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Food (and more) for backpacking dogs

My preferred travel food for dogs was discontinued, it was called “Whole Meals”, and it was in bone-like bars that were sized according to the size of dog they were to feed.  They weren’t ultra light or compact, but it was a convenient form for traveling, without worries about spilled kibble.  Now, we’re planning an extended biking/backpacking trip (22 days out) which means carrying a lot of supplies!

I really need a food that is dense nutritionally, so our volume and weight are minimized.  We’ll have two dogs with us, (one dog will stay with friends–she’s not crazy about traveling) so its a 5 lb. chihuahua and a 70 lb. American dingo/carolina dog.  Standard kibble for each of them comes in at 3 cups per day on a normal low activity day.  That means I’d have to pack 66 cups of kibble to last us the 22 days!  In addition, the little one is a picky eater, whereas the bigger one is happy with almost anything, especially when she’s hungry.

Does anybody make such a food?  The only alternative I can think of is dehydrating a mixture of meat for them, and rehydrating it and adding rice on the road for their meals.  At the same time, I don’t want to cause nutritional deficiencies, especially when they are already being faced with high energy consumption and potentially low temperatures.  (It’s in November, we have NO idea what kind of weather we’ll really have.)  I’m even considering making meal-bars for them myself, using pureed meat, vegetables, eggs, and cooked rice and then baking them to rock hard perfection in the oven.  Obviously, the chihuahua’s “bars” would have to be much smaller.  Has anyone tried this either?

Searching online, I found one company that sold food, recommended only for intermittent or occasional use, called “Peakwaggers.”  At $8.95 for 2 meals suitable for an 80-100 lb dog, that might just fit the bill for my dynamic duo.  My sole concern is that “intermittent and occasional use” clause.  I sent them an inquiry.  Price wise, I really can’t beat that if I make it myself, and I would have the hours of work preparing it and packaging it as well.  If you are curious, check out their website.  According to an email I received from them, each meal is vacuum packed and weighs in at 5 oz.

Most of the foods that come up on the search just don’t qualify as dense enough nutrition to eliminate the bulk and weight.  Merrick has a “wilderness” food, but it’s just a high protein kibble really.  Granted its got great ingredients, but its still not what I’m looking for.

Then, I remembered a food I had seen before, a food that amazed me and the dogs absolutely went gaga over.  It’s compact, freeze dried, and you just add hot water and let it sit for a few minutes…just like our own Mountain House meals.

Who is this mysterious food manufacturer?

Grandma Lucy’s Artisan Foods.

I’m not kidding, the chicken was the only one I saw, but it was literally delicious looking and smelling.  Cutting up one of the CHUNKS of chicken, it looked like just cooked chicken…nothing “dog food” like about it at all.  At about $68 for either the pork or chicken varieties in a 10 lb. bag (makes 55 lbs. of fresh food) it seems reasonably priced for what we’ll need.  (To get one pork and one chicken, along with some beef tiny tidbits treats would total just about $145 plus shipping and handling.)  To get the first brand, one package would work for 1 day, and we’d therefore need 22 pkgs., would be about $196.90…and doesn’t include any “extras”.   Packaging the food into serving sized portions for the dogs in zip lock bags, all we’d have to do is add the hot water and stir in the food in their bowls.  It’s much more expensive than the familiar kibble, and its much less bulky than trying to drag along canned fish, rice, vegetables, etc. to cook up their food on the road. I’m sure we’d have trouble getting Nemo, our little guy, to eat kibble again at home…but hunger is quite an incentive!

Treats are something else that is important to have along for the dogs too.  When we stop for a break and a snack, they’re ready for their own.  They also need copious amounts of water, and Red Dog’s been nicknamed “The Camel” for a reason.  She has been observed to go through a couple of GALLONS of water when she’s hot and getting a drink.  (Not all of it makes it to her stomach, she dribbles, drools, spills, and slops a lot of it.  She also drinks by submerging her entire snout and literally sucking it in when she is truly thirsty.  Lapping is tea time behavior in her book.  Her favorite drinking method, even in cold weather, is standing belly deep in a creek and sucking up water.)  High quality treats are important to maintain their high energy and good spirits.  Typically, we’re giving jerky, but a hot favorite with all of them is peanut butter crackers.  Yep…the same peanut butter and crackers that we are consuming!

