Bicycling with your Dobe
Updated November 5, 2001 with new source for the dog boots and some other new information added
As any Doberman owner can tell you, Dobes are a high energy breed and require substantial exercise to keep them happy and healthy. Well, I've found a wonderful way to give them the exercise they need and not die from exhaustion myself. I take my dobes running with my bicycle using a contraption that allows for hands-free, controlled riding, known as a Springer. The Springer is a device that mounts on a bracket on the frame of your bike with a big power spring to absorb the shocks of a dog pulling. The bracket can hold up to two Springers so you can run up to two dogs at a time, if you buy a second Springer. By the way, I do not have any interest in the company that makes them nor any of the other products that I will mention on this page. I also am not a vet and cannot recommend that this activity nor any of the products on this page will be safe for you and/or your dogs. But, this is what's worked for me, and if it can help you, I just thought I'd make it available. For any questions on the specific condition of your own dog(s), you should discuss this with your vet. Anyway, here's what a Springer looks like. I have two Springers on my bike on the single bracket so that I can (and Do!) run two dobes at a time:
Here's a close-up of the mounting on my bike:
I've used my Springers with my two male dobes, Lestat & Duke, each standing over 30" and weighing in at their peak weights at 78 pounds and 93 pounds each! (Duke eventually lost weight, got in shape and weighed in at only 80 pounds... thanks, in part, to running with the bike!) I've also used it with my 65 pound bitch, Brandy. They all love it and adapted very quickly to it. Although you can run two dogs at a time, I recommend starting only one at a time initially to be able to better pay attention, guide the training, and avoid any competitive sibling behavior. Sometimes my dogs run properly at my side, and sometimes they run off on a tangent. Regardless of what they do, I don't even feel them pulling most of the time. Here are some pictures of my Springer in action with each of my dobes. In some they're being good and in some, well let's just say you'll get a chance to see the Springer bending in action and me staying straight upright with no problem. Perfect pictures they are not and models we definitely aren't, but they say a picture's worth a thousand words, so here's a millions' worth LOL:
Lestat & Me:
Me with Lestat: How my Lestat lived to run with me on the bike! (He is still with me, but is now 9 years old, has developed a condition known as Wobblers or CVI and no longer runs with the bike... something we both miss.)
In case you're wondering, the Springer does come with adapters (at least it did when I bought mine) so it can be mounted on various widths of bike posts. I used to have it on a mountain bike and now I ride this light Trek hybrid. I've had no problem making it fit, but I have received emails from a couple folks who had trouble with especially large framed bikes. They used a device from another company that mounted behind the bike on the rear wheel hub and the dog had to run behind the bike. I don't know much else about it, nor where to get it. But, I figured I'd put that information out there, just in case it is of help. If you do have information or pictures about it, please let me know and I will update my page. Someone sent me some information once, but I lost it in a computer crash. ::sigh::
At some point in the near future, I do plan to start a photo gallery of satisfied folks of all breeds using their Springers for others to see. If you'd like to put a picture in the gallery to share, just email me and let me know!
A lot of people have asked about the products that I use with my bike for the dogs. Some have proved very hard to describe. So, here are some pictures of them. I also get asked a lot of the same questions about biking with my dobes, so I'm gonna do this in question and answer format and address those regular questions. Okay, here goes:
When can I start riding with my dobe?
In the course of purchasing and learning to use a Springer, I spoke with my vet and with some Greyhound people (not pro-racers, but responsible breeder-types) in my area. According to them, no dog, especially of the medium to larger size like dobes and greys should be "run" under one year of age and preferably not until 1.5 to 2 years of age. This does not mean that they cannot run, but rather that they should not be formally "run" over sustained distances or times. I don't understand exactly all the medical why's involved. But, from what I understand, it will "break down" the dog, structurally and can cause permanent damage. So, check with your own vet on when is right for your dog, but if it were me, I wouldn't run him/her with the bike until he/she is 2 years old.
What kind of distances do you start with and how fast can you build up?
