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Dogs, language, and intelligence

Many people insist that dogs don’t understand the words we use, and that everything sounds a lot like the “wah wah wah” sound used on Charlie Brown cartoons for the adults.  What do you think?

I started listing the words that our oldest dog understands, and this is what I came up with:

  1. Go
  2. Eat
  3. Food
  4. Hungry
  5. Water
  6. Cookie
  7. Out
  8. Thirsty
  9. Mom
  10. Dad
  11. The names of certain friends/family members (about 6 different ones)
  12. Camping
  13. No
  14. Who did that?
  15. wait
  16. stay
  17. sit
  18. bed
  19. van
  20. get in
  21. get out
  22. up
  23. get back here
  24. get it
  25. drop it
  26. give
  27. paw
  28. louder
  29. tell me
  30. shhh
  31. good
  32. bad
  33. uh uh (negative sound)
  34. come here
  35. heel

Thirty-five words/phrases isn’t a lot, and while we may have forgotten a few, that is the bulk of the words we know she recognizes.  A few she even will recognize if we spell them, like E-A-T.

To some people, her ability to understand what I’m telling her seems like a nearly miraculous event, and that she is an amazingly smart dog.  They all swear they’d love to have a dog like her, but they also don’t realize the amount of work that goes into a dog that is responsive to their “parents”.  They also don’t realize that on the canine genius scale, Red is smart, but not anywhere close to being a “genius”.

Smart dogs, especially those on the “genius” range, are a double edged sword.  If you don’t invest time and effort into not just training them but keeping them entertained, they will find a way to entertain themselves, and their human family members might not appreciate that genius at work.

This is when the really obnoxious behaviors such as destruction, excessive barking, and creative escaping comes into play.  Breeds that are known for their intelligence are often known for their abilities in those departments too.  While Red hasn’t usually been destructive or prone to excessive barking, she is known for her ability to escape from almost anything, and she does suffer from separation anxiety.  She regards it as her job to be with me, and while we try to accommodate her, she is ten years old, and in the ten years of her life, I have also lived ten years of my life.  That means she has had to be left behind, due to travel, work, and even hospital stays.

She has ripped the screen from the screen door, gone through the screens on windows, jumped out of car windows, climbed 8′ chain link fences, broken cables, chewed through cables, snapped collars, snapped off metal stakes, climbed wooden fences, and darted out doors.  I can’t leave her with just anyone, and the only person I’ve ever left her with overnight (besides a very secure boarding facility) has been my daughter.  Unfortunately, my daughter now has a toddler and a boxer and no fence, and I don’t trust Red with any of that. Not all boarding facilities are created equally either, and it’s now time to start shopping for one that can keep her, just in case, as we have relocated.

To some people, I’m excessively picky about where the dog is left.  To me, it is merely reciprocating the care and devotion she has shown me over the years, as she has accompanied me across the country, whether we were hiking a remote canyon or living in an urban situation.  Her “Colgate grin” has deterred many individuals from, shall we say “unsocial” behavior?  She’s stood watch when we were camping in remote locations, and she’s inspected many boyfriends and potential boyfriends over my single years.  (Just for the record, I did eventually learn to pay attention to her evaluation–she was ALWAYS right about which ones needed to go right now, and she also adored my husband from the moment she met him.)  For this gift she has given me, it is my duty and responsibility to make sure she is not only happy, but safe and secure, wherever she is left.

Does that mean that I prefer “stupid” dogs?  Well, in my case, I have three dogs, all with different intelligence levels.  Our “challenged child” is a feist I adopted in 2006, sight unseen.  Her real age is unknown, and it was estimated to be that she was born in 2003, although her sudden aging in the past year has me questioning that as well.  She has a much more limited vocabulary.

  1. Cookie
  2. out
  3. bed
  4. house
  5. up
  6. in
  7. sit

This short list doesn’t even begin to show what she can be like.  She barks continually if she has anything moving in her line of sight.  She is losing her vision and does not see well, so everything is a “monster” approaching.  She can be as vengeful as a cat, and has been known to both urinate or defecate on a bed if she has been slighted in any way (in her eyes.)  She obeys few commands, and craves attention like a two year old.   I don’t trust her with children or strangers–she’s apt to nip with little warning.  She turns into Cujo with other dogs, to the point of slobbering and snarling as she is dragged away.  While it may sound like she’s a disaster with four legs, she is a loving dog, and she absolutely adores my husband.

