It’s no secret that labrador retrievers are wonderful companion animals. And it’s no secret that they can transform a hunt from an average day outdoors into an amazing experience of partnership between an owner and her dog by returning an otherwise lost bird to hand. I’ve owned many dogs that were companions and many dogs that were retrievers, but I’ve only owned a few that were truly special in both roles. Rob was one of those dogs.
In 2015, I set a goal of pursuing every species of waterfowl that migrates through the Central Flyway, where we make our home. Brian and I were setter breeders, trainers of pointing dogs, and huge upland hunting enthusiasts, but we wanted an exceptional lab to take with us waterfowl hunting. We imported Rob (Drumgoose Shoal) from Ireland with the help of Barton Ramsey of Southern Oak Kennels. He came to us at age 2, finished and very respectful.
As an amateur athlete, I’ve taken many of my dogs on runs, cross country ski outings, kayak excursions, and hikes, but my bucket list has always included completing a full marathon. So, in 2016, when a dear friend agreed to run the Twin Cities Marathon with me, I was excited and nervous. Because my main training buddy lived four hours away, I knew that most of the training miles for this challenge would be run solo.
Running Down a Dream
In early 2016, I began to undertake my long training runs on the country roads around our home. Initially, I thought I would just bring Rob on the first half—maybe up to about 10 miles. Though it ended up being completely unnecessary, I carried a slip lead to make sure that he stayed with me; after the first mile of him jogging beside me with impeccable manners, I removed it and we finished our 5 mile jaunt side-by-side. (Note: I don’t even like running—it’s something I do because of how I feel afterwards, so the sight of his happy face looking back at me everytime I glanced down at him made my spirit soar.) Once we reached the halfway point in my training, I knew he could keep going for the longer distances. We planned routes where we could take water breaks. They were not only helpful to stay hydrated, but Rob also was able to take swim breaks in wetlands or lakes every few miles to keep him cool! When my training reached its peak, we were out for a little over 4 hours and through it all Rob not only had incredible endurance, but also stayed right by my side—perfectly at heel. My only regret was that I couldn’t have him with me during the actual marathon. Don’t get me wrong, spending that day with human friends was exhilarating, but Rob was missed. Since then, we’ve continued running together and have accumulated lots of great training and hunting memories. Rob is a talented retriever and an incredible foundation dog in our British lab breeding program, but I will always think of him as my marathon training partner.