activities & sports
News: Guest Posts
Lisa's post about treadmills reminded me of a story I heard a few years ago--in New York City--concerning two pit bulls who dropped dead from heart attacks (or heat exhaustion? I can't remember) because they were being forced to run on treadmills. These were fighting-ring dogs, of course. They were tethered (chained!) to treadmills and forced to run in order to make them 'tough." Ack!
One of the "owners" of the dogs was actually quoted as saying something to the effect of: "Well, if he died, that means he wouldn't have been a good fighter."
This is an extreme example, of course, of why it might be better to exercise your dog in the great outdoors rather than on a treadmill. But, my humble opinion is that these treadmill manufacturers are trying to convince dog guardians that it’s okay--even desirable--to substitute a treadmill session for an honest to goodness walk. (I might go so far as to say, "...to cut corners, and be lazy.") Next, they’ll be equipping their machines with built-in iPod docks and televisions, and selling us videos of squirrels, and iTune tracks of birds chirping or perhaps the theme from Rocky. "Your dog will be inspired to run for miles!"
Here’s what the people at www.jogadog.com promise use of their product will achieve:
They conclude their sales pitch with: Designed with the input of veterinarians, physical therapists and engineers, JOG A DOG is truly the best exercise system available for the most discriminating consumer.
Hmmm......if you were sitting on your butt late at night watching television, and this commerical came on, and you were too tired to get up and turn it off, and you knew nothing about the needs of dogs, would you be tempted? I wonder...
I am lucky that I live near the ocean, and that my dog gets to gallop along its shores every day. But even when I lived in the city, and it was 800 degrees below zero, my dog went outside for his exercise: off-leash, free, fluid, and blissful. That, to me, is 'truly the best exercise' a dog (or a human) can enjoy. Does that mean I am not a 'discriminating owner'?
Okay, I'll get off the bandwagon now. And I’m not trying to say that the people who exercise their Basset Hounds on treadmills are wrong or evil. "To each his own" is the motto I try to live by. But maybe our treadmill users are just a bit, well, misinformed. It’s likely they were informed by advertisers.
It’s our job, as dog lovers and Bark readers, to inform them otherwise. :)
News: Guest Posts
Lately, I see dogs on treadmills, and I don't mean in my dreams or metaphorically. Folks are seriously opting for machines, particularly, it seems, for basset hounds. The word is that since exercise is good for dogs, this can’t be bad. Better than nothing, maybe, but you have to think that Clementine, Skully and Hank (below), would be much happier wandering at their own varied pace out where squirrels chirp on branches and honest-to-goodness urine wafts from every hydrant, mailbox and tree. Even the Jetsons’ treadmill was out on the space-deck and included a thrilling cat chase.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Lacey, a short-legged, longbodied dog with pert ears and soulful brown eyes, lopes toward the first hurdle, tail wagging as the crowd cheers her on. Sneakers and padded paws pound against the rubberized matting as the canine competitor dashes through a long tunnel, guided by her handler’s words and signals.
No, this isn’t a high-level agility competition, and the dog/handler duo isn’t what one might consider professional. Lacey is a seven-year-old mystery mix who, according to owner/handler Marilyn Stearns, “would run from her own shadow” until she began agility. Stearns, a 75-year-old retired Maine schoolteacher, had no idea what she was getting herself into when she signed Lacey up for her first “Dog Romp” class shortly after rescuing the little pooch. “She was just so afraid of everything and everyone, and I thought … ‘Well, now that I have the time, why not get her and me out of the house and see what happens?’”
Four years later, Lacey’s boldly bounding over hurdles, snuffling through tunnels and gazing adoringly at Stearns at the end of their runs. “I’d never done anything like this before — I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” Stearns says. “But she took to it right away, and I’ve had the time of my life.” Stearns is not alone. With dog sports as varied as tracking, agility, rally or dock diving, and sporting clubs offering classes and competition venues around the world, more and more retirees are choosing pastimes with a distinctly canine flair. “It challenges both mind and body,” says Melissa Johnson, a fellow septuagenarian who teaches agility at Wag It, Inc., a training center in Lincolnville, Maine. “Every course is a puzzle, so it presents an immediate challenge for both the handler and the dogs. Very few activities that people our age can participate in [offer] that.”