Our newest “child” is Nemo, a chihuahua rescued after having been dumped on a rural road in central Mississippi.  An un-neutered male, he’s on the list of things to do, but in the meantime, he has enjoyed living with us.  He is a leg hiker, and will even pee on our bed, so he wears a diaper to prevent soiling things.  (We actually use newborn human diapers and velcro them around his mid-section to cover his penis.  It’s a no-brainer and inexpensive solution.)  We’re still working on what he understands, but there is no doubt in our mind whether he recognizes a can of dog food.  He can hear that snapping sound of the pop top and will come running, only to be disappointed if it’s NOT his food.  He recognizes containers and boxes, but we’re still working on specific words for his vocabulary.  Our initial opinion is that he ranks in the “average” range.  As a very small dog, about 5 lbs., he has “small dog syndrome.”  We just aren’t as demanding of obedience of small dogs either–something that is “cute” from a 5 lb. dog is seriously offensive from a 50 lb. dog.

Try making a list of the words and phrases that your dog understands.  Remember, puppies are like children, and still learning.  The older the dog is, the more words and phrases they will have learned to understand.  Some things will be commands, some will be words that are associated with things they either really like or really dislike.  In addition, remember it takes time for a newly adopted dog, regardless of his or her age, to adapt to your household and begin recognizing words and phrases that are used by their new family–so don’t judge too harshly if it seems that your newly adopted dog is “challenged.”

Intelligence and vocabulary also does not necessarily mean that your dog is “obedient” and willing to obey commands or perform tricks.  Some very intelligent dogs absolutely are not good at obedience work OR tricks, as they find the routine and predictable nature of this rote behavior boring.

Here’s the scale to rank your dog:

  • >10  Challenged
  • 10-30 Average
  • 30-50 Smart dog
  • 51-75 VERY smart dog
  • 76+ Genius Dog

 

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A strange fascination

Today, I saw an entirely new side of my dog.  She discovered a baby toy.

That’s right.  It was a baby toy, I’m not sure what it was called, but when you drop a ball through the tubes, lights flash and tones play, depending on where it comes out.  The same lights and sounds play when it is activated by movement.

This toy is designed for very young babies, but it is rather large, probably about 12″ in diameter.  For Red Dog at 65 lbs., it’s substantially sized, even if it’s not “dog proof”.  (It’s made of hard plastic.)  She was fascinated by it, and quite mystified by how it worked.  It outweighed the “cookie” concept even.  She wanted that toy, and she wanted it to light up and play music.

For thirty minutes, she laid enthralled or followed it around the room.  If we moved it out of her sight, she had to find it.  She almost didn’t want to leave because of the fascinating toy she had just discovered.

I’ve never seen her fascinated by a toy to that degree.  She is old–few toys catch her interest at all, let alone catch and hold it for so long.  I’m not sure what she thought of it, but she did learn that touching it with her nose or paw would activate it.

Now the question is…why has this particular toy fascinated her?  What intrigues her about the toy?  Is it the lights or the sounds?  I know the sound fascinates her, if I hid the toy and it made a sound, she would be practically beside herself trying to find the toy.

In a puppy, this play behavior and intense curiosity is nearly the norm.  But, this is an aging dog, she is going on ten, and hasn’t shown interest in toys since she was about four years old.  Why the sudden interest in this particular toy?

For a human baby, this toy is supposed to intrigue and fascinate with the sounds and lights.  I haven’t seen the human baby that it was bought for playing with it, but I can see where it would interest most babies.  I don’t understand why it has brought out the puppyish curiosity in an aging dog though, and if I could figure it out…I might know a lot more about canine psychology.  In the meantime, though, what does this information do for our relationship?

It makes me realize that even though she is old and set in her ways, she still craves mental stimulation and new experiences, just like humans do.  It goes hand in hand with her curiosity about other unfamiliar things encountered on our excursions, and her intense desire to participate and be with me when I am doing things…just in case something interesting happens.  It reminds me that just like sticking an older human in a room with nothing to do…it isn’t healthy.  We need to remember to provide even our aging pets with things to keep their minds active and interested, be it new experiences or repeating those that they love.

In the meantime, we will have to pay another visit and see if her interest in this toy continues.

