Slow training?

Confession time: I just spent an HOUR trying to figure out whether I started the Couch-to-5K program in December of 2012 or December of 2013. December of 2013, it turns out, which means I’ve been running regularly for slightly less than two years, which means I’m doing way better at this than I thought. I really thought it had been three years! Memory is so unreliable. I started losing weight in July of 2012; I bought a Fitbit in September of 2012, when I had already lost nine pounds; I started Couch-to-5K in frustration when my weight loss stalled (at about thirty pounds down) and stayed the same for about two months; I bought a Garmin FR 10 (the base model running GPS watch) in April 2014; I bought a Garmin FR 225 (GPS running watch with heart rate) in September of this year (2015).

I like measuring things. I mostly keep pretty good records–I’ve weighed myself daily (or almost daily) for more than three years. I keep a training log in which I make brief notes about what I’ve done that day for running, dog training, swimming, cycling…. I occasionally describe specific pieces of training in this blog, too, although not as much as I did when Rush was a puppy, especially since the training I’m doing these days is getting more and more subtle and is more about timing than it is about training.

(Yes, I spend time reinforcing and rewarding weaves and contacts; I work jump sequences with Rush and Dancer both for strength training and understanding of jumping skills; I regularly reward Dancer heavily for her teeter performances. I do a lot of skills maintenance. I just don’t write about it as much as I used to.)

Last January, a friend of my husband’s, a man named Kurt Searvogel, decided to tackle one of the oldest world’s records in cycling: the task of riding the most miles in a single year. The record (as of today) belongs to Tommy Godwin, a British cyclist (and vegetarian) who biked more than 75,000 miles during 365 continuous days in 1939 and 1940. He did this feat, as Kurt is doing this feat (as of today, Kurt holds the record for the second-most miles in a year, and is slowly reaching his goal of passing Tommy Godwin), by getting up every single day and working toward his goal. It got me thinking about all the things that can be accomplished by doing something every single day, and I started thinking about what I call “slow (dog) training.”

Slow training, to my way of thinking, is about the things that don’t have to be accomplished right away, things that can take a little time, that aren’t needed right now. Sometimes it’s things that have to take time–like training myself to run fast–sometimes it’s something that I’m feeling lazy about.

Rush has always pulled on leash; he’s very determined that I walk just too damn slow, as far as he’s concerned. I would like it if Rush had better leash manners, but I don’t feel so strongly about it that I’m never going to let him pull again (because then it would be weeks before I managed to get out of the driveway). I thought about Kurt and I thought about Rush’s leash manners, and I decided I would spend a little time every day working on his leash manners. How little time? Ten treats worth. Kurt is cycling about twelve hours a day to reach his goal; I was willing to put in about a minute a day toward mine. It’s important to know your limitations.

I started putting Rush’s leash on and doing ten treats worth of loose-leash walking and things got better. Much better. Not perfect, but better. Just doing a little bit every day helped.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on my own running fitness, four or five times a week, since Christmas of 2013. Rush has been my running buddy most days. I use a harness to run him, though, because it gives me more control, I don’t have to worry about choking him if he pulls, and because I think it’s more comfortable for him. Jay and I also use a harness for his walks; I use it on the front attachment if I’m also walking Dancer.

Rush, however, has always avoided his harness. We’ve developed a regular routine for getting his harness on to go running. The routine goes like this: I open the kitchen door. I pick up the harness. Rush runs away from me, out the kitchen door, circles under the outside stairs to the studio over the garage, then sprints past me and stands impatiently at the back gate. He hangs his head like a beaten dog while I slip his harness over his head. I attach the leash and sometimes I give him a cookie (if I have one handy). I open the gate, we go for a run. Rush likes running–when I put my running shoes on he barks and leaps into the air in excitement. He is just not happy about the harness. This has been going on for the entire (almost) two years I’ve been running with him.

Sunday (today is Tuesday) I went to run with Rush and as I picked up the harness and went to open the door, Rush appeared next to me, instead of running the other direction. I put his harness on and we went for a run. It was so easy that I didn’t even realize it had happened until it happened again later that evening, when Jay and I took the dogs for a walk. And then again today: I got my shoes on–and Rush said “okay, let’s go” without his usual detour around the yard.

Somehow, I’ve persuaded Rush to change his mind about the harness. The occasional treat, perhaps? The fun of a run? The regular walks? I don’t know which thing he’s decided makes it worthwhile to get his harness on. It might be the new harness I got a few months ago–it fits rather better than the old one–but he didn’t mind getting the old harness on when I tested it on his walk last night. Maybe he just decided it was too much effort to run around the yard avoiding me.