwise your dog becomes like a spoiled child.
  • A choker chain is good when you first start running together but, as your dog gets used to running with you, it won't be necessary.
  • Start your dog off on a very short leash. On a longer leash, they can end up jumping into the street.
  • If you are running any distance, it gets old hanging on to the leash. You want to be able to clip the leash to your belt or water bottle pack and still maintain control. I loop the leash and thread it through the back of my pack. That way I can keep both hands free.
  • Have your dog run on the side of you away from traffic. Never let them run in front of you. Your dog can be easily distracted and suddenly jump into the road.
  • Try to stay off the roads if you can. The trails are easier on your pooch's legs, and yours.
  • Heat is a problem and something to be concerned with. Remember, your dog is basically running in a fur coat.
  • Dogs are so loyal they will literally run themselves to death. They won't tell you they're tired. You need to realize when to cut your run short for your dog's sake. Look for signs that your dog is tired. Always run beside your dog. If they drop back and start to lag, they're tired.
  • Always run where there is access to water. Remember, dogs won't demand Perrier. Sprinklers or puddles are just fine. I always carry a water bottle with me for Cassidy. When your dog is fatigued, water will revive them very quickly. Water bottles designed for dogs to drink from are available at major pet stores.
  • Always carry a plastic bag in your pack. The two things you want to put in your pack are a water bottle for your dog and that plastic bag. Turn the plastic bag inside out to use it as a pooper scooper. Carrying two bags isn't a bad idea, depending on the size of the dog and the size of the, well, you know. Your dog could be a two-bagger or, if you own a Great Dane, even a three-bagger.

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