Dogs and bike trailers

Once upon a time, bike trailers were nearly unheard of.  Trailers specialized for pets were even more unheard of.  Today, there are many options on the market…IF you have a toy to small-medium sized dog.  But what about the big dog…especially as age begins to reduce their ability to run for miles alongside their person?

Last weekend, Red Dog and I embarked on an ambitious bike ride.  Much to my surprise, despite our slow pace (I never moved her beyond a trot) Red gave out just before the five mile mark.  She was exhausted, and I had to stop for her own well  being.  To continue to ask her to follow along would have been beyond cruel–I was risking her life.  She was too hot, too tired, and beginning to limp as age, lack of conditioning, and the asphalt surface all began to take its toll on her joints and muscles.  She then took a four hour (nearly continuous) nap as we waited for the rescue vehicle to pick us up at the park where we’d opted for our stop.

I had realized that the full 18.8 miles of the ride were likely to be too much, but the trailer I had ordered had not yet arrived.  My plan was to go slow, rest often, and see how she did.  I didn’t rest long enough apparently, because I was definitely surprised when she began stumbling and steadily going slower and slower as she breathed heavier and heavier.  It was still cool, and she was refusing a drink…but the definite warning sign was her disinterest in a PEOPLE cracker…Red never turns down crackers.  I actually dismounted and walked alongside her for a good half mile as we slowly made our way the last mile to the rest station.

It’s a sad day when you are forced to admit your dog is getting older and is no longer that young, energetic (and foolish) dog she was 8 years ago.  At over 9 years now, she rarely shows signs of age except during cold weather or after a long sleep, when her legs don’t want to cooperate.  She still runs and plays like a puppy often, but the bike ride/run was just too much.

She’s done her best for me all of her life, and now, I have to remember to do my best for her as she gets older.  The bike trailer was the first step in accepting that she’s no longer a young dog.  When she was a year old, I should have taken up bike riding–she could run for miles as we hiked canyons, with her running up and down nearly vertical sides like she was really a mountain goat, then ahead of me, then behind me, then up the other side and back down again.  Cliff diving was another favorite, and she was known to take leaps of 20-30 feet without blinking an eye, an activity I discouraged after a nasty case of swimmers ear got us a large vet bill.  (That was her only ear infection, and it came after repeatedly diving off of a cliff about 30 feet up with a friend of mine’s young son–she had a ball, but we paid dearly for it about a week later.)

So, I began shopping for trailers.  It was soon obvious that a traditional “pet trailer” would not work–she would not fit!  At a mere 65 lbs. in middle age, she was far larger and bulkier than those trailers could comfortably manage.  Obviously, I would have to consider a “cargo trailer.”

Bike trailers come in a long list of brands, sizes, types, and materials.  I soon narrowed it down.  I wanted a 2 or 3 wheel trailer with a solid bottom and detachable top or no top, to allow room for her to sit in the trailer comfortably.  Next, there was the financial aspect of the trailers, and many beautiful trailers with more than enough room for her and the groceries were also far too expensive for my meager bike trailer budget.

Then I hit pay dirt.  I found the Aosom trailers.  (www.aosom.com)   They can be found on Amazon and Ebay also.  They had a metal bottom, were appropriately sized, and better yet, were priced at about $100 each.  At the last minute, I called Aosom to find out how much it would cost to have one shipped 3 day shipping, since their price included standard shipping.  At an additional $70, it moved the trailer out of my price range, so I had to settle for standard shipping.  Their website advertises shipping in 24 hours, but that’s rather misleading.  My trailer was ordered on Monday, but not picked up by Fed Ex until Wednesday, and didn’t depart until Thursday, the day I needed it to arrive.  It finally arrived on the following Tuesday, minus the second hitch I had ordered so that we could easily trade the bike trailer between bikes without having to use tools.  I shouldn’t complain–there was a time when ordering something via mail order took 6-8 weeks to arrive!

I called Aosom about the missing hitch, and it is supposed to be shipped out soon.  Judgement on “soon” is reserved at this point…we’ll see.

But the trailer?  It’s beautiful!  It’s their “small” trailer, with the red cover.  It wheels by hand like a dream, literally I can move it with a single finger!  I am hoping it moves as easily behind me with a 65 lb. big red dog lounging in it.  The floor is solid metal, and the sides are formed of nylon fabric.  The cover, which won’t be used with Red in the trailer, fits snugly and will work well for those rides with items other than large hairy dogs in the cart.  With 16″ wheels, the ride may be a bit rough, but I don’t think she’ll complain too much!

