I get a lot of questions from readers about places to take their dog for serious exercise – like hikes and off-leash runs. A lot of dogs only know the existence of a walk around the block or even just a romp in the back yard. So you can imagine how excited I became when I stumbled across a local service called “Route-dog” (like Route-66, but with dog)! But Route-dog isn’t your typical “dog-walking” service. It’s a dog running service. And I mean serious, serious exercise combined with obedience training.
Route-dog is the brainchild of Jen James and serves local dogs from the Main Line all the way to Northern Liberties. I had the chance to sit down with Jen and chat about this amazing and unique service:
First, off – what exactly are your services? 50-60 minute sessions of serious exercise that are tailored to each individual dog’s needs.
What inspired you to create Route-dog? We get asked a lot where the idea to RUN dogs came from. Route-Dog began as an aid to ”bad dogs” everywhere. All too often dogs are labeled “problematic” and given to shelters or otherwise given up on because they are acting up in some fashion. The truth is, it’s likely these dogs are just not getting enough routine and structured exercise. Many breeds of dogs are working dogs, dogs that were honed specifically to do a certain physically and mentally rigorous job. Nowadays our dog’s jobs are solely to provide us with companionship - we’ve forgotten about the physical and mental livelihood they were bred to fulfill. A lot of times we don’t actually take into account how much exercise our dog needs. And we wonder why they destroyed the couch or our Italian leather shoes while we were at work that day. We get exasperated that they exuberantly yank us down the street on our evening walk. Our services provide an outlet for dogs who need it. Some clients would absolutely not be able to keep their dogs if it weren’t for our services – now that’s inspiration! That’s why when people see us running through rain and mud (simultaneously) we have a huge grin on our face. And so do the dogs!
How did you get it all started and when? I’ve been a runner for a while. I was a swimmer my whole life, then about ten years ago picked up distance running. At first it was difficult switching over, but running quickly became my refuge. Sharing that time of peace and determination with a dog and seeing the positive impact it has on them is always satisfying. I started taking out dogs on my runs a couple years ago and haven’t looked back! Right now it’s myself and a small group of avid runners and lovers of all things dog and the outdoors.
Do you have any dogs of your own? If so, what are their names? Yes! An adopted 2.5 year old female APBT from the North Philly ACCT/PSPCA, Mischka. When I got her from the shelter, she was afraid to be touched, full of anxious energy, emaciated and had bald spots all over. Now she’s a regular cutie – a 55lb lap dog! Distance running makes a huge difference for her in regards to curbing her anxiety and fear problems, not to mention her super high energy level. She is a smart cookie and a little athlete… if she doesn’t get the mental and physical stimulation she needs each day, boy can you tell. She does about 7 miles and still has energy for silly antics throughout the day.
What makes Route-dog different from traditional dog walking services? First of all, we don’t walk. The purpose of our sessions is not elimination breaks or an easy romp in the park. It’s to provide structure, routine and a real energy outlet, both mentally and physically. “We run, we hike, we bike, we swim, we play.” when I say we hike – this is not your grandmother’s hiking. We hoof it. Though it’s not required, most of our clients have dog walkers in addition to us to provide elimination breaks. What we provide is a healthy lifestyle through routine exercise programs that are specifically structured for each dog, individually.
We start by giving free consultations where we take great care to devise unique and exceptionally paired activity schedules based on such things as breed, age, fitness levels and personality. Each schedule is also made to provide flexibility for growth and change over time, as well as be open to change each day. Our services provide things that just can not be achieved through a simple walk.
What we do all depends on what’s best for the dog. Some dogs like running 2 miles with a dog-buddy and using the rest of their session for off-leash play with said buddy. Others would rather zoom down 14 miles of trail alongside us on a bike. I have one dog who’s terrible on leash and a speed junkie to boot…. she gets harnessed to a bike and said biker peddles their heart out to keep up with this little thing who’s been known to do 6 miles in about 35 minutes. There’s a 6 year old Weimaraner who is happiest quietly hiking and exploring. We are a lifestyle for each dog. Most of our dogs are monthly clients who do Monday through Friday. They get the best of it all because they benefit from the most diverse schedules. A dog who does everyday typically gets to do it all – distance runs, hiking, and group activity.
Second, our team is made up of not only people who love animals, but people who are already dog professionals, athletes (marathoners, personal trainers, etc) or both. They also go through training beforehand. All of our runners are experienced and given training to insure we are the best. We pride ourselves on being up to date and knowledgeable on the best techniques, safety, routes, local info and canine behavior. So you always know your pup is in the best of hands.
Third, we provide a lifestyle for our dogs through a schedule that is structured entirely and specifically for each dog’s needs.
What are the benefits? Better behavior and mental stability is reported by all our clients. Dogs experience adventure, discovery, excitement, structure, reinforcement of good behavior, expulsion of pent-up energy, and can even learn a few cute tricks. I’ve taken dogs who were destroying their homes (literally, tearing siding off houses, destroying AC units), becoming dog-aggressive, terrible on leash, not trusted off leash and turned them completely around. One dog who did all the above can now run with me and her dog friends off-leash and it’s the best time of her life. She’s also the best behaved in her group. She takes her runs seriously – She drafts behind me, waits for me to clear hurdles, and even looks at me for my “leave it” command if a deer crosses our path. Three times a week she runs beside me as I bike 10-14 miles in the woods. Believe it or not she’s still full of energy at home, but without her runs she’d be impossible to handle.
Not all dogs are this extreme – the average dog runs 3-7 miles – but seeing a dog who has to run 50+miles a week and knowing it’s because of our services that a pup is happy, content and a well-behaved member of the family that (delete “that”) makes me really happy.
get ready to EXERCISE!