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.

The Lonely Dog

Last spring Lori Taylor, 39, of Brooklyn, New York, was as happy as she’d been in recent memory. After being laid off eight months earlier, she had a new job, a steady paycheck, and somewhere to go every morning.

But the other member of Taylor’s household—a two-year-old dachshund named Oliver—was markedly less excited. “Oliver had gotten used to me being home with him,” said Taylor. “He kind of freaked out when that changed.” Suddenly her landlord, who lived upstairs, was complaining that the once quiet Oliver was spending his late afternoon hours each day barking.

The pair could not remain in the apartment if something didn’t change.

So Taylor consulted her veterinarian, who recommended as much exercise as she and her pooch could fit in. “I started getting up an hour earlier each day, and walking fast around the park with Oliver for that entire hour to wear him out. It was either try that or move. Luckily it worked.”

Dr. Trisha Joyce, a veterinarian with New York City Veterinary Specialists, says canine exercise is often the first defense against loneliness and other emotional issues that lead to behavior problems in dogs. Below, Dr. Joyce weighs in on how to identify and ameliorate loneliness in your best doggy friend.

Do Dogs Get Lonely?

Dogs are social animals, and generally don’t tolerate long periods of being alone. “Whether it’s ‘lonely’ as we feel it or not, we don’t know, but they do exhibit signs that being alone is not good for them,” says Dr. Joyce. Signs can include behaviors like barking, chewing furniture, excessive self-licking and soiling the house. “Different breeds have different tolerance for being alone,” explains Dr. Joyce. “For example, border collies and other dogs bred to be on high alert are likely to be the most sensitive. Also younger dogs, or dogs accustomed to spending most of their time with others, won’t likely respond as well to long periods of being alone.”

How Can You Identify Loneliness in Your Dog?

Dogs communicate with their owners through their actions. A dog that is injuring itself (like with excessive licking or tail biting) or causing other disturbances (like barking or destroying property) during longer stretches of time spent alone may be reacting to loneliness, which is an especially likely cause if the amount of alone-time has recently increased. Once your veterinarian has ruled out medical explanations for the problematic behaviors, emotional problems can, and should, be addressed.

One caveat: it is important to distinguish loneliness (which crops up during repeated, lengthy periods of being alone) from separation anxiety, diagnosed when dogs become very upset as owners prepare to leave, and then exhibit behaviors like not eating when owner is away, or gnawing at doors and windows even during short periods of solitude. Your veterinarian can help you understand whether your pet’s problem likely results from loneliness or separation anxiety, the latter of which is often treated with a combination of behavioral techniques and medication.

How to Help Your Dog Cope with Loneliness

While quitting your job is not likely a viable option, many dog owners have found the strategies below useful:

Wear them out. Dr. Joyce notes that a dog worn out from a healthy morning exercise session is calmer and happier throughout the day. Just ask Taylor, who continues to exercise Oliver every morning. (“He’s stopped barking, and I’ve lost 10 pounds!” Taylor says.)

Entertain them. Dogs do better alone when they have something to do. Interactive toys (like the red rubber Kongs that allow you to hide food for your pet to excavate) can lie around until Fido needs to busy himself with something.

Buy them company. If a midday dog walker is in your budget, it’s a good option for the lonely dog. Just 20 minutes of social interaction with the walker and others they meet on the street can go a long way toward improving your dog’s mood.

And finally, Dr. Joyce adds, make the most of your time together when you are able to be with your pooch. “Engage with your dog,” she says. “Toss a ball, give him a good brushing, or even just watch some television together. At the end of the day, dogs are happy just to sit on the couch with you, too.”

Lost-dog Recovery Service

Roscoe, a 2-year-old Boston terrier, made his escape by busting through a screen door. Owner Josh Sorkin became frantic when Roscoe didn’t show up in early canvases of the neighborhood.

Sorkin, who works in the tech industry, resorted to a new service in his quest to find his feisty pup. He placed an order through FindToto, an online pet search service that sends an automated call out to neighbors within a certain radius from where the animal disappeared. “As soon as we registered, my phone rang,” Sorkin says. “We got a lot of calls back from concerned people. There were people out there who were trying to help.”

Roscoe turned up two days later on ranch land some distance from Sorkin’s home. FindToto not only helped with Roscoe’s recovery, but it also gave Sorkin peace of mind throughout the ordeal, knowing his neighbors were on the lookout.

How It Works
FindToto began little more than a year ago when Dustin Sterlino and his girlfriend lost their cat. They found knocking on doors and posting flyers ineffective but couldn’t afford a pet detective.

Sterlino came up with the idea to formulate a database of home phone numbers, and to charge for placing automated calls when users purchase FindToto’s service. An entry-level package calls 500 neighbors for about $125, and packages run up to approximately $875 for an alert that reaches 10,000 homes. The database of phone numbers is updated monthly, so customers have the assurance the service is calling current numbers.

“You can’t alert too many people going door to door,” says Sterlino. “If you lose a dog or cat, chances are they’re roaming around the neighborhood somewhere. It’s more compelling for that message to be right there in your neighbor’s ear when they get home from work.”

FindToto dials each number up to four times in an attempt to reach a person or answering machine. The call offers a description of the pet, the owner’s phone number and contact information for FindToto.

So far, Sterlino estimates that FindToto found 1,000 pets out of 3,000 orders. Some pet detectives use the service themselves and recommend that prospective clientele try FindToto first, says Sterlino. “I think we got lucky with this simple concept of life that the more people you touch, the more successful you become.”

