My name is Monica Callahan, and I completed my first official marathon on March 5, 2022 with the help of my dog, Orio. I am a professional dog trainer (Family Fido LLC) in the Myrtle Beach, SC area. I’m the owner of five dogs, mother of two children, wife, and part-time employee at Fleet Feet Myrtle Beach. I began running in 2015 when my son was a little over a year old. Some moms and I decided to train for a 5k. Unfortunately, training fell through and the rest of the moms flaked, but I decided to show up anyway and attempt to run the whole thing. It was incredibly slow, but I did run the whole 5k and I realized that I could actually do hard things. The running bug stuck around after that.
Dalmatians and marathon runners go together like peanut butter and jelly. Dalmatians were coaching dogs, which means they were bred to run next to carriages to clear the way and guard the horses. When people ask if Dalmatians are hyper, my usual reply is “No, they are active.” They are bred to go, go, go. If you can meet their mental and physical needs, they are happy to be couch potatoes with you.
I have always tried to include my dogs in my running, but Orio has been the one who enjoys it the most. My two current males are a little heat sensitive and prefer shorter bursts of play and running. Being a mom, I fit my runs in when I can. In South Carolina, this may mean that it’s a little hotter than if I ran early in the morning. Orio is always up for the task, no matter the time of day.
Marathon training is a great plan to also work on your dog’s endurance. When we began training, we already had a nice base of 3-6 miles. We did mostly 3-4 mile runs and built up to 6. 18 weeks before my marathon, we were going on 3-5 mile runs 2 or 3 times a week, and a long run on the weekend. The long run started around 7 miles and by the last few weeks before the marathon, we planned to top out at 20 miles. Orio was doing great until the week we accomplished 16 miles.
One morning Orio woke up with “happy tail syndrome.” She couldn’t wag her tail and I could tell there was stiffness in her back. I stopped running with her immediately. She’s gotten it once before and was better in 4-5 days, but after two weeks of little improvement, I made her an appointment with a chiropractor. The chiropractor said she definitely was out of alignment near the base of her tail and her shoulders (she’s also an avid frisbee player). She said this can be common in working dogs. After her adjustment, it was another two weeks before she was 100% again. I also started her on glucosamine and chondroitin (I had been meaning to get her started on it for a while because she is a sport dog, but it continued to slip my mind). By time Orio was feeling better, my marathon had passed. I was looking forward to hitting 20 miles with her, but 16 is still quite a feat.
At the end of April, Orio and I will be competing in an event called a Road Dog Trial. This is a specific trial for Dalmatians with two separate parts. The first part is an obedience test where you show the dog can ‘hock’ (heel) next to a horse over a few hundred yards, past distractions, sit/stay and more. The second part of the trial is a 12.5 mile trail ride. The advanced test is a 25 mile trail ride. There are mandated stops every 6 miles for the dogs to rest and get checked over.
Even after my marathon, I have been continuing to run with Orio to keep her endurance up for the road trial. We have also started weekly road trial practice with a local friend and her horse who have competed before. Orio is a natural, and I believe learning how to keep pace with me while running has made falling into step next to the horse easy for her.
Orio is 3.5 years old and has been running with me since she was a little over 12 months old. We started laying the ground work for running from day one by working on loose leash walking skills. When she was 7-9 months old, I began working on our take off. I would step off into a jog and reinforce her for matching my pace. Just as we do with loose leash walking, we built up the steps we took before reinforcement until she was able to keep pace naturally. In the beginning I would reinforce her whenever we passed distractions such as people, dogs, or small animals, but now it comes fairly naturally to her. The key is repetition and reinforcement for good choices. We currently run with a flat buckle collar and waist leash. I want her to get used to only wearing a collar while running (we also sometimes use a harness) because that is what she’ll be in for the road trial. I also use a waist leash because it keeps my hands free, but I can grab the leash in an emergency if needed.
I love that I can share one of my favorite pastimes with my best friends. I feel it has really grown my connection to my dogs, and we can communicate without even speaking. We enjoy exploring new running trails and places together, and it keeps us both in shape. There’s nothing quite like watching your dog do what it was bred to do, and in this case, Dalmatians were bred to run.
If you’re considering starting to run with your dog, there are a few health considerations, including making sure that your dog is old enough, physically healthy enough, and can practice basic obedience. If you have any questions about running with your dog or would like more information, I am available at [email protected]. Feel free to reach out and connect with me!
Written by Monica Callahan
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