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Running with the dogs

April 15, 2012
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

Running, race walking, jogging, or enjoying a leisurely walk through the neighborhood are activities many people enjoy doing alone. But in communities across the country, more dogs are being seen as partners for these activities than ever before, a trend a local veterinarian and runner wholeheartedly agrees with and enjoys putting into practice herself almost daily with the help of her dog, Jordan.

Local veterinarian, Dr. Laura Jackson, recently arrived in the area and joined the busy practice of the New Horizon Animal Hospital in St. Clairsville. A 2011 graduate of Auburn University, she has been a dedicated runner since middle school.

A fan of running in the cooler hours of the day, Jackson can always count on her running buddy, Jordan, being up for covering miles and miles of local terrain right alongside her.

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Avid runners often enjoy having their dog along as a training buddy. Local veterinarian, Dr. Laura Jackson, a 2011 graduate of Auburn University and a recent addition to the staff at New Horizon Animal Hospital in St. Clairsville, is getting Jordan, a 4-year-old Labrador mix, oriented to a new environment by sharing brief outings such as a walk around the grounds at the hospital, and almost daily runs together outside of working hours.

Jackson is proud of her dog's willingness to run with her on a regular basis, and hopes he just might provide a little incentive for others to consider getting their canine companion into running-ready condition so they too can regularly enjoy runs together.

The four-year old Lab mix entered into a partnership with Jackson while she was still in veterinary school at Auburn. He had come into the care of the school's hospital because both his back legs were broken at one time, likely the result of a run in with a vehicle.

The healing process for the abandoned dog was slow and painful, actually taking a number of months, but it had started before he had come into the care of the students at the veterinary school, which meant not all options were going to be available.

"We didn't know if he would ever walk again, much less run at all," reflected Jackson.

Today he still carries the scars of the injuries, as one leg no longer has any flexibility, and its overall range of motion has been permanently damaged, she offered, noting the dog was in such bad shape at that point there were few who expected him to pull through, much less move on into even greater successes.

While in the care of the veterinary school, Jordan enjoyed the regular rotations in and out of programs by a seemingly endless variety of students who routinely welcomed hands on time with the recuperating patient. This proved a highly successful socializing practice which help train him, offered Jackson.

Jordan's willingness to run with Jackson has seen his conditioning advance from a very short distance walk, to running different intervals and on various surfaces, and eventually to covering as much as nine miles in one run.

"Just like we have to do for ourselves, our canine running partners have to be conditioned safely and gradually," reflected Jackson, noting a dog should have a general exam by their veterinarian before starting a dramatic change in activity levels.

It is important to make sure your canine running partner is happy and healthy before, during, and after an activity such as a walk or run.

"In winter time, it is important to keep their paws free of accumulating ice and snow. It is also important to make sure you wash off the road salt from a dog's pads when you are done running. In the summer months, it is important to remember not to run or walk a dog on a hot surface, such as asphalt or even a concrete sidewalk," Jackson offered. "Their feet can get injured easily by something like hot asphalt."

Whenever taking a dog along for something more like a hike, she noted the importance of regularly checking them for cuts, torn foot pads or dew claws, burrs and ticks.

It is always important to make sure you always have ready access to clean water for your dog, but it is particularly important in the warmer summer months.

"If you have the opportunity, consider planning the route of your run to include stops at existing water sources where you can fill up a collapsible bowl or some other type of container to make sure your dog is staying safely hydrated while they enjoy running with you," she said.

"If you plan to take your dog along on a day hike, remember not only to make sure you have enough water for the both of you, but also make sure to bring along food for the dog," she advised.

"It's also a good idea to have an identification chip placed just under the skin by the vet. These are called microchips. Should your partner get sidetracked and somehow get free and run around, if they are rounded up by a local humane society, a chip reader might be able to pick up on the information about ownership registered there.

After a microchip is inserted, registration papers need filled out and sent to the home agency in the hope you never need to locate a lost dog's owners."

Another important thing to check your dog for is any kind of respiratory distress or heat related illnesses - some of which can quickly turn fatal if ignored. "Not every dog is well suited to run through the neighborhood woods to play," Jackson said.

Jackson is a fan of using a well fitting and properly cushioned harness when running with your dog, rather than using a traditional choke collar, to make sure you are easily able to keep them under control and on the right path - the safe one.

After a number of trial and error sessions trying out various combinations of collars, slip collars, chain collars, heavy material collars and more, Jackson finally found a harness providing excellent all around control to use with Jordan.

One style or size of walking harness or collar will not fit every dog. It can take a little work to determine which unit will be safest for your particular dog and which will give you the level of control you anticipate needing.

When it comes to an athlete's diet, it is also important to keep a close eye on whether or not their food needs increased or decreased at any point when training schedules take dramatic turns up or down. Always being on guard for heat-related illnesses is essential for those caring for and working with dogs of any breed.

"It's easy for people to forget dogs don't really sweat, though there are places on their body where the fur is normally much less thick, like the belly, groin, and under the arms, making these great places to put something cool if you are trying to cool them down," offered Jackson. "The important thing to do is concentrate on getting their core temperature back to a safe level. If you have access to a pool or a hose, use them to get the dog wet and hopefully get it cooled off before they become dangerously ill."

Not quite sure which dogs are likely to enjoy and benefit from keeping you company as you pound out the miles of your favorite running course? Jackson suggests runners should freely consult the Runner's World website for information about training and running with your canine companion in ways safe for you both.



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