When Bob Wilcox tells acquaintances how many miles he runs every week in the course of making a living, he's greeted with stunned disbelief.
Wilcox is a professional dog runner who personally (and with a team of athletic employees) will not just walk your dog, but run with your pup to help it lose weight, reduce anxiety, improve socialization or simply vent natural canine energy."I do log a lot of miles. Right now, it's between 100 and 125 miles a week. At one point it was almost 150," said Wilcox, who founded the company L.A. Dog Jogger.
Those aren't the only impressive stats. Here are a few more:
— In 30- or 60-minute sessions, he runs up to three dogs in a pack, for multiple clients, sometimes six days a week.
— He has no shortage of customers who pay $50 an hour; $30 for a half hour.
— Wilcox buys new running shoes monthly, after every 500 miles.
— He's 54.
Wilcox is a veteran marathon runner who grew up on a Nebraska farm riding horses with dogs trailing along.
"When I was training for marathons, I'd run with dogs. When I moved to L.A., I immediately thought, 'What a hard place to be a dog.' I would see large packs of dogs with dog walkers with huskies, shepherds and Weimaraners that were bred for running and movement that were packed in with slower dogs just moving very slowly down the block."
Looking for new training partners, he began working with hard-to-handle dogs.
"I didn't have my own German shepherd anymore, so I was running my neighbors' dogs and rescue dogs," he said. When requests and referrals started coming in, a business began, one that incorporated his healthcare expertise as a director of operations in hospice and dementia care communities.
His individualized canine care plans typically include a needs assessment, behavior modification, diet analysis and socialization training. He knew that regular exercise helped mellow dogs, making them more receptive to training — or just too tired to shred the couch stuffing.
"I try not to be too anthropomorphic, but physiologically, we need movement. For dogs and humans, it makes us feel better as well as actually be healthier," Wilcox said.
His work has led to a growing celebrity following: He works with actress Melanie Griffith's three rescue dogs: Arlo, a mix of black Labrador, German Shepherd and pit bull; his slightly Mastiff sister, Mickey; and Elliott, a terrier and poodle cross.
"They were really rambunctious and they used to tear up everything," Griffith said. "They needed more exercise than I could give them."
Wilcox takes Arlo with other dogs for a trail run in the early morning, and returns later in the day to walk him with Elliott out in nature. Every other day, he helps rehabilitate Mickey from leg surgery with a walk and a swim in Griffith's pool, where all the dogs join in. No longer bored or frustrated, Griffith's dogs are model citizens.
"The dogs love him. They're really happy now," said Griffith. "Bob's part of the family now."
More tips from the L.A. dog jogger:
Overweight or unenthusiastic dogs may need incentives to move. His strategies?
— Toss balls in front of your dog then run with him to catch it. Repeat.
— Take him to new places where he's eager to explore.
— Introduce him to a small pack of other dogs who like to run.