Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Exercising Dogs: the Dubious Virtue of Multitasking

Multitasking is one of the supposed virtues of modern life. The more things we do at the same time, the better we get at them, and the better we become as human beings, or so we are to believe. Even when we use the cliché "less is more," we are implying that more of anything is still better. I don't doubt that this works for many people with the right temperament for that sort of thing: feeling elated and energized by their juggling as long as balls (or whatever it is they're juggling) don't fall on the ground. Others like myself get jittery, annoyed, and frustrated when forced to shuttle between two or more tasks. But whatever the human's personality or circumstances, some multitasking practices should never be visited on the animals in our care. Here is one that makes me cringe every time: running a dog alongside a bicycle.

     At first glance it would seem like a good thing to do: the dog and the owner get exercise all at once; they are bonding, and time is being saved. But think about it from the dog's perspective. First, it cannot stop. It cannot--or will not--do this because it is geared to obey and follow its person. Animals are amazingly stoic creatures with a high capacity for ignoring their discomfort when they feel called upon to keep going. Unlike a dog running at its own pace, one trailed alongside a bicycle cannot respond to a minor ache or pain that requires a period of rest to heal, or alerts its master to a problem before it seriously injures the dog. This is especially harmful to a growing puppy who does not know its limitations and is apt to overdo it even without being prompted. Secondly, most such running takes places on an asphalt road which is hell on a dog's joints while providing a nice smooth surface for a bicycle. Have you ever wondered why professional dancers never use a cement floor but only a wooden one with give to it? Gravity is a force to be reckoned with, and I'm not thrilled about any kind of exercise on asphalt for dogs larger than toy breeds. In nature, any surface that an animal runs on has some give. Unlike humans, dogs do not wear shoes with cushioned soles, so it's not really fair of us to expect their joints to stay healthy on a surface from which we see it fit to protect ourselves.

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