Chapter 14: Putting The Wheels In Motion
Scooter, skates, and bike are all terrific ways to exercise your four-legged buddy. But…
Feeling A Little Clumsy Today?
If you’re prone to clumsiness, tend to fall whenever you use any type of wheeled contraption, or always seem to be the one who stubs toes, sprains ankles, and goes arse-over-head at any and every point…these are all signs that you should NOT use wheels to exercise your dog.
Knees And Lower Back
If you have had or currently have problems with knees and/or lower back, consult your health professional before using wheels to exercise your dog.
Talk To Your Vet
Not all dogs are good candidates for intense running, so get your vet’s okay first.
During Warm Weather
When the weather is warm only run your dog during the cooler times of the day (that is, close to sunrise or sunset) and just for short stints, especially if it’s humid. Bring along plenty of water and offer your dog a drink regularly.
During Blistering Hot Weather
If you live somewhere where the summers are scorchers and it’s still boiling hot even when the sun is low, running your dog using wheels will be seasonal. Give it a miss during such hot weather (especially if it’s also humid) and do other types of exercise instead.
When the weather’s right again for running don’t just pick up where you left off. Although you’ll have done other activities with your dog in the meantime, he or she will have lost some fitness in the intense running department after those few months break. Progress gradually to where you were before.
The most important aspect of riding carefully is keeping to a medium pace. Get your local bike shop to install a speedometer so that you can keep tabs on how fast you're going as you ride.
Light Or Reflective Clothing
Wheeled activities are best done during daylight hours. But you can sometimes misjudge the exact time of sunset, or a ride can be longer than you anticipated. Either way you can get caught riding in the dark (I know I have on several occasions).
To be prepared for this, wear light-coloured clothing and a reflective vest. A fluorescent vest for your dog is no good as he or she will be wearing a harness, so use a harness which already has reflective strips on it. The Ruff Wear Web Master™ Harness that my dogs wear have reflective strips. To increase visibility, you could also put some reflective anklets on your dog.
If a kid is sprinting at you while you’re on wheels, slow down and immediately tell the child to stop in their tracks in a firm, authoritative voice. You want, first and foremost, to prevent a crash of any sort. Then, follow the advice I give regarding kids and dogs in Chapter 4: Safety And Well-Being While Out And About.
A competent, careful person on wheels with a dog running alongside is a great combination. Add to the equation another dog leaping excitedly towards them, and great turns into not-so-great for all involved. And the bigger the wheels and the smaller the dogs, the more chance of a fatality.
I’ve been astounded by how many people will just stand and watch as their dog charges at me while I’m riding with Jasmin running next to me.
Sure their dog might be friendly and only springing towards us in greeting, but I fail to see why common sense doesn’t tell them to stop their dog from bounding towards a person on wheels attached to a running dog. Sadly, I quickly discovered that common sense is not common at all, and I am still surprised to this day when this type of thing happens (and it happens all the time).
Seeing as you can’t control what others do (I wish!) and can only hope they’ll do the sensible thing, the best thing to do in this situation is to take action yourself. So whether or not you’re receiving help from the other person as their dog is racing in your direction, you, as the one on wheels, need to respond by coming to a complete stop.
Dogs On Retractable Leads Can Still Charge
Above I’ve assumed that the other person’s dog is off-lead. If a person has their dog on-lead they can control their dog if they choose to (and they don’t always choose to). With one exception: if that lead is a retractable lead. Then it’s a whole different story.
If the person is cluey, they’ll lock up the retractable lead when they see you coming. That’s a good start, but it doesn’t mean the lead doesn’t already have enough length on it to put you, your dog, and the other person’s dog in danger.
If the person is not cluey and doesn’t lock up the retractable lead, the retractable lead does little to stop the other dog from bolting over to say hello to your dog. And that spells trouble for everyone.
Bottom line: when you see someone holding the stupid bulky handle of the stupid invention called a retractable lead, be extra careful.