This varies based upon the age and physical condition of the dog. Older dogs need to warm up more, so ride slowly then build up speed and slowdown on each ride at the end (i.e., warm-up, run, and cool down). Older dogs also need to build up distance more slowly. Younger dogs build up faster and do not require as much of a warm-up. Now, with those broad generalizations in mind, here are the big limitations in my book. First, you should start walking your dog aerobically. By this, I mean 12-13 minute miles. Do this for a couple of miles twice a day for a couple of weeks. This starts getting him and you into shape for cycling. Second, you need to build up the pads on your dog's feet to a tough working pad. If you don't, your dog will be running home on bloody pads, and you'll have to soak, clean, bandage and heal them before your next run putting the dog through pain and losing valuable riding days and training time. And then, you'll have had to start all over again on building them up.
I can tell you from experience, that running wears off far more pad faster than walking. There is a lot more friction on the foot base. Just because a dog is used to walking several miles a day does not mean that he can run that distance on the same foot pads. The max my dogs could do when just starting to build up the foot pads was about three-fourths of a mile to one mile. I have one very tender-footed bitch, Brandy, who couldn't even do that starting out. The max she could go was about a half-mile. But, thanks to some herding/agility friends of ours, we discovered Tincture of Benzoin. Try it the natural way first, but if you have a problem dog, you can usually find this product at a pharmacy, though it may have to be ordered in. You paint it on the pads and it acts like a liquid bandage adding a bit more to the pad and making it last that little bit more. With it, Brandy was able to run normal build-up distances like the boys. In any event, back to pad building and conditioning: I do the walking twice a day (also helps build up the pads) and then begin to run one mile with the bike maximum. If during this time, until the foot pads build up, I want to go for a longer ride (assuming my dogs are up to its stamina wise) I put special running boots on my dogs. They have rubber soles, wet suit like material sides and Velcro straps. They are called Walkabouts. I got mine from Dr. Fosters and Smith catalog, but see the end of this article for more updated ordering information. They are more expensive than other boots (about 60 dollars for all four paws), but I've tried the others. In my experience, the others wore through after only one or two runs or they did not stay on the paws. These have stayed on in snow, in creeks, on hikes, running with the bike, and more. They also have not rubbed or caused any sore spots on my dogs. They have thick but flexible soles which protect the foot pads from wearing off. Also, if you plan to ride in the summer on roadways, you'll likely need a set of these boots because the asphalt gets too hot for their pads to walk on, let alone to run on. The boots insulate the paws from the hot asphalt. They also protect the paws from broken glass if you're riding on city streets. Here's a picture of the boots that I use:
Have your dogs had any problems with running with the bike?
Other than the bloody paws, and one mishap with a bad vest which I will relate later, my dogs have not had any real physical problems with running with the bike. However, dogs can develop the equivalent of shin splints. It's hard on them, just like it is on us, to run on hard pavement. So, if you can run on dirt roads or grassy areas or bike paths which are not paved, those will be easier on your dogs. Keep in mind also to limit the distances that to run on pavement. As a general rule for all biking, I usually, personally limit my dogs' distance to a maximum of about five or six miles with the dogs at a reasonable trotting pace for the dogs. However, I do know that the Schutzhund folks have a physical fitness endurance test that their breeding dogs are required to pass. For it, the dogs must run 12 miles with 2 breaks and maintain an average speed of 7.7 to 9 mph. So, that may give you some idea of an outside target limit on exercise for the dog with a bike. Again, in gearing any exercise plan for your dog, please check with your vet. Another caution is to avoid giving your dog food or water immediately before and immediately after running with the bike. The reason for not allowing a dog to drink or eat immediately before or immediately after strenuous exercise is because there is a serious risk of causing bloat or torsion in a dog which occurs VERY rapidly, often too quickly to get medical or veterinary help and which often will kill the dog! So, I do not let them eat sooner than an hour beforehand and preferably longer. I do not let them drink heavily for 30 minutes to an hour beforehand nor for 20 minutes afterward. This is not to say that I make the dogs run without water the entire time. But, when I provide water, I do it in very small amounts during the exercise and just following it. I allow something along the lines of 5 to 8 laps of water on a water break. Also, please use some common sense. If the weather is over 80 degrees or the effective humidity puts the temperatures up there, don't run at all with your dogs IMHO. Others may recommend different time limits for feeding and drinking with exercise, but that is what I do. You can and should check with your vet to see what he or she would recommend. You should also be very careful to gauge your dog's progress and not to push him or her too hard. If your dog is overheating, panting overly, tongue getting a bluish or purplish tint, or lagging behind, you should back off. Also, you should vary the rates at which you ride. Do some trotting paces and some running paces intermixed.
