I Reveal My Trick For Teaching My Dog to Run With Me

Experts say dogs shouldn’t go distance running until their bones are well formed at about one year of age (some say even older). So I waited until after our Standard Poodle, Mersey, had her first birthday before going on a sustained run with her. 

That noted, I prepared her in small ways for the big day. 

First, thanks mostly to my wife, Claire, Mersey got plenty of exercise as a puppy, typically two sessions a day of walks and / or play dates with other puppies. And when I walked her, I occasionally broke into a trot, testing her and letting her know to expect more of this in her future. She responded well, immediately picking up on the new pace and matching it, like it was a game, and she wanted to play.

But that was the extent of her preparation. So when I took her out for her first run a few weeks after her first birthday, I was leaping into the unknown. Would she enjoy it, sticking with me and bounding along like we were having a great adventure? Or would she pull me in all directions, stop every 50 feet for an intensive sniff, or lag behind like I was dragging her through a torture chamber eventually pulling to a stop and stubbornly refusing to move? In a moment, I would find out. 

We began by following our usual walking pattern, bursting out the door and down the driveway along with our other dog and her usual walking partner, Dusty, who my wife was going to take separately. The familiar pattern changed at the end of the driveway, when we broke into a trot while my wife and Dusty walked in the opposite direction. 

Mersey was confused. She twisted and turned, trying to understand why they were walking the other way. After several twists, we were down the block and they were out of sight. She turned again as if to verify her fate then resettled into her new pace. My pace. 

This is a dog who can pull intensely for long stretches of a walk. But now the rope leash was limp. She stayed close, sometimes sliding slightly ahead, sometimes slightly behind. I cheated on my usual responsible monitoring of the street and sidewalk where my feet were landing to steal glimpses of her. She seemed to be enjoying it, her head moving from side to side, focusing here, then there, watching the world roll by more quickly than usual, taking it all in. She’s an observer. In the car, watching our TV, sitting in the backyard. And now, on a run. 

We ran five miles that day. She kept pace with me nearly the whole way, a feat she has repeated on every run since. 

I used my phone to shoot this video of Mersey keeping nearly perfect pace with me along the Genesee River path in Rochester, N.Y. 

Yes, our runs have been disrupted now and then by wildlife and other distractions. But there’s no denying it: she’s a natural. I’m amazed each time I run with her that she keeps perfect pace with me for minutes on end. And I did nothing to train her. She arrived at her first birthday running ready. I just guided her out the door. I imagine there’s a method to train a dog to run with you. But this time at least, I didn’t need it. 

When Even Fantasy Shuts Down

You’d think during a time of social distancing that one’s imagination would blossom and fill some of the daily routine’s newly empty space with unsuppressed wonder and delight. So imagine my disappointment last week when my one ongoing fantasy was utterly dashed. 

It was announced in an email from the University of Snipe’s Dean Dangle. He’s also commissioner of the Gump Worsley Invitational Fantasy Hockey League in which his school and my team, the Ellwanger Maple Leaves, compete. The unfinished coronavirus-plagued season is over. It won’t be salvaged. No make-up games. No playoffs. No cash awards to top finishers. 

W-w-wait. No cash awards? So what happened to the money I paid in, to fund the awards? 

No worries. According to Dangle, that money will transfer to next year “so no League fees will be required for the 2020/2021 season.”

Fantasy draft night is a national holiday if you call in sick that day. 

OK, if there’s nothing shady going on, then I guess it’s okay to reminisce about the season. It began with great promise, with the draft party at the commissioner’s office. Bold signage let everyone on the block know if was draft night. Dean Dangle’s squad showed off new University of Snipe wearables and shared such locker room staples as pizza, wings, pucks and water bottles, as well as complimentary mints. My fantasy was festive!

Food spread at the draft party anticipated the fast food fare champions could expect should they accept an invitation to the White House. 

My team, the Ellwanger Maple Leaves, got off to a rough start, but by March we had clawed our way back to fourth place in the 10-team league, getting hot just in time for the playoffs. My fantasy had fire!

Then on March 12, the NHL suspended play. Anyone who knows anything about fantasy sports knows our league needs the pros in action so their stats can fill our score sheets. In other words, my fantasy was f***ed!

If white males focused as much attention on the election as they do on their fantasy hockey drafts, Wayne Gretzky would be president.

But not so fast. Our league play was officially on hold while the NHL worked out details of if and how it would complete the season, and last week the NHL returned to action. Well apparently Dean Dangle got deked during negotiations, because the NHL chose to close out the year with a format that was incompatible with the Gump Worsley Invitational bylaws. The NHL’s 24-team playoff means that fantasy squads with players on the NHL teams that advance would have an insurmountable advantage.