Detour: The Bucket Muzzle
If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, it's wise to put a bucket muzzle on him or her when you're on wheels.
The reason is that when you're on wheels it takes time for you to safely come to a stop and, by the time you do that, a dog barrelling towards you may already be there (dogs are very quick!) and your dog might start an argument. At least if your dog is wearing a muzzle, he or she won't be able to bite.
A good bucket muzzle is reasonably light and allows the dog to pant effectively, so it’s totally safe to use while exercising your dog.
This is NOT A Dog-Powered Sport
My suggestion of using wheels to exercise your dog is NOT aimed at having your dog pull you: the idea is for your dog to run alongside you, not ahead of you and pulling.
Commands Needed While On Wheels
Say It Loud!
Between the noise from the wheels and the wind in your dog’s ears from running, you’ll need to increase your usual voice volume when giving commands while on wheels. You don’t have to yell, just speak loudly and clearly.
Lessons Of Five To Twenty Minutes
Running using wheeled equipment means non-stop, heart-pumping, mega-fitness-inducing running for your dog. Intense running. Yes, it’s good for your dog, but only if you build up slowly.
Even if your dog is already quite fit, start with short sessions of five minutes. Then increase by five minute increments until your dog’s lessons (and therefore your dog’s running) are twenty minutes long.
All things going well, the learning process outlined below should take no more than a month. That’s what I recommend, but talk with your vet and devise a prospective plan that’s best and safest for your dog.
Detour: Extended Holiday
If your dog has a month or more off from running alongside you on wheels, start from scratch to build up your dog’s stamina.
You might even want to do a limited version of the lesson plans I’m about to outline to revise the whole commands-with-you-on-wheels thing...you know, just to play it safe. (You don’t want to discover your dog needs to brush up on 'wheeled commands' the hard way - that is, while face down on the concrete after a nasty fall.)
Teaching The ‘Wheeled Commands'
Like I said previously, this website isn’t about training, so thus far I haven’t offered information on how to teach the commands I suggest you use for certain activities. But because let’s go, right, left, and easy aren’t commands taught during obedience classes and in training books, I think it’s only fair that I give you instructions on how to teach them to your dog. So, here goes…
The Footpath Is Your Classroom
Teaching and reinforcing 'wheeled commands' is best done on a footpath while continuously going around the block in the same direction.
As your dog is on your left, right is the safest turn to begin teaching because you’re turning away from your dog, so we’ll start with that.
Teaching The right Turn
Go around the same block in the same direction to reinforce the right command for as many lessons as your dog needs to get the hang of it.
You don’t want your dog to only associate the right command with one particular block, so generalise the command by doing the same as above on half a dozen different blocks.
By the time you’re done with those half dozen blocks, your dog should understand that when you say right it refers to a right turn no matter where you are. If this is not the case, keep practising on different blocks until you believe your dog has mastered it.
Moving On To The left Turn
At this stage your dog should know let’s go, easy and right. Now it’s time to go back to the original block you started with. This time, go in the opposite direction so that you can teach the command left. Do it all in exactly the same way as you taught the right command.
Mixing It Up
Now your dog knows let’s go, easy, right and left and by now should have built up the stamina to run comfortably for twenty minutes. Time to get back to that original block and start mixing things up:
After mixing it up as outlined above on that block, do the same on another and then another block until you’ve completed the above process on half a dozen different blocks (or more if needed).
By the end of these drills, your dog should firmly understand all the 'wheeled commands' and be able to execute them wherever you ride.
Time To Sniff?
Your dog should already know from going on walks with you that it’s only on the command free that he or she can stop to sniff about. For safety’s sake, you must teach your dog that it’s the same rule for wheeled activities: that when the wheels are turning, it’s go-go-go unless you say so:
The Exception To The No-Toilet-Breaks-Needed Rule
If your dog tries to stop two or three times in a row during a run, it means one of two things: that your dog needs to go to the toilet or that he or she is tired and needs a breather.
