Eden Prairie’s Harvey Skees Runs with His Dogs

Exercising with dogs takes time, commitment and flexibility.
W. Harvey Skees, of Eden Prairie, walks or runs daily with his dogs, Dottie and Zeus.

While many of us stroll the neighborhood with our dogs regularly to keep fit and healthy, others—like triathlete, Ironman finisher, and self-proclaimed “endurance junkie” W. Harvey Skees of Eden Prairie—take exercising with dogs to a new level.

Skees, owner of rescue dogs Dottie, a 60-pound pit bull mix named for her speckled belly, and Zeus “the Moose,” an American Bulldog who weighs in at nearly 100 pounds, regularly walks and runs with both dogs—sometimes up to seven miles at a time. “Walking with my dogs is just part of our daily routine, no different than eating dinner or brushing my teeth,” he says. “It’s just something I do.”

It takes skill (and bravery) to run with a combined 160-pounds of dog, but Skees, who is a defense attorney by trade, employs several strategies to keep his pack moving smoothly. First, he took the time to explore the relationship between Dottie and Zeus to ensure that they would work well as a pack. For example, Dottie prefers to lead while Zeus likes to follow.

Skees let the dogs sort out things like pace and which side of the path each preferred, to prevent them from crossing in front of him or tangling themselves up. He also exercises politeness by yielding to others on the path. “We take it upon ourselves to step to the side of the path and the dogs are given the ‘heel and sit’ command, where they stay until I say ‘let’s go,’” he says.

Understanding your dogs’ body language is one of the keys to successfully running with dogs, says Dede Weston-Helgoe, a veterinary technician at Waconia Pet Hospital. Weston-Helgoe enjoys running with her two dogs: Finn, a 4-year-old lab, and Maybelle, an 8-year-old bloodhound.

Weston-Helgoe adds that not all dogs like to run, and it’s important to consult your veterinarian about breed, age and distance before running with a dog. Large breeds and dogs under one year should avoid long runs. If your dog is old or has sore joints, it might be time for retirement—try taking walks instead.

Skees points to the importance of the right equipment, noting that sometimes experimentation is necessary to find the best tools for one’s pack. While Dottie walks on a harness, Zeus requires a head lead. “Zeus has a huge prey drive for squirrels and rabbits and can be excitable around other dogs, which causes Dottie to get excitable too,” Skees says of a challenge they face.

But with time and plenty of training—such as the “heel” command—the dogs now stay by his side. He uses a double leash with a rotating base as another way to prevent tangle-ups, and he straps it around his waist to achieve a hands-free system. On snowy winter days, he uses Musher’s Secret, a salve that protects dogs’ paws from snow, ice and salt.

Skees emphasizes the importance of remaining flexible, such as having an alternate route in mind when it’s hot in case there is a need to cut things short. “Best to plan for the unknown when you have 160 pounds of dog strapped around your waist,” he notes.

Dottie and Zeus help Skees maintain his high level of fitness, and they were there for him when his mobility was compromised due to multiple back surgeries. “Contrary to what people think, when you are recovering, doctors want you to move as much as possible,” Skees says.

Being able to recover with the help of his dogs was beneficial not only for Skees’ physical health, but his mental health as well. Skees depended on his pack to keep him motivated. “My only true outlet was walking,” he says.

Of course, Skees isn’t the only one who benefits from this pack’s routine. “If you even mention the ‘W-Word’ (W-A-L-K) both of their ears pop up, they bark and wag their tails excitedly and run for the door,” Skees says. “I think it’s cute. My wife does not.”