Responsible Pet Ownership

Trikin’ with your Pooch

I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for ways for my dogs to get exercise. I’m a firm believer that “a tired dog is a happy dog.” I don’t get the opportunity to get them as worn out as I’d like every day, but regular exercise is key to a sound mind and body.

I walk my dogs daily, but there is nothing like a good run to get the kinks out. Since I’m not a runner or a rollerblader, the next best thing for me is a bicycle.

The problem with running a dog alongside a bike is the unsteadiness of it all if the dog decides to stop suddenly or head in the other direction. Personally, I like to be able to keep both hands gripping the handlebars, not just one. Plus, I have two dogs to exercise, which increases the odds one of us will end up tangled in the spokes.

I decided I need to find some other kind of cycle, one that would allow for more stability and would allow me to be closer to the dogs level so I could keep an eye on them more easily. I wanted to know if my dogs were eager to run faster or if they were falling behind, or if they got something stuck in their paw and were limping.

dog running along side bicycle trikeAfter looking online I found a number of sites that featured some kind of contraption that would allow the dogs to pull you along, but I wanted to actually get some exercise in the bargain, and decided that wasn’t for me.

This led me to start researching adult tricycles. There were quite a few out there, and Wal-Mart even sold one, but in my reading it seemed that the regular trikes weren’t that great at going around corners. Plus, I wanted to ride a bit lower down.

This narrowed the field considerably, and I ended up researching recumbent trikes. Some of them have you super close to the ground, which isn’t what I wanted. Seemed too much like lying down to me, which would make it harder to see what was going on around you. No, I wanted to be higher than that. Luckily, someone else thought this was a good idea, and I ended up on the website of a company named Sun Bicycles.

I really wanted to try one out, but none of the local bike shops carried any. So basically I had to buy one sight unseen and hope for the best. I wasn’t ready to plunk down $900 for something I just thought would work in theory, and so decided research rental options.

As it turns out, Venice Beach is filled with bicycle rental shops, and I was able to track down a place that rented recumbent trikes. Woo Hoo! We packed up the car with my pooches and headed to the sand. My boyfriend and I each took one dog, and set off down the crowded sidewalk. Felt funny at first but the dogs took to it right away and I know I had a winner of a plan.

It was easy to pedal, felt super comfortable, and the dogs loved it. I got to watch them trot along, eyes glittering, tongues out, wind in their hair. They looked great and we all had a blast. That settled it. I would get my own trike.

I contacted Sun Bicycles and they gave me a list of local bike shops that would assemble it for me. The next thing was to figure out how to attach the dogs to the bike. I bought a metal spring-loaded contraption that attached to the frame of the bike, but this didn’t last long as we could never get it tight enough to where it wouldn’t start moving out of place. Besides, it was too rigid and didn’t allow enough movement for the dog.

Turns out all I needed was a good harness (I like the Easy Walk Harnass, which I turn around for trike rides so the clip area is between their shoulders) and a stretchy leash, and I was able to find a heavy duty model on that worked like a charm. The trick was to tie it far enough back (I now keep it attached it behind my seat) so the dogs can’t cross in front of the front tire. It’s just long enough so that I can have both dogs on my right side, but short enough that they can’t get too far away. Perfect!

Now I’m able to ride around the neighborhood with my dogs and not worry about tipping over if they decide to stop suddenly—I just feel a gentle tug. An added benefit is that my elbows don’t hurt riding my trike the way they would on a bike. It’s like sitting in a chair. Your upper body can be totally relaxed, but your legs still have to a little extra work as you don’t have the ability to sit up in your seat and use your weight on the pedals. That’s okay by me. My legs will just be in better shape.

I avoid busy streets for safety reasons, and choose the quietest streets possible because it makes for a more enjoyable ride. An added bonus, is that everybody who sees us does a double take and gives me a big grin and a thumbs up. “Now that’s the way to do it!” they say. “Where can I get one?”

To see my trike in action, watch this short video of us heading up my street.

If you decide you’d like a trike, too, I’d recommend getting a side mirror so you can see cars coming up from behind, a light for when it starts getting dark, a reflector for the back, a bell so you can alert people you are nearby, and an orange flag so you are very visible. Although they don’t sell Sun Trikes on Amazon, there are a number of other less expensive models to choose from, some of which I’ve posted in the left column.

Photo Credit: Scott Mucci (top) and Richard Masoner

Taking Time to “Heel”

Growing up in Southern California I’ve been used to seeing dogs on leashes at all times, unless I’m at a dog park. I knew there were other parts of the world where people were able to walk off-leash with their dogs, but I had only seen it in the movies—until I visited Austria, that is.

On my first day there, sitting in my first café, I noticed an ordinary enough man walking at a regular pace towards me. Then I saw the astonishing part…his dog was walking right next to him, calm as can be, and there was no leash in sight. I tried not to be obvious but I was staring, and watched them until they were out of sight. Neither man nor dog seemed at all surprised at the situation. It was just like an every day occurrence to them…because it was an every day occurrence.

Turns out that Austrian folk talk their dogs into restaurants (where they happily lie at their owner’s feet), on trains (where they are required to wear “cages” or muzzles), on busses, you name it. People rarely, if ever, bother with leashes.

How is this possible, you might ask? Well, it all starts with the basic “heel” training you are likely familiar with but rarely enforce. Many people these days opt for the retractable leashes (I used to use these before I knew better) because they have so little time to exercise their dog that this serves as their only form of exercise, so why not let the dog run back and forth a little?

