“But, Did you die?”

Up until a few years ago I was an extremely active member in the Crossfit community. I ended up with a back injury that forced me to walk away from the sport, but I still admire the mentality of the athletes that show up to challenge themselves physically and mentally. A popular saying in the Crossfit community is “But, did you die?”. This is a piece of dark humor that is thrown around as a counter to complaining after a hard workout. Yes, it was difficult. But you survived and will likely do it again tomorrow. 

Last week, Chief joined me for a 9 mile trail run. I was incredibly proud of my little sidekick for sticking with me for the hour and a half it took to complete. So proud, in fact, that I boasted about him to anyone that would listen. What I was not prepared for were the looks of horror on people’s faces as I told them what he had accomplished. Multiple times I was asked if he was ok, if he should be doing that, or why I didn’t leave him home. It dawned on me that some people have not had the opportunity to truly see what dogs are capable of. 

What these people didn’t see is all of the days, weeks, and months of preparation leading up to this run. We didn’t just walk out the door, pick a random number of miles, and take off at a full sprint. This has been carefully planned and executed over an extended period of time. Chief is conditioned daily to make sure his muscles and joints are stable and protected. He started at short distances and worked his way up in mileage. We run shorter training runs multiple times a week to build endurance. This is a dog that is capable of doing hard things. 

Fi Dogs x Strava stats from our 9 mile run

I know not every breed, or dog of any breed for that matter, is able to rise to the same challenges that Chief has faced and overcome with me. I do think there is a lesson here for every dog handler. Your dog is built to do amazing things. Dogs are resilient, thrive in a learning environment when given the right guidance, and bred with a purpose. Even mixed breeds are derivative of a dog that is genetically designed to excel at a particular function. So many dogs will never realize their full potential, but will live an incredible and fulfilling life nonetheless. 

The challenges Chief and I take on together have solidified our relationship in ways I hope every dog handler will someday experience. When we run together, we don’t just run in silence at a steady pace the entire distance. We run, I give him verbal praise for exhibiting solid trail manners and good behavior, we take water breaks, I let him swim if we come across clean water, and of course he gets to sniff along the way. If Chief comes on a run, I run HIS pace. I don’t push him to unsafe limits, but I let him show me what he is capable of.

Enjoying a mud pit at the half way point of our run

I am sure some of you are reading this thinking “my dog could never safely run long distance” due to breed/injury/medical issue/etc. There are so many other ways to challenge your dog that are fulfilling and focus on relationship building. Have you ever tried dog sports? Enter your dog’s breed and “sport” into a search engine and I bet you will find a dog sport you have never heard of that is fairly specific to your dog’s breed. Unable to participate in dog sports? Try trick training. Even simple, fun tricks are a great way to challenge your dog as well as test your skills as a handler. Challenging your dog and tapping into their sense of purpose is extremely fulfilling for them. 

This is a topic I have had at the forefront of my mind as the warm weather months have come around in New England. Everyday I see dogs walking on my street that I have never seen before, as I assume they were kept indoors through the winter. Dogs are an incredible source of support to us and as we should challenge them, we should also allow them to challenge us. When you don’t want to go for a walk, remember how much they would enjoy it. For me, there are days where I have no motivation to run. Chief has completely changed my mindset and I find myself excited to exercise with him even when it isn’t the easy choice to make on that particular day. 

Show up for your dog, and help them be the best dog they can be. I hope keeping my dogs fit, active, and mentally sharp will contribute to them living longer and happier lives. Having dogs isn’t always easy, but as we challenge them, they challenge us to be a better person and handler.

Photo by Sport Dog Photography

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