In addition to the mind/body appeal, dog sports provide participants with opportunities to bond not only with their canine companions, but with a larger community as well.
“I’d say over half my students right now are over 50,” notes Jean MacKenzie, owner of New Hampshire– based Tova Training and one of the founding mothers of agility in the U.S. “Part of the attraction is the social outlet it provides. Students come together with a common interest in dogs, and friendships grow from there.”
When talking about dog sports, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the physical benefits of canine competition. While agility is a highimpact activity that requires both dog and handler to be quick on their feet, others, such as rally and tracking, are less intense. Regardless of what activity a participant chooses, however, MacKenzie notes that her students invariably make an effort to get in shape once they get serious about their sport of choice.
“We already know people are more active when they have dogs,” says MacKenzie, “but once they have that goal of competing or trying to get their dogs to a higher level, they’re more apt to get on the bicycle or go for a hike — anything to improve communication and strengthen that human-animal bond.”
That human-animal bond, of course, is the real draw for dog sport competitors of all ages.
Marilyn Stearns, whose dog Lacey recently took third place at Wag It, Inc.’s very own Wag It Games, agrees that her deepened relationship with her pup is at the heart of her continued participation in agility.
“I look forward to it every week because Lacey has such a good time and we’ve gotten so close working together like this … I just love seeing her confidence grow, and being able to be out and active with people who love their dogs as much as I do.”
Whether you’re newly retired or an octogenarian with a four-legged friend looking for something to do, consider taking up one of the many dog sports available today. Chances are good that, regardless of your age or fitness level, there’s a sport just right for you and your canine companion.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
This information has been adapted from Dan Nelson’s Best Hikes With Dogs: Western Washington, 2nd Ed.
Hiking trails are a gateway to good physical and mental health for both you and your dog. A few hours spent immersed in nature can cleanse the spirit and strengthen your bond with your canine companion. But it’s important to recognize that anyone who enjoys backcountry trails has a responsibility to those trails and to other trail users. Outdoor experts Dan Nelson and The Mountaineers Books (publisher of the Best Hikes with Dogs series) remind us that we must be sensitive to the environment and pay attention to other trail users to preserve the tranquility of the wild lands.
As a hiker, you are responsible for your own actions. As a dog owner, you have an additional responsibility: your dog’s actions. When you encounter other trail users, whether hikers, climbers, trail runners, bicyclists, or horse riders, the only hard-and-fast rule is to observe common sense and simple courtesy. With that “Golden Rule of Trail Etiquette” firmly in mind, here are other techniques to ensure smooth encounters on the trail:
- Hikers who take their dogs on the trails should have their dogs on a leash—or under very strict voice command—at all times. Strict voice command means the dog immediately heels when told, stays at heel and refrains from barking.
- When dog owners meet any other trail users, dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow the other users to pass without worrying about “getting sniffed.”
- When meeting horses on the trail, the dog owner must first yield the trail but also must make sure the dog stays calm, does not bark and makes no move toward the horse. Horses can be easily spooked by strange dogs, and it is the dog owner’s responsibility to keep his or her animal quiet and under firm control. Move well off the trail (downhill from the trail when possible) and stay off the trail, with your dog held close to your side, until the horses pass well beyond you.
If the terrain makes stepping to the downhill side of the trail difficult or dangerous, move to the uphill side of the trail, but crouch down a bit so you do not tower over the horses’ heads. Also, do not stand behind trees or brush where horses cannot see you until they get close, when your sudden appearance could startle trail animals. Rather, stay in clear view and talk in a normal voice to the riders. This calms the horses.
- In general, the hiker moving uphill has the right-of-way. There are two general reasons for this. First, on steep ascents, hikers may be watching the trail before them and not notice the approach of descending hikers until they are face-to-face. More importantly, it is easier for descending hikers to break their stride and step off the trail than it is for those who have fallen into a good, climbing plod. If, however, the hiker who is ascending is in need of a rest, he or she may choose to step off the trail and yield the right-of-way to the downhill hikers, but this is the decision of the climbers alone.
- When hikers meet other user groups, the hikers should move off the trail. This is because hikers are generally the most mobile and flexible users; it is easier for hikers to step off the trail than for bicyclists to lift their bikes or for horse riders to steer their animals off-trail.