Don’t forget their beds, especially when camping in cold weather.  We are intending to use hammocks for a number of the nights, due to terrain, and we’re working on the canine solution.  Nemo the chihuahua can join GM in the hammock, but I am a bit uncertain about how agreeable Red Dog will be to sleeping in a hammock.  (Haven’t tried it yet…she’s remarkably good about sharing a cot though!)  I’m assuming she’s going to find the movement of the hammock disturbing, and may prefer solid ground.  With her advanced age, sleeping on the cold ground is going to aggravate old joints, and that’s not conducive to her enjoying the trip.  If she refuses to agree to sleep in the hammock, something we’re going to work on this summer, we will need to find a compact and light solution to insulating her from the ground’s heat sucking tendencies if she’s not joining us on our bed in a tent or helping me stay warm in the hammock.  We may have to come up with an insulating pad that fits the bottom of the bicycle trailer she rides in when we’re biking (she’s also too old to run alongside a bike for any distance) and use that for her sleeping arrangement.  At night, if we’re not in a tent, she’s tethered to a tree or other large sturdy object to prevent her wandering off and getting into mischief.  When riding in the trailer, she’s tethered to that to prevent a startled dog from jumping out and into traffic or other danger.  Nemo will also be tethered into his basket or carrier, for the same reason.  We have all seen dogs become suddenly and unexpectedly alarmed by some noise or sight that they are unfamiliar with, and it is much better to be safe than sorry, especially when motor vehicles enter into the equation!

For Nemo, we’ve decided on a handlebar basket solution due to his size (about 7 lbs.) but we also would like to have one that has a top for shade at least, since we live on the Gulf Coast and the summer sun is scorching hot.   Since Nemo is a “daddy’s boy”, the basket will be put on “daddy’s” bicycle, which  means he is not thrilled with anything too frilly or “sissy” either.  (Probably for the same reasons that he does not regard spandex as appropriate attire for himself.)  So…no flowers, lacey trim, pink or baby blue baskets either.  Something suitably masculine for the little boy and his adoring daddy is what is on my shopping list.  We are apt to look for a standard soft pet carrier that will fit in a regular bike basket, as the pre-made solutions I’ve seen so far are overpriced and under-quality, as far as their reviews have indicated.

The Aosom cargo trailer that I like so much is sold out, with no date of more coming in.  They may have gone the way of the Model T–they were inexpensive, sturdy, and efficient.  I love ours.  That means we need an alternative to carry either a dog or cargo, and with no anticipated date of our preferred trailer in stock again, that means shopping all over again.

The SolveIt HoundAbout trailer in large MIGHT work.  Rated at up to 100 lbs, it can carry Red Dog and some gear, such as bedding, blankets, spare leashes, and possibly even food.  (I’m thinking about possibly packing the food in individual bags flat on the floor, then covering it with Red’s sleeping pad and her blankets, etc. to protect it from punctures from her nails.)

Croozer trailers are only rated to 66 lbs.  Barely one Red Dog.  That’s not much weight, so that one isn’t really appealing.  I don’t think it would be a good choice for durability.  M-Wave has a very do-able looking cargo trailer, and Amazon’s page shows a customer modification to allow his cocker spaniel to ride under his camping gear–quite ingenious.  It’s rated to 88 lbs.  Serviceable weight.  Avenir‘s cargo trailer looks like a good option, but one of the reviews complains about the early failure of one of the axle bearings and customer service’s lack of interest or response.  I hate bad customer service, by the way…  Amazon also has an “Extended Space” dog trailer, which looks interesting, is much more expensive and has no customer reviews.  I’m a bit leery of a trailer in this price range without reviews.  Even more expensive is the “Novel Dog Bike Trailer“, but it has options like a roof rack (yeah!) and has a good review.  Still, $300 for a dog trailer is a good chunk of change.  In that price range, however, is the Burley Nomad, an industry standard.  It also has a cargo rack option.  It’s also a trailer well known to cyclists.  If I’m going to spend $300+ on a trailer, this is probably the trailer I’d choose, even though it lacks the solid floor I prefer.  It’s lightweight, reliable, and it works.

I already have one trailer that can carry Red Dog, but the second trailer needs to be capable of it, even if that’s not what is in the trailer.  We like our gear to be multi-purpose, and we already know that dogs are one thing we’re apt to have to carry in the trailer.  It wouldn’t make sense to purchase a second trailer that couldn’t also carry her.  In addition, our gear and supplies will weigh in at roughly the same amount as she does, making it sort of a six of one or a half dozen of those in terms of use.  If we have a choice, putting her in the solid bottomed trailer just makes more sense, but if we can’t get another sturdy cargo trailer, and are forced to choose a “pet” or “child” trailer, then she may have to ride in the second one.

There is also the option of making our own trailer, with a little help from friends.  This would give us the option of matching our 26″ bicycle wheels or the 16″ wheels on the Aosom trailer, keeping the number of spare parts to a minimum.  It would also allow more customizing of shape, and possibly even let us use the hitches from the Aosom trailer to hook our home made trailer to, which is also appealing.  We may just think about that!

