Monday, February 4, 2013

Commuting with Clarence

I have always been that guy; the guy with the dog. People always ask me, "How did you train your dog to do that?  My answer, "I listen to them."

My first dog was named Midge.  She was a poodle who used to tag along with me on all of my adventures.  She taught me the love and loyalty of a dog is way better than any person could offer.  Then Tuffy, he was a rough and tumble pitbull born into the body of a Cocker Spaniel.  Tuffy taught me that the antics of a cute puppy are not always cute when they are grown dog antics.  My best friend ever was an amazing dog named Clarence, a black long haired mutt that was the  first dog that I had after moving out of my parent's house.  He was mine.  Don't get me wrong, Jessica was a huge part of this dog's life, but when I first got him, it was because I knew he would be a special dog and I wanted to make sure he was always happy and safe.  He made me a better person.

This blog is dedicated to Clarence and all of the things we learned together as riding partners. For this blog I will focus mostly on commuting with a furry pal, but in the future I will do a blog about mountain biking with a mutt too, so if you love your dogs and want to bring them along on your adventures keep an eye out for the second part of this blog. 

So here are a few things that Clarence and I learned.
1. When riding through town with a dog, keep them on your right hand side at all times, and keep them close.  When you are riding legally through town, cars come up on your left side, so your little buddy should be on the other side for safety reasons.  Before the new leash law, I never leashed a dog in my life, but on the bike they were under a strict voice command.  I would never let Clarence get his nose ahead of my front wheel.  It is like the Alpha dog thing, nobody goes ahead of Alpha.  Dogs will understand this.  I taught him this before we ever got on the bike.  When he was a baby we walked everywhere together.  I would let him run around, but when I said, "Right side" he had to come directly to my right side and stay there until I said, "Free dog."  The commands are not important  you could say, "Pickle" and "Fernando Valenzuela" as long as you are consistent, but make sure when you use your command, he responds.  When he is a baby, you will just have to move him there and make him stay, but it is easier to teach them good habits as a puppy, then to break bad habits of a dog. (Thank you for that one Tuffy.)
2.Be the Alpha and set the pace. There will be days when your dog wants to outpace you.  You can't always say right side and expect him to respect you.  Sometimes you have to earn your alpha place.  It might not be on the bike, but dogs want to know you are in control, so be in control.  One way to do this is simple.  When they are puppies hold them a bunch.  Not just because they are puppies, but use it as training.  Sometimes dogs don't like to be held.  As a puppy I hold them like babies sometimes, and when they struggle I gently keep them in position until I decide they should be let down.  That is a gentle, easy way to show dominance.  But sometimes I like to race too, so Clarence and I would have it out on a dirt road, and I would house him.  (My new dog Jeff is a different story.  He is fast.)
3.  Be careful with the conditions.  In the summer time you have to be careful of the heat.  Don't hurt your dog by overdoing it, and bring lots of water.  In the Winter be sure they are not getting frost bite on their paws.  Pam cooking spray helps if you spray their paws.  (If they don't lick it of like my new buddy Lenny.)
4.  If you have to use a leash, use one of the retractile ones so that if your dog sees a squirrel you have some reaction time before things go crazy.  If you have trained your dog well, this won't be an issue, but even if you are Cesar Milan, sometimes things can't be avoided, so be prepared   (Once a dog came out and attacked me while riding.  Clarence saved my life, but if he would have been on a leash we would have wreaked bad, and he was always right side no matter what.)
5.  Training your dog is simple.  Spend lots of time with them, puppies or dogs love to spend time with their family.  If they are on a leash in the back yard all day, of course they will be crazy.  Exercise them often and they will listen to you because they won't have energy making them completely crazy.
6.  Cary poop bags, a leash and something they can play with in your purse.  My purse is a Timbuk2 messenger bag, and I keep all kinds of stuff in their for my riding buddy.  With the new leash law, you at least need to have the leash and poop bags always.
7.  Be gentle, patient and committed to your dog and you will have a fantastic dog.  Patience is the key because training a dog takes time.  If you don't have time, you shouldn't have a dog.  They deserve your attention and love, and you deserve theirs.
8. Don't use treats to train your dogs.  What happens when you run out and there is a cat by the dog catcher?  Use love and patience and lots, and lots of exercise.  It works.

I hope this (incomplete) list of ideas will help you and your dog get out more often.  I find it extremely gratifying to ride to work with my best pal.  I find it even more gratifying to have him sleep really well because my commute to work was part of his exercise.

Disclaimer; I am not advocating for riding illegally in any way.  If you ride with your dog, it is up to you to insure you are compliant with all of the laws of the area you are in.