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Walking the dog: safe exercise

It's Walk Your Dog Week, and while there are many well-documented benefits to going for a walk with your pet, some dog owners like to try alternate methods of getting out and exercising. 

Here's a 'Vet Answers' question that was posed to Dr. Berney Pukay, Petsecure's Veterinary Advisory Board chair, about the safety issues surrounding taking dogs for a bike ride.

QUESTION: What is your opinion about people who exercise their dogs by pulling them along with them on a leash beside their bike? 

I have a man in my neighbourhood who has a Jack Russell terrier and he does this and I have also seen people with larger breed dogs doing this. Is this practice not potentially dangerous or am I being unnecessarily concerned?

ANSWER: Exercising your dog by having it follow you while you cycle seems at first glance to be a very good idea: your dog gets lots of exercise while you exert yourself minimally. However, there are many problems associated with this practice.

First, the dog may inadvertently collide with the bicycle or the leash may become entangled. Secondly, should the dog bolt or give chase, the cyclist will be thrown off balance with potentially catastrophic results. Thirdly, while cycling, it is difficult to accurately gauge at which point the dog is comfortably jogging and at which point he is becoming fatigued. Fourthly, should the dog trip or lose its balance, it is at risk of being dragged along by the cyclist. Finally, in the event that the cyclist must make a sudden turn, stop, or lose their balance, the dog is at risk of being choked or otherwise hurt.

Aside from the potential mechanical and logistical problems associated with this practice, many dog owners only run their dogs alongside their bicycles infrequently. This results in both dog and owner being inexperienced in the practice and more likely to result in problems. As well, from a health point of view, many (most?) dogs are sedentary for most of the time (just like their owners) and are in no physical shape to suddenly run for several miles. As with all athletic endeavours, dogs need to gradually build up to a point where they can run for miles.

For dogs that require lots of exercise, it is far safer and easier to play chasing and catching games (e.g. with a frisbee or ball) or to jog along with your dog (if you have the endurance, your dog can probably keep up as well!).