Either way, you must give your dog a break as soon as possible, BUT without letting your dog dictate the rules. Instead, retain your position of leader by stopping on your terms.
To do this, prevent your dog from stopping using uh-uh! leave it! and wait ten seconds before giving the appropriate commands for a break (see instructions below). Dogs don’t associate occurrences beyond two seconds apart - four seconds if they’re highly intelligent dogs - so the waiting period is crucial. It will seem to your dog that stopping was your idea and not his or hers.
Making it clear to your dog that it’s your rules only will help keep you and your dog safe. Otherwise you’ll be in for a great many falls and will end up injuring yourself and your dog.
Giving Your Dog A Breather
I recommended building up to a twenty minute maximum for lessons during the learning process. By the end of it, your dog will have developed the physical endurance to go for longer.
As the intensity of the learning curve has come to an end, you’ll be able to incorporate breaks for your dog during longer rides without throwing him or her off-focus. (Remember, it’s not about pursuing fitness at all times - it’s about smelling the roses along the way too. Or, in the case of dogs, smelling the trees and lamp posts.)
When you want to give your dog a break:
Toilet Breaks And Skates
While on skates you can get pulled down by a dog who’s been told free. One solution is to forever keep skating sessions short enough so that your dog doesn't need a toilet break.
But I’m sure you realise that nature can call even if you give your dog ample opportunity to go to the toilet before skating. Be prepared for this by developing your strength (particularly abdominal strength) and activate your muscles to ‘shock-absorb’ your dog’s pulls of enthusiasm after he or she has been told free.
Crossing Roads With Scooter Or Bike
Use a combo of ‘wheeled commands’ and regular commands to walk (not ride) across roads:
Crossing Roads With Skates
It’s simple enough to dismount your scooter or bike to cross the road on foot. But what about skates? You can’t jump off your skates to cross a road, so how about skating across the road? Three words: no, NO, NO.
In order to get to where you’re going and then back home again, you can either drive or (if the skating destination is close by) you could put all your protective gear on and carry your skates to your destination in a backpack while walking your dog. (Put your shoes in the backpack after you’ve changed into your skates.)
Equipment Needed For Scooter, Skates And Bike
No Motorised Scooters
Motorised scooters are OUT. They’re way too loud and potentially damaging to delicate canine ears (and also annoyingly loud for everyone else). Just as importantly, you should be teaching your dog to keep away from all motorised vehicles, not run alongside them.
The most cost-effective skate is not the cheapest one, it’s the one you’ll get the most use out of. So get an excellent quality skate that feels great on your foot even if it does cost a bit more.
Like sneakers, certain brands are better for particular feet - eg. very narrow or very wide feet - so buy from a skate shop (rather than a sports store) where you’ll get expert help in choosing the correct pair for you.
Detour: Why Not Rollerskates?
For running your dog, inline skates are better than rollerskates due to the position of the stopper.
Rollerskates have a stopper at the front, so you’re upright with your weight slightly forward when stopping. If your dog tugs in that moment, it’s likely that you’ll land on your face.
When stopping on inline skates you’re squatting with your weight slightly backwards. The squatting gives you more stability, and your weight slightly backwards counteracts some of the dog’s tug.
(You could say that if a dog pulls backwards when you’re stopping on inline skates you’ll end up on your butt. I say that if you need wheels on your feet to keep up with your dog, you’ve got a dog who’s more likely to pull forwards than backwards!)
Mountain bikes are preferable to racing bikes for exercising your dog, as they can handle most terrains. Get a good one from a bike shop (rather than a sports store) with excellent brakes - for obvious reasons - and a very comfortable saddle.
A comfortable saddle might sound like a small matter, but if you’ve been on a bike for more than ten minutes, you’ll know it’s important that your bottom feels comfortable while you ride. As with skates, the more comfortable you are on the bike, the more you’ll ride, giving you value for money and enormous physical benefits for you and your dog.
