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How Dog Training is like Marathon Training


This week I started training for my second marathon. I did my first marathon four years ago, so I'll really have to start from scratch for this one. As of this morning I'm several miles in, a bit sore but definitely happy.


There are SO many similarities between training a dog and training for a marathon. I wonder if it's any surprise that many runners are also dog owners and have quite well-trained dogs! Here's some of my observations of where marathoning and dog training are similar: 


1) Start somewhere, but start. Some runners start with bodies primed and fit. Some start with out-of-shape bodies and a weakness for junk food. Some even start with asthma, bad knees or other challenges. But all of them have a destination.


In dog training, sometimes we're starting with a young, healthy, temperamentally sound, agreeable dog who's going to make training a breeze. Sometimes we start with a dog who already has a lot of behavior problems. Sometimes there's even a serious behavior problem. Just getting started and making that commitment though, is what everybody has in common.


2) Do it with a plan. Even experienced runners usually involve some sort of plan for their marathon preparation. For me it's two low-mile runs a week, two medium, one long run, and two rest days, with weekly mileage increasing by no more than 10% each week.


For dogs, having a training plan can skyrocket your success. If your plan is, for example, practice indoors until it's easy for the dog, then practice in low-distraction area, then medium-distraction, then high-distraction, then you might just get your dream of a dog who can work against all distractions.


3) And then *follow* the plan. If, halfway through my marathon training I were to think "This is easy, I'm going to replace my 10-mile long run with a 20-mile long run!" I would surely suffer the consequences. I might even end up with a stress fracture or other injury! I just wouldn't be ready for it.


To use that same distraction-training example from earlier, if your dog was performing well in low-distraction areas and you decided to take him out and "test" him at Portland Saturday Market or downtown on the waterfront, or somewhere else with millions of distractions and other dogs, there's no way he could do it! Both of you would end up stressed out and disheartened. 


4) Trust the process. It's easy for a runner to self-sabotage by thinking about their ultimate goal and then shirking: "There's no WAY that I would ever be able to run 26.2 miles." And it's easy for a dog owner to self-sabotage by "There's no WAY that my dog could ever perform off-leash in distractions." What marathon training (and dog training) have taught me is that IF you truly do make an effort, follow the steps, and trust the process, eventually it WILL happen. This is very powerful. At some point you have to just trust the process. And it will get done.


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