Fences stop our dog Sushi about as well as the words “Please stop” halt a herd of mortally terrified wildebeest. Which is to say, not very well.
Usually when I leave on long runs at stupid-o-clock, Sushi, having leapt the garden fence comes straight to the front door and I put her in the house so that she can’t follow me. I started doing that after she killed a chicken while following me about a mile down the road a few months ago.
This time I thought maybe I could sneak out; rather than walk up and down outside the house for my warm up, I’d walk straight up the road away from where she usually hangs out, and maybe avoid her altogether. That worked great for about 10 yards, until she saw me coming and sprinted to me. I tried shoo-ing her away or ignoring her, and thought I’d succeeded when she was distracted by a couple of neighbourhood dogs, but 200 metres down the coast road from our house she was sprinting to catch me up again.
Sushi has never run away. She runs off all the time, but never out of earshot, and is always very keen to come back in the house, so I figured she must have a cat-like radius system, whereby she is uncomfortable being more than x metres away from what she knows, and would therefore turn back at any moment to return home.
I still believe that, but failed to factor in that I am part of what she knows, part of home, so as long as she was near me she felt like she was close enough to home not to worry. So as I ran down the road with Sushi about 20 yards in front of me, she would turn round at regular intervals to check I was still there. When she wasn’t dashing across the road to sniff a patch of grass, or frightening chickens back into the bush.
After being on what is essentially a side road for about a mile and a half, we came to a much wider road with much faster traffic. I figured this was the last possibility of Sushi turning around and heading home, although by this point I wasn’t sure she’d know her way back or would resist all the distractions of potential prey between here and there.
But she had no hesitation at all. The only thing that changed as we headed down the main road, was that rather than being 20-30 metres ahead of me and checking occasionally, she stayed about 5 metres ahead of me and checked every few seconds to reassure herself that I was still there. When she really wanted my company she’d run along next to me – smack in the middle of the lane. It being 6am on a Sunday morning on a long straight road however, that wasn’t too much of a problem.
Until we got to a roundabout.
It turns out that American tourists aren’t the only ones who struggle with roundabouts – my dog has no idea what she’s doing either. It may be that both suffer from bewilderment at having to go round something rather than straight over it – a canal to an Englishman’s river. So as I worked my way around I looked to see Sushi standing in the middle of the roundabout – staring at me in confusion.
Off-road finally after that we did the 2.5 mile circuit of a local golf course on the side road. There was little danger of Sushi getting hit by a car round there, though she did make an ill-advised advance on a bigger dog, which had her sprinting back to me for dear life. At one point I decided I should give her some of my water. I mean, she hadn’t asked for any, but…heck, what does a dehydrated dog look like anyway? Tongue hanging out and panting? She’s like that in the living room at home. Making a drinking signal with her hands? No hands. Asking for water? Hm. Well…she MUST be thirsty by now. So I squirted about half my water in the direction of her open mouth, which went mainly in her eyes, on her nose and on the pavement but she got some of it…
So she continued, sticking closer to me than ever, all the way around the loop until we were back on the main road, and ready to head back 4.3 miles to home. The first roundabout was close to being the last one she ever saw, and I was grateful to a couple of car drivers for paying enough attention to what they were doing to stop before my confused dog. I felt helpless in all this – I’ve seen too many film clips of owners calling their dogs to them, only for them to get run over in the attempt whereas carrying on with their canine road sense would have left them with greater chance of survival.
For the following mile I had to use a parallel side road – Sushi was far too keen on running up the middle of the lane on the main road I was next to and the further away we were from the roundabout, the faster the traffic would have been approaching.
Then going over a rise in the road, for the first time I thought maybe I’d have the beating of her. She actually stayed behind me for a while – about 10 metres behind. Ha, I thought, it’s your own fault you silly dog you’ve added miles to this run with all your chicken-and-dog chasing and now I’m going to beat you. Then I thought hang on, what will I do if she can’t carry on? She had been running for an hour and a quarter by this point – 45 minutes longer than she ever had with us.
Then after another couple of near-death experiences at the last roundabout we were inside 5K to go and we got to Chicken Central, and for the first time I lost sight of her as she shot into a large area of bush in pursuit of breakfast, or a playmate. I got so far ahead that I turned around and started running back towards her, afraid I’d be out of sight by the time she was finished and wouldn’t know where to go. But no, here she came…and without any feathers around her mouth.
Did she have enough energy left to stay with me? Less than ten seconds later, after she’d made up the 30-second difference at a gentle trot and passed me with barely a glance, I had my answer.
After that, the last two miles were simply a question of whether she would get either herself or me killed with her lack of traffic awareness, but actually she’s reasonably traffic-aware, notwithstanding the defiant running down the middle of the lane and her as-the-crow-files approach to roundabouts. Only once more did she nearly become one with a radiator grill, and that’s when she insisted on running up the other side of the road from me, and seeing me take a fork to the left, had to hastily cross four lanes of side road to get back to me, just as three cars were approaching. But there was no burnt rubber, no mashed dog, and she was back with me in no time, and back home ten minutes later.
And to think, she did all that without using any energy gel packs, no warmups, no warmdown, no dri-fit clothing, very little water, no sunglasses, no cap…barefoot and butt-naked. And ready to go run around and play in the garden after a quick drink and a ten-minute lie down.
Although I’m pretty sure she under-pronates, her vertical osciallation is a tad high, and her stride length is much too long which hampers her cadence…she’ll never make it as a runner…