Finding the best bet in a pet to make a running companion


Q: I like to run for exercise, and have never had any problems finding people to run with -- until recently. I changed jobs and now work a schedule that includes nights and weekends. Now I run in the morning, when most of my friends are at work.

I'd like to get a large dog for companionship and protection. Any suggestions as to the breed? I've always had small dogs before.

A: There's no doubt a large, well-trained dog can be one heck of a crime deterrent.

But don't let security be your only reason for getting a large dog. If you've never had a large dog before, you may be amazed at how much more food one can pack away, and how much more underfoot one can be. A Pomeranian leaping at the front window can be mildly annoying; a German shepherd can be wildly destructive. A toddler can walk an untrained toy poodle; a weightlifter would have trouble with an untrained Labrador retriever.

If you still want a big dog, bear in mind that almost any properly trained medium- or large-breed dog can be an enthusiastic jogging partner. Hunting dogs, such as setters, pointers and retrievers, thrive on the active life you have described. Working dogs such as akitas, Dobermans, Rottweilers and collies would also be acceptable, as would any healthy mixed-breed.

Don't go too crazy with size, however. Big beasties like St. Bernards and Newfoundlands may have problems lugging their immense bulk around on a warm day. Stay in the 50- to 90-pound range, pick the breed type you like and be prepared to shop around. Most large breeds have problems with hip dysplasia, a genetic disorder that would keep any afflicted animal from being running mate. Buy from a breeder who can show you documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation of America that his or her breeding stock is free from this crippling disability.

If you adopt a puppy, you'll have to wait awhile until you've got a running partner. Large-breed puppies mature slowly and have bones that are too soft to endure the punishment of roadwork. Let your puppy grow up, and don't push the mileage until he's ready to handle it.

For either a puppy or an adult dog, obedience-training is a must. The dog must learn to run at heel, to keep from being distracted by such roadside diversions as cats, dogs or other joggers. An obedience class, enthusiasm and time are all you need to develop these skills.

I usually believe there's no such thing as too much training, but I draw the line at "protection" lessons. Serious competitors in protection sports work constantly with their dogs to keep them in top form. The time involved in such practice is more than most people are prepared to commit. A sloppily trained and rarely drilled protection dog is a menace to all, and for that reason I don't recommend protection training.

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