By Simon Gear
There are cat people and there are dog people. All little girls are horse people and I even have a mate who is a fish person, insofar as he is prepared to dive down 30 metres without oxygen to kill them. To be honest, I can’t quite figure out if he loves fish or if he hates them with a passion bordering on the psychopathic.
But regardless of what type of person you think you are, dogs know with absolute certainty that all runners are dog people. Runners do all the things that dogs feel are absolute necessities for a well-balanced life. They eat like every meal may be their last meal on earth. They spend Sunday afternoons collapsed in a heap. And on very special occasions, they will chase cyclists across three suburbs if it looks like there’s a chance of catching them.
Not only that, but becoming a dog person actually makes you into a running person. A few years back I stumbled upon a piece of research that reaffirms everything I already knew about dogs and running. Dog owners are the healthiest suburbanites. They are more likely to spend significant time outside than their cat-owning counterparts, and the sorts of things they do outside are generally way more active than the average punter’s weekend routine. Dog owners walk further and more often, use their public spaces more, and are substantially less likely to turn into mad old cat women. Statistically, anyway.
The thing is, dogs recognise a kindred spirit in us.
Thousands of years before we invented the can opener, humans honed their hunting skills on the open plains of southern Africa. We were pretty appallingly adapted for hunting. Even a newly-born gazelle could outrun us in a sprint chase. We were weak, and hopeless at springing out from behind bushes or swooping down from anything taller than a stepladder.
But we did have one huge advantage. We could run. Not fast; but once we got loping along, there wasn’t another animal on the plain who could match us for endurance. Well… there wasn’t another prey animal. But one of the other hunters had the same plan: if you watch wild dogs hunt, they clearly spent some time learning from early humans. Or, more likely, early humans had a good look at wild dogs and wolves and thought, perhaps we can do that too.
Nowadays, not a lot has changed. Humans are still at their primordial best when out running, and dogs do their nut if they sense that a pack outing (so disparagingly called a ‘walk’ these days) is in the offing. Not to take advantage of this gift from the running gods is to do both you and your dog a huge disservice.
Over the years, all my best running partners have been dogs. No human can match them for consistency or enthusiasm, and I’ve found that running with dogs gets me off the road and out into parks I may not have chosen to run in otherwise. What’s interesting is that when I started out, there was a slight sense that my dog was just humouring me. Pleased to be out, no doubt, but just as happy nosing around in the undergrowth as slapping out 4:30 kilometres on the trail. But give it a week or 10 days of this and suddenly, not running means the dog enters endorphin withdrawal. Now, I no longer take my dogs out for a run. They all but drag me out the front door every morning.
I couldn’t be happier.