- Hikers and dogs should stick to the trails and practice minimum impact. Don’t cut switchbacks, take shortcuts or make new trails. If your destination is off-trail, leave the trail in as direct a manner as possible. That is, move away from the trail in a line perpendicular to the trail. Once well clear of the trail, adjust your route to your destination.
- Obey the rules specific to the trail you are visiting. Many trails are closed to certain types of use, including hiking with dogs or riding horses.
- Avoid disturbing wildlife, especially in winter and in calving or nesting areas. Observe from a distance—even if you cannot get the picture you want from a distance, resist the urge to move close. This not only keeps you safer but also prevents the animal from having to exert itself unnecessarily fleeing from you.
- Leave all natural creatures, objects and features as you found them for others to enjoy.
- Never roll rocks off trails or cliffs—you never know who or what is below you.
These are just a few of the ways hikers with dogs can maintain a safe and harmonious trail environment. You don’t need to make these rules fit every situation, just be friendly and courteous to other people on the trail. If they have questions about your dog, try to be informative and helpful. Many of the folks unfamiliar with dogs on trails will be reassured about the friendliness and trail-worthiness of your dog if they see the animal wearing a pack or reflective vest of some sort. (Indeed, I often encountered people on the trail who were enchanted by the fact that Parka carried her own gear.) If they have dogs, they’ll often ask advice on training dogs to carry a pack; if they are non-dog owners, they’ll at least smile and give her a pat.
Those of us who love to hike with our dogs must be the epitome of respectful and responsible trail users. When other hikers encounter dogs and their people behaving responsibly, they will come away with a positive experience. In this way, we also help ourselves by preventing actions that could lead to additional trail closures or restrictions for dog hikers.
In short, hikers can usually avoid problems with other trail users by always practicing the Golden Rule of Trail Etiquette: Common sense and courtesy are the order of the day.
[The Mountaineers Books Best Hikes with Dogs series]
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
The water is always fine when you and your dog go dock diving.
On a drizzly Midwest morning my husband and I joined a small group gathered at the edge of a pond to watch one of the country's top dock-diving dog teams in action. Handler Dave Breen of Oregon, Illinois, and his awesome Lab/German Shorthaired Pointer mix, Black Jack, are pioneers in this young sport.
Breen asked Black Jack to sit and stay at the dock's end closest to land, then walked to the opposite end and turned to face his dog. Black Jack, quivering with excitement, could barely contain himself. Breen released him and, as a galloping Black Jack approached the edge of the dock, threw his toy into the water. The big dog leaped and landed with a splash. He grabbed his toy and happily paddled to Breen, now back on shore. Just as Breen reached for the toy, Black Jack gave a mighty shake from head to tail, spraying water everywhere. At that moment, I realized that I was going to get just as wet as my dogs.
Dock diving was invented in 1999 by Shadd and Melanie Field for ESPN's Great Outdoor Games and has grown in popularity ever since. In 2005, an association dubbed DockDogs (dockdogs.com) started organizing events and offering competitive titles; fans of the sport are known as DockDoggers. According to DockDogs CEO Grant Reeves, 24 dock-diving events occurred last year. "This year, with a combination of national and club events, we'll have 100 events," says Reeves. "Our database has [grown to] over 4,000 dogs since 2000."
Up and Out!
There are two categories of dock diving, Big Air and Extreme Vertical. The former debuted first. The dog runs the length of a regulation dock, which must be 40 feet long and two feet above the surface of the water, to gain speed. The handler encourages the dog to leave the dock as close to the edge as possible because the jump is measured from the end of the dock rather than from where the dog leaps. So if a dog leaves the dock two to three feet from the edge, that two or three feet do not count toward his total total jump distance. The end of the jump is electronically measured by the "V," or the point at which the base of the dog's tail hits the water.
The handler also throws a toy as motivation for the dog to stretch out and leap as far as he can; the toss is timed to coincide with the moment the dog leaves the dock. Usually, handlers use a plastic retrieving bumper, but DockDogs generally allows any floating, retrievable object. In fact, one participant threw a corn cob for his dog, but DockDogs eventually asked him to use something else, because bits of corn floating in the water distracted the dogs who followed.
