This is Django. He might be 6-years-old. He has an underbite, that makes it look like he’s possibly angry with you. He isn’t. He’s just sorta ugly, which turns out to be one of his primary charms. Django came from Arkansas, we’re told. It’s possible he was abused. His behavior, when we first brought him home, implied as much. If you raised your voice to him, he would roll over on his back and pee himself. It was a sad sight. At the same time, he was the sweetest, snuggliest dog we’d ever had. He wanted to trust us, and so we gave him all the reasons to do that, and he no longer cowers in fear if we try to correct his wayward urges, of which he has many. This is also a part of his charm.
Django is an ok trail dog. He is willing, eager even, but he lacks the sort of inexhaustible stamina that a lot of trail dogs have. He sticks with you as best he can, and he has a good sense of how hard things are going to get. He takes fewer squirrel-based detours than other dogs, because, I think, he understands his limitations. If I expect to be out for more than an hour, Django doesn’t come along.
One other critical criteria for a trail dog is staying-the-f-out-of-the-way. On the bike, we’re doing our best to read the line and stay on the bike. The last thing we need is a dog parked in the trail, inert, bringing the whole rambling process to a halt. I’ve ridden with some dogs who get in the way occasionally, but are sharp enough to understand they’ve made a mistake. And then there are others who, finding themselves in the wrong spot, freeze, staring right at you, as if you’re the problem. For a species so seemingly in tune with the human project, some dogs are pretty clueless. Django is more of the accidental obstacle type. Most of the time he’s behind you, so … he effects his own sort of solution.
To my mind, there are a few solid benefits to riding with dogs. First, they enjoy it, which in my experience helps you enjoy it more. They remind you how joyful a thing it is just to be in the woods, playing. Second, you get them exercised without having to resort to the same tired route around your neighborhood. And because they have to be exercised, there is also the benefit that they force you out of the house more than you might get there on your own. You, like me, are even lazier than you think. Finally, they keep you safer. If you happen to live where there are bears, mountain lions, or other trail users whose path you’d rather not cross precipitously, then a dog will serve as a distant early warning system.
There are those who get annoyed by dogs in the woods, wanting “owners” to keep them on-leash and under control at all times. I’m sympathetic to this view, but I think it’s mainly the result of some dog people not owning up to the fact that their dog isn’t well enough trained to be out there. Acknowledging that fact, I think it’s churlish and mean of humans to think we get to make the rules for the woods. If any place doesn’t belong to us, isn’t that it? Maybe we just need to accept the risks of being there, even as we reap the rewards.
This week’s TCI Friday asks, do you ride with dogs? How often? What do you like about it? Are there benefits that I’m missing? Conversely, do you get annoyed by people with their dogs in the woods? Not every dog is well-behaved enough to be out there, off-leash, right?
If you love the Cycling Independent, consider subscribing. We know you’re not made of money, so we appreciate whatever you decide to do. Thanks.