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The electronic bark collar-a solution to a problem

The electronic bark collar was never something I anticipated using myself.  I had never owned a dog with a nuisance barking habit before.  Sissy, our feist, is not a young dog, but upon moving into a location where she could SEE things moving (she is losing her sight, so she does not see well)  meant she had to bark her alarm.  Unfortunately, not only does she have a shrill bark, but her alarm period is about 15 minutes.  Between the sights and sounds to cause her alarm and the period of her alarm barking…she barked non stop virtually all day long.

It didn’t stop when we were walking on leash either.  If anything, it was worse.  She was definitely a nuisance barker, and we had to do something fast, as our current location is temporary and no one welcomes a nuisance barker.  We didn’t want to be in a situation where we couldn’t live with our beloved little Sissy.

Uncertain, I found a very cheap anti-bark collar on Ebay, direct from…you guessed it…China or Hong Kong.  I bought it, spending less than $10 including shipping.  I wasn’t anticipating a quality collar, and I got about what I had anticipated receiving.  It’s not reliable and doesn’t go off with each barking session.


It worked.  She doesn’t bark in extended periods of time anymore.  There is a warning tone that she actually pays attention to, unlike our attempts to shut her up.  Maybe the reason she pays attention to that warning tone is because on occasion, it is followed up with a jolt.  We can’t adjust the jolt or make it consistently respond, but it is often enough that we know it’s getting her attention.  Yes, I feel guilty when she yips in pain in response to the jolt, but I also know that she continues to bark even when my hand was holding her mouth closed–she was the most devout barker I had ever seen.  She needed serious correction to get her attention.

The cheap battery that came with the collar lasted about a month, and who knows how much of a charge it had in it.  We bought a replacement battery from Radio Shack that set us back nearly $20–far more than the original and collar had cost, even with shipping.  Replacing the collar and battery was necessary however, as a few days with a nearly dead battery had Sissy nearly to her previous level of barking.  Obviously, the collar is going to be a part of her attire for an extended period of time.

What else has it done?  She’s become a bigger pleasure to take with us, as she doesn’t wear out her welcome with continual barking immediately.  She behaves better, since she’s not focused on producing that steady stream of yaps.  She gets to go with us, rather than having to always stay home because of her incessant barking habit.  Other people may not LOVE her like we do, but she sure is much more likable to them now.

We may make a transition to a standard electronic correction collar, so that we can eventually teach her to respond to our verbal commands to hush, rather than merely responding to that electronic tone.  In addition to the barking, using an electronic correction collar may be more effective at curbing her aggression towards other dogs, a life long problem since she’s got security issues, and feels that other dogs may be going to “steal” our attention and affection.

Do I anticipate ever being able to let Red and Sissy hang out together again?  No, I don’t think there is a collar in the world with enough of a non-fatal zap ability that I’d feel safe letting them together again.  Red is aging and more cranky with age, and Sissy’s attempts to gain the throne as “Empress of the Universe” don’t go over well with her, resulting in progressively more severe response from Red at each attempt.  Since the last event resulted in serious injury to Sissy, who has more determination than intelligence when selecting her opponents, we’ve deemed it necessary to maintain our “separate but equal” policy in our lives.  The two dogs are never allowed to be together, even on leash, without a physical barrier or distance between them.  We’re relieved that the aggression from both of them has become a rare event, which makes for a peaceful life for all of us, as the days when the spats occurred with a crate between them were nerve wracking for all of us.

Consulting with trainers, animal communicators and even the veterinarian didn’t offer solutions.  I was told repeatedly that one of the dogs needed to be re-homed, a solution that wasn’t acceptable.  After five years together, it was like being told to give up one of your children!  Instead, we have opted for this separate but equal policy, putting Red outside for Sissy to have some time loose in the house, even if Sissy vastly prefers to hang out in her crate with its bed and nice safe door.  Red largely ignores Sissy, even turning her head away as she passes by her crate, as a result of frequent challenges in the past that always resulted in Red being “in trouble” while Sissy appeared to be the victim of bullying–until the day Sissy got caught doing her little trick!  Red’s turning of the head is so incredibly melodramatic that it is actually funny, but she is pointedly avoiding looking at Sissy, as though that means that she will not be challenged and therefore get in trouble for aggravating the other dog.

