The Dos and Don'ts of 'Dog Biking'

So, most dog lovers and owners have at one point in their lives and the lives of their canine friends tried to walk them while riding a bike. Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that’s okay, somehow acceptable or cool or novel or something. But really, mostly, it’s a bad idea.

Among the primary hazards with ‘dog biking’ is how dangerous it is for both you and your pet. There are several things that can go wrong while dog biking, but the most problematic ones are pretty easy to imagine:

Tangled Leash

Getting a leash wrapped up in either the pedal mechanism or the wheel can quickly bring in all of the slack you’ve given your dog and create a dangerous choking hazard.  It can also pull your dog in close to the tires on your bike and, and depending on the size of your pet, cause a crash or worse. Creating a chance for running over your dog and crashing your bike is about the worst thing you can do to yourself and your dog. And this doesn’t even count the other potentially problematic issue linked to your dog running on asphalt, like injuring their paw pads and hips.

Problems Steering

If you are walking your dog while riding your bike, you probably have only one hand on your handle bars and may have trouble steering your bike. Plus, if your off hand is on the leash, then a sudden pull on the leash might cause you to lose control of you bike and cause an accident. And changing your leash hand while biking will never work and you'll end up having to stop and reset.

Unpredictable Behavior

Even if you think your dog is well trained, well behaved and generally immune to the many distractions that will occur on your ride, you never know what might set your off. A loud noise or a car horn could spook your dog and cause them to behave erratically and cause and accident leading to potential injury

Dos and Don'ts

Finally, you still insist that biking with your dog is still a good idea, you probably are prone to other dangerous hobbies and habits like biking and texting, biking and texting and drinking. If you are still going to do it then you should do it right. First, use a good retractable leash that can stay off the ground. Your dog is safer this way. Second, use a bike with easy one-handed brakes since you’ll have one hand on the handle bars and one hand on the leash handle. Third, only do it if you have a smart, well trained dog that can sense if you are losing control for whatever reason and adjust. Fourth, no steep hills where you could lose control and cartwheel yourself over the handle bars and completely clobber yourself and your dog. This would really bad. Finally, wear decent shoes in case you need to do a controlled wipe out.

So to summarize, Do use caution, understand what a terrible decision you are making and bad stuff will happen, use a good bike and leash strategy. Don’t impair yourself so that you can’t react to the inevitable.

Is Virtual Fun in Your Dog's Future?

Browse the aisles of your local pet store these days, and you’ll see the evolution of the dog toy, from synthetic bones constructed of new-age materials to flying discs that dispense treats. What you won’t find -- just yet -- are computer games for your pooch. But could you one day have to not only fight the kids for computer time, but wrestle with man’s best friend as well for a spot in front of the screen?

In a new study, researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria conducted research on dogs that identified and differentiated images using touch-screen computers. The study offered intriguing insights on a couple of fronts:

  • The ability of dogs to use computers In the experiment, dogs used touch-screen monitors at doggie-eye level, shielded by screens on both sides to prevent distraction. A hidden automated feeder device dispensed food pellets as a reward through a small hole underneath the screen. A human was in the room to help ease the dogs’ nerves. Researchers used clicker training to teach the dogs to touch their noses to the screens in response to images. “I think we are all surprised how well this new method works and especially how much the dogs like it!’’ says researcher Friederike Range. “It would not work unless the dogs enjoy this kind of work.’’
  • The ability of dogs to form abstract concepts Range and her colleagues found that dogs could classify complex photographs into categories, much as you or I would. Researchers showed the dogs photos of landscapes and dogs. The dogs were rewarded with pellets when they selected a dog photo. Then, when shown different dog and landscape photos, the dogs were still able to select dog photos. In a second test, dogs were shown new photos of landscapes without dogs and landscapes with dogs; they still selected the dog photos. It’s uncertain whether the dogs in the experiment recognized the dogs in the photos as actual dogs, but they were able to categorize the images.

    “It shows dogs can form some fairly esoteric concepts,’’ says Dr. Stanley Coren, a University of British Columbia psychology professor and author of How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind (Free Press).

The age of the doggie computer geek has not dawned quite yet, though, say Coren and other experts. They cite several reasons for this:

  • Vision limitations “Dogs are all nearsighted,’’ says Coren. “If they were human beings, and they could drive, they would have to wear glasses.’’ While dogs have enhanced night vision, they also have less color perception, says Carolyn Georgariou, a dog behaviorist in upstate New York. Your dog processes sensory input with its nose first, ears second and eyes last, says Georgariou.
  • The need for companionship While we all know people who are quite content to spend hours in the company of their computer, your dog isn’t likely to sit in front of a screen when it could be frolicking with you.
  • Training time It could take time and patience to train your pal to operate a touch screen, not to mention you’d need a touch screen to begin with. As Coren wryly puts it, “A dog’s paws are not good enough to make it a decent typist.’’

