Monday, March 31, 2014

Ask the Dog Trainer About Runners

by Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA 
photo courtesy Adrian Midgeley via
Runner Back!

Dear Michaels Dogs,

I live in a large residential area where many people walk their dogs and there are lots of joggers and runners. In some locations stepping off the sidewalk could be less stable footing for a runner so I generally step off with my 3 dogs to give way to runners as they pass. One in particular that I see regularly in our area has never passed us while we were walking until yesterday. I moved over as she approached to give her space to run past. 

My super friendly Goldendoodle moved toward her as far as the leash would allow in an effort to say hello and she began yelling at me, but did not stop to hear anything that I wanted to say. At this point she will probably be fearful of my dog if we pass one another again. Jinx is such a friendly boy that he never met a person he didn't like. He walks nicely with me and the other two calmer dogs, but he is enthusiastic about meeting people that pass. 

He doesn't jump but just wants to get closer to say hello and allow a petting. I think he assumes petting will occur with everyone since most people do choose to rub his back or "shake". When I walk past elderly people or small children I take a wider circle to avoid spooking them since he is a large dog. That is the only thing I could have done different for the runner who appeared  frightened of his friendly gesture. 

It was clear that she doesn't like dogs, but if she doesn't stop to talk I cannot help her understand or let her meet him in a calmer situation. Jinx would love to take off running with her! Can you help me figure out how to handle her if we pass again? I can't expect her to fall in love with Jinx but I would like her to understand that he wasn't moving toward her to attack. He was still at least 3 to 4 feet from reaching her and was on a leash; there was no danger, barking or disply of aggression. I hope you can help.

Anonymous from Hotmail

Dear Anonymous,

What are the chances?  You actually stumbled upon (maybe I should phrase that), happened to meet a dog-training expert who is also – wait for it – a runner.


There are two things we runners fear the most: 1) Knee injuries and 2) Dogs.  Okay, we’re pretty iffy about cars and bicycles too.  Mostly we really want to steer clear of knee injuries caused by cars, bikes, or dogs.  Here’s the other thing about runners.  We spend a lot of time in our heads.  Running is a mental sport every bit as much as it is a physical sport.  Seriously, if you’re going to get up before dawn and run 5, 10, or 20 miles you’re going to have plenty of time to think.  (Here’s a secret. Mostly we’re thinking: I must be crazy to get up so early to run all this way with nothing chasing me).  Which brings me back to dogs.

Actually, that brings us to dog people.  We dog people don’t like it when other people yell at us about our dogs.  Right?  I know.  I absolutely believe that your golden doodle meant no harm.  And, how cool is it that you yield to runners on your walks?  It’s very cool.  Yes, you could have given that particular runner a wider birth as you do for children and senior folks.  And yes, you can do some nice training to improve your dog’s responsiveness to you so he doesn’t pop out to say “hi.” It’s a little like the goofy guy at the cocktail party who puts his arm around everyone and says “c’mon how about a little kiss?”  He means no harm. It’s just not polite.  Agreed?  We’ll get to that in a minute (the training not the goofy guy at the cocktail party).

But first, let’s talk about what’s really going on here.  The runner fussed at you and hurt your feelings, and that was rude.  She didn’t want to hear anything nice about your dog.  She didn’t want to listen to you at all. True?  Well, I’m listening.  I’m a runner and a dog person and I get it. 

If the runner had written me about this same incident (don’t worry she didn’t) I’d probably be equally empathetic. I’d write:  You were on mile 12 of a 15-mile run and some dog just pulled out towards you.  You lost your cool, but you had no time to stop and discuss it.  You were aiming for a negative split (google it), and you were in your head thinking that maybe your knees are getting too old for all this running nonsense anyway.  Dogs are always jumping out at you and when you tell people to control their dogs no one ever seems to listen.  Then I would type:  “I’m listening, though.  I’m a dog person and a runner, and I get it.”

Here’s my advice to you.  Let’s let this one go.  It was a bad moment for everyone involved and it’s best not to overthink it.  How about we work on training your sweet golden doodle to follow you off the path with the other dogs and pay close attention to you while even the most tempting of runners passes.  Use food and praise to let him know he’s getting it right.  He’ll love that.  For added safety, gather up his leash so he can’t spring away from you.  Practice a lot!  A lot!  Every runner every time!

And if you want to be really slick about it, call out “runner back!” right before you move off the path.  Then smile and say “have a good run.”  It will freak them out, which is fine.  We runners need to get out of our own heads from time to time anyway.

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA teaches dog training in Houston, TX.  He’s run five marathons and one half marathon (all of them rather slowly).

Michael's advice does not replace an actual consultation with a qualified trainer.

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Kimberly Gauthier, The Fur Mom said...

Amazing advice!!!!

I'm a dog mom to 4 and we cross runners and cyclists all the time. Guess what, I'm walking herding dogs so you can imagine the reactions our dogs have to all these people quickly speeding by.

I've learned to let it go as well. I've been yelled at, told that I should be allowed to have dogs, and I've even had my dogs threatened. I let it all go (well, except that last one). I think people get caught up in the moment and combine that with whatever else is going on in their lives and you just never know what you'll get.

For the most part, people are friendly and understanding. I try to walk our dogs in areas and at times when we'll have plenty of space.

Shawncowwen said...

Great Post! Dogs can only be trained for their behavior, and I believe training is a must. But then dogs too need a walk and they love to be in park, their intentions are not to frighten anyone but the love to be friends with them

Jen Gabbard said...

I tend to move out of the way for bikers and joggers when walking my dog. I believe she's well trained but it's really not hard for me to step aside for one minute just to make sure. I developed that habit after running with my dad when we were younger; he was bitten by a lose dog. It never leaves my mind, I understand why a lot of joggers don't want to be bothered by dogs running at them.

So just in case my dog decides to lunge one day because someone looks at her funny I'd rather play it safe and give them some space.

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