Running with the pack

Amy Camardese has been running with her dog Brady for the past three years.
LIBERTY -- Amy Camardese's favorite running partner, Brady, often strides two steps ahead. But she doesn't mind. After all, four legs provide her canine companion with an innate advantage.
"I really love running with Brady. It's an opportunity to think through what I am going to do that day. It also is spiritual for me. I have a mantra that I recite when I run. I do a lot of praying. It is part of the mind-body thing," said the Liberty woman, who acknowledged running with her yellow Labrador is a win-win proposition.
"I know it is good for him, and he assures my safety," she said.
Years of exercise: Both owner and pet implemented their daily early-morning runs together three years ago. "I started running with him when I began to lose weight. Running was an exercise regiment for me. But I knew he needed exercise. He also was a source of protection for me. Who is going to approach a big dog?" she asked.
Exercise benefits owners and pets. Dogs are basically athletic, said Marylou Wittenauer, a veterinarian at Belmont Veterinary Clinic. She recommended running with sporting and working breeds such as golden and Labrador retrievers, pointers, spaniels, beagles, and greyhounds. "Herding breeds also work," she added.
"I encourage people to walk their dogs. It's good for them and their dog," she noted adding more serious athletes should adopt a breed that will match the owner's athletic goals.
"It all depends on how serious a runner you are," she said. "You want the dog to have legs that make it easy to keep up with you. Short-legged dogs like a dachshund may not be the best choice. However, almost any dog will be a good walking companion."
Training regime: Wittenauer advised athletic training to begin at 6 months for small breeds and 9 months for larger dogs. Owners do not want to compromise bone development by too much exercise. More intense training can begin once the dog's bones hit their genetic potential.
The veterinarian warned owners to leash-train dogs before beginning any exercise routine. "You don't want to run with a dog that will cross in front of you or fly after a squirrel," she noted.
Camardese acknowledged there was a learning curve when she started running with Brady. Since her family adopted the former stray when he was about a year old, they didn't have the opportunity to train him when he was a puppy.
"At times, he tried to chase squirrels. But now he doesn't do it," Camardese said.
Brady becomes very anxious when they begin their routine, she explained. "Just the sight of my running gear gets him excited. He often leads as they begin their 3-mile course by walking up the hill on the street by their home.
"However, when I start to run, he keeps up with me. Brady typically runs on the grass."
Softer running surfaces like grass are easier on human and canine joints, Wittenauer said. It also is less damaging to the pads of dog's feet. "If you run on asphalt, be sure to build up the pads," Wittenauer suggested.
"Brady knows the route," Camardese said. Recently one evening, Camardese walked with Brady and her daughter Christina Savage's black Labrador, Hoops, on a route similar to their regular run. "When we turned an unfamiliar corner, he kept pulling the other way," she said with a laugh.
Camardese said she and Brady have adapted to each other's needs. "Sometimes if he sees another dog, he will pick up the pace. Or, he stops to mark his territory. He would like interactions with other dogs. It may be hard to keep him on focus. I keep the leash real tight," she explained. If Brady begins to pant heavily, Camardese slows her pace.
Keeping watch: Owners must monitor the dog's panting, which indicates if he or she is getting overheated, Wittenauer explained. People can cool off by sweating. Air evaporates the sweat, which cools the body.
"Dogs do not sweat. The only way they get rid of excess heat is through panting, which is not an efficient system. They have very minor sweat glands in the soles of feet. Humidity increases risks," said Wittenauer, who recommended running when the temperature is below 75 degrees.
"A little panting is OK. Forced panting should indicate to slow down and seek shade," she advised. "Stop, and let the animal rest. Give them water. Often, a dog won't know when to stop," she explained. Owners shouldn't let the level of exercise reach the point where the pet vomits. If needed, douse the dog with a water bottle over the face, head and neck.
For long-distance runners, Wittenauer suggested that the hips of the dogs are examined to make sure an owner doesn't break down the dog.
Not every dog is a great running companion. Camardese recalled one time when she joined her two adult daughters and tried running with one-year old Hoops. "It was a disaster. He made it miserable since he isn't used to running," she said.
Once she even tried to run with both Brady and Hoops, another foible. "A neighbor stopped her car and was howling," she recalled.

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