All in all, our trip is planned in early November, and we’re working diligently on getting ready, getting gear, deciding on supplies, and calculating weight and volume carefully.  We really need to have all of our plans solidly in place within four months, with the gear and the bulk of our supplies purchased as well, leaving the last month for last minute issues and ensuring it is really all going to fit and we can actually tote it behind our bikes!  (Wouldn’t that be a fine how-do-you-do to be all packed, all ready to leave, and climb on our bikes only to discover…we can’t pull the load!)  Training, both for us and the dogs, starts just next month.  Even though we’re not riding far or fast each day, we are going to be riding 2-4 times our current daily ride distance, which means we’ll also definitely need that training!  For the dogs, it’s going to be mostly about learning to ride most of the day when we’re on the bikes, and us learning what their tolerance is for staying put in a relatively small space.  (Moving around much means we’re apt to become unstable, and more likely to fall or wreck ourselves.)

Most of all, our trip is to have fun and enjoy ourselves.  The dogs are to enjoy themselves too, everything from their food to their sleeping arrangements should be about fun and staying safe, comfortable, and being happy.  For them, it’s mostly about being with us, no matter where we are and what we are doing, that’s what makes them happy.  It’s our job to keep them safe and comfortable while they do just that.

Home made dog food with a recipe for Tuesday Tuna Special

Up until dog kibble was invented, all dogs were fed at home from food produced at home.  Granted, some dogs were probably severely malnourished, some were starving, and others were as fat as could be.   Feeding your dog “human food” was frowned upon in general, right up until the contaminated dog food was recalled, and suddenly, it’s very fashionable and responsible to make your own dog food.

From a practical point of view, making your own dog food can provide a quality diet at a very low cost, if its done right.  You know exactly what is going into it, and what kind of quality it really has.  It’s also a great way to use up items that may have been lurking in your freezer a bit too long, or are at risk of spoiling in your refrigerator.  Never ever feed your dog spoiled food–it will make him or her just as sick as it would make you!

Canine allergies are just as much an issue as human ones, and while many canine allergies are environmental in nature, they can also be food related.  Limiting the ingredients can help you and your veterinarian determine what the problem foods may be.  Home made foods make this easy.  Want to go on a turkey and barley diet?  Turkey comes in ground form at the grocery store, and barley is found near the rice and pasta normally!  Perhaps you think that pork and sweet potatoes would be better?  That too is an option!  Whatever ingredients you choose (check with your veterinarian for suggestions) can become your dog’s food.  All organic?  That’s also an option!

Just like humans, dogs are suffering from obesity at higher rates than ever before, and just like humans, that isn’t healthy.  Reducing calories while keeping a large quantity is often a need for the eager chowhound on a reducing diet.  High water content meals make that easier, by replacing much of the denser calories of kibble with the water that has no calories.  Make sure Fido has plenty of water in his or her meals, limit the fats, and stick with great ingredients that make them feel full, and those pounds will fall away easier.  Using more vegetables and fruits than grains will help too.  (Try carrots, sweet potatoes, summer squash, green beans, peas, apples, pears, peaches, blueberries)

The basic formula is rather simple–about 1/3 proteins such as dairy, meat, and eggs and about 2/3 carbohydrates such as grains, fruits, and vegetables.  In dogs, cholesterol is not a worry, and their bodies can’t tell the difference between high quality extra virgin olive oil and plain old beef fat.  The choices are infinite within those parameters though.  Grains, vegetables and most fruits should be cooked, but the proteins (except for eggs) usually can be served raw, if you so desire.  Contrary to the old wives’ tale…raw meat will not turn your dog into a killer either.

Creative cooking has no limits, and your dog’s palate may be less discerning than your significant other’s is.  All three of mine will dine quite happily on a dish of Tuesday Tuna Special, even if we weren’t interested in sharing!

Tuesday Tuna Special

  • 2 c. rice
  • 3 c. water
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 can green beans

Bring water to a boil, add rice and cover.  Cook on medium low heat until done (about 20 minutes for white rice.)  Remove from heat and fluff with fork.  Stir raw eggs into hot rice, replace lid and let sit for about 1 hr or until just warm.  Dump in (liquid and all) tuna and green beans.  Stir to combine.    Refrigerate or freeze unused portions until ready to use.  (Refrigerated, it will keep for about 4 days.)

Serving sizes depend on size and energy needs of individual dogs.  In addition, the high water content of this food in comparison with dry kibble makes comparing the amount of this dish fed per dog to kibble difficult–it will be a much more substantial looking serving than the kibble is.  This recipe feeds 1 large dog, 1 medium dog, and 1 toy dog at my house.  They all also love it–not even the green beans are discarded!

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.

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.

But…

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.  (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!