To Pave or not to Pave

Running dogs on pavement is a topic I’ve thought about but never quite gotten around to talking about for a really long time. Mostly because it’s one of those things that for me boils down to “know your dog, use your judgement” and writing a six word blog post hardly seems worth the time and effort. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, though, because with my most accessible dirt trails still flooded out my choices are three: Drive really far for a non-paved trail, run on pavement, don’t run at all. (And also because Squash wore a nail down too short this morning and it made me think about whether I needed to change my approach.)


Ask ten dog people about this and you’ll probably get ten different opinions on a spectrum from “absolutely not, never” to “it’s totally fine.” Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. My strong preference is to run dogs on bare packed dirt or turf but I don’t think pavement is the worst thing in the world for recreational teams (like us) who stick to short distances and relatively slow paces. (My absolute most hated surface, thanks for asking, is gravel. It’s really hard on dogs’ feet and really easy for the bike to skid out).

Concerns about pavement are all about the dogs and potential for injury, particularly joints and feet.

Feet are pretty straightforward. Some dogs have really tough feet, but pavement can be really rough on paw pads and nails nonetheless. The pads can develop abrasions/excessive wear and nails can be worn right down to the quick. This can happen on any surface but more quickly on pavement because of its rough and unyielding nature.

My dogs have always had really tough feet and haven’t had any serious trouble with pad injuries, and today is the first time I’ve had a dog wear a nail down to the quick. I think just, be careful. Know your dogs’ feet. Use booties if necessary. And be especially careful when first starting out, increasing distances, or emerging from winter snows into spring dryland training.

Joints are less straightforward. Intuitively, it seems reasonable that regularly running on a harder surface could cause more stress, impact, and ultimately damage to joints than a softer surface. But is there evidence that there a significant effect? I spent some time before writing this browsing around PubMed and I admit I wasn’t searching hardcore but wasn’t able to find any research about dogs and safety/impact on joints of various surfaces. I didn’t find much actual research for people, either, mostly fitness articles that almost uniformly concluded there isn’t a “best” surface for humans to run on. However, a huge factor for humans is that the inherent unevenness of natural surfaces causes a lot of foot & ankle injuries, and that’s not really relevant in dogs. “Twisting their ankles” isn’t a thing in dogs like it is in humans.

If anyone has a good reference, though, I’d love to read it – drop it in the comments! (I mean a study, not an article.)

So right now we probably don’t know. Personally, I suspect unless a dog is clocking a lot of mileage or running a really fast pace, the difference between surfaces may not be enough to make a difference. But short of limiting distance and speed, the “better safe than sorry” approach is to avoid it altogether, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

We’re all just trying to make the best decisions for our dogs, including that person (maybe me!) who makes different decisions about running dogs on pavement than you do. I have pretty fit dogs with tough feet and we stick to pretty low mileage at slow speeds, so my personal approach is to minimize but not be afraid of or completely unwilling to use it, either. If I were running farther, faster, or had dogs with tender feet I’d probably feel differently and make different decisions.

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Pride Cometh Before the Bikejor

Well, I was that person today. That. Person. The one with the unruly dogs who really, really wanted to greet another dog that didn’t want to be greeted while I struggled to get them under control.


This spring has been abysmal for bikejoring so far around here. The trails I usually use have been flooded for weeks with no end in sight, and my alternative sites are getting busier and busier from soaking up all the slack. Many biking trails that are usable right now explicitly prohibit dogs. So I’m not running dogs very much, which is disappointing.

The silver lining is that as we’ve been forced to do a lot of groundwork, commands have gotten more solid (or, foreshadowing alert, so I thought). But I’ve definitely struggled with managing the boys’ excitement and energy levels overriding their brains when we DO get out for a run.

Today I checked out a new trail for the first time. A paved, multi-use trail that was not terribly busy but not super quiet either. As I came around a bend I saw a man and an off leash dog up ahead, but as soon as he saw me he recalled his dog, put it in a sit-stay, and stepped off to the side.  Normally in this type of situation, I’ve always pulled off to the side myself, gotten off the bike, and let the other dog owner walk by while I practice sit-stay with my dogs. But in a moment of what proved to be a stunning lack of judgement I figured that his dog was so well behaved, mine had been practicing so much lately, and the trail was wide enough that even if they pulled to the side the man and his dog were out of reach… so let’s just go for it.

