Trail Running With Your Dog and Developing a Bond

My adventure dog Gregor and I head out most mornings from the house in the dark, cold, quiet, mountain air. Headlamps and light-up collars sending us off into the dark on the dirt roads, up and down along the contours of the mountainside we live on. My dog, living his best life, runs ahead by about 10 feet smelling all the scents along the way. As cars come, I call him back, waiting for the neighbor to pass by. Deer scramble from the open areas, into the wooded sections, upon the first sight of us. Sometimes my dog will try to make a move and chase them, but I recall him with my firmest of dad-tones. I’ve developed such a trust with this dog over the past three years running all over Park City with him, and it is building that bond that I wanted to write about.

The story starts off, way back in July of 2018, when my wife and I first brought Gregor home and into our lives. I tried to keep the miles short, as to not affect his growth, by putting too many miles on his puppy legs. Fortunately, we lived in downtown Park City at the time, where off-leash hiking and biking trails were never more than a 100 yards away from our place. It was in those first few months, when we experimented over and over again with trust and off-leash trail running. Miraculously to me, he eventually stayed by us on our runs when given the freedom off leash. And as my wife would say to me, train him and raise him so that he wants to be by our side. Something that has stuck with me ever since.

Gregor, my Wife Courtney, and I have run all over the west on our weekend trips, as we try packing in as much adventure as possible. But it’s in those long runs in the mountains with Gregor where I’ve developed my strongest connection with him. Sure, in the first mile or two, he is running around like a mad-dog, but after that he settles in, because like every time out, he has no idea how far we are going, and that is where the trust lies. On a whim, I took him up to the top of the Park City Mountain ski resort, to Jupiter Peak. It ended up being nearly 12 miles of pure grinding steep uphill and even faster descent. But over that entire time, climbing some 4,000 vertical feet, he doesn’t complain (not that he could). But it’s the little moments where he looks over his shoulder to check on me, seeing how far back I am, or if he’s still going the correct direction. I will then usually give him some encouragement, letting him know he’s a good dog, realizing how fortunate I am. While that trail run, in particular, absolutely wrecked me getting to the summit, for Gregor, I’d never seen a dog go from tired, to 100% recharged after sprinting and sliding in a snow pile that was hiding out near the peak. Just go es to show you dogs are built so much different than us.

Of course, it’s not always beautiful ridge line runs at sunsets with our dog. Some days he just doesn’t want to go. I can remember Gregor just sitting down in the middle of a trail on rare occasions and whether it’s that he doesn’t have the energy, he wants Courtney to come, or who knows. In the end, I just have to listen to my dog like I would any other running partner and adjust our training plan to accommodate the energy levels. It is those days that help me not take for granted all of the other days we can just go for a run without even a second though that Gregor is just going to come along without ever know how far we are about to run. Which all goes back to that trust and bond we have that he knows it’s going to be okay, no matter where we go.

The last thing I wanted to touch on is the amount we run and exercise. It’s a very weird feeling when I not only am perpetually worried about what shape I am in and what my fitness levels are, but also where the dog is. Granted, his baseline fitness, for just being a dog, is far better than mine will ever be. But I genuinely feel guilty if I do t get him out for a run, whether I’m on my feet, bike, or skis. All because I know how happy he is to come along, and if he’s not in good enough shape, it’s tough to bring I’m on a longer outings in the mountains. So it’s a bit of a cyclical habit, in the sense that I try to run him as possible so he can come with me, and if he’s in shape from running a ton, the I’m more inclined to keep bringing him as much as I can.

Neither me, nor my dog are special. Adventurous dogs in the west, let alone in Park City, are a dime a dozen. Of course there are more athletic dogs and owners out there, but this at all about that. It’s the bond you create with your dog when you treat them like a running partner, rather than just a dog. To empathize with them, that they want to be just as happy as you, and that they can have down days just like any human. The more I run with my dog, the more I learn about myself in the process. And hey, at the end of the day, isn’t that what dogs do best? Make us better humans.

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