The metal floor is uncovered in the stock trailer I ordered.  I’ll handle that myself with a floor mat from our van’s back seats.  (Any floor mat would work though.)  The floor mat will make the floor less likely to intimidate with its slick surface, insulate the metal some, and provide an anti-slip surface that can handle big dog nails.  Additional padding could also be added for a long day’s ride.  In addition, since we are considering purchasing a second trailer, this trailer may well be large enough to hold Sissy’s crate–we have no illusions about her ability to cooperate and stay IN the trailer–she’s a feist with an attitude that is much larger than her abilities will ever be, and escape will only result in accident or injury.  At 25 lbs., even she is pushing the limits of size and strength for a traditional trailer, and we do like the idea of multi-purposed trailers for the dogs on the bikes.

With the rapid approach of a Gulf Coast summer, shade for the dog would also be necessary.  I can see two easy-to-manage and inexpensive solutions.  One is an umbrella strapped to the frame–hardly aerodynamic, but a quirky, attention getting solution.  The other alternative is to enlist assistance, and construct a lightweight PVC frame to insert into the trailer, and attach fabric to the top to create a “roof”.  Additional fabric could be used to create sides, and increase her feeling of seclusion and privacy–an important consideration when traffic is rushing by at 55+ mph!  This fabric could be easily made removable with the use of glue-on Velcro, I suspect.  Another choice might be using magnets glued to the PVC pipe, and a matching magnet on the fabric.  We’ll see–that project will take place next week.

So far, although we’ve not embarked on our maiden voyage, I’d have to say I highly recommend our choice of cargo trailers for a large dog.  It’s sturdy, very easy to put together even without directions.  (There aren’t any, by the way!) It’s the least expensive model on the market and one of the FEW with a solid bottom–a very important consideration with a large dog.  The trailer has two wheels, which gives it greater stability, another important consideration when dealing with the weight of a large dog.  While our trailer is rated for 80 lbs., I’d not hesitate to load any dog into the trailer that could comfortably fit, no matter what the weight.  The weight rating from the manufacturer is apt to be on the light side of the true capacity, and is largely determined by the wheels and tires, not the frame of the trailer.  I’m not towing it behind a motorcycle or motorized bicycle, and am only powered by my own pedaling oomph, so I feel comfortable exceeding the weight limit, if necessary.  I’m getting older too, and I don’t ride fast!

Take a look at the beautiful trailer in this stock photo from Aosom.

Small Aosom bicycle trailer

Weekend warrior canines

Our dogs live with us, and share our lives.  Often this includes the bad habits as well.  Obesity and lack of exercise are serious concerns with our pets as well.  And, just like us, they lounge in front of the television too many days, only to head out on the weekend for more exercise than usual.

It isn’t good for us, and leads to injuries and mishaps.  It does the same thing for our dogs.  We can’t expect a dog that has spent the previous month lounging around in the house and back yard to be fit for a 20 mile run alongside your bicycle just because you have the time and inclination to go do it on that weekend.

So how do we cope with this?

Just like ourselves, the dog in your life needs regular exercise to stay in shape so those weekend runs alongside your bike (or wherever you are going) aren’t going to cause problems that land you in the veterinarian’s office with a dog in pain (or worse…dealing with a dog suffering from heat stroke or a heart attack!)  Being diligent in walking is the low-tech option.  Walking five miles a day goes a long ways towards maintaining good habits, but what if  you don’t have the time or can’t hire a dog walker?

There is the option of the treadmill.  Not all dogs take to it well, and it usually requires some training to get them up and moving on the treadmill.  They are not going to see it as particularly logical, by the way!  There is also the expense of purchasing a treadmill, which can often be found used from someone who’s New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the way side.  Obviously, a used machine can be far less expensive than buying a new one.

The bicycle can also be used to speed up the exercise process for those pressed for time, as well as provide the distance and speed larger dogs need to stay fit.  This requires forethought and training–a dog can easily cause a potentially serious accident if it should pull in the wrong direction at the wrong time with any force.  There are also gizmos that can be purchased to attach to the bicycle, eliminating the rider holding a leash in his or her hand and riding.  These usually attach to either the rear axle or the seat post, and provide a safer attachment for the dog, as these locations are less likely to result in a dangerous swerve of the bicycle.  When exercising dogs via bicycle, the route must also be carefully considered.  Loose dogs and heavy traffic can cause serious hazards for the bicycle rider & accompanying dog.