We almost made it past them before Aspen and Squash decided “nah, actually, let’s go say hi.” They pulled me over onto my back, the bike on top of me, and then dragged me AND the bike towards the poor man and his dog. My dogs like other dogs, but they’re very big and very vocal when they’re excited, so I’m sure they scared the crap out of the guy though to his very great credit, he didn’t panic; he just calmly collected his dog and moved away while I struggled to get out from under the bike while being dragged across the pavement and called “I’m so sorry!” over and over again. In a minute, it was all over and no one was hurt but me.



The Go Pro captures the view from the pavement. Hooray. 

Also to his very great credit, he didn’t tear me a new one, which he had every right to do. He just calmly left with his dog. And I collected myself and left with my dogs (after we had a short remedial lesson on lining out and waiting). My dogs, who in one fell swoop had punched a hole in my pride, pointed out a training deficit, and reminded me that they are a combined almost 200 lbs of very strong dogs who most of the time choose to do the things I ask of them. But if that dog or owner had reacted differently, the whole situation could have been very, very bad. We were lucky.

To my credit, while I shed some tears of abject embarrassment afterwards, I didn’t get angry at my dogs at all and got only a slightly-more-than-useful amount of angry at myself. And when a bit down the path we came upon another family walking their two small dogs, I took the lesson I’d been given and made a better decision to pull off the path and practice sit-stay with my dogs. Oh, and then on our way home I found a loose dog in my neighborhood and got him home, so hopefully I’ve balanced my good and bad for the day?


Their whole bodies, not just Squash’s ear, practiced sit-stays.


Now I decide if this is a situation I manage as I have been forever or if I try to recruit some friends/dogs for training scenarios to work on going on by other dogs. Probably the former, it’s safer and pulling off and stopping for a few minutes isn’t really a problem to me.

Anyway, I’m not telling this story to fish for pats on the back. I still feel terrible that it happened in the first place rather than being proud that I didn’t do the same dumb thing twice in a row. But I just want to make a couple of points:  

  1. Train your dog, strive to make good decisions about challenging situations, but realize you and your dogs are not perfect. Shit will happen. Most (if not all) of that shit will be 100% your fault. It’s ok, we all mess up and this one thing doesn’t make you a bad person, dog owner, trainer, bikejorer. But what do you do next, and next, and next after that might. Will you recognize your mistakes and strive to do better next time?
  2. When shit happens, own up to it. Apologize. Acknowledge your mistake and make amends if there are damages. If you have a chance, explain how you’ll do better next time. Don’t make excuses (and remember there is a fine line between explanations and excuses). That other person deserves to hear you say “I’m sorry” and it will go a long way towards their reaction to you. (Don’t wallow in self-loathing, though, it’s bad for you and everyone around you.)
  3. If you’re on the receiving end, don’t necessarily judge a person by one awful encounter especially if they are doing the stuff in #2. It’s scary to get rushed and you have every right to be upset. But it’s scary and upsetting to be the one messing up, too, and someday that might be you. (However, if their response to being upset and embarrassed is to defensively project their anger at you for something that was their fault?  By all means, go nuts with the judgment.)


That’s about the extent of my wisdom for the day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go clean up my scrapes, ice my bruises, take some ibuprofen, love on my dogs, and thank my lucky stars that this was an “all’s well that ends well” kind of morning.


Posted in Bikejoring, Bloopers, Training | 2 Comments

Lessons Learned

It’s a new year and we’ve had a dismally disappointing winter here at mushbaby HQ. As it stands, we have no snow but a lot of ice on the ground thanks to a few days of rain followed by a deep, deep freeze. Last year around this time I was so frustrated with the lack of snow (skiing) that I bought a fat tire bike I call the Tantrum Bike (which gives you an idea of how frustrated I was), and this year we can hardly even bike because… so much ice. Even trying to go around the ice is fraught with peril:

That’s not really what brought me back to the blog, though. This time of year, FB memories graces me with a plethora of puppy Toast pictures which makes me feel a lot of feelings. A friend not too long ago said of me something like “mushbaby really likes to be competent in everything she does” and seeing these pictures are a huge reminder of one of my biggest incompetencies and sources of shame and embarrassment. I love that dog so much, but I also failed him so badly. I raised him like Squash and expected him to be like Squash – who is a much, much softer dog with no serious fallout from my mistakes. I wasn’t able to see what I was doing at the time, and wasn’t able to adapt until I had created problems in my household too big for me to fix.

