Thursday, June 30, 2011

Running with the pack

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? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Life with Sport Dogs

I have 5 dogs - 4 Australian Shepherds, and an Australian Cattle Dog. I am a chiropractor by profession and I perform disc dog shows and compete in disc dog contests with 4 of my 5 dogs. There's Stanley - 7 year old male, Mojo - 6 year old male, Fire - 5 year old female and Stella - 3 year old female ACD. There's also 3 year old Motley, our calm, good natured relaxed Aussie. Motley enjoys a few tosses of the disc or ball in the yard, but he's not quite driven enough to be a performance dog. No problem though, the other 4 generate enough energy to spare.

This blog will offer up my views on a variety of topics and experiences, ranging from our adventures in competition to observations on canine fitness, training and behavior to holistic canine health ideas. I believe in positive, reward based training. I believe in building bonds with dogs by being active together and by living together in an atmosphere based on love and mutual respect. Moreover, I believe that a dog's health can be constructively nurtured by raw diet, regular body work and appropriate supplementation.

I love training, playing with and exercising with my dogs. I feel like my purpose for having these amazing creatures is to help them realize their potential and spread joy to other people in the process. The joy and comfort that my dogs have brought to my life has been immeasurable and I hopefully can help whoever reads this blog series experience more joy as well.

On this evening, I am thinking of my friend Dan and his dog Carley. I met Dan 3 years ago at a disc dog event in Conneticut when he and Carley were just starting to get involved in the sport. What stood out with Dan and Carley was how much Dan LOVED his dog. Over the years they learned how to play the disc dog game better and better until last season they qualified for the USDDN World Finals in the Toss and Fetch competition. What a treat to see this pair among the top teams in the world and loving every minute of it!

I was informed over the weekend that Carley had somehow developed a severe kidney infection and was gravely ill. Earlier this evening, Dan posted on Facebook that he expected that Carley may pass sometime tonight. For those of us who have had and lost dogs, we all know how difficult a time this is. I must admit though, that while I have lost 4 dogs in my life, I have not experienced the loss of one of my sport dogs yet. The bond that develops between a sport dog and its handler is truly special. In Dan's case, friends have described Carley as the love of his life.

Dan, I cannot fathom the anguish you must be feeling. If Carley recovers, I look forward to raising a glass with you in relief. If its her time to pass on, please remember that you have many friends that care about you and love you. You have given Carley an amazing life that most dogs would love to have. I have no doubt that you will find the strength to heal and offer your love again to another lucky dog.

Please take a minute to appreciate your dog(s) today. Our time together is short, sometimes painfully so. Remember to appreciate every moment and take the time to be joyful together.

For Dan and Carley.