Some people also use a motor vehicle to exercise their dogs.  ATVs, mopeds, and even standard cars and trucks have all been seen on occasion on a quiet road, motoring along slowly to keep the dog at a steady trot for the designated exercise distance.  This requires careful monitoring of the dog during the exercise period however, as a trip, slip, exhaustion, or health problem may not be noticed as easily by a driver and result in serious injury or death to the dog.  Other owners have expressed concerns about the effects of exhaust on the dog’s lungs as well.

Swimming is another exercise option, and its just as good for the dogs as it is for their owners.  Just make sure the chosen swimming location is actually safe!  (Some rivers are notoriously dangerous for any swimmer, as well as hazards in other locations.)  Not all dogs are thrilled with the swimming either, but it is an exercise form that doesn’t add undue strain to joints and muscles.  Don’t over exercise in water–dogs also can drown when they become too tired to continue swimming, just like people.

Above all, be reasonable.  Checking with your veterinarian before embarking on an exercise program is also a very good idea, just like checking with your doctor would be a good idea for you as well.  Often your veterinarian will have some very good ideas about how and where to get the best exercise for your pet.

Be safe, but have fun!

Dogs and camping

We’re going camping this weekend.  It’s our annual spring primitive camp out, and the dogs, as usual, get to go.  They are already excited, we practically had to pull our feist, Sissy, out of her travel crate in the van.  Red Dog, our big girl, was beside herself this evening after watching camping gear being stacked in the yard beside the van and then loaded.  She knows what those tent bags mean, and she also knows that she’s rarely been left behind when they have been loaded.

Our spring camp out means more freedom than usual for them both.  Sissy’s incessant barking is less of a problem there, as we don’t have outsiders walking past, along with bicycles, other dogs, rangers in their trucks, etc. to get her going.  That means we’re saying a lot less of “Sissy, shut up!”  For Red Dog, well trained at 9 years old, it means more off leash time as well as some swims in the creek near our campsite.  No alligators means more water time!  (The water is fast and cold, neither of which enthuse alligators about a creek.)

It means lounging by the camp fire and an opportunity to use her “psycho powers” to coax extra tidbits from the other campers too.  It also means sharing the tent and sleeping on the bed.  Long walks are right up their alley as we walk and explore the woods.  All of this adds up to a great time for them, and they look forward to these trips as much as we do.

But it means other things are important too.  We’ll be away from home, and that means making sure the dogs don’t get lost, as well as that they are carrying current identification tags and are up to date on their shots.  It also means traveling safely both to and from the camp site.

Traveling safely varies between dogs, but one rule should never be bent.  The drivers’ space should never include a dog!  That means even toy dogs, as having them on your lap, etc. is an excellent way to cause an accident as well as seriously or fatally injuring your pet.

There are harnesses designed to restrain your pet while traveling, as well as crates for traveling.  Restraining your pet inside the vehicle is a smart idea, after all, we wear safety belts don’t we?  I must confess though, I don’t strap in Red Dog.

Both dogs have been trained to load into the van on command…and to NOT exit the vehicle without another command, no matter what they want to do.  Sissy rides in a small wire crate to ensure her safety, as she is not as reliable about following the rules.  Red, the dog who has been with me the longest, has a long history of traveling with me, and performing standard security details.  Panhandlers and mischief makers  alike avoided me as a result of her poking out her head through the open door as they approached and giving them a silent “Colgate Grin.”  Apparently, 2″ fangs are greatly inhibiting to these people!    Red is a skilled actress–she puts on a very threatening (and convincing) act of wanting to shred people through the windows of the vehicle.  I have never had a vehicle damaged when she’s sitting inside of it, let alone a thief trying to take an object or the van itself.

So why do dogs love camping so much?  I think its because we are relaxed and happy, and that is contagious.  The dogs pick up on our happy state, and relax themselves.  Add in the interesting scents, the increase in quality time with us, and the fascinating change of routine to include walks and swims, and it’s as much a vacation for them as it is for us.

Camping with dogs is much like any other travel with them, but we do spend more time in camp than we would spend outdoors anywhere else.  As a result, be prepared to cope with their needs outdoors.

