Monday, September 5

Desensitizing a Dog to the Bike for Jogging

I recently discovered the joys of biking with my dogs, through use of a Walky Dog. As I have herding dogs, this tool has been a blessing for me - I never realized how much exercise they WEREN'T getting until we began jogging regularly. My dogs are all happier, I feel less like a lazy person, and I've seen health improvements in my older dog as well. Walking is a wonderful form of exercise, but I have a cattle dog, who I was walking 3-4 miles a day, and no matter how far or how long I walked him, he had scores of energy to spare, and I never felt like he got all he needed, and it took SO much time!

Getting your dog to the point that they can jog comfortably beside your bike on the Walky Dog might be a bit of an issue, particularly for fearful dogs. I took a few steps to ensure that my Dax would have a successful introduction to it before I even received it, so I'd like to share that information for anyone else who might have a similar issue. Most dogs you can just hook up and go, but it never hurts to slowly introduce something totally new, particularly if you think there might be difficulty. This is intentionally a very gradual process I outline below.

Step 1 - Introduction to the bike
For this step, simply wheel the bike into the backyard, park it, then let your dog come up to it. Stand or sit beside it, not on it, and whenever the dog shows interest in it, reward. If you use a clicker, click when the dog is even looking at the bike. When the dog is clearly comfortable with the bike, not moving, go to the next step.

Step 2 - Sit on the Bike
With the bike not moving, sit on it. Reward dog for interest. It's amazing how simply sitting on the bike can totally change the dog's emotions toward it. Again, if clearly uncomfortable, go back a previous step. Be very casual about sitting on the bike - it's a nonevent, no big deal.

Step 3 - The Moving Bike
For this exercise, you are simply walking the bike slowly around your yard. As with the first exercise, treat the dog whenever s/he is close to you. Don't give any commands, let the dog approach at their own speed. If clearly uncomfortable, go back to the first step and reward heavily for interest in the bike.

Step 4 - Ride the Bike
Get on the bike and slowly walk it (with your feet) around the yard. Reward dog for interest. Do not reward for any tire biting or barking. Once the dog is comfortable or indifferent about it, try pedaling very slowly around the yard. You might find it hard to treat your dog while going very slowly - put some cheese or something your dog likes in your mouth and blow it out into your yard for your dog, if necessary. You can also stop and reward, but we don't want the dog to get the idea that stopping the bike is what's getting them the reward.

Step 5 - Hook the Dog to the Bike
Now, for this step, you actually need the bike jogger. Hook the dog up, with a harness, to the bike, and reward heavily. When comfortable, begin walking the bike around the yard, rewarding the dog for being calm and walking with the bike. Mount the bike a few times and reward, but don't actually take off until the dog is clearly comfortable. You might have to mount the bike from the same side the dog is on, sometimes swinging your leg over towards the dog can be scary for them. We don't want bike riding to be scary, it should be lots of FUN!

Step 6 - Riding With Your Dog
This is the step you've been waiting for - hook up the dog, walk beside it for a little way, and when your dog is comfortable, get on the bike and pedal. You may want to add periods of getting off the bike and walking it if your dog is especially timid. As you bike more and faster, remember that your pooch needs a warm-up period and a cool-down period on each ride. The ideal speed is a fast trot for your dog.

I don't recommend any sort of shifting with a fearful dog. Even now I ride in first gear, only very occasionally shifting to second. The noise of the chain moving around can be quite traumatic. Only try a shift after you've gotten your dog extremely comfortable with the bike. Make sure your bike is adjusted correctly so it shifts quickly and smoothly.

I hope you have great success with these steps, this is what I used to get my own fearful dog Dax comfortable with a bike jogger, and now we very much enjoy our time biking together. The important thing to remember is to not push your dog too fast, or it may take even longer to get them used to it, as you'll have to start all over again!

As with any exercise regimen, ask your veterinarian before you begin if bike jogging is right for you and your dog. It's not recommended to bike a dog under one year of age or under 20 pounds.