Yes, I can see the logic in this…however, before you give your dog this kind of freedom, you need to establish some rules first. Your dog needs to know that his place when walking out in public is by your side, not in front of you and not behind you. This is important for several reasons. Dogs need to have rules in place, and feel more comfortable when they know what the rules are, what their role is, and when you expect it of them.

[pullquote]Teaching your dog that the proper place to walk in public is at your side will give you more control over your dog, and give your dog more security about where his place is supposed to be.[/pullquote]This does not mean that you can never let them wander on a longer lead…this comes later. Teaching your dog that the proper place to walk in public is at your side will give you more control over your dog, and give your dog more security about where his place is supposed to be. You may love dogs, but not everyone feels this way, and they will appreciate that you keep your dog close at hand and not have to worry about whether or not your dog will come in contact with them.

Other dog owners will appreciate it as well, because they will know that you have control of your dog and they don’t have to worry about an unwanted dog encounter. They may be training their dog, or their dog may not be friendly towards other dogs, so when you are walking down city sidewalks, especially, this is the most courteous and responsible course of action.

Your dog may respond well to your holding the leash close, or it may be a chore to keep him held back, in which case you will save yourself from a lot of arm strain by investing in an easy walk harness, which has a clasp in front of the dog’s chest rather than on the dog’s back. The same company also makes a head harness, which some people prefer, but I find the chest harness is sufficient (I’ve also had dogs pull out of the head harness). Connecting the leash at the chest causes the dog to turn himself around if he pulls too hard, so eventually he gives up trying to pull.

off-leash heelingSince your dog’s instinct after being cooped up all day long in the house will be to want to run, you may want to play a little ball with him before going out for your walk. I recommend setting a routine where you keep the dog on a fairly short leash so the dog stays beside you when you are on city sidewalks, and then when you get to a park or a grassy area, give him more leash and let him sniff around as much as he wants to. You may also let him sniff and mark bushes when he his on a short leash, but only within the constraints you have set for him.

Remember that you dog looks to you to know what is appropriate, and when he knows the “routine,” it will be both reassuring and something he looks forward to. Ideally you should walk your dog once in the morning and again in the evening, so he has something to look forward to, and you will get a bit of fresh air in the bargain.

Photo Credit: Johan Appelgren (top), redteam

Microchipping: Quick & Easy!

How Microchips Save Lives

The single most important thing you can do to protect your animal from theft or loss is to make sure that your animal has identification on at ALL times. Although collars with ID tags and licenses are very important (and often required by law), they can fall off or intentionally be removed if your animal is stolen or becomes lost. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

Developed by a veterinarian, the AVID® and HomeAgainTM microchips are safe, permanent and take only seconds to administer. The tiny injectable “chip” contains a one-of-a-kind identification number and is recognized worldwide. A special scanner is used to read the microchip through the skin of the animal. The animal feels nothing as the chip’s number quickly appears in the scanner’s viewing window. With a phone call, the registered chip can be traced back to the purchaser if necessary.

Microchips are a permanent, positive form of identification that cannot be intentionally removed or lost. They are one of the safest, simplest and least expensive ways to protect your companion animal. It’s no wonder the animal welfare and veterinary communities are touting microchips as the wave of the future!

A microchip is a tiny computer chip programmed with an identification number, comprised of biocompatible material. The device is approximately the size of a grain of rice and small enough to fit inside a hypodermic needle. The chip is simply injected under the animal’s skin, often in the scruff of the neck, where it stays safely lodged for the rest of the animal’s life. Animals of any age can be injected with microchips, although some veterinarians prefer to wait until cats are six months of age.

The computer memory in the microchip contains a unique identification number. No two animals are ever assigned the same number. A radio signal is used to read the number with a scanner through the skin of the animal. Most shelters and veterinary offices have scanners in their offices and use them regularly.

When a shelter staff member or veterinarian discovers an animal with a microchip and identification number, he or she immediately contacts the microchip company. A telephone representative for the microchip company will access a database and provide the caller with the animal guardian’s contact information. If the animal is not registered on the microchip company’s national database, the name and number of the veterinarian or shelter who installed the microchip will be provided. Veterinarians and shelters maintain their own separate databases that are often used in conjunction with the microchip company’s national database or registry.

How Much Does A Microchip Cost?

Microchips generally cost around $40. Although veterinarians only charge approximately $25 to implant the microchip and register on their database, it costs $15 extra to register on the microchip company’s national database. Some people balk at the extra $15 charge, but we highly recommend signing up on the national registry. This can significantly increase the chances that your lost animal will be reunited with you, should he or she become lost. The national registry is staffed around the clock, while vets and shelters are usually not open 24 hours a day.

The chips most commonly used in the United States companion animal industry are AVID® and HomeAgainTM. Shelters know and trust these microchip companies to provide fast recovery services for lost pets. In the mid 90’s, shelter groups asked microchip companies to provide shelters with a “universal” scanner that could read both chips. Since then, rescue groups, shelters and humane societies can use a single scanner to detect any 125 kHz microchip.

United Hope for Animals fostered dogs are micro-chipped. We strongly suggest that you also microchip your current pets. When you adopt one of our dogs your dog’s foster person will guide your through the microchip process and answer any questions that you might have.

Photos by: Adam Lisagor