  1. Be able to secure the dog for outside lounging time.  Most parks require that dogs be on a 6 ft or shorter leash, which isn’t much room.  Typically, I’ll tie a rope around a tree trunk and thread it through a leash handle, allowing the dog to have a 6 ft radius around the tree.  Most parks do not allow you to leave your dog in camp and go elsewhere–someone has to stay and “dog sit.”
  2. Don’t forget food and water, as well as their dishes.  If your dog has a touchy stomach, bring water from home for them to drink.  It’s a great help to prevent diarrhea and stomach upsets.  Remember, when traveling you may encounter difficulties in obtaining your food, so bring enough along.  Don’t forget their treats–it helps keep the people food for the people!
  3. Bring along a copy of their vaccination history.  This may be required at some parks, and is always good to have along, just in case of a problem.
  4. Bring a toy or two if your dogs play with toys.  It helps occupy their time too.
  5. Have a spare leash.  Leashes often meet with strange damage problems, can be lost or broken, or simply mislaid.  A spare saves your sanity.
  6. Remember the weather. In warm weather, dogs can quickly overheat, whether in a vehicle or not.  Make sure they have shelter and protection from rain or wind, according to the season.  NEver leave a dog in a vehicle in warm weather.  (Typically, if we have to stop & shop when traveling with the dogs, one of us stays with the vehicle unless it is at night and then we’re quick.)  In cool weather, remember…if you need a jacket to be comfortable outside, so do they!

Most of all, have fun and enjoy your time with your pet.  That’s the most important part!

 

 

 

 

Bicycling and dogs

I have recently embarked on a grand adventure of rediscovering bicycling, with a primary goal of enjoying the world at a slower, greener pace…with the side benefits of increased physical exercise.  It’s only natural to want to include my dogs in our adventures via the bike, but that requires some careful planning before we add them to the routine.

First, since we have not been habitual cyclists, we have to regain proficiency as cyclists, and become comfortable with riding, not only in the parks but also on city streets to get from point a to point b.  We have just obtained our first bikes, inexpensive straight-off-the-Walmart-bike-rack bikes.

We chose full suspension mountain bikes as the starter bikes, and will probably end up having to upgrade some features on them, as well as work on general adjustments.  Fortunately for us, we have an authentic bike mechanic as a friend, and he has offered to go over the bikes for us.  Ensuring that they are properly tightened and adjusted is important, especially since we ignored all of our cycling friends’ advice and bought “Walmart bikes.”  In our case, we had an economic motive-we couldn’t afford “good” bikes, and it wasn’t likely we would be able to anytime soon.  We ultimately decided that a bike under our butts was better than no bike at all.

I already know that my bike seat has to be upgraded.  After my initial spin on the new bike, I’m sporting a sore butt.  The new seat, an inexpensive larger gel seat, is waiting to be installed on the bike already.  I have no doubts that a more comfortable seat will help me become more comfortable in general with riding.  It’s hard to concentrate on anything when you are uncomfortable as a result of your seat!

When I was a kid or even as a young adult, I thought little of just riding along on my bike with a dog on a hand held leash.  I was much more agile, and I healed much quicker if I did fall in those days.  Now however, I am more concerned about both my own and the dog’s safety.  Falling presents a very real risk to both the dog and myself.  So, the first thing to search for has been methods to ensure both of us are fairly safe.

I had seen various kinds of arm-like attachments that connected to the bike and then had a leash connection to the dog.  Any of these would probably work, to varying degrees of safety and efficiency.  Most connect to the seat post-a very convenient mid-body location that will spread out potential tugs at the point of greatest safety to the rider.  Attachments to the front wheel or handlebars are the most risky, as a relatively mild tug can turn the front wheel, resulting in a dangerous swerve for the bicycle.

Amazon is a familiar on-line vendor, but the first few offerings I found on a search with them were “out of stock.”  These items may or may not be carried at a future date by Amazon, and were crossed off of my list.

I did find some very attractive ones, like this one called a “bike tow leash”, from Pet Expertise.  I really like it, but…I don’t want the dog on the left side (street side) for safety reasons–cars barely clear bicycles on the streets & roads, and a dog on the left hand side is at more risk.  I want the dog on the right, and yes, I know dogs heel at the left side, but the average dog is smart enough to figure out the difference between bike riding and walking.  Still…it’s worthwhile to find out if it can be used on the right.  However, another down side is the price.  It seems like $119.75 is an awful high price, free ground shipping or not.

