One of the most organic experiences I enjoy with my dogs is running with them off leash on the trails around our house. We are fortunate enough to have access to trails on our property and on our neighbor's property to run on and from mid-May up until deer season in October. Two to four days per week in the summer and early fall I'll head out with my pack of five and we'll run for 40ish minutes, completing loops around these hilly wooded trails.
The experience always starts with one or two dogs noticing that I've put on running clothes and have reached for my shoes. The energy level in the house goes from a morning snooze to an explosion in a the time it takes for me to reach for a shoe. Stanley, Fire, Mojo, Stella and Motley patiently line up in a sit / stay at the back door leading into the garage. I calmly tap each dog and they head outside one at a time. Thats where the calm ENDS.
I start running across the back lawn towards the entrance to the woods and the five canines are a sprinting, circling, barking ball of chaos for the first 3 minutes or so. 7 year old Stanley is the one leading the charge as the other dogs frantically circle him. 3 year old Stella and 5 year old Fire try to direct him through pushing him one way then another. 3 year old Motley tries to distract Fire from her task, while 6 year old Mojo runs beside me, content to steer clear of the insanity.
Soon, they settle into their positions around me and begin tending to their respective tasks that our group run involve. Stanley runs out front, looking back at me every time a decision is needed as to what direction we should go. Stella runs with him, always keeping an eye out for puddles and streams to cool off in. Mojo runs behind me, occasionally stopping to investigate some scent or another and then quickly sprinting to catch up before we get too far ahead. Fire runs with us, ahead of us, behind us, always looking for a stray mouse or a mole to snack on. Occasionally she'll disappear in the woods, only to reappear flying towards us as we complete our first loop. Motley enjoys the first loop and then retires to the coolness of the garage, where he hangs out until we are done running.
Trail running with the dogs feels primal and natural. We are in sync. A group of beings moving through the woods rhythmically and with ease. I watch them jump effortlessly over logs and traverse fallen trees. Before sport dogs entered my life 7 years ago, my runs were exclusively on paved trails, sidewalk and roads - endurance training that would last anywhere from one to three hours, sometimes following a lengthy bike ride. It used to be important to push myself to find my limits. Now, its about joy and connection. The joy of moving, the joy of watching my dogs move through the world and the connection we share as we move together. Movement, connection and joy. What could be better?