Leader of the pack

Barry Karacostas, otherwise known as the Dog Jogger, counts supermodel Elle Macpherson and acerbic restaurant critic AA Gill among his fans. Here he reveals how exercising his dog turned into a job that he loves, and how your dog can benefit from a good run…

 

I’ve always had room in my life for dogs. When I look back at my youth – and some of the bits can occasionally be a bit blurry – I always remember which particular one of my canine buddies was there with me at every twist and turn. So for me to build a career around dogs came naturally – it was a calling. But I didn’t just want to do the usual things that all good daycare services do. I wanted to add something special that really enhanced the dogs’ quality of life by looking after their physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing. The answer was obvious – what was good for them was going to be good for me too: we’d get fit together.

I started off jogging with my own dog Leo, and within weeks I could see the difference in us both. We were leaner, fitter, calmer and more disciplined (unsurprisingly my wife was the first to make that little observation).

Gradually I started to add to my running companions, doing it one by one, step by step, just to make sure that I could control the numbers, since this needed to be an off-lead exercise (in both senses of the word). It quickly became clear that – thanks to the relationship I naturally have with dogs and the steady, almost hypnotic rhythm that a running pack can create – controlling the group wasn’t going to be an issue. From the get-go there was never a question of anyone breaking off to do their own thing. Instinctively we had an agreement that I wouldn’t leave them and they wouldn’t leave me. So my first concern, safety, was sorted.

The second thing to think about was whether the same rules and principles that apply to human fitness would equally apply to dogs: do they feel better as a result of exercising too? Well, in terms of the physical aspect, the benefits were obvious. My first pack included a couple of overweight and quite lethargic dogs, as well as a Dalmatian who’d had leg surgery and whose vet had recommended vigorous exercise at the final stages of her rehabilitation.

The difference in these three – as well as in the other dogs of all ages and breeds – was apparent within weeks. The chubbier dogs were shedding their excess weight, the lazier ones got their mojo back, the Dalmatian had lost the fear of using her leg, and the high-energy dogs were finally rid of all that extra get-up-and-go that can occasionally drive them, not to mention their owners, crazy. I’d found a winning formula, and my dogs – and my clients – were loving it as much as I was.

It was important to me that this fitness regime wasn’t about “humanising” dogs and that they regarded their running sessions as something enjoyable. While we humans can choose to go for a punishing run, knowing that it will do us good in the end, I had to be sure that for the dogs it always felt like playtime. Having learned over the years to trust my instincts when it comes to dogs – watching their body language and their facial expressions throughout the run, and recognising the characteristics that communicate pleasure – I didn’t have the slightest doubt about whether this was something they wanted to do. Being one of a group running through parks and woodlands, taking in all these different scents and sights that aren’t otherwise a part of their urban life, exercising the disciplines that come with being part of a pack – for a London dog to have these experiences that utilise all of their natural instincts … it just doesn’t get better than that, does it?

Benefits of Dog Jogging:

– Strengthens muscles, ligaments and bones – and in turn reduces the risks of injury.
– Delays the onset of hip dysplasia and arthritis in breeds susceptible to these conditions (observational studies have suggested that high-intensity exercise helps keep muscles and ball joints supple and free of cartilage build-up).
– Encourages a healthier digestive system.
– Maintains a healthy heart.
– Helps dogs recover from injury and regain fitness in a fast, safe and comfortable way.
– Ensures weight loss in a way that’s healthy and sustainable.
– Improves behaviour and discipline by using up excess (and occasionally destructive) energy.

 

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