So Dean Dangle was forced to forfeit our fantasy. It’s hard for me to say those words. (F’s have always given me trouble and with that much alliteration…I don’t even want to go there.)

These University of Snipe water bottles can contain any legal beverage.

For what it’s worth, the unprecedented action came “after much deliberation and due an abundance of caution,” Dangle claimed. “The League spent a great deal of time consulting officials and reaching out to how other fantasy hockey leagues across the sphere were handling the end of the season. There was no consensus – but we felt this one was the fairest across the board.”

These University of Snipe logoed hockey pucks have no actual role in fantasy hockey. 

Whatever. As another Gump once said, fantasy is as fantasy does. And in my fantasy, my Maple Leaves are just starting what I believe will be an epic run that will eventually find me hoisting high the Gump Worsley Cup (not the athletic supporter he wore when playing goalie, but something more like the Stanley Cup) while dancing around in my living room, occasionally blocking my wife’s view of the TV.

I’d invite you to join the celebration, but I’m not yet ready to fantasize that the coronavirus pandemic’s social distancing will be over any time soon. All the same, please go ahead and enjoy a mint, compliments of the University of Snipe.

Mints provided on draft night were custom made in the University of Snipe’s team colors, red and white. 

Note: Photo of Gump Worsley at top of page is a trading card photo of the Montreal Canadiens goalie that was printed on the backs of Chex cereal boxes in the United States and Canada from 1963 to 1965. 

The NFL Will Be Back This Fall

The National Football League will play its schedule this fall. Even it baseball never throws its first pitch. Even if a second wave of COVID-19 kicks in. Even if some states ban gatherings of 1,000-plus. And while post-coronavirus football will make adjustments, none will change the essentials of the game. 

This week’s NFL draft will not be in vain. 

Yes, training camps will start later than usual. But come on. The starters hardly play in the pre-season games anyway. They’ll be ready on opening day. 

Coaches, who tend to be older and therefore at greater risk of COVID complications, will now wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) on the sidelines. No big deal though—most of them already look pretty nerdy. 

More devastating: fans may not be allowed in the stadiums, protecting the larger population but making the NFL a TV-only league. But here’s a news flash: people like watching football on TV! We’ll miss the tailgating and the 12thman heroics, but we’ll adjust.

Then there’s the players. They’ll have to contend with a new threat: COVID-19. But let’s be real. NFL locker rooms aren’t exactly nursing homes (though Tampa Bay’s room may get reclassified as an assisted living facility since Tom Brady’s signing). 

Still, the risk of hospital stays or even death for COVID-19-inflicted NFL players isn’t zero. A handful of players have diabetes, some have asthma, and as many as 14 percent have high blood pressure(and 90 percent of linemen), according to American Medical Association-published studies—factors that increase the risk for COVID-19 complications. 

So let’s cut to the chase: how many COVID deaths can we expect in the 2020 season? One? Two? Three or four at the most? Well guess what? Four active players have diedin three different seasons: 2007, 1964 and 1963, and three have died in six campaigns, most recently in 2012. Yes, those are high numbers. Yes, each death is tragic. Yes, it’s sad. But experiencing three or four deaths of active NFL players in a season is not unheard of. 

And let’s face it. Health implications are far worse for retired players than for active ones. More than half of NFL playershave body mass indexes that put them at risk of diabetes. The high blood pressure increases the likelihood of future heart disease. Then there’s chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma, resulting in symptoms like memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and suicidal behavior.  A studypublished in the Journal of the American Medical Associationin 2017 found CTE in 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players they studied. To sum up: nearly every NFL player gets it. 

Indeed CTE has introduced a new brand of danger to the NFL—and the coronavirus can slot right into that same lane. If players inhale each other’s potentially coronavirus-laden droplets in the trenches or when they’re putting a big hit on that running back or when they’re doing those homo-erotic end-zone celebrations, well, it’s all part of the game. It’s their destiny. It’s American’s destiny. Let’s embrace it!

Let’s savor Tom Brady’s new quest to lead a non-Bill Belichick team to the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to take place in Brady’s new home stadium in Tampa Bay this year, by the way. Let’s rejoice when the nation’s betting capital finally gets its own team as the erstwhile Oakland Raiders open their first season in Las Vegas. And most importantly, let’s take note that the Buffalo Bills are No. 11 in the pre-season power rankings of both ESPN and Sports Illustrated. After more than two decades of frustration and entering the fourth season of a Brandon Beane / Sean McDermott-led rebuild, the Bills are ready to return to form. 

We can’t let that just slip away.

The photo at the top of the page by chaddavis.photography is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license: cc-by-sa-2.0.