Additional equipment (also from a bike shop) to invest in includes:
Your dog’s paw pads and joints can really take a beating from too much running on concrete, so when you can go off-road, do it. No need to go anywhere special - you can do laps around a local park.
Off-road scooters aren’t available in all counties. If they’re not easily attainable in your country of residence, you could import one from the United States where there is a wide selection. As a starting point, check out Dog Scooter to see what’s available.
If you plan to specialise in scootering with your dog, an off-road scooter is definitely worth considering from a safety point of view because:
Again, off-road skates are widely available in the US but not in most countries. Your local skate shop could order some in for you by fitting you for a brand that makes off-road skates (if the fit is good in one skate of that brand, it’ll be good for any skate of that brand).
With off-road skates you’ll be able to ride on hard-packed dirt and grass, and they handle bumps much better than on-road skates. But while you can ride off-road scooters and mountain bikes on many terrains, off-road skates are specifically for off-road activity and aren’t suitable for riding on concrete. So if you want to do both, you’ll need both types of skates.
Going Off-Road On A Bike
Mountain bikes are on- and off-road machines that you can take on most terrains. Though going on grass or dirt is harder work for you, the softer ground is easier on your dog’s joints and paws, so do it as often as you can. (Plus the extra intensity is an opportunity for you to burn a few more calories!)
The Downside Of Off-Road: Bindies
When riding on grass, be careful of bindies, especially during spring and summer seasons. Keep vigilant, and if you suspect that your dog has got a bindy, give the relevant commands to safely stop, and hop off the bike to check your dog’s paws. (See Chapter 12: In The Park Using The Recall Lead for info on the Ancient Art Of Bindy Removal.)
Getting Used To The Equipment
As wheeled equipment makes noise while moving, it might take longer for your dog to get used to it - and therefore more patience may be required from you.
How Long Will Desensitisation Take?
My dog Jasmin literally took minutes to get used to the wheeled equipment I introduced her to. But all dogs are different, so yours might take minutes, weeks, or months to get accustomed. Remember:
How Long For Each Stage?
Your dog may take anywhere between a few minutes to a few weeks to go through each of the below stages, so be patient and allow your dog to progress at his or her own pace. Repeat each stage as many times as necessary until you think your dog is ready to move forward to the next.
Desensitisation Plan For Wheeled Equipment
To start off with, use Stages One to Four of the desensitisation plan for the treadmill. A brief recap:
Stage One: In Plain Sight
Have the equipment in plain sight, supervising to make certain that the dog doesn’t think it’s something to chew on or mark as territory. Give treats and praise for being inquisitive and having good manners.
Stage Two: Sit (You, That Is, Not The Dog)
Sit on the floor next to the equipment. Give a gentle pat for relaxed behaviour, and give treats and quiet praise to your dog for being calm.
Stage Three: Training The Dog Next To The Equipment
Take your dog out for a short walk and once back home, walk as close to the equipment as you can to do a few minutes of basic obedience training using treats.
Stage Four: Move, Baby, Move
You’ll need another person to help introduce your dog to the equipment while it’s in motion. First put your dog on lead and go for a short walk. When you get back home, keep the dog’s lead on, and get your friend to roll the equipment around while you do a few minutes of obedience training with your dog using treats.
Stage Five: Taking It Outside
For this you’ll need your friend to roll the scooter or bike as you all go for a walk. If your friend is game, he or she can progress to riding the scooter or bike as you walk along with your dog. When you feel the dog is ready, swap so that your friend is walking your dog while you ride alongside on the bike or scooter.
Unless your friend has your exact foot size, when it comes to the skates your friend will be the only one walking the dog while you skate.
By the end of this stage, you should be able to take your dog out on your own with whichever of the wheeled devices you’ve been working to accustom your dog to.
Keep your equipment maintained so it’s in tip-top condition:
Use wrist guards for skating and a pair of bike gloves for the bike and scooter. Buy the former from skate shop and the latter from a bike shop.
You obviously won’t need shoes for skating, but use a pair of sturdy sneakers for when you scooter and cycle to provide some protection for your feet. I use the same sneakers as I do for walking.