Did you have any problems introducing the dogs to using the Springer?
I did not have any problems whatsoever. However, I did gradually introduce the dogs to the Springer. Here is the method that I recommend. Before you start riding with your Doberman, you should walk him or her a few times attached to the Springer with both you and your dog walking alongside the bike. Then, when he seems to be okay with it and not afraid of the Springer, start walking him next to the bike near busy streets and intersections. Some dogs are okay with the Springer right from the word go, but they freak out the first time a car passes them. This can be very dangerous. Depending on the dog, I also use a pinch collar or prong collar or else a Halti collar so that while the Springer absorbs any pulling from the dog, the collar discourages any potentially rambunctious pulling or lunging. I would rather my dogs get an occasional good pinch on the neck than hit by a car. The Halti collar also works well, but I do know dogs to have gotten loose from a Halti, so be careful and also leave enough slack for the dog to be able to keep the head comfortably straight in it. In case you're not familiar with what a prong or pinch collar is, here is a picture:
This type of collar looks terrible, but in my opinion, it is actually safer than a choke chain which may damage the esophagus. I also have had a problem with my dogs wanting to run ahead of me on the bike. The prong and Halti collars helps to limit this surging behavior, but it is best to train your dogs into position using food bait or some similar method. Incidentally, I start my dogs training on the Springer by walking the bike with them attached to the bike, not riding with them. The Springer is designed with breakaway attachments so that if you go on either side of an immovable object, you and your dog can physically separate without injury. I have not had this experience to know if the breakaway tabs really work, however.
Do you have any other tips or advice?
Yes, I do. This mainly relates to safety gear while you're running. The biggest problem I encountered while running with my dogs was that cars did not seem to see my dark dogs running down low in the evenings and early mornings. The cars would cut a little too close for my comfort when passing me. So, I purchased 2 invaluable things which I believe you would want to own. The first is a blinking collar. You can get them from most mail-order catalogs for about 12 dollars. They have a flashing light, and claim to be visible up to 2,000 feet and waterproof. I don't know about the accuracy of that range, but I have been caught in the rain a couple of times. The collar is battery-operated and does increase the visibility of you and your dog for evening and night riding. In fact, I also have a blinking light with the same technology on my bicycle seat post for my own safety. Here is a picture of the blinking collar and in a later picture you will see Brandy, my female dobe, in the safety vest I'm about to mention and the blinking collar:
As you no doubt gathered from what I was writing above, the second product that I advise getting is a safety vest. The safety vest is made of bright orange material with reflective striping. But, you must be very careful about the safety vest you pick. If it cuts around the chest or the moving legs in *any* way, your dog will get rubbed raw by it in a matter of minutes running. This was another painful lesson for me and one of my dogs. There is a type that is available through many mail-orders that I use, and it only costs about 12 dollars. It has a Velcro strap which loops around the collar and another which goes under the belly. There are no straps and there's no material near the front nor rear legs nor the shoulder muscles. This vest has never caused any problem for me or my dobes. Plus, cars really seem to notice the vest and it makes it safer for both me and the dogs. I have even had drivers stop to ask me about the vests. I know that it is hard to envisage from that description, so here's a picture of Brandy modeling the vest, as promised... and she also has on her blinking collar. It is sideways for the pictures so that you can see it better. Normally, I have the blinking collar riding up on the back of the neck for better visibility:
"I'm too sexy for this vest" <g>
Well, that is about the extent of my knowledge. If you try biking with your
Dobe (or any other breed
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Dawn, Lestat, Brandy & Duke