Sunday, July 05, 2009


A tired puppy is a happy and well-behaved puppy, they say. The single most common cause for having trouble with bad dog behavior, apart from using old-style negative reinforcement techniques, is not getting them enough exercise. But it's hard for most of us humans to keep up with a dog's exercise needs. Doubly so for people who are not in the habit of getting a lot of exercise, and trebly so for those like me who also have a dodgy knee. Taking Socks for walks tends to wear me out fast, particularly as she pulls a lot, and even more so during the time when work has kept me exhausted (bothy physically from walking around the warehouse all day, and mentally from the stress and pressure).

But while walking is not a great exercise for me (and trouble keeping up with it is part of what got my diabetes out of control a few years ago), biking is great (and switching to it at the recommendation of my doctor and physical therapist was the key to getting things back in control). I enjoy it, and it doesn't put anywhere near as much pressure on my knee. Plus biking is much more vigorous than walking and thus better for wearing out a dog.

The trouble is, biking with a dog is nearly impossible until the dog is fully trained to come when called and not run off. Trying to hold a leash on a bike is crazy: you can't spare the hand to hold it, the dog will pull every time she sees a squirrel and knock you over, and the leash (and the dog!) are likely to get tangled in your bike.

Enter the Springer. This clever little Norwegian invention consists of a bracket that mounts on your bike's seat post, a steel U-shaped beam that attaches to it, a heavy-duty spring, and then a short leash with a breakaway. The U-beam keeps the dog from getting too close to the bike, while the spring absorbs the majority of any tugs the dog does as she tries to go back, forward, or to the side. The breakaway provides a safety escape in case the leash gets tangled, though I don't see that happening much in our situation. (Just to be sure, I got spare breakaways.)

It's taken a little getting used to, both for me and for Socks. She's still a willful critter and loves to pull, particularly when my speed drops -- like when I'm going uphill, when pulling is the most difficult. She's especially difficult if I head uphill on the way out (possibly because the lake's the other way, or just because she's not as familiar with that direction).

However, it's mostly a positive boon. Gets her nicely exercised and, on a good day, somewhat worn out, without wearing me out or hurting my knee too much. Once I've had a chance to recover from the last few months, I could probably handle taking her on the Springer without even having to ice my knee after. It's also good exercise for me, exercise I definitely need. She's also getting me out to the reservoir and some very picturesque sights. (She loves the water and would desperately love to swim, but her leash's not long enough just yet.)

And the Springer definitely does what it's meant to do: keeps her safely on the side of the road (away from the cars) and ensures that when she tugs I can keep up and keep us going, so we can go at a pace that gets her tuckered out. In fact, it's working out so good that I'm buying a second bike, so I can keep one at home with the Springer bracket on it (the bulk of it pops off when I go riding without her), and one for at work so I can keep up my daily exercise.

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