What About Open-Toed Shoes In Warm Weather Instead Of Sneakers?
In a word: no. In more words: open-toed shoes are not protective enough. Closed shoes - specifically sneakers - are the only shoes to wear while scootering and biking.
And if the weather is so unbelievably hot that the thought of closed shoes is unbearable, that’s still no excuse for wearing open-toed shoes because you shouldn’t be taking your dog running in such weather anyway. Wait until the sun is low and the temperature decreases, or find cooler ways (eg. swimming or treadmilling indoors with a fan on) of exercising your dog.
Why No Head Halter?
Even at moderate speeds you (obviously) go a lot faster on wheels than you do on foot, so using a head halter could result in neck strain if your dog pulls. So NO head halter when using wheeled equipment.
Attaching Yourself To Your Dog Using Scooter And Skates
While scootering or skating, attach your dog to you using an adjustable lead attached to a springy extension called the EzyDog Mongrel Extension. Then attach the springy extension to the dog’s harness.
While the adjustable lead keeps your dog safely attached to you, the springy extension reduces the impact on your balance of any pulling your dog might do.
Scooter: Lower Back Care
On a scooter you (of course) need to have both hands firmly on the handlebars. Create a little slack in the part of the lead between your waist and the handlebar so that if your dog pulls, your back is not pulled with it.
Skates: Lower Back Care
When skating, keep one or two hands on the lead with some slack between your waist and your left hand (the hand closest to the dog). This will create a buffer for your lower back if your dog tugs.
Extra Note On Lead Slack For Skating
Position your hands on the lead to create enough slack for the side-to-side arm motion required to skate, without yanking at the dog each time your arms move to the right.
The Slack In The Lead And Your Balance
Besides being important for lower back care, the slack in the lead also helps you keep your balance.
While a tug on your hand or the handlebars could be managed if your core is steady, a tug at your torso is likely to throw off your entire balance. This is because what keeps you steady while on wheels is, by and large, your core strength. The slack in the lead is such an important part of the equation because it’s that slack that acts as a buffer between your torso and any pulling your dog might do.
You won’t need the adjustable lead to attach yourself to your dog during a bike ride - that’s what the WalkyDog is for.
What Does The WalkyDog Do?
Detour: Why Attach At All?
If being attached to a dog while you’re on wheels creates potential problems with balance, why not allow your dog to run free as you ride? Four reasons:
Double Detour: Won’t Obedience Training Help?
Why aren’t I suggesting that obedience training solve the issue of making sure a darting, lunging, or pulling dog doesn’t drag you over when you’re on wheeled equipment? Won’t a dog heeling by your side while you’re on wheels mean you won’t have to worry about all that?
Well, no, not really. Unless you happen to be doing your obedience classes on wheels, your dog learns how to heel by your heel - not your wheel. (Which is why, out of interest, the command is named heel: the dog uses your heel as a marker to walk next to.)
Sure dog who has basic obedience training will help in all circumstances, including when you’re on wheels. (And frankly, if you can’t control your dog on foot, you’ve got no chance while on wheels.) So, yes, obedience training is an important part of safety, but not a total solution: using the right equipment, keeping your wits about you, and going at a moderate pace are the other parts of the safety equation.
Regularly running your dog might mean investing in some dog booties - it all depends on what your vet says is best for your dog’s paws.
The vet will take into consideration all factors (including frequency and length of rides, and any previous paw problems) and give their verdict. If your vet says your dog should wear booties when running while you ride, this section is for you.
Where To Buy Booties
Search the Internet for dog booties that are made solely for practical purposes - not booties that are more about looking cute than protection. Show your vet the websites with the different booties available and get their recommendation as to what style they predict would be best for your dog's foot.
Fitting Booties By Mail
Measure your dog’s foot carefully as per the instructions on the website. Once you receive the booties, initially try them on inside the house only so that there’s no risk of damage from outside wear. That way you’ll be able to return them and do a swap if you measured incorrectly and they’re not the right size.
