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

Dog-friendly Games for the Whole Family

A yard, your family and friends, plus at least one dog equal a recipe for ultimate summer fun. Alison Smith, author of the book 101 Fun Things to Do With Your Dog, has a whole section on games that you and your family can play with your dog. Here are two enjoyable ones for a summer afternoon:

Doggy Baseball
For this game, you need at least three human players, a Wiffle-type ball and your dog. You also need to set up bases, which can be easily done with any kind of colorful objects, such as upside-down buckets. One person is a batter, while another pitches. Everyone else -- including your dog -- is a fielder. “The aim of the game is for the batter to hit the ball as far as he can and try to get ’round all of the bases without being out,” explains Smith.

Your additional job is to encourage your dog to go after the ball and bring it back to you. Most dogs instinctively do this, but you might have to work a bit to get your dog to return the ball to you. Yelling “Fetch” and bringing along treats can help.

Tag for Dogs
Just like the human game of tag, someone has to be “it,” giving other players -- including your dog -- a 10- to 15-second head start to run away before “it” can begin to chase others in a defined area. The first player tagged then becomes “it.” “Part of the fun is darting around and avoiding the dreaded ‘tag’: the point at which the person chasing touches another person or dog, making them ‘it’ in turn,” says Smith. Time the game in one-minute sessions, stopping play by yelling or blowing a whistle. The “it” individual at that point “must sit out until a new game starts,” she instructs. “The aim is to have one winner at the end of all the games.”

Be sure to have plenty of cool water for all players. For dog tag, Smith also says having more than one dog can up the fun. The dogs may never completely figure out what’s going on, but everyone will have a good time anyway.

Your Dog Can Be a Professional Actor

Their names may not draw Brangelina-level attention, but plenty of dogs find regular work in Hollywood, on Broadway, in TV commercials, on fashion shoots and more.

What does it take to be a star? First, as with human stars, looks count. Demand for certain breeds follows trends, says Diane Haithman, whose German shepherd, Heidi, has appeared in “Desperate Housewives” and the Web series “Glen of Glenwood.” For instance, the “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” movies increased interest in Chihuahuas. “Pets get typecast too,” says Jim Leske, a Hollywood-based trainer whose 11-year-old German shepherd, Bear, appears often in police shows.

German shepherds are sought after for “tough dog” or “mean dog” roles, Haithman has found. Golden retrievers win parts for family dogs. Cute mutts also find roles. Some casting is a matter of practicality. A dog with light coloring, for example, will be easier to light on camera.

However, your dog also needs to, well, act. Behavior is a critical element in casting parts for tail-wagging actors, say the experts. Before you begin knocking on doors with 8-by-10 glossies of your best friend, consider this checklist:

  • Temperament “Evaluate your little star’s temperament before subjecting it to the limelight,” says Colleen Safford, a trainer based in New York City. “If your dog is easily startled, not overly interested in mingling with strangers, or spooks easily with different sounds, it’s unfair -- not to mention it can be dangerous -- to put him in this position. Sets are busy, unpredictable places.”
  • Obedience Your dog must have basic obedience skills. It should be able to walk gently on a leash, sit and stay, says Leske. Your dog also will be asked to hit a mark, meaning move to a location on cue. This can be taught with clicker training, offering a food treat, and sounding a clicker when your dog successfully places his front paws on the mark. “Most casting calls only require that dogs do very simple things, but they must be able to do them repetitively, reliably and among the distractions of a busy set,” explains Safford.
  • Time It is not just about your dog’s potential star-power, but it’s about the time you’re willing to invest. “Most pets you see in commercials either belong to a trainer or to a family who can afford to have a trainer on the payroll,” says Leske. For instance, Haithman did pay for some training sessions for Heidi. Also, someone needs to stay on the set or the shoot with your dog, explains Safford. You need to make sure your dog is working in short bursts, taking regular breaks.

Getting Started
You can find casting calls on websites such as Craigslist, says Safford. You can approach talent agencies, but be wary about investing thousands in training on the promise of roles that might not come.

Working with a legitimate trainer can be helpful, though. Casting directors often approach trainers in big media markets, such as New York City and Los Angeles, says Safford. Networking helps. Heidi landed work through someone Haithman’s husband knew at the gym where he works out.

Most importantly, think about whether your dog will enjoy the experience. “Is it for you or for the animal?” asks Haithman. “It’s a hard life, but there are certain dogs who really take to it. Heidi enjoyed our training sessions immensely, learning to hit a mark. It makes her happy to learn something.”