He’s in a great home now and thriving with someone who understands him better than I ever could have. Seeing updates is bittersweet, it’s wonderful to see him happy and an opportunity to be grateful for the enormous lessons I learned from him. But depending on my headspace it can also be a painful reminder of my incompetence.

I aspire to focus on the positives but my brain doesn’t always let me. In retrospect I learned so much, things that have helped me become a better dog owner in general, taught me what kinds of dogs suit me best, and allowed me to be much better at my job. No one is a better teacher than experience, after all. I’d like to think that if I had a second chance I would do better, with some time and clarity and not making the same kinds of mistakes bringing Aspen into our household (who although he is also a softer dog, not as soft as Squash).

Anyway, this has just been on my mind lately and I guess I just needed to get it out so it stopped eating me alive. But also… it’s easy to tell yourself and others that failure is how we learn, those who have succeeded have failed more than the rest of us have even tried, and so on. And intellectually it all makes sense but if you’re not feeling it, please know you’re not alone. At least one other person gets it, and struggles with feeling it too.


Posted in Dog Talk, Not Mushing, Toast | Leave a comment

The Heart of the Matter

Don’t Panic, Think

The Science Dog

In mid-July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an alert to veterinarians and pet owners regarding reports of increased incidence of a heart disease called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This disorder is characterized by weakening of the heart muscle, which leads to a decreased ability of the heart to pump, and if untreated, to cardiac failure. The reported cases occurred in breeds that are not considered to be genetically predisposed to this disorder.

Further, a significant number of the dogs were found to have reduced levels of circulating taurine in their blood and have responded positively to taurine supplementation. It is speculated that these cases are related to the consumption of foods that negatively affect taurine status, leading to taurine-deficiency DCM. Foods containing high levels of peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes were identified by the FDA as potential risk factors. These ingredients are found commonly in…

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A Tale of Two “ON BY”s

This space has been pretty quiet for a while. When last we met, I was still wrapping my head around having Aspen living with us and all my feelings about that. I’m happy to say he’s fitting in here like a hand in a glove and I couldn’t be happier with him. The dogs are all getting along great and if you want to see some of their shenanigans we are on Instagram @alaskanbulldogs.

It was a challenging winter for running dogs. Most of of the time there wasn’t enough snow to skijor but too much snow for my scooter or hybrid bike. When I finally gave in and got a fat tire bike, we got a thaw-refreeze cycle that turned all the trails into ice, then just as the trails were icing out we got a late-season blizzard.

But, except for a little high water, things have calmed down for the most part and we’re able to get out more. What I wanted to share today is a breakdown of two ON BYs, one a success and one a spectacular failure.

First up, the success (because it came first). What went right here is that I noticed the deer at the same time Squash did, but before Aspen did; I managed to get the command out before Squash had committed to trying to chase and before Aspen really fully realized what was going on. So we had some momentum to carry us. (Which quickly turned into excitedly blowing off steam for a minute.)

Second, what went wrong. In this instance, I did not notice the squirrel or get the command out until after both dogs had seen it and reacted. Because I gave the command once they were both fully committed to trying to chase, they probably didn’t even hear me.


This is a good reminder for me that because of the way I have trained ON BY, it works best for my dogs to hear the command preemptively and I have to be really alert for distractions. Obviously I’m not always going to see everything, but for my purposes I’m ok with an occasional misstep.

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Living in the Liminal Space

Well, it’s been awhile. It’s been a year of ups and downs and changes and feelings and adapting, and while I haven’t been much in the writing mood I think it’s time for an update.

First, we lost Pip in July, shortly after my last post about him. I miss him. He was just a really good, easy, sweet old soul.

Second, Maisy tore her second cruciate ligament and had surgery to repair it at the end of June. So her summer was spent recovering and rehabbing (she’s fully recovered and back to normal now).

Third, I was contacted about the possibility of taking Squash’s littermate brother, Aspen, who was being retired from Hillside Huskies, a small recreational racing kennel where he had been living since he was a puppy.


Baby Aspen (photo by Amanda)

I had a lot of feelings about this, many contradictory. When I was first contacted, Pip was still with us. I very much did not want to add stress or disruption to his life, and I really didn’t know how much time he had left. He’d already outlived all the predictions and I was hoping he’d continue to pummel the odds even though it wasn’t likely. And frankly, it felt wrong to be thinking about the next dog already.

BUT, it’s no secret that Squash is just about the perfect dog for me and I’ve often joked that if someone were breeding them on purpose, I’d have Alaskan Bulldogs forever. By all accounts, Aspen’s personality was very much like Squash’s with one important addition – he was a great mushing dog with good drive for the sport, and already trained to boot. So it seemed like an opportunity too ludicrous to pass up.

