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Running with Leia

My husband wanted a dog. I didn’t. I had forgotten that we had agreed, if he fenced the backyard, he would get a dog. As a mom of two kids, and an old Pomeranian who left random turds on the kitchen floor, the last thing I wanted to deal with, was another dog.

In an interesting turn of events, my husband found a dog online that was in need of a home. We had seen a Swedish Valhund on a family camping trip and loved the coloring the size of the breed (sort of like a Corgi or a shorter smaller German Shepherd). Unfortunately, we were unable to find any puppies, that is until my husband came across a breeder who had a six-month-old puppy that was a Swedish Vallhund/Cattle Dog mix that needed a home. Leia’s mom was a purebred Swedish Vallhund, who got out and had rendezvous with the neighboring farm’s cattle dog. The next thing I knew we were driving home with Leia, our new dog.

I didn’t plan on running with Leia. It wasn’t until she started tearing up our newly laid sod, digging impressive sized holes and chewing up my favorite pair of boots. At this point, I don’t remember who I was more irritated with, my husband or Leia. I was a relatively new to running when my girlfriend suggested that I run with Leia to help burn off her excess energy. At that time I had a few 5k, 10ks under my belt and had completed my first triathlon. I made an appointment with my vet. Leia was a year old at this time. I needed a solution to my muddy backyard. My vet laughed at me when I asked if I could start running with Leia. She said I had the perfect running dog. She went on to tell me that Cattle dogs and Swedish Vallhund are both herding breeds, they easily run a marathon a day when they are herding sheep and cattle. The breeds were developed to run. My vet advised me to gradually increase Leia’s mileage, be mindful of heat and water.

My 14-year-old pomeranian died. I was heartbroken. I have never lost a dog. I took to my bed with wine and chocolate in mourning all the while Leia was waiting for me to love her. I found the best way to get over the loss of a dog is to have another dog to love. I started running with Leia, more and more. I decided to train for a local half marathon. Slowly the frequency of digging and the destruction our newly landscaped backyard stopped as our mileage slowly increased. I found her a little pack for her to wear, to carry water. Like my fueling plan at miles 4, 8 and 11, I’d stop and offer Leia water. Leia ran her first half marathon in the spring of 2015. Our pace right around 10:15! She has her own medal to prove it. Yes, she has short legs but don’t let that fool you!

Here are some tips for running with your dog that I’ve learned since running with Leia.

● Visit your vet first. Leia was over a year before I started running with her. I know with different breeds that some vets suggest waiting. Also, some breeds have more issues than other breeds with hip issues. Just like humans, before starting any exercise programs consult your doctor...in this case your vet.

● Dog obedience classes. The best thing we did when we adopted Leia was enrolled in 10 weeks of dog obedience classes. When we started running she knew basic commands and walked on a leash. We are now running trails more, I feel comfortable having her off leash as she listens to commands. When she is running she isn’t distracted other dogs, which I credit with obedience classes.

● Be mindful of the heat. Leia and started our running adventure together when we lived on the Oregon Coast, where the climate is temperate. 70’s in the summer is considered hot. We have recently moved and will be experiencing warmer running conditions in the summer. I’ll be packing more water for both of us!

● Water. Again living on the Oregon Coast, we were used to running in the rain. I didn’t have to worry too much on most of our runs as there were lots of puddles that Leia could drink out of. I did get Leia a snazzy DayPak from Outward Hound for our longer trail runs and pack water for her when it is warmer out. It has four expanding compartments. I like it for when I trail run. I have room to pack a small first aid kit, sunscreen, and snacks.

● Joint supplements. My vet suggested a natural supplement to help maintain and support Leia’s joints and mobility. I want to do everything I can do to keep her active as long as possible.

● Healthy weight. My vet also stressed the importance of keeping Leia at a healthy weight. I find that Leia needs extra calories when our mileage increases because she is such an active dog. I like to treat her to a scrambled egg after long runs. I also mixed bone broth into her food. Yeah, she’s spoiled just a little.

Leia has been in our family now for five years and will turn six in August. In 2016 I started Ironman training and begin to incorporate trail running into my training. Leia’s longest run to date is a 14-mile trail run that we did together during Ironman training in Central Oregon. She lets me know when she has pent up energy by getting into things that she shouldn’t, like garbage cans. I train mostly by myself, Leia is my constant companion on the road running and in my daily life. Unfortunately for my husband, the dog he wanted for himself ended up being my perfect running companion, Leia, the dog that I didn’t want.

Written by Mary Williams, Siren Luminary 

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