Tackling Sissy’s barking problem has given us greater peace.  We’re happier, she seems less stressed now that she’s no longer spending so much time barking (and being told to PLEASE SHUT UP NOW!)  We enjoy her presence more, which means she gets more attention.  She’s more welcome at group events, where previously she would end up banished to her crate often and early, so that people could carry on a conversation without having to shout over a barking dog.  Other people pay attention to her too, which means she feels more valued and validated.  I’m thrilled, because for a change, I’m not the “bad guy.”  She does not perceive me as punishing her, so there is none of the blame game happening.  That’s great for our relationship too!  Happy families are families that enjoy each other’s company…and we’re a happy family again.

Electronic anti-bark collars aren’t always a solution.  I’ve seen them fail miserably in the past, hence my lack of enthusiasm for them.  I would have thought that this collar’s lack of reliable performance would have made it ineffective, but in reality, it’s almost as though it has made it MORE effective for some reason.  (Don’t ask me to explain the psychological quirks of Sissy–she’s a hard nut to crack!)

We knew the first day that she was paying attention to the collar, although at first she wasn’t sure what on earth that pain was all about.  It took several days before she began associating the warning tone, the pain, and the act of barking at all.  We have to consistently USE the collar too.  In addition, the prongs for the shock delivery must contact the skin or there will be no effect at all.

In tough cases like Sissy, that shock was an important attention getting device, even more so than a deterrent for the behavior.  In traditional methods for “hushing” her, the problem was we couldn’t get her attention long enough for her to respond to a command.  The shock definitely gets her attention!  I anticipate the collar being a long term addition to our routine, as it will likely take up to a year to determine if she’s been broken of the barking habit.  She may require it permanently as an accessory–she IS a feist!

Unfortunately, many dogs such as Sissy end up in dog pounds and rescues around the country for the same reason–nuisance barking.  Not all cases of nuisance barking are caused by neglect or lack of training either.  Some dogs just feel a  need to announce everything they see and hear and smell via a bark (or two or three or a dozen.)  I had tried a lot of the traditional ways to deter her, and the only method that ever even worked to hush her was to simply isolate her so that she could not see anything that worried her.  Part of her barking may be due to her poor vision and approaching blindness–even if I’m just carrying something, I appear to be a “monster” when I walk towards her, causing her to bark in absolute panic until I speak to her.  At the same time, I suspect this barking issue is part of the reason that she was in four homes (that I know of–it might have been more) before I adopted her as an adult dog on death row.  (Sissy has some other issues, like a deep seated resentment of being corrected that she will retaliate for in a very cat-like fashion.)  In our previous home, she couldn’t see anything to alarm her and therefore didn’t bark.  Here, that’s not the case, just as it wasn’t the case when we had her camping, on walks, etc. in the past.  Now, we have come up with a workable approach that I wish I had employed long ago.

Don’t give up on your dog because of barking.  Keep looking for solutions, whether its traditional training, medication, an electronic collar, or whatever…there is something that will work, I’m sure of it!  Do check to make sure that they can hear (deaf dogs sometimes don’t hear themselves very well) and there is no reason for the barking.  Make sure they have enough attention, and aren’t barking just to get that brief moment of “shut up” as more attention than being ignored.  Most dogs only bark outside–by bringing them indoors, you are going to at least stop aggravating your neighbors, an important step in maintaining peace in the  neighborhood.  Sometimes, it’s the neighbors that are causing the barking too–with teasing, other pets, noises, odors, etc.  Years ago, I had one neighbor that turned out to be the reason behind a middle-0f-every-Saturday-night barking frenzy from a labrador I had–he was drunk and serenading the dog, who was going nuts trying to get at him as a potential threat to our home.  The solution?  Every Saturday night, he had to stay indoors and was walked on leash if he insisted on going out.  Peace returned to the neighborhood, and our serenading neighbor had to find a new audience with smaller teeth!