A dog wearing booties should also wear socks for added comfort. You could try socks for human babies or children (depending on how big your dog is). Or you could buy buy special doggie socks - places that sell booties usually sell the socks that go with them too.
When It Comes To Dog Booties...
Even with my limited experience, and there are important things I know for sure about dog booties which I’ll now share with you:
Desensitisation Plan For Dog Booties
With some work and a touch of luck, your dog will hopefully cotton on to the fact that when the dreaded booties go on, it means that fun times are ahead.
Know, however, that because dogs generally don’t like their paws touched (let alone have something attached to them in the form of shoes) the process might be a long one. Be patient. And, as usual, be generous with both treats and praise for calm behaviour.
Here’s the plan:
Before any of the below steps, put a harness on your dog - even if you’ll not be using the wheeled equipment at that stage - and attach your dog to you via an adjustable lead (remember to sit on the lead). Oh, and remember that in the below instructions when I say “booties” I’m also assuming the use of cohesive bandage and socks.
Which Paw First?
I’ve heard two different versions of how to best put booties on your dog.
One works diagonally:
The other goes from back to front:
Ask your vet which they think your dog might best respond to.
Out Straight Away?
Instructions that come with some booties tend to advise that you go outside straight after putting the booties on. The philosophy behind the idea is a sound one: your dog will immediately associate the booties with outdoor adventures and feel positive towards them.
I agree that it’s a good idea on that level, but I prefer the bit-by-bit method for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a gradual process, which I’m always a fan of. And secondly, it’ll keep the booties in good condition in case you have to return them for any reason at all.
Detour: Will Some Dogs Never Find A Bootie To Suit?
Jasmin has the ability to get used almost anything within seconds. But she hasn’t yet found booties that she can walk normally in. (She’s always been hyper-sensitive about her paws since I adopted her as a two-year-old, and while we’ve worked on this issue and she’s greatly improved, she’s still very paw-sensitive).
So far we’ve tried six styles of booties, all with varying degrees of failure. But don’t let Jasmin’s bootie problems discourage you! From customer reviews I’ve read, it seems that many dogs don’t mind booties (some dogs reportedly love wearing booties). So hopefully you’ll have more luck with your dog than I’ve so far had with Jasmin.
If we find booties that Jasmin copes well with, we’ll give them a try. In the meantime, Jasmin's on vet’s orders to stick with running on concrete for a daily maximum of half an hour - any additional running is to be done on grass or dirt.
I only ride on flat ground, and any inclines or declines I encounter are minor and incidental. I advise you to do the same. The reasons are:
Aren’t Big Hills Better For Weight Loss Because They’re Harder?
Muscle burn doesn’t always necessarily mean fat-blasting. If your goal is to get trimmer as you exercise your dog, the thigh burn of going up hills might feel like it’s doing more than riding on flat terrain, but for the purpose of slimming, it won’t get you to where you want to go.
What you want to aim for overall is a moderately physically taxing workout that you can cope with daily and for the long term. What you don’t want is a workout which is so difficult that you consistently pike out of doing it: I mean, what’s the use of a tough workout if you rarely do it? Better to have a challenging but moderate one that you stick to. And same for your dog.
A Civilised Pace
Roaring around at high speed along footpaths and shared pathways with your dog not only endangers you, your dog, and others, but could also result in the banning of wheeled activities with dogs on footpaths and shared pathways.
Think I’m being dramatic? Well, you’re wrong.
It happened recently at Centennial Park in Sydney. Because of idiots racing around the bike track at high speed (and these hoons were without dogs I might add), no one is allowed to run their dog using wheeled equipment there any more.
The rangers are doing what they can about controlling people’s riding speed, but for now all they can do is try to keep dogs safe. Unfortunately, this has meant banning dogs from running next to wheeled equipment. So, yes, it can happen.
