This week’s ‘Stare of the Dog’ is a reflection on man and beast’s ability to exercise together in harmony. I would consider myself a runner by habit and, given that dogs need a decent walk also, the two activities were always going to converge at some point. Besides, I would like to modestly suggest that this joint venture on Dudley and I’s part provides solid evidence that we men can in fact multi-task.
It is important to stress from the start that not all dogs are keen runners, not all dogs are safe runners and most definitely, canines should only be joining you on that lonely pavement vigil when they are old enough to safely do so. In Dudley’s case, I waited until he was around the 12-month mark before dragging him out on the beat. I remember said occasion well.
On that momentous day when the hound came of age, we set off apace on our inaugural voyage, me hoping it would be more QEII than Titanic. Conjoined athletes as we were, connected by a thin sliver of bright red rope, I felt that we cut quite a dash and offered a vision of athletic vigour to anyone passing by. The positive vibe didn’t last long though. Within seconds, an excited Dudley made a bid to cross the road – as we normally do on his walks – and in doing so, got immediately under my feet. The resulting ‘collision’ took my legs clean away from me, as well as providing an unexpected opportunity to more closely inspect the quality of tarmac used on British roads and my knees resistance to it. Dudley is ever so generous like that.
Determined not to beaten by this inauspicious start, bruised knees and ego were set aside before picking up speed again. To be fair to him, since that initial crash, we’ve never had another accident like it. Indeed, in my mind at least, I see us gliding through towns and villages, along rivers and canals, in harmony like a Kardashian and her personal trainer, except with much greyer skies and more litter and dog shit. However, just because there have been no further falls, do not think for a minute that running with this brown Labrador is in anyway straight forward, and that is why I took inspiration from U2’s seminal album for this blog title and not perhaps, the more obvious ‘Born to Run’ by the Boss.
For starters, Dudley has an erratic turn of pace. One minute, I have to work overtime just to keep up with him, puffing and panting and generally being made to feel quite inferior. This is especially the case when he sees a squirrel to chase or if he has a stick to run with. Don’t ask me why. On such occasions, I resign myself to stepping up a gear and hoping for the best, like some ‘Land Speed’ junkie hurtling down the Bonneville salt-flats, trailing behind a raucous engine of moving parts and drool.
Then, in an instant, a switch flicks in his brain and he will suddenly slow right down, moving instead with the deliberate and laboured strides of a pensioner exiting a Bingo hall. This kind of behaviour has become the norm now. On one recent outing together, he and I crossed the road in front of another runner and, for a half-mile or so, made good speed and kept a healthy distance ahead of him, feeling mildly smug about it. At least Dudley was anyway. Then, from nowhere, the hound dropped three gears in quick succession leaving us with a power failure to rival Prime Minister Theresa May and before we knew it, we were being overtaken by the same man. The ignominy and the shame of it.
As well as the variable speed issue, Dudley, like most Labradors, has an uncanny ability to dine ‘al fresco’ en route, unearthing an impressive range of roadside snacks as we stream through the local side streets. All of this, as you might imagine, has an arresting affect on our exercise regime. Normally it is a fetid, brown, dirt encrusted banana skin that gets his nose twitching and every time it does, my trusty pacemaker turns into a land anchor, deploying his weighty backside with sufficient force to jump my shoulder joint out of place whilst he forages for ‘bananery’ goodness.
Wherever possible, I try to keep as much of our running ‘off lead’ as is possible, as this is much better for both of us and we can variate our speeds without any discomfort. That said, all I’m really doing is exporting the problem elsewhere. When running loose with me, cyclists have been unsaddled, quietly resting geese and swans forced to abandon their waterside slumber and on more than one occasion, distracted by my own thoughts, I have looked up to find him contemplating a swim or floundering in a canal and awaiting rescue. Undignified until the end, that’s Dudley.
So do Labrador’s make suitable running companions? Dudley has ample engine capacity to help me burn off last night’s burger and chips and sufficient gas in the tank to run for hours. But don’t take my word for it, arm yourself with one and see for yourselves.