Why I do speedwork with my dog

I do fartleks with my dog. It allows us to spend some time together outdoors, we both get in a run and he is reminded who’s boss. He is.

Here’s how it works: wearing my running gear I trot with him from home to the local park early in the morning. The grass is usually still slick with dew and the ground is uneven so I wear trail shoes. For a while I run slowly with him and he is usually compliant, only occasionally straining and spinning his front legs like Scooby Doo trying to escape from a crooked real estate investor dressed as a ghost.

I use an ordinary lead, not a hands-free running device, because that arrangement seems to me to suggest that the dog is leading someone of very limited intellect on his daily walk before it’s time for crayon class.

When we are both sufficiently warmed up l stop, unclip his lead and wait. First he vigorously shakes his head with his mighty neck muscles (he’s a Staffie crossed with, I think, a bouncer). He does this to verify he has indeed been temporarily unshackled and is free to run and bound and leap and urinate, all with the same boundless enthusiasm and lack of direction. Then he looks up at me, big head cocked: So…?

I nod, fold the lead and gesture royally that he is free to wander. And so the session begins. Away he goes, cagily at first, looking over his shoulder every now and then: This isn’t a joke, is it? Well, all right then, that being the case I’ll just head over here for a bit…nothing much to see by this tree…and this doesn’t looks terribly…OH MY GOD, IS THAT A TURD? IT IS! DELICIOUS, NUTRITIOUS TURD! I’M SO HAPPY! LOOK AT MY TAIL!

And we’re off to the races. You see, my dog eats excrement. Not his own, I am relieved to report, but the deposits of other dogs, foxes and… well, I don’t really want to consider other culprits. He will try to do this whenever he can and so my job is to get to him before he buries his face in the faeces. He could be a mere five metres away, he could be 15 and that’s what keeps me on my toes and ensures I never become bored with the session, which is part of the fun of the fartlek. He trots ahead and I follow, muscles quivering with anticipation, trying to keep an eye on his movements and at the same time ensure I’m not about to trip on, say, a tree root or (one time) an abandoned moped. As soon as I see him make a suspiciously sharp turn and lower his head I know he has located a delightful morsel (or, much worse, a complete meal) and it’s time for me to break into a sprint, calling “Leave it! Leave it! If you ever want to lick my face again, leave it!” while trying to keep the hysteria out of my voice. If I’m having a speedy day, if those fast-twitch muscles are firing on all cylinders and I can achieve Tom Cruise levels of running intensity, I reach him in time and my purposeful proximity, combined with my heavy breathing, is usually enough to ensure he very reluctantly obeys me. If not, he just looks up at me with this turd-eating grin on his face.