BUT, Maisy. Maisy, who adores puppies but is very selective about whether she wants to be friends with strange adult dogs or throw down with them. Maisy who does seem to have mellowed over the years, but…

It is kind of a blur in my memory, but as I recall it went like this: First I said no. Then I said yes. Then I said no, this doesn’t feel right. Then, after Pip was gone, I did some soul searching and said yes again with a promise that I wasn’t going to flip flop anymore IF Maisy got along with him. I was committed.

And so, I found myself for the second time driving to Ohio to pick up an Alaskan Bulldog. This time I had Squash and Maisy in tow and I was fully prepared to leave Aspen-less if my girl didn’t like him. But, she did. Or at least, she didn’t immediately NOT like him. She barely even acknowledged him, really, which for her is a win. So the next day we all piled into the minivan and came back to Minnesota together.

aspen copy


He’s been a delight.  He’s an amazing joring dog and we’ve been doing a lot of bikejoring both alone and with Squash or Maisy, although I haven’t been brave enough to try all three together yet. He and Maisy run beautifully together, and he has the size and strength to force a work ethic on Squash. He’s sweet as can be and fitting in great with the other dogs. I’m pretty sure he and Squash share a brain. He’s still overexcited about the cats and learning to tone himself down with them, but he’s not dangerous or predatory towards them. He’s a good fit for me, I really like him and I’m very happy that he’s come to be part of our little family.




Still, I can feel myself holding back a little bit emotionally. I know part of it is losing Pip and gaining Aspen so close to one another. It’s just a lot to process and it’s been hard to let myself be fully happy about the latter on the heels of the former. But if I’m honest I think part of it that I’m afraid to let myself get too attached. I haven’t been fully confident in my ability to successfully integrate a new dog into my existing household; that part of me took a pretty big hit after Toast left (who is doing great in his new home btw). Some days it seems easy, and some days it seems like a lot. Like so much. Like something I’m going to fail at again.

So here I’ve been sitting in the in-between space with change and uncertainty, the twins at the boundaries. Love them or hate them, they’re going to usher you across that threshold from what things were like before to what things can and will be from now on… if you let them. I’m going with a few butterflies in my stomach, but I’m trying real hard to trust that we’ll all make it into the next space together.


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Coming into the End Zone



After Pip had his spleen removed and we got the pathology report back, I promised him that he would never have to take a bath again. It seemed like a reasonable promise since the prognosis was about as bad as it gets; the metastasis rate for hemangiosarcoma is described as “approaching 100%.” The only thing we didn’t know was how long we had, but by most estimates somewhere around two to three months. Once the initial disappointment and hurricane of grief had passed, we tried to use our remaining time well. For the most part, we did a good job and have had a real good time.




Soon those two to three months had passed. Then four. We celebrated his birthday, and a few weeks later it was five months since his surgery. Right now we’re sitting at six months. So much more time than we ever expected, and though I knew it was dangerous I’ve slowly allowed a tiny part of myself to believe maybe we had dodged a bullet. That my dog  was one of the lucky ones who allowed that “approaching” to sneak in ahead of the “100%.” And since we’d been taking him down to the river a lot, I thought maybe I was going to have to break that promise about the bath.

Then earlier this week he had a real bad day. We repeated some blood work and x-rays, and it was the worst news… evidence of metastasis to his liver, and he’s anemic. (HSA is essentially a tumor of blood vessels, so they can rupture and bleed; the anemia suggests that’s what happened although he didn’t lose a critical amount of blood.)

The better news is that there is evidence that his body is repairing the anemia by producing new red blood cells. And by the next morning, he was acting like himself again. He’s eating well, jolly and excited about the things he normally gets jolly and excited about, chewing his bones, coming to work with me and working the crowd for snacks at lunchtime, yelling at Squash when he gets out of line. (Maisy isn’t really in a position to get out of line right now, having torn her other cruciate ligament last week and surgery a few days ago, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.) All we’re really seeing right now is that he doesn’t have much stamina; he gets tired more easily and sleeps a lot more.