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.  (   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!





Paying attention on a budget

What are the best ways to ensure your pet’s health?

Pay attention!  Animals are essentially hard-wired to hide health problems, but for the observant pet owner, there are small hints that things may be going wrong.  Changes in behavior, especially in terms of eating habits, can signify serious problems.  Sleeping more can indicate other health problems.

Nutritional problems, as well as allergies/food intolerances show up often in the coat & skin.  Any sudden change is obviously a cue to pay attention.  Weight gains & losses can also be related to nutrition.  One useful tool in monitoring changes is to use photographs.

In this day & age of digital photography, it’s very easy to take many photographs.  Taking a monthly photograph at approximately the same distance & location and comparing them side by side can be a very useful tool.  Store them in a single file in your computer, labeled with the date, and it will be easier to track any changes.

Take note of changes, and to make it easier to let your veterinarian know, write them down and take the list of concerns & observations with you to the vet’s office for the appointment.  Just like when we visit the doctor, it is easy to forget details that you meant to mention (and that may be important clues for the veterinarian) while in the office.  A list makes up for that tendency.

Paying attention helps save money by catching problems early, before they become huge problems.  Often, minor issues such as the kinds related to the foods you are feeding your pet can be remedied before a veterinarian visit is required, but don’t wait too long!  If it is more than merely a food issue, it can escalate before you know it.

Comparing the photos regularly helps you know when that veterinarian visit is necessary, and can even help your veterinarian literally see what you are talking about–a great help in the diagnostic process.  It can quickly show changes in coat condition,weight, stance, and even be used to assess the seriousness of tumors and other growths that appear on our dogs, often minor disfigurements that appear with age.  Face it, our pets can’t talk and are hard wired to hide health problems, both of which make it much more difficult to diagnose problems.

Skipping veterinarian visits is not uncommon when our budgets are strained, it’s hard to justify a doctor visit for your pet when you can’t afford them for yourself either.  Don’t cut corners by avoiding vaccinations and annual exams on your pet!  These vaccinations can save your pet’s life and save you a lot of money compared to battling diseases such as distemper, parvo, etc.  Shop around for these vaccination and exam packages–there can often be a vast difference in prices even between clinics in the same general area.  It’s okay to price shop!

Doing the best we can for our pets is important, even when we are short on money.  Shopping around for vaccination packages is an excellent way to cut a corner without “doing without.”  Paying attention so that our visits to the veterinarian accomplish the most possible is another way to get the most out of our tight dollars, as accurate information can save you both time and money.

For your photographic record, try to position your pet in approximately the same position in the same location and get a profile view.  If there are areas of concern, taking a close up on a regular basis helps compare these particular spots too.  Making a habit of a top view regularly is also a good idea, and can show weight gain/loss dramatically.  Date each photo, and review them each month after you take your new set of photographs, but don’t look at them too frequently!  Examining them often will make it more difficult to truly see the changes over time.

Enjoy your pet!

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 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!

Electronic bark collar or ?

At some point in our pet parenthood careers, we may be faced with a dog that takes “nuisance barking” on as his or her own personal career.  As much as I hate to admit it, there are some that are so devoted to that cause that traditional training just never gets it under control, essentially isolating the dog from society with its own voice.

Often these dogs end up in rescue, as they wear out their welcome in their own neighborhood.  Often, their owners are faced with a choice of moving or getting rid of the dog.  This situation can be heart wrenching, as they are forced to give up the dog due to their own economic and housing issues.  In worst case scenarios, all too often the normal scenario, the dog dies for the barking problem.

Years ago, I adopted a feist who had been through the mill on rescue, having been returned four times that I could trace.  I took her sight unseen from “death row” as her time ran out, and was more than a little surprised when she arrived, as I was expecting a fifteen pound, six month old rat terrier and got a 25 lb. full grown adult feist.  I understand the motivation behind the “fudging” on the reality of her size, breed, and age–they were desperate to get her out of the pound.