Extreme Vertical, also known as "The Launch," was introduced two years ago. A floatable retrieving toy hangs in the air eight feet from the dock. The dog takes a running leap from the dock with the goal of jumping up instead of out to grab the toy. The height of the toy is gradually raised.
In competition, teams vie to achieve the longest distance in five or six waves, or heats, per event. The last wave is known as the "Finals." Both Big Air and Extreme Vertical offer different divisions--from novice to elite--to ensure that dogs of comparable jumping ability are grouped together. Plus, there is a veterans' division for dogs eight years and older, a lap dog class from small dogs (measuring 17 inches or less at the withers), and a junior handler program for kids. Participants can go on to compete for nationally recognized titles.
Last year, Breen and Black Jack were invited to compete at ESPN's Great Outdoor Games and placed fourth in Extreme Vertical with a 6-foot, 6-inch jump. Also in 2005, the achieved a personal best in Big Air with a 21-foot, 10-inch jump. For nearly four years, black Labrador Little Morgan, owned by Mike Jackson of Shakopee, Minnesota, held the Big Air outdoor world record at 26 feet, 6 inches.
For an example of the wide variety of breeds and mixes who compete--and win--in this sport, consider Country*, a Greyhound mix who broke the record four times in 2005, with his longest jump measuring 28 feet, 10 inches. "I think we're his fifth home," says owner Kevin Meese of Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, who readily admits that this breed presents unique training challenges. "I started out by tying deer meat onto the bumper to make him grab it. I used to put my back to him and hold it over my head. He sailed over my head--I'm six feet--which really impressed me. But he has an odd sense of humor. He learned that if he hit me in the head, he could get the deer meat faster."
Despite Meese's overwhelming success with a non-retrieving breed, my husband and I didn't expect our Dalmatians, Darby and Jolie, to jump in such spectacular fashion. But like all of the seminar participants, we hoped our dogs would at least jump.
Our first dock-diving experience was humbling. From land, Darby would go in the water, grab her toy and swim back to us. On the dock, she quivered with excitement like Black Jack, but was reluctant to jump in. Instead, she waited until her toy floated closer to land and then went in to get it. In contrast, Jolie wanted nothing to do with the water, her toy or even me! Despite her confidence in other canine sports and love of swimming, she was unsure in this environment. Breen demonstrated enormous patience with all participants and offered lots of advice and encouragement. Some dogs take time to gain the confidence to jump off the dock, but once they've done it, there's no stopping them.
Like all dog sports, safety is a priority, and competitors take steps to ensure that their dogs remain free of injury. DockDogs recently began using AstroTurf on the docks to prevent slipping. Handlers maintain their dogs' health through a good diet and exercise.
I was concerned about my dog doing a belly flop, which, as most of us know from personal experience, stings a bit. But Breen, who co-owns Rock River Canine Sports & Rehab, LLC, with his wife, Beth Wiltshire, assured me that as the dog prepares to land in the water, his rear legs usually hit the water first. "Some dogs who do a 'Superman stretch' will belly flop, but they don't cringe, and they keep doing it," says Breen.
"In Extreme Vertical, some handlers are concerned that if the dogs misses [the toy], he will crane his neck back as he's going under the object. Dogs' backs are flexible; I've talked to vets about this and it doesn't appear to be an issue. There are dangers, but there are dangers with any sport you do, with dogs or humans. You just try to minimize it by making sure they're in good shape."
Dedicating yourself to the well-being of your dog is a priority for many dog owners. But there are extra benefits to being a DockDogger. "First, it's the greatest thing when I can have a hobby that I can do with my best friend," says Cyndi Porter of Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose Golden Retriever, Murphy, ended the 2005 season ranked 18th in the nation, making Porter the top female handler. "Second is the great people I've met and the friends I've made along the way from all across the country. We really have a great time socializing after the day is done and we can let our hair down and tell tales. A wise friend of mine always makes a toast--'If it weren't for our dogs, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people.' And we all drink to our best friends, two- and four-legged."
