WITH YOUR DOG BY YOUR SIDE
By Dan England
Pepper is more than my dog.
She’s my coach.
Around 7 a.m. every day, Pepper begins to ask to go on a run. She doesn’t stop until I’m out the door. Going on a run is her favorite thing in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s snowy, rainy or windy, and it certainly doesn’t matter if it’s cold, or freezing or butt freezing cold. Pepper doesn’t have a weather app, and she wouldn’t care to check it anyway.
Today is a new day, Dad. Let’s go for a run! Don’t you wish you had that kind of energy?
You may assume that I do, given that I’m training to run a 100-mile race this Halloween and doing several ultrarunning events leading up to the race. But the fact is, I’m not always motivated to run. And because I am a hooman, not a dog, I don’t even want to get out of bed when it’s snowing, or rainy, or windy, or especially when it’s butt cold.
I rely on Pepper to get me out the door, in other words, as much as Pepper relies on me. I need her boundless energy, persistent begging and annoying demands to push me. That’s why it’s my job to make sure she’s safe out there in the elements.
Pepper’s enthusiasm, after all, could be her downfall, especially if I take her too far or keep her out too long in bitter temperatures. Noah Baskin, who works as the canine behavior specialist for Colorado Animal Rescue in Glenwood Springs, once worked for a sled dog tour company out of Leadville. I interviewed Baskin for a story for the Craig Daily Pressand Glenwood Springs Independentpapers. Dogs are communicative, Baskin said, and will usually let you know when something is wrong, but they will also go hard until they drop.
“Dogs won’t tell you when they need to turn around,” he said, “but they WILL tell you when they are done. You and I can turn around when we know we have just enough energy to get back. Dogs will all of a sudden say, ‘Whelp, I’m done, have fun carrying me back to the car.’”
I just realized that could be me during my 100-mile race this fall, but I digress.
I also asked Jenny Weber of Greeley for some tips. Weber is a friend who has completed dozens of marathons and runs with her dogs on most days, just like I do with Pepper.
Weber reminded me that dogs need water on long runs, just like I do. I need to be better about carrying water for Pepper on any run more than 10 miles, even in the cold, unless I have a nearby lake or clean water source she can use.
Weber also worries about her dogs’ paws. She trims excessive hair from around and under the pads of their paws to prevent ice and snow from building up. She also applies a paw pad wax you can buy at pet stores to “act like an invisible boot to protect their paws against the elements,” she says.
Pepper is a working dog, and she’s two, so she naturally is built for those half marathons we tackle on the weekend. But don’t discount your dog based on its breed. I once saw a tiny poodle climbing a tough 14er.
You know those people who say their dogs think they are people? Yes, they’re annoying, but they’re also right. If you’re really uncomfortable, the chances are high your dog is uncomfortable, too. Pay attention to your body, and that will help you pay attention to your dog.
It’s hard to believe that anything could bother Pepper, especially when I’m dragging on mile 12 and she’s dashing around doing intervals. But she’s not superhooman. She’s just a super dog.
Dan England is a freelance writer and mountaineer, runner and ultramarathoner. He lives in Greeley with his jazz-singing girlfriend, his three kids (including twin girls) and his dog, Pepper, who likes to run more than him.
Follow him on Twitter @DanEngland and Instagram and TikTok (including a video of Pepper) @adventuresinengland.