The Joy of Running with my Dogs

By Nicky Spinks

Ever since I started running off-road in 2002 I always wanted a dog I could run with. The farm dogs we had then were a little old and set in their ways, so I waited until I bought “Scally”. A crossbred male from Marina Kennels – reduced to £25 as he “needed some work!” That was true; he had been so badly treated that he jumped into his kennel at the farm and didn’t emerge for three days apart from to eat, be sick and go to the loo – when we weren’t around.

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Christmas 2006 at Rocking Stones celebrating my 6 months of surviving cancer with Scally – my first “Running Dog”

I had decided that I wanted there to be three basic “rules” based on what I had learnt from farming and running with my friends who had dogs:

1) The dog must not chase sheep or any other animal.

We only have cows on the farm, and so when my dogs first see sheep we are usually out running. Scally was easy; he was scared of every animal and that included sheep! My later dogs have had to be taught; and I’m of the belief that like most animals, dogs understand pain as retribution quicker and more effectively than any other form of discipline. I have always had success with administering one wallop after the dog is seen to move purposely towards the sheep at what I would call more than a walk. The other way is to let an old dog teach a new dog. This has worked very well between my older dog Tyke and the newer dogs Wisp and Paddy. In fact, I was out running on the moors in the dark recently and all three dogs were all in a line out front. A sheep came from nowhere and darted right across their paths. I really expected instinct to take over and was very impressed when they all totally ignored it.

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Wisp waiting for me and ignoring the sheep. Wisp running with and not in the way of Kirsty and Jean. Lakes March 2017.                                                                          

2) The dog must stay in sight, but not in the way or tripping other runners up.

So I always instruct my friends that they are welcome to give the dog a little poke up the bottom if it’s in the way!! If I’m trying to do speed work, I will pick up a little twig which seems to have the desired effect. I once went flying over Wisp as she stopped right in front of my sprinting effort and it really hurt both of us. I have never used a stick on my dogs but they seem to realise it’s an “extension of my arm”.

3) The owner must not continually shout for or at the dog.

I think that all my dogs appreciate coming running; they absolutely love it. They also know the boundaries and so I don’t need to call them all the time. That also means that when I do call them, and if I’m running with more than one, I call them by the generic term “Dogs”, they come straight away and get a good stroke while the person / bike / car passes by.

Scally was never a perfect running dog; he actually hated leaving the farm, especially in a car. He was also so scared of other people that he liked to run as close to me as possible, i.e. between my legs!! But I persisted and he liked the running, especially when on the moors. It helped when we got another dog “Tango”, a proper nutty collie who didn’t mind travel but didn’t like gun shots, so often I, along with Scally, would be seen hurriedly chasing Tango as she bolted back to the van on hearing any sort of shot or bang. It meant really that we could only run with Tango on a long lead or when we knew there was no shooting and / or no way onto a road.

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Tango (more Steve’s dog than mine). Tango and Scally on one of many HPM reccies

Tango had puppies and I kept two (but one - Tilly - died at two years old) and Tyke became a new running dog. Not being a rescue dog meant he trusted me and training him was easy. He also didn’t like travelling however and was sick continually. Now aged 9 he has got used to travelling and I think of him as a perfect running dog, but unused to life off the farm I never felt I could take either him nor Scally further than the Peak District! They did however get to know the Edale Skyline, the High Peak Marathon and the Grin and Bear It race routes in great detail!

So when Scally passed away, I was looking for a replacement dog and was recommended Pennine Animal Welfare I rang and Sue said yes she had a dog that needed a lady owner as she came from a battered woman’s home, and so she was totally terrified of men. Sue thought she was a cross between a long-sight hound and a short-haired collie. I loved her at first sight, purchased her and called her Wisp. That was two years ago and since then Wisp has become my perfect running companion. We have travelled far and wide and she has learnt the Bob Graham both clockwise and anti clockwise, helped me on support for the Bob Graham and the Paddy Buckley; in the dark across Glyders and Tryfan even! And once visited Scotland when I visited my parents on Lewis; she is not a fan of the ferry though. That makes two of us!!

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Wisp and I in the Lake District. Wisp holding out the “Can we go now?” paw

It has taken time and is a slow learning process; I had heard of dogs running off cliffs and so I introduced Wisp slowly to the perils of the Lakes and Wales. I first took her up Halls Fell and then slowly progressed; Foxes Tarn, Lords Rake, Sharp Edge and then Tryfan. When she is unhappy she clings to me and if it’s on a descent she is right behind me, so if she slides she lands on my rucksack! Initially this was slightly unnerving for me but now I’m happy knowing she trusts me and I can stop her falling.

I then broke off writing this article to go running locally with all three dogs and I remembered another reason I wanted a dog to run with – for safety. I feel safe on the remote moors running on my own; there my dogs are great companions, but when I run locally I feel safer when I have a dog or two about me. My dogs won’t approach people or other dogs, but it’s nice to have the security that I think they bring. Last night my run was three laps of a golf course doing speed work. The dogs don’t really understand speed work but they do all the laps, speeding up and slowing down when I do.

My dogs have been the most faithful recce companions that I have had. I remember spending an hour in foul weather in January with my High Peak Team mates looking for Wain Stones. It was 10.30pm and eventually they made me give up. I must admit we were all soaked and wanted to go home; even my dogs Tyke and Wisp looked tired at the end of a long night. The next morning I got dressed in running gear and Tyke and Wisp were bouncing around, keen to go again. For me it was a matter of unfinished business but to them it was just another chance to go running – in yet more foul weather. We got to Bleaklow Stones and headed off for Wain Stones and we found it. I spent an hour running back and forth making sure I knew how to find Wain Stones from all possible angles. The dogs; although not understanding this strange behaviour and stopping each time we cross the path home, dutifully followed me this way and that way. When I was done we shared our sandwiches and all trotted back to the van, very happy and satisfied.

When I’m travelling to the mountains in the van, with Wisp in her cage in the back, I discuss our plans with her. When we arrive she is so keen to get going. She doesn’t need to change her shoes or faff with her pack. On my last trip we reccied the Joss Naylor. It was bitterly cold and after 5 hours even Wisp was glad of the warmth of the Kirkstone Inn. She sat as good as gold watching us drinking tea, then wolfed down her biscuits that I always carry for her on our way out. I realised about a year ago that she requires extra energy when on a long day out with us and now carry food for her. Then the next day she was the only one of us who was keen to get back on the hill. Her enthusiasm is infectious and the way she loves to roll in any snow that she finds amuses everybody that witnesses it. I tried to get photos but she moves too quickly!!

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Dogs have been part of my life since I was a child and I miss them so much when we go on holiday. They were there when I had cancer and there when Steve and I got married. I can’t imagine a life without them. They come and go and it’s always sad to lose one or have to make that decision to end their pain. But I know they will have enjoyed their life on the farm and out running with me. I remember each one very fondly and have enjoyed looking back through the photos to write this article.

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R.I.P … Scally, Tango and Tilly.

Here’s to good times … Tyke, Wisp and Paddy

Thank you all.

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Originally published 07/03/17

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