Still, the concept of dogs using computers has potential. “It shows the computer is adaptable for certain kinds of cognitive testing on dogs,’’ Coren says. Some day, says Range, it might help latchkey dogs pass the time while their owners are at work.

Computer games could offer mental stimulation and help keep dogs alert and engaged, says Range. There might be a useful component for humans, too. Some training, particularly for assistance dogs, might be conducted using computer games or programs that teach the dogs to recognize certain symbols. While the experts don’t know of any dog computer games in the works, Range’s research opens the possibility for some enterprising company to take on the challenge.

But, of course, no virtual world will replace the sort of old-fashioned, time-tested play your dog needs. Technology can’t improve on a good ol’ romp outside for a game of fetch or Frisbee with your dog.

Putting Your Pup Through Kinderpuppy

The dozen or so young dogs in Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz' class are about to spend the next hour lavished with praise, treats and attention. For the puppies, all irresistibly cute to owners flush with new love, these regular hour-long classes over the next six weeks will seem like fun and games. Owners will play off-leash with their puppy pals, while dogs learn basic cues from their owners and interact with strangers. But this puppy class, which Sylvia-Stasiewicz laughingly calls "puppy preschool,"' might be critical for the future happiness of both dogs and owners.

Training your dog at an early age leads to happier relationships. In many cases, it decreases the chances that your dog may have to be removed from your home because of behavioral issues. "It's kind of preparing your dog for life," says Sylvia-Stasiewicz, owner of northern Virginia-based Merit Puppy Training. "We want to prevent possible problems, such as food or resource guarding, jumping, puppy mouthing or nipping. We want to take the puppies as a clean slate at a young age."

Early Training Benefits
Instruction and interaction during the first six to eight months of doggie development ensures that a puppy absorbs information from its social and physical environment like a sponge, says Jennie Jamtgaard, an animal behavior instructor at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Ideally, a puppy class is going to get them started on the road to socialization," says Jamtgaard. A good puppy training class, like classes for young children, is tailored to suit its participants with positive reinforcement, short segments and social time.

"Training by positive reinforcement means you're using something the dog wants to get a win-win situation," says dog trainer Angelica Steinker, owner of Courteous Canine in Lutz, Fla. "Things should be taught in a way that maximizes fun and minimizes stress.'' Puppy classes shouldn't involve shouting, leash corrections and the like, say the trainers.

Because your puppy undoubtedly has a short attention span, it's important to keep activities and learning exercises brief in puppy class. While the temptation might be to practice a lesson over and over, it doesn't work well for young dogs, says Jamtgaard.

While practicing a lesson over and over may not benefit younger pups, playing with its peers will. The typical puppy class will provide time for your puppy to interact with the other dogs off-leash. Your puppy should also get the chance to interact with other people. Many puppy classes allow children to attend when accompanied by adults. That's an opportunity for your puppy to learn to interact with children appropriately.

For more information about puppy education and links to classes held worldwide, visit the puppyclass website. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate a school before you enroll your dog. Also, the American Kennel Club can connect owners to training clubs throughout the U.S. that provide education for canines of all ages. A full list of training clubs can be found at the akc website.

For Do-It-Yourselfers. . .
A puppy class provides a controlled opportunity for socialization that you really can't replicate elsewhere, but there are also things you can try with your dog at home: 

  • Offer real-life rewards Teach your puppy to work for anything and everything he's going to get, Sylvia-Stasiewicz says. And just how do you teach your impossibly wiggly ball of energy how to sit? Simple. Raise a piece of food, out of sight in your closed hand, above its nose. Then watch the laws of dog physics at work. The head goes up and the bottom goes down.
  • Hand feed Take the time to hand feed your puppy rather than placing a bowl in front of its nose, and you establish control that will help with future training.
  • Make trades Teach your puppy to fetch by trading nutritious treats for the items fetched. It makes it less likely your puppy will disappear under the bed with one of your favorite slippers.
  • Play smart Make education fun for your puppy. Hide and seek teaches your puppy a lot (while using up a great deal of its energy), particularly if you train them to seek you out.

Remember that learning opportunities for your dog begin immediately from the beginning. "They're always in class,'' says Sylvia-Stasiewicz. "You've got to start the day the dog comes home. "Your puppy is only going to be a puppy a short while. The socializing window is going to close before you know it."