*To see Country's record-breaking jump, visit fredforceone.com/WORLDRECORD.html.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Short Legs Hit the Trail
Most weekends in fall, I pick a mountain to hike near my home in Portland, Ore. “How did that little guy get all the way up here?” someone will ask. “She’s a she,” I’ll say, “and she does it all the time.” Chuckie, my Miniature Dachshund, will prance around like it’s no big deal, which it isn’t. But I’m often surprised by the attention we get. There’s no reason to leave the outdoors to larger breeds. Little dogs deserve to hike, too, and like all dogs, they need exercise to stay healthy.
Of course, you should check your trail’s rules to see if dogs are allowed, and if they must be kept on a leash. It’s smart to leash your small dog anyway, with a harness, to better manage encounters with other hikers and their dogs, mountain bikers, equestrians, wild animals, and so on. Your pet should have her flea-and-tick treatment up-to-date and should wear a collar with her ID tags and your cell number. Clean up after your dog just like you would anywhere else, and don’t leave any baggies along the trail. Gift-wrapped or not, that’s a present nobody wants to receive.
Dr. Kristin Sulis of Mt. Tabor Veterinary Care says, “Remember that your little dog has to work twice as hard on the trail, so plan accordingly. With small dogs, you want to be sure to bring plenty of snacks for energy, and water.” I use a BPA-free Nalgene bottle to give Chuckie small drinks of water every half-hour, and the cap serves as a little bowl. It’s small enough that she won’t slurp up too much at once and make herself sick. Small dogs’ calorie requirements can double on hike days, so Chuckie also gets a little snack at every break. I bring her favorite treats so I know she won’t refuse to eat.
“Another thing to remember about small dogs is that they won’t self-limit the way larger ones will,” says Michelle Fredette, owner of Portland’s dog-trekking service Wag Masters. Your little one might run herself into trouble, exhausting herself or overheating if you don’t help her take it easy. If your dog is new to hiking, it’s best to check with your vet and then start small, with short hikes on easy trails. Watch to see that she’s not excessively panting, wobbly on her legs or plain pooped out. If there’s a difficult stretch of trail or if she gets too tired, be ready to lead her an easier way, or carry her. You might find a small pouch or backpack to use as a carrier if you’ll be hiking farther than, say, one mile per pound your dog weighs.
Other health concerns for the trail include poison ivy and paw maintenance. Poison ivy and poison oak rarely cause rashes on dogs — the plants’ irritating oil urushiol must work its way through their fur down to skin level — but it is possible for your dog to pick up the oil on her coat and inadvertently transfer it to you. Learn these plants and keep away. Check the pads of your dog’s feet for wounds from thorns or sharp rocks, especially if she’s stopping to lick or gnaw at her paws. Consider booties for extra-delicate feet.
Finally, keep a towel or blanket in your vehicle if you’ll be driving home after your hike. Reward your dog with a bath, check her for ticks and bristles, and thank yourself for giving her a great day. Trust me on this: Your Labrador-owning friends will raise their eyebrows and say, “Wait, you did what?”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cold weather walks
A brisk winter's walk with your dog— what could be better? As invigorating as it is, cold weather brings a new set of challenges, especially if you live in the city. NYC’s Garrett Rosso, an expert urban dog-walker and trainer, tells us how he keeps walks safe and fun for his charges.
> Ice-melting chemicals and salt can burn those sweet feet. Before hitting the streets, apply Musher’s Secret, petroleum jelly or even PAM to your dog’s footpads to reduce the sting and cracking, and take along some disposable diapers as sturdy and convenient pad-wipes.
> Ice and snow between your pup’s toes will also cause him problems; during the course of the walk, make it a point to check his feet and remove these nuisances.
> Keep an eye out for antifreeze—many dogs love the taste of this lethal liquid. If your dog ingests even a small amount, take him to the vet immediately.
> Invest in a coat or sweater that covers him to the base of his tail and under his belly (many do not). Sweaters are regulation cold-weather wear for many dogs.
> And a reminder: Don’t allow your dog to run off-leash during a winter storm; heavy snowfalls obliterate familiar scents and dogs can become disoriented and lost.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
An adventure in the winter woods
I love snow. It makes sweaters warmer and coffee tastier. It makes homes feel cozier. It makes a book and a fireplace seem like everything a reasonable human being could ever need. My reasons for wanting snow tonight had nothing to do with hibernation, though. I was hoping for a quick inch to touch down and cover the ice on the road behind the house. I wanted to be out in the snow before it froze. I’m not crazy. I just live with sled dogs, and we had an appointment.