The PetEgo Walky Dog Bike Attachment from The Pampered Petmart (Drs Foster & Smith list it at $49.99) looks like a more economical choice at only $37.95.  This one is much more straight forward, and looks pretty much like an arm that clamps to the seat post.  My concern here is the lack of any device to reduce any sudden tugging or jerks, such as a spring. There is also a Walky Low Rider attachment, which allows the Walky to be attached to the rear wheel.

The Springer looks like a great choice, and is designed for use on either side of the bicycle (or even one on each side).  This basic arm has a quick release tab designed to release the dog in the event of something going wrong-not a bad idea!  If the dog goes on the opposite side of an obstacle, etc. the tab is designed to simply snap, rather than delivering a potentially fatal amount of force to bike, cyclist, or dog.  This one is also designed to be used with a harness on the dog, as well as easily be removed when not in use.  Attaching to the seat post is an excellent and simple method of handling the force of a tugging dog.  This one is a bit more expensive, listing at $89.00.

The next issue to check on in regards to these devices is their adaptability to specific dogs.  In my case, there are two dogs–one comes in at 65 lbs, the other at 25 lbs.  They are radically different in size, so I can’t help but wonder how well these devices would adapt between the dogs, or would each dog need their own device.  In our case, that’s not impossible–two bicyclists, two dogs, easy math.

For now, with our limited distance abilities as we relearn about biking, it isn’t a huge concern about distance for the dogs to keep up with us, but as we expand our distance from single digit rides to longer ones, it will become more of a concern.  Neither dog is a young dog anymore-the larger is 8, the smaller is 7.  The larger dog is showing signs of aging with increased stiffness in her joints.  Is it truly fair to expect her to pace a bicycle for long distances, even perhaps something like 5 miles?  We will know more as we start taking her along, and perhaps we’ll return to the basic 1 mile loop at the park with its lower speed limits and more considerate drivers, as well as grass alongside the roads.  Even so, if we do start doing longer distances, it might behoove us to make plans on coping with aging dogs and distance.

The best answer is, without a doubt, the addition of a trailer for the larger dog.  Reading reviews of trailers, they seem to track well behind the bicycles and normally don’t add a lot of drag to a cyclist.  They are prone to increase stability, as well as grant higher visibility to motorists, as well as make them more inclined to passing a cyclist with a trailer with better clearance.  I haven’t bought one or used one yet, but these all seem like great advantages, and the idea that a trailer would add less drag than typical touring panniers is also attractive.

In looking at trailers, specifically for large dog trailers, one stood out from Bike Trailers.com-the DoggyRide Novel.  At $349.99, this is like the Hummer for dog bike trailers.  That’s a fair chunk of change, so you had best be very serious about frequent rides when you fork out that kind of money for a dog bike trailer.  The Bike Trailer company has excellent reviews, and a number of other dog trailers available, so it’s a worthwhile source.

There are a number of less expensive trailers out there, and there is always the option of buying a cargo trailer, then strapping a normal wire or airline crate to the trailer, and making your own covers for shade or weather protection.  In looking at some of these trailers, and being aware of the heat here in New Orleans, I’m a little concerned about adequate ventilation to keep these trailers from being hot–the wire crate with a shade cover might be a more practical solution because of the increased ventilation.  Yes, I know that a wire crate weighs a LOT compared to these nylon fabric & plastic coated commercial trailers, but my primary concern is that the dog can ride safely and comfortably.  I would just have to ensure that the bike trailer’s weight limits were not being exceeded with the combined weight of dog & crate, plus any accessories that may be added.  There is also the possibility of getting creative-why not use plastic mesh similar to what is used in large aviaries & gardens over pvc pipe?  As long as the dog was not going to get sincere about escaping the trailer, that might be a very viable solution requiring minimal tools and weighing in far less than a commercial wire crate.  In addition, the top could be made entirely of any sturdy outdoor waterproof fabric rather than merely a cover made for the crate.  Desert dwellers could even use a gravity feed system to slowly drip water into fabric side panels, creating a mobile “swamp cooler” for their pet-on-the-go!  (Evaporator cooling systems don’t work particularly well in the high humidity climate of the American South, however, they are extremely efficient in low humidity climates in the West.)

So with all of that to explore, I’m off to fill a water bowl!