Photo: Corbis Images

Hydrotherapy Helps Dogs Get in Shape for Adoption

Emma, a golden retriever, clearly loves her hydrotherapy sessions at Doggie Paddle in Portland, Oregon. The two and a half-year-old swims for 45 minutes with the water jets blasted on high. And then there’s two-year-old Labrador retriever Seamus. “He won’t get out of the pool unless he’s retrieved four rubber chickens. Not two or three, but always four,” says Julie Thomas, who owns the canine therapeutic swimming and exercise business.

While the sessions might seem like fun and games to Emma and Seamus, hydrotherapy provides important physical therapy to dogs, especially those who have difficulty engaging in regular outdoor activities. “It can be comparable to human physical therapy, only for dogs,” Thomas says.

What Is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy usually involves either a small pool with a treadmill or, in the case of Doggie Paddle, a larger pool with adjustable swim jets that provide resistance. With the latter on high, just a five minute swim can be equivalent to a five mile run. Most facilities keep the temperature comfortable and warm. Chlorine can irritate the skin, coat and eyes of dogs, so look for a pool that offers some other, gentler form of filtration and sanitizing.

Dogs either walk right in or, if they need a bit of help, are carried into the pool. “I had a Great Dane once who just lay in my arms and did not move a muscle,” shares Thomas. “I simply got behind him and moved his legs as though he were riding a bicycle.” This got his circulation going, helping to relax his muscles and improve his joint function.

Which Dogs Benefit Most From Hydrotherapy?

Thomas says that at least seven types of get the most out of hydrotherapy, including:

·         Dogs recovering from surgery. This includes canines that have undergone everything from amputations to hip surgery.

·         Overweight dogs. For pooches with packed-on pounds, swimming provides “a safe, low-impact way to burn calories.”

·         Older dogs. When arthritis kicks in and energy levels slow down, hydrotherapy can still provide your pet with regular exercise.

·         Overactive dogs. Some healthy dogs just have incredible energy to burn. They can work it off safely in the pool without driving your family nuts.

·         Sporting dogs. Dogs that compete in sports, such as agility, gain conditioning from pool time.

·         Dogs -- both literally and figuratively -- on their last legs. Thomas often sees dogs right before they are euthanized, allowing the dogs to naturally relax and providing owners with one final meaningful, shared moment with their beloved pet.

·         Dogs up for adoption. Doggie Paddle is located very near the Oregon Humane Society’s Westside adoption center.


How Hydrotherapy Helps Homeless Hounds

Go into any animal shelter, and you’re bound to see dogs looking less than fabulous. They are often stressed, older, out of shape and perhaps feeling unloved. That’s where Thomas’ work comes into play. For the past two years, she’s been donating swim sessions to homeless dogs and improving their chances for adoption.

“They not only get in shape physically, but they also become more socialized and used to handling,” she explains. Karl Willard, an animal care technician at the OHS, believes the shelter is the first in the country to offer this form of enrichment.

Splashy Fun for Owners Too

At some pools, such as the one at Doggie Paddle, owners can go in along with the dog(s). This can lead to a great workout for all, and what amounts to a mini-refreshing pool party.

“Sometimes friends will do this together,” Thomas says. “I have a few clients who bring all six of their bearded collies.” She has yet another client who brings her four dogs -- along with her 5-year-old son.

The Human-Dog Connection

Before starting her hydrotherapy business, Thomas earned a doctorate in adult education and gerontology. She is also certified to do hydrotherapy and massage for dogs. All have come in handy. “In terms of gerontology, the basic concepts concerning many physical issues, emotional concerns, and more carry over to dogs,” she says.

As for massage, many dogs enjoy a soothing rubdown as they enter or exit the Doggie Paddle pool via ramp. “Dogs frequently bark like crazy in their owner’s cars because they can’t wait to get here,” she says. After hydrotherapy, they display another mood, she concludes. “One dog is so relaxed that he drifts into blissful slumber after each session.”

Exercise Gone to the Dogs

Studies show that working out with a friend increases the odds that you'll stick with a fitness regimen. And who's one of your best buddies, one that could probably use a good workout, too? That's right, your trusted canine companion, the one that that eagerly anticipates spending quality time with you. We all know how easy it is to ignore the willful inner voice that wants you to hit the gym, but it's not so easy to ignore your dog's sweet furry face, pleading whimpers and wagging tail.