By three in the afternoon, it was almost dark (Sandpoint has the pleasure of being not only at the northern tip of the state, but also as far east in the Pacific time zone as possible; daylight is a fairweather friend at best) and I was getting excited. I peered out the office windows again: the lights in the parking lot illuminated a steady snowfall that was already covering the cars with a healthy layer. People groaned and grumbled around me. I thought, You’re in North Idaho . . . how could this possibly surprise you? and clicked away at my mouse, trying to finish up so I could get home as soon as possible.
Driving home from work, my tires slid out from under me, trying to show me the best way to go about getting off the road. Giant plows passed me by like steamships passing a tugboat. I gripped the steering wheel and forged ahead. Truth is, even though the road was a horror, I was excited that it was being covered up so quickly. What makes awful traction for cars just so happens to make wonderful conditions for mushing. The fresh powder was all the traction my Siberians’ paws would need to get across the ice, and the runners of my kicksled would sink onto the layer of ice below, sliding effortlessly like pucks on a shuffleboard.
One of the real perks of moving here was this weather. I grew up dreaming about dogsledding. I wrote short stories about kids who took their teams to school and kept them in a barn with a woodstove during classes, harnessing them up and taking them down the lantern-lit trails back to their family farms after school got out. I romanticized the stories of Jack London. And every now and then, even as an adult, when I push a shopping cart around the frozen-food section of the grocery store, I pretend the handlebar is the grip of a wooden sled, ahead of me a team of dogs.
I finally pulled into the driveway, past the big birch tree and the rusted green truck from the 1940s. After running inside and greeting the dogs with the usual hugs and ear scratches, I dashed into the bedroom to change into heavy pants and a few thermal layers. I grabbed my red parka, fingerless mittens, and musher’s hat—an old, hideous leather hat with earflaps lined with rabbit fur.(There’s nothing warmer.)
Ready to go, I called the dogs into the garage and harnessed them up to our humble bispecies transport. Our ride was a small Norwegian kicksled—basically, a glorified snow scooter. It has a basket (the part of the sled where you stow gear, cargo or a passenger), handlebars, and six-foot-long runners, but weighs a mere 20 pounds and folds flat for storage. The perfect portable dogsled for our small team. These Nordic wonders work on snow just like a wheeled scooter does on concrete. The rider gives a kick and, on level ground, it slides along for a yard or two before it needs another push. With just two dogs, it’s perfect. We can go on runs a three- or four-dog team can make, because I do half the work. Which I prefer. If I’m going to go outside in a snowstorm to be pulled around by wolves on ropes, I should at least burn some calories.
I opened the garage door and stood behind the sled. I saw nothing but darkness and the snow falling around the entrance. Already, the tracks my car made were disappearing. The dogs barked and lunged in place, dying to run out into the night. I gave them the go-ahead.
“Hike! hike!” I yelled, and they took off. In the wrong direction. They headed for the road to the highway instead of the service road to the field trails behind the farm. There was no changing their minds and I had to stop them and manually coax them around. After some convincing, they started to head into the wilderness. With the smells of coyotes and elk in their noses, they picked up the pace.
When we’re mushing, the dogs are harnessed with a single lead-section gang line and are kept together by a neck line. Jazz, my older dog, used to lead on a recreational team back in Tennessee. (Yes, there are dog teams in Tennessee. They run with wheeled carts most of the year.) So, when he’s in harness, he’s serious. Head down, shoulders taut, gait as steady as a metronome. Annie is a different story altogether. As far as outdoor sports go, she’s more like a sorority girl in a brand new Patagonia jacket. When given the call to take off, she bolts as if we were on a sprint line. Jazz can barely keep up with her. I always search around with my headlight, trying to find the deer she’s chasing, but there never is one; she just loves to take off.
I worked up a sweat jogging behind them. Then we came to a road with a slight downhill. That’s when it happened. They took off, using the grade for momentum. For half a mile or more, I was just along for the ride. At first I held on for dear life. When I had gotten used to the speed, I relaxed, stood back on the runners, and closed my eyes. Time and space seemed to disappear. The whole world was just the snow that passed us in the glow of the lantern. Everything around us was dark and still. There was no noise in the world but the padding of the dogs’ feet on whiteness and the slide of the runners on ice. No one cheered. No one barked.
