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Why Elite Runners Make Great Dog Trainers
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Know that little things matter.
When training a dog, the volume and pitch of your voice, where you’re looking, the direction your toes are pointing, when you stand still and when you move, whether you lean away from or toward the dog, and fractions of a second in reaction time all make the difference between progress and frustration. For elite runners, details matter, too, including those concerning workout duration and intensity, type of workout, nutrition, sleep, stretching and race strategy.

Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
— Ian Burrell, three-time All American and five-time top-five finisher in U.S. Road Championships, and guardian of mixed-breed Chili Dog

Understand that every situation is different.
Runners work hard to prepare for race day by simulating as many aspects of the competition as they can. However, at a race, the atmosphere, people, running surface, time of day, location and weather may all be different than they were during daily workouts. Knowing that differences and distractions affect performance allows elite runners to understand that dogs may also be thrown off by the presence of strange smells, a crowd of people, squirrels, loud noises, wind or anything else that is new and different. They also know that giving dogs experience with as many of these factors as possible is going to improve the dog’s performance when it really counts.

Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
— Vince Sherry, NCAA Championship qualifier and guardian of Lab/Border Collie cross Lucy and Border Collie/Chow cross Baxter

Accept setbacks as part of the process.

Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.

Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
— Brett Gotcher, Adidas-sponsored 2009 U.S. 20K Champion and 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, and guardian of mixed-breed Taz

Want success.

Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.

Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
— Jordan Horn, Adidas-sponsored sub-four-minute miler and guardian of mixed-breed Wicket

 

It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 65: Jun/Aug 2011

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photograph by Karen B. London

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Karen Pryor | March 28 2012 |

Lovely piece, Karen London. Great metaphor. Karen Pryor

Submitted by Kyra Sundance, ... | April 30 2012 |

I love that you wrote this article, Karen. I'm an ultrarunner, and have often thought that it is the same traits that make a successful distance runner as those that make a successful dog trainer. The two big traits that I think are important in both are "putting in the time" and "ability to control your emotions and actions". If you're ever in So Cal, look me up and we'll take the dogs for a run!

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