Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Commuting With Dogs

A few weeks ago, one of the very favorite articles I've written for Cycling Utah came out on the magazine's website. I'm super proud of the article, so I figured you'd enjoy it, too! Here are highlights from, Commuting With Dogs – Tips for Riding With A Canine.

I work for Qualtrics, an Internet software company based in Provo, Utah. In addition to the fast-growing startup perks like catered lunches, casual offices, and sweet equity, Qualtrics boasts a special benefit: dog-friendly campuses! As long as the dog is (reasonably) well-behaved and (reasonably) well-groomed, man’s best friend is welcome at work.

I love working in a dog-friendly environment, even though I have to apologize for the occasional bark in the background when I’m on the phone with a customer. Dogs add an affectionate, casual, playful vibe to the office. I’m also grateful to be able to spend the day with my pup rather than leaving her home alone.

As a cycle commuter, however, I faced a challenge – how could we maintain a regular schedule of biking to the office and also take advantage of the Qualtrics dog-friendly workplace? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

About Jamie and Chornaya

I work in the Qualtrics Provo office. I live in nearby Orem and commute by bike year-round (see the March 2014 Cycling Utah Commuter Column). My daily commute is quick and easy 2.5 miles each way through side streets and bike trails.

Chornaya, or Chorney for short, is a six-year-old black Labradoodle. She’s a very affectionate, very energetic dog. Cycle commuting with Chorney was borne out of necessity for two reasons:
  1. I get to work by bike and if Chorney was going to come to work, she had to get there by bike as well.
  2. Chorney has a lot of energy. At six, she’s only just getting over her puppy wiggles. And if she was going to survive hanging out at my desk for eight or ten hours a day, she needed to run off some energy in the morning.
Chorney is a medium-sized dog and a great runner, so I knew that with some training and practice she would do well running alongside my bike as I rode. There are several products created specifically for riding with a dog, such as the WalkyDog, but in the end I found that a short 24-inch leash clipped to my rear rack with a carabiner was the best equipment for us. The leash is long enough that Chorney can get out of the way of my pedals but short enough that she can’t get around in front of the bike to trip me up.

The key to successfully riding with Chorney is a no-pull harness. Chorney is a pretty well-trained dog, but she’s still susceptible to getting distracted when a critter crosses the street or a dog barks from behind a fence. I know that for my safety and hers it is imperative that Chorney can’t pull me off-course if she bolts. The no-pull harness ensures that Chorney has to stay with me even if she’d rather go check something else out.

Starting Out – Jamie’s Training Process

I knew that cycling with Chorney had the potential to be dangerous, so many days before our first commute we started off with simple rides up and down our street and around the block.

At first, Chorney was understandably nervous around the bike, but once she started getting comfortable with staying on my right side and not straining too far ahead or falling behind we began training with vocal commands.

Before I slow, stop, or turn I tell Chorney what’s going on. I tell her “slowing” or “turn right” and I’m not saying that she can actually discern her right from left (although, who knows, sheep dogs do far more!) but at least she knows that if I tell her we’re stopping or turning she needs to pay attention.

Catastrophes Averted

Chorney and I have ridden hundreds of miles together with only two incidents.

The first was completely my fault. We were riding to the park, not our usual commuting route, and I turned right a little abruptly and without giving Chorney the notice she was used to. I turned right into her and we tumbled to the ground. Bike, rider, and dog were all fine and I took it as a good lesson in preparing myself and my dog before turning, especially when on an unfamiliar route.

The second was this winter during a slushy, sloppy day. Chorney and I had navigated to the turn lane on a fairly quiet side street and were slowing to turn left. A car buzzed around us on the right and disturbed a pile of slushy snow, making a big sound that surprised both me and Chorney. She spooked and bolted. Thanks to the no-pull harness she wasn’t able to pull me over, but we both wobbled a bit to regain our composure, which was especially nerve wracking to me as we were in the center lane and exposed to traffic on both sides.

Bad Weather Advice

Chorney and I cycle commute year-round and she needs very few weather-based pieces of equipment. I do have booties for Chorney to wear in the snow, but most of the time we go without unless it’s icy and I’m afraid that her paws might get cut. Thanks to her furry coat she doesn’t need any extra layers in the cold except for a reflective vest that I put on over her harness if we are riding in the dark or at dusk.

The biggest weather issue for Chorney is hot pavement. Wisdom says that if you can’t comfortably hold your hand on the pavement for 10 seconds, it’s not safe for a dog to walk on either. Sometimes Chorney and I will hang out at the office a little later on summer afternoons to give the worst of the heat time to dissipate and sometime my husband will pick Chorney up on his way home from work if the pavement is too hot for her to run. I can also put her winter booties on during the summer to protect her paws.

Well Worth the Trouble

It’s a little extra work to ride with Chorney. I don’t get to zip in to work at top speed and have to take it even slower when she tires. I have to prepare her for turns and stops. I have to protect her and myself from unleashed dogs that come up to us when we’re riding on bike trails. Commuting with a dog definitely does have its annoyances.

But when I pull her harness out in the morning and she sits up on her back legs so I can more easily get her harness on, when I see her running next to me with her big doggy smile, and when she’s napping peacefully in her bed next to my desk at work, I know that riding with a dog truly makes commuting communal.

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