I opened my eyes to see their heads bobbing in the yellow light as they loped ahead of me. The road forked and I yelled out a “Gee!” and Jazz, ever the professional, turned himself and Annie to the right. “Home for treats!” I yelled, and they picked up speed as they headed toward the garage. They slowed to a trot and I started kicking again, all of us panting and exhausted. We trudged back into the light of the garage and went through the business of stepping out of harnesses and shaking the melting snow out of our coats.
Together, the three of us made our way into the kitchen. The dogs lapped water from their big blue bowl and I put on a pot of coffee. The rest of the evening was devoted to hot beverages and library-borrowed documentaries— perfect. Annie fell asleep at my feet, and Jazz joined me on th e couch with his head on my lap. I scratched his ears while listening to Shelby Foote talk about Harpers Ferry, and tried to understand what anyone does with a cat.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Putting the Pup into Biking
Dogs and bicycles aren’t meant to mix. At least, that is what I thought until I met Zoa, a dog-crazy, bike-loving girl from BC.
Somehow our cycling-with-dogs experiment developed into longer rides around town, which developed into weekend excursions, which developed into us quitting our jobs, selling everything we owned, and embarking on an epic 10,000-mile bicycle adventure through Europe.
Along the way we experienced our share of joys and challenges, and learned a few tips to make cycling with dogs fun and safe.
Putting the Paws to the Floor
With moving bicycle parts and the unpredictability of dogs, holding a leash or cycling with a dog tied to the bike can be a catastrophe waiting to happen. One sudden jolt for a squirrel, and you’re toppling over.
If your dog is reliable and there is no danger from traffic, then letting your dog run off-leash while you cycle is one possibility. But with an unpredictable dog or where traffic is involved, you will want your dog safely harnessed and leashed to the non-traffic side of your bicycle.
Specialized bike/dog leashes are the safest way to protect your dog from pedals, wheels and traffic. The leashes attach to the seat post or the rear axle of your bicycle leaving your hands free for steering, while coiled springs act as shock absorbers, significantly reducing the force of an unexpected tug. (springeramerica.com, petego.com)
Keep in mind that hot, rough or asphalt roads may be abrasive to paw pads, so start slowly and, where possible, ride on trails or along grassy or sandy shoulders. Also remember that cycling/running can be thirsty work, so carry a good supply of water and a bowl for your dog to drink from. Water bottle carriers that screw into your bike frame can accommodate 20-ounce water bottles or common plastic bottles up to 48 ounces. If you are going off the beaten track or on tour you may want to consider a water bladder (MSR Dromedary) or a water filtration system (Katadyn).
Dogs on Wheels
Not every dog has the endurance of a Husky, and not every road is safe enough to let your dog run beside the bike. Fear not, help is on hand.
With a growing interest in sustainable transport, the full potential of the bicycle (and indeed the tricycle) is starting to be realized. Recreational toys are being turned into practical tools, and more and more ways of carrying children, pets and cargo are becoming available. Here are some of the dogfriendly options:
Which option you choose depends on your budget, where you plan to ride, the terrain you will be riding on and your dog’s size and personality. Some dogs hate the feeling of being confined, while others find it secure and relaxing.
To ease your dog into life with a bicycle, start with short trips somewhere fun. Add a favorite blanket, reward them with treats and make it a positive experience. Harness them in safely, so there is room to move, but without any danger of falling out. Maintain patience and a desire to experiment.
Why Cycle with Dogs? Cycling is a great way for both you and your dog to get exercise and a healthy dose of fresh air. It allows you to cover more distance than by walking, while being slow enough to appreciate the scenery and the world around you.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
It’s what all the cool dogs are doing! Tapping into a dog’s natural ability to smell and his inherent drive to hunt, Nose Work is a great sport for dogs of all shapes, sizes and temperaments. I’m taking Nose Work classes with my dog, Wally, and we are having a blast! Be sure to sniff out the article on K9 Nose Work in Bark’s summer issue. Here is a video of Wally searching for a bait bag filled with treats. Find it, Wally!
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