Dog Safety Tips
Protecting your dog at home is more than a matter of luck. Vicki Kirby, of The Humane Society of Fairfax County, Va., offers these tips:

  • Spay or neuter “Most stray or lost animals brought into area shelters are unaltered,” says Kirby, who has worked with The Humane Society for 30 years.
  • Buy a collar “Your animal’s ID is his ticket home,” Kirby says. Make sure the collar fits securely and your pal can’t easily slip free. The ID tag on the collar should include your phone number with the area code.
  • Watch closely Your dog can dig under a fence or slip through a loose board. Gates may accidentally be left open. Dog theft is also common in many areas, such as around Kirby’s home in Northern Virginia.
  • Use microchip technology Shelters, rescue organizations and veterinary hospitals will check for a microchip when a dog comes in, Kirby says.

If you do lose your dog, it’s important to act immediately. A quick response greatly increases your chance of recovering your furry pal. “Most animals will stick around the same area for approximately three days,” Kirby says. “After that, they will start to wander farther. Look for your pet while the trail is hot.”

Spring 2012 Flea and Tick Care for Dogs

Chances are your dog has had fleas and ticks, which have been bothering animals -- including humans -- since time immemorial. They are out in force this spring, which exterminator Alan Pendarvis of Texas credits to weather changes that are speeding up the parasites’ life cycles.

However, your dog doesn’t have to suffer this spring and summer. New products and a better understanding of how to combat flea and tick infestations can help your dog to steer clear of them.

Why Fleas and Ticks Are Bad News
Aside from the yuck factor, both fleas and ticks can spread diseases from dog to dog, and from dogs to humans. Nancy Hinkle, a University of Georgia entomologist, notes that fleas can transmit tapeworms. “An infected flea can pass on tapeworm if a dog happens to swallow a flea while using its teeth to scratch, but the tapeworm is not transmitted if the flea only bites the dog,” says Hinkle. “Some animals are also highly sensitive to flea saliva, which can lead to secondary infections and dermatitis from incessant itching.”

Ticks are equally awful, burying their heads into the skin of your dog and then sucking blood for survival. This too can spread infectious diseases.

Plan of Action: Flea and Tick Avoidance and Removal
New pest control products abound this spring, with many major manufacturers introducing new and improved versions of their already popular lines. Thanks to a clever plastic gizmo, topical liquids for some lines are easier to apply, helping to keep owners’ hands away from the skin-penetrating product.

A number of natural and/or organic alternatives are also on the market now. In addition to shampoos, you can find electric flea traps that attract fleas with heat and light and then zap them. Food-grade diatomaceous earth, a chalk-like powder that clings to the bodies of insects, works by cutting into their waxy coating and then gradually desiccating them. A drawback is that it can be a bit dusty and messy to use.

Buying Over-the-counter Meds Doesn’t Mean You Should Forget Your Vet
With so many products on the market, why did a recent pet health survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital find that flea infestation is one of the top 10 reasons owners bring their dogs to the vet? “I think this might result partly from pet owners buying preventive medications at retail outlets and not talking with their veterinarian about which product is best for their pet, how to apply it and how to avoid environmental contamination from fleas and flea eggs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, veterinarian, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Banfield.

He and other veterinarians can provide fast-acting medications that may provide quick relief. Nitenpyram, usually administered in pill form, starts working in 30 minutes and can eliminate fleas within three to four hours. Spinosad, a chewable tablet, works in about the same amount of time and prevents infestation for a whole month. These are just a few of the possible remedies.

No product is free from potential side effects, however, so follow user guidelines carefully. Kimberly Chambers of VetDepot offers this additional advice:

  • Consult your vet first. Even if you plan to purchase an over-the-counter remedy, talk to your vet beforehand.
  • Pay attention to age and weight guidelines. Failing to allow for these “could result in a dangerous overdose.”
  • Do not use a cat product on your dog, and vice versa.
  • Avoid getting topical flea-control products in your dog’s eyes and mouth.

“Flea protection is an important part of pet ownership,” says Chambers. “It not only saves pets from suffering from an itchy and uncomfortable infestation, but also protects pets from the dangers associated with fleas, including anemia.”

Finally, keep your home clean. Be sure to wash your pet’s bedding regularly and vacuum affected areas, including curtains, furniture and mattresses.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/magdasmith

Should You Train With a Head Halter?

If your dog gets a bit overeager on walks, it might pull you along, making it hard for you to control it. That’s where a head halter comes in handy. These devices are also used by people who have service dogs, again for better control.

The Humane Society of the United States provides instructions on how to use head halters, which consist of a strap that fits around your dog’s nose, and a second strap that fits around your dog’s neck and behind its ears. You attach the leash under your dog’s chin. It’s also connected to the nose strap. While this might all seem a bit severe, the device is actually quite safe and is considered to be a “humane method of restraint,” according to The Humane Society.

Make sure the device fits properly, and give your dog some time to get used to it -- but not too much time. Dogs that are left with a head halter on while inside the home usually find a way to remove it. Once your pet learns how to do this, it can be difficult to keep the halter on.

The Humane Society advises that you should not:

  • Think of the halter like a muzzle; they are two entirely different things
  • Jerk the leash hard while your dog is wearing the halter
  • Use the head halter with a retractable lead
  • Allow your dog to run speedily to the lead’s end, because your dog could be jerked backward

Do, on the other hand, only use the head halter during on-leash walks when you are present for supervision. Additionally, take time to read the informational sheet that comes with your particular halter.

Photo: Amazon.com