Detour: On The Subject Of Giving Way…
Whether on a footpath or shared pathway, if you stop to chat with someone, take yourselves off to the side so that you don’t get in other people’s way.
In the early days of adopting my first dog, Jake, I had no clue about pathway etiquette and once got told off severely for stopping on a shared pathway to talk to someone. Although we weren’t taking up the whole path, this woman still thought we were a nuisance and told us off. And rightly so. We should have stepped off to the side to natter and not blocked any of the pathway.
Setting The Pace
Allow your dog to set the pace. Your dog can’t speak to tell you how he or she is feeling, so it’s your job to be vigilant.
If you notice your dog pulling back, he or she may be getting tired, so slow it down. If your dog is pulling ahead, speed up a little (but not too much - remember, it's imperative for safety that you stick to a moderate pace).
What About Me?
What if you feel like you’re not getting the exercise you need because you can’t go fast enough when your dog’s running with you as you ride?
Well, tough luck!
Exercising your dog is NOT about you. Exercising your dog is about just that: exercising your dog. It’s a bonus that you’ll get fitter as a direct result (and I thoroughly encourage that), but you must go at the right pace for your dog’s needs, not yours.
One: the smaller you are and the bigger your dog is, the more dangerous it’ll be for you to exercise your dog while you’re on wheels.
Two: the more control you have over your dog on foot, the more control you’ll have over your dog while on wheels.
Safety Tips For Scooters
Riding a scooter is pretty straightforward. All it takes is balance and logic. Like I said, of the three pieces of wheeled equipment, the scooter is the least dangerous for you and your dog, but here are some safety tips to make it even safer:
Safety Tips For Skates
Of the three wheeled devices, skates are, by far, the ones you have the least control with because you’ve essentially replaced your feet with wheels. If you’ve never skated before, half a dozen lessons or more with a professional skating teacher and a lot of practice (especially with stopping) before taking your dog with you is absolutely essential. Here are my safety tips:
Safety Tips For Bikes
If you’ve never biked before, you don’t really need lessons from a professional. You’ll just need some simple instructions from someone who knows how to ride, and - of course - a great deal of practice before taking your dog out with you. My safety tips for bikes are:
How long you ride depends on what your vet has said your dog is capable of, and on you and your physical capacity. I’ll tell you what I do just to give you some ideas and you’ll see from my explanations below that there’s more than just fitness to consider in determining how long a session should be. Allow your vet’s advice, your experiences, and logic to help decide what’s right for you and your dog.
Despite my overall fitness, my thighs suffer from the repeated one-legged squatting needed to give the scooter a safe level of momentum. I therefore go scootering for just ten minutes.
Even though I change legs constantly, after ten measly minutes it crosses over from being exercise to just plain torture, and my legs can’t take any more. (Although on a good day, I can make it for fifteen whole minutes!) All I can say is that I hope you have better luck with your thighs than I have with mine when it comes to scootering…
I usually skate for twenty minutes at a time, but not because my thighs can’t take more - this time it’s because of my feet.
I bought good quality skates, and chose the best-fitting, best-feeling skate I could find. Nonetheless, they get extremely uncomfortable after twenty minutes. I suspect that it’s my hard-to-fit very narrow feet that are the problem…but regardless of the reason, twenty minutes has become my limit.
Thigh-wise and foot-wise I can bike for a couple of hours, but bum-wise I need a break around every half hour. Otherwise my butt goes numb.
Like I said before, the vet instructed that Jasmin and her bootie-free paws can run on concrete for a daily maximum of thirty minutes - anything over that I’ll run her on grass and dirt. On these long rides I stop every half hour to allow Jasmin (and Jake too for that matter - he always accompanies us on rides, although not running…as you’ll see shortly…) to have some water and a sniff around, and for me to ward off Numb Bum.
Adventures With The Bike For Dogs Who Can’t Run
There are ways of taking your small or medium (but unfortunately not large) dog out riding with the bike if he or she can’t run due to age, injury, illness, or a special condition.