So now I know for sure what I really knew in my heart knew before; that he’s not part of the “approaching.” And I’m sad, really sad, although part of me realizes that in reality nothing has really changed… we just have that final piece of certainty plugged into the equation and a more specific time cap. We’re down to a few weeks, mostly likely a month at most, and I don’t want him to go. But at least we’ve had so, so much more time than we ever expected. Really good quality time, and I’m so grateful for it. He can’t really hike or birdwatch at the park with me anymore, but he can still chew sticks in the backyard while I read and there are some boat launches nearby where I park close enough that he can wade around in the water and eat grass on the riverbank… the things that make him happiest.




If the rules were relaxed before, we’ve gone positively feral at this point… chicken with breakfast, a spoonful of whipped cream at lunch, roasts in the slow cooker specifically for him, bites of Kit Kats. He goes where he wants, when he wants.

And absolutely no baths.



Posted in Health, Not Mushing, Pip | 1 Comment

Roadkill Willpower Depletion

Now that I broke the seal, we’ve been doing more bikejoring than scootering this spring. Aside from some stretches of rain and a few random heat waves, the weather has been pretty cooperative.



Yesterday we had a couple of encounters with a turtle that had been run over (RIP, turtle and SLOW DOWN, state park drivers! The speed limit is already only 20mph here.). The first video is on the way out and the second video is on the way back.



Pretty different!  One thing this makes me ponder is the concept of “willpower depletion” as it relates to my training and expectations of the dogs. You can read more about it here, but the basic idea is that we all have a limited amount of willpower to dole out during the day and as it gets used up, it gets harder and harder to exert self-control in tempting situations. It’s not settled science by any means, and you can find just as many articles that refute as support it.

The danger lies in either using it as an excuse rather than an explanation or ascribing it too much power and lowering your expectations as a result. There are lots of things that were different about these two encounters to explain the difference, chief among them that none of us knew it was there on the first pass but we all knew it was there on the second pass – and a Squash never, never forgets.  Also, the first time we went by we came around a corner off a dirt trail to the road and had a very short distance to even see and register what it was. The second time, we had a long straight stretch of road ahead of us where it was visible.

So I suspect that on that second pass he’d mostly just had an awful lot of time to see it, realize/remember what it was, think about much he wanted it, and commit to a plan.  With maybe just a little pinch of being a little tired and bored and willpower depleted.

Why what’s really going on here even matters to me is that there can be a fine balance between training challenges that are just that, challenges, vs those that are unfairly setting a dog up for failure. One of my great weaknesses when training my dogs is that I too often err on the side of the latter and in my efforts to avoid making things unrealistically difficult, I make them too easy. In this case, that might look like taking another route to avoid the turtle on the second pass and missing out on the opportunity to “win” the standoff. I’m not a master dog trainer, and my dogs and I are far from perfect, but I do like to try to learn from things like this.

In other news… Pip continues to do well, which is both surprising and welcome. He’s already outlasted his prognosis and while the old man is slowing down a bit, we’re still having a good time together.



Squash is taking a beginner’s disc (frisbee) class and that’s going ok. He does not have much natural interest or drive for toys so it’s been a learning experience to try to build that up in him.  I’ll try to get some pictures or video up at some point.

I hope everyone’s spring and summer are going well, and although we’re heading into summer and the weather might start limiting us, I’ll try to update a  bit more often.

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Accurate Live Reading by Gifted Bikejorer

Either I can control the future or predict it, because after presciently discussing traditionally being scared of having to bail off a bicycle in a recent post, I had to bail off the bicycle.

I was stopped, straddling the bike, on some soft-ish ground for a brief sniff break when the dogs successfully calculated the exact vector needed to apply force in order to make the wheels slip out sideways. Probably purely out of scooter-bailing reflex, I nearly simultaneously let go of the handlebars and stepped over the crossbar. I like to think it all looked very badass to the casual observer, like a perfectly choreographed and executed movie stunt. Sadly, no pictures or video; you’ll just have to use your imagination.

So, THAT was no big deal. As deals usually turn out to be.


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To Own a Dog

Look how lovely this is.

Denise Fenzi


Think about this for a minute. What it is to have a dog, another species, for a friend.  A companion who will be there with you, day after day, asking little more than something to eat and a safe place to live.

I can take my dog’s leash off and know that she’ll return to me. She will chase critters, smell good smells, snack on fresh grass or play ball, but always with an eye on me.  When she is done with her most current adventure, we’ll go home together.

I can ask her to come to me and remain by my side, and she will choose to respond because it’s our habit to cooperate with each other, even though she has freedom to choose otherwise.  Yes, I trained these things but she does not follow my requests out of obedience.  She follows because it works for both of us…

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