Nationwide, there are many dog gyms, spas and physical therapy facilities, as well as dog-specific classes at typically humans-only sports gyms. "Many of the workouts are designed for the dog only, or are rehabilitative for dogs that are in physical therapy, such as the treadmill or water aerobics," says Gail Fisher, a long-time professional trainer and founder of All Dogs Gym and Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire. "You're there and helping the dog, but it's not necessarily an aerobic workout for you. To exercise with your dog, you have to choose activities that take into account your dog's endurance level, age and temperament. Overweight dogs need to start slow and build endurance. Puppies under twelve-to-fourteen months of age of all breeds should also start with slower or shorter-timed activities."

Dog yoga, which comes in many names, such as Crunch Fitness' "Ruff Yoga," typically takes place outdoors and consists of a series of partner moves involving you and your dog. For example, there is tandem stretching of legs and the neck, as well as loosening of the hip flexors through massage-like poses. Your dog does the well-known yoga pose "downward facing dog" every day. That's the pose where the rear is in the air and the front paws/arms are outstretched in front. You can search for a class near you and, once you learn the many varied poses, you and your dog can simply step outside to somewhere flat and, preferably, grassy. Yoga can help the two of you to loosen joints and relieve stress.

  • Watch For:

"If your dog is not a dog that likes to be touched a lot, you may get a bite attempting yoga poses with it," says Fisher. "And remember that the activity is new to the dog, so be gentle, and go slow, and be aware that not all temperaments will allow you to stretch and hold on to them."

Dancing with dogs is actually a competitive sport, but you don't have to get pro-level serious to enjoy a little booty-shakin' with your pooch. "It's a series of moves you do with your dog, gradually building the number of the dog's moves," says Fisher. You can find a class, or just move the furniture in your living room. You start by incorporating the "tricks" your dog already knows, and build from there. "You're working out to music, and your dog should learn to weave through your legs, spin around, and even learn to back up with you. I've seen dog dancing with really fit people and their lean Dobermans as well as heavy people with tiny lapdogs, and everything in between." Don't forget to have small, chewable treats on hand to reward your dog for participating.

  • Watch For:

"I doubt that the dog understands a 'beat' and is actually moving to the music," says Fisher. "The value is in the company and the relationship -- you're bonding and dancing; you're a team."

Cross-Country Skiing (Skjoring)
To cross-country ski with your fit, large breed dog, you'll need a pair of cross country skis, as well as a harness and double leash for your pet. The dog is actually going to be pulling you on your skis, so skjoring is not for medium or small dogs, not to mention canines that are older or are not physically up to the task. "I used to go skjoring with my mastiff, and it was terrific fun. Your arms and mid body get a great workout, and the dog is, of course, doing a lot of work. It's great!"

  • Watch For:

"Check with your vet to make sure your dog is capable of skjoring," says Fisher. "It's not for every dog." Examine the coat under the harness to make sure there is no raw rubbing, and check your dog's paw pads to ensure ice and other terrain do not take a negative toll. Some pet stores sell dog booties, such as Ultra Paws, which can help to protect your pup's paws.

For larger breeds, and for dogs bred for endurance such as German Shepherds, a bike can provide a fabulous double workout. "You want something with wider tires, mostly for balance while you negotiate the dog," advises Fisher. "This activity requires training because you can't bike safely if your dog bolts on you. There are also devices you can get for a bike so a dog doesn't get under the tires or too close to the spokes." One such gadget, the Springer dog jogger, prevents leashes from getting tangled in the tires and has a special safety release feature that enables you to quickly separate your dog from the bike. Start with shorter distances, preferably in low-traffic, low-pedestrian areas. Talk to your dog and be in control. And if you can, work to bike with your dog off-leash, running next to you.

  • Watch For:

"Young dogs can't be on pavement for very long," explains Fisher. "Their ligaments and joints are not fully developed, and the impact of the pavement is not healthy for them at all. Also be aware of a mature or senior dog's endurance levels, as well as the temperature."

"Hiking isn't a new activity, but I'm always surprised at how many people don't view it as a great workout, because it's maybe the best one for dogs and owners both," says Fisher. "I can't suggest dog-owner activities and not talk about hiking. I think this is the ideal dog-owner workout because you're walking in natural terrain, and (at some places) you can take the dog off leash and let the dog be a dog. It allows the dog to sniff to its heart's content, run and explore -- that's exactly what you want your dog to do." Fisher explains that even if you've never gone hiking or worked out with your dog, you can go for super short hikes, and gradually increase the time and distance.

  • Watch For:

Check in advance to determine whether your desired trail allows dogs to be off leash. Also, don't hike with puppies. "If you're going to take a long hike, your dog needs to be at least 12 to 14 months old," says Fisher. "Likewise for very small dogs. Puppies and tiny dogs can't handle long distances." Take things slow and bring extra water when temperatures are over 85 degrees. Says Fisher: "Dogs can't sweat like we do, and need more water breaks."