Handlebars And Carriers Are Not An Option
A dog riding on a bike’s handlebars is incredibly dangerous and therefore incredibly stupid. Don’t even think about doing it.
Putting your dog in a carrier as you ride is also highly un-recommended. Having a dog on your back or (especially) on your front dramatically changes your equilibrium and makes riding any wheeled equipment terribly dangerous.
Small Dog In A Bike Basket
A warm-weather option is to put your small dog into a bike basket. Any bike shop can install one for you when you next service your bike.
Most bike baskets designed for the front of a bike affect the steering. But even if you get one that doesn't interfere with steering, it's still safer for your dog to ride in a basket at the back of the bike.
A basket in the front that doesn't mess with your steering is great for extra storage, but is not for doggies to ride in.
Dressing Your Dog For The Basket Ride
The breeze caused by movement while you’re cycling is okay for you, but the dog in the basket gets the cooling effect of the wind without building up body heat from exercising. The solution? Put a t-shirt on your little buddy for basket rides!
Basket Safety Strategy
Attach your dog to the basket at three points of the harness: at the back and on either side. Use three large collars with heavy-duty buckles (available from most petshops) and thread them through the bars of the basket and the harness itself.
Go out for a few rides just with a dog in the basket (ie. no dog running beside you). This is to get used to the extra weight in the back of the bike and to the slight pitching created by the dog moving (even though he or she is safely attached, the dog can still transfer his or her weight from side to side).
Baskets And Body Care
I asked my vet if the inevitable bumpiness of any bike ride has an adverse physical affect on Jake while he’s in the basket - either on his spine or his arthritic back legs. The vet’s answer was “no” on both counts.
If your small basket-riding dog has any physical condition, ask your vet their advice as to whether the little tyke should be getting around in a bike basket at all - you want to make sure you’re not doing more harm than good.
The next question I had for my vet was whether or not riding in a basket for an arthritic aging dog like Jake should be factored into his exercise time due to the jolting up and down - the impact of which would be taken mainly in his arthritic back legs.
And while on the subject, I asked whether car rides should also be factored into exercise time for such a dog because he invariably stands up to look out the window during most of any car ride (and, yes, don’t worry, he’s always seatbelted in - but he can still stand to look out the window). His answer to both those questions was “no.”
If your vet thinks that, for whatever reason, a basket is a bad idea for your dog, I’m sure they’ll be happy with the next idea: the doggie trailer.
The Doggie Trailer
Doggie trailers (when searching the Internet, try the words 'pet trailer') can be attached to the back of a bike and, like mountain bikes, these trailers have wheels that can travel over many terrains.
The All-Weather Option
One of the great advantages of the doggie trailer is that it can be used in cooler weather, unlike the bike basket. With some soft bedding and blankets during winter, your dog will remain absolutely comfortable for the entire ride.
Doggie Trailer For Dogs Who Can Run
Use a doggie trailer to your able-bodied dog’s advantage in these ways:
I love using the doggie trailer for my dogs. Jasmin alternates between runs and rests and that means I can ride for up to two hours if I want to. Within that time Jasmin gets an hour’s worth of running. And during the ride, Jake is able to survey his kingdom from the comfort of the trailer.
Three Types Of Test Drive For The Doggie Trailer
Seatbelt Your Dog
Doggie trailers have a lead or D-ring attachment. Use an EzyDog Standard Extension (the non-springy extensions) - or two, if you’ve got two dogs in there - to keep your dog seatbelted in the trailer via the harness.
Clip The Zips
Zips of the mesh doors of doggie trailers can be either stitched in (like luggage) or not (like a zip-up jacket).
The safer type is the first variety because you’ll be able to clip the zips together to keep the dog/s enclosed. I suggest this because the first thing Jasmin did when I put her and Jake in the trailer was to unzip the mesh ‘doors’. (I told you she was a master escape artist!)
SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!
Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance
It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.
Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.
Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.
Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.
Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.
If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.
All information and photos are copyright © Despina Rosales.