Even though she was very unexpected on a number of counts, she came home with me.  I had a history with big dogs, and she still seemed pretty small, and after all, what could she do that a big dog couldn’t?

Her name was Lovey when she arrived, and there was no way that I could stand on the back porch and holler “here, Lovey, here, Lovey!”  That name had to go, but I had nothing to replace it.  She joined my older dog, Red Dog, and a foster dog in the household, and soon showed her more timid side as she screamed any time the bigger and more rambunctious dogs got too close.  Her name became Sissy as a result, and it has stuck.  Never mind she’s all terrier, and that sissy routine was just a wily way to ensure that I had sympathy for her.

Over time, I soon learned that Sissy couldn’t control herself in public, and would turn into this loud, obnoxious and very abrasive dog in public situations.  With a multiple dog household, correcting her was difficult, and all too often, she was left behind because of her behavior in public, causing her to miss out on camping trips, park walks, and city strolls.  Even trips to Petsmart were an exercise in aggravation and stress as she alternated from a slobbering snarling apparently vicious animal to a whining small dog fawning for attention just before she would turn around unexpectedly and snap at some innocent bystander.

Nothing seemed to get her attention, and she would practically self-destruct as she got progressively more frantic during a solo outing, the only time I could contend with her.  The only thing that could be done, even on a camping trip, would be to isolate her in her crate and make sure she couldn’t see anyone or anything moving until she calmed down again.

It got more difficult after her continual battles with Red Dog began, as she strived towards becoming the “pack leader.”  After a very severe injury resulting from a conflict, we decided that they could not be allowed near each other any more.   While not convenient, it was our only option as it became apparent that the conflict was unresolvable.  Both financially and emotionally, we could not take the risks of trying to keep them together anymore.  We do everything with them kept apart by either a physical barrier or distance on leash.  A divided household is far better than a mourning one or one in bankruptcy!

Then, we found ourselves moving and discovered a new problem, one that had been laying in wait all along, we suspect, but never appeared before due to the isolation of our yard.  Sissy is a problem barker, and NEVER shuts up.  If she’s outside, she is barking, whether we’re walking her on leash, she’s in a pen, or on a cable.  No one wanted to see us arrive for a visit with our dogs–her barking annoyed everyone!

Forced with the potential of having to live in closer quarters with people, it was obvious that her barking was not going to make us a welcomed neighbor unless we moved into a hearing impaired community.  Something had to happen before the unthinkable did.

Sissy had to stop barking.

I tried the squirt bottle, the hose, the leash, a muzzle…it didn’t even slow her down.  Finally, I bought a cheap electronic anti-bark collar.  My daughter was wondering whether it would deliver a fatal jolt, as she couldn’t imagine Sissy stopping.  I was pretty sure that a battery couldn’t do that.

We put the collar on.  It didn’t seem to work.  GM tried it on his arm, and it definitely worked.  We put it back on the dog.  She kept on barking, and then we heard the warning tone.  Sissy ignored it and continued…and then it delivered.

With a yipping whine, she was chastised, and she actually stopped barking for a few minutes.  Once again, the collar warned her and she ignored it.  It zapped her and she yowled again before hiding in her dog house for a few minutes.  Repeat a few more times and a miracle occurred.

Sissy began to associate the warning tone with the zap.  She would cringe at the tone, still not associating it with the barking behavior.  Soon, she began to associate the barking with the tone and the resulting shock, and silence ruled.

She’s not mute, and she can bark…the collar doesn’t go off immediately.  But now, when she hears that tone, if she’s paying attention, she stops.  If she doesn’t…we’ll hear her yowl soon, and then she does stop.  It’s not perfect, and pangs of guilt slice me to shreds each time I hear her bark dissolve into yowls, but I know the reality is…she has got to shut up.

Is it cruel?  Maybe.  But its much more cruel to see her killed for the barking.  We don’t have a choice if we want to preserve her life, unless we win the lottery (our state doesn’t have one) and can afford to buy an estate where she can bark her head off.

Sometimes, it’s cruel to be kind.