Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dear Cyclists

Dear Cyclists,

Barley and I are happy to see you out on the trails again. Really. We are. When we hadn't seen you yet in March, we were beginning to think that somehow we'd been left behind in some trail-user apocalypse. 

Now that you're back, though, we need to have a little chat. I've noticed that your trail etiquette leaves something to be desired. 

I get it. Really. We haven't had to share the trail in months--and I suffer from what my mom calls Bossy Big Sister Syndome (BBSS), so I've never been great at sharing anyway. For months, I've been singing "Let it Go" from Frozen out loud just to keep my mind off the cold. For months, I haven't had to worry about whether we were taking up too much of the trail. For months, we've stopped for photoshoots anytime we've seen something interesting without worrying about who might be coming up behind us. Maybe you've also been alone in the world for over 4 months and have forgotten how to communicate with other people appropriately.

I know it looks like my dog is well behaved. And she is. Most of the time. She heels like a dream. When she does decide to go out a little farther--which I let her do as long as she responds to commands--she checks in frequently with a glance over her shoulder. If I stop, she stops and sits. If I get out the camera, she poses like she's trained with Tyra Banks. She is a good dog.


But she's a border collie mix. And she's reactive. And she has a high prey drive. So if she feels something whizzing up behind her--and she will know you're coming before I do--she's going to react. 

To Barley, you're just a weird-looking sheep on wheels and you're moving very quickly without her permission. She will turn towards you. She will stare. She may nip. She may bark or growl. 

Unless I help her. For me to help her, I need you to help me.

I'm not a mom. I don't have eyes in the back of my head. My ears are relatively small and they're designed for hearing noises in front of me, not behind me--and contrary to what you might think, your bike is very quite (unless you've got those fun, plastic, neon bead things I was never allowed to put on my bike as a kid--then this doesn't apply to you). Unless I happen to glance over my shoulder, I will not know you are coming before my dog does. Help me out. "On your left!" is easy to say. Tapping a bell would be even easier. If politeness isn't your forte, we'll settle for "Move outta my way"--it's better than nothing and we'll take what we can get.

Exercising is more fun with friends. I had never even been to the local state park until I got Barley. But the trails aren't that wide. There's really not room for you to ride side-by-side while you sneak up beside us. That loose leash we've worked so hard to get means that she's got 6-feet of freedom to my left. If you're zooming by and only give us 3 inches of space, you're risking your life, especially if your mama didn't teach you to wear a helmet. Dogs--my dog especially--are unpredictable. She might be heeling beautifully when you're 20, 15, 10, 5 feet behind us, but the second you are beside her, she might decide it's more fun to herd you than to heel. We need space.

Who me?
My dog is always aware of her surroundings. Even when she's lounging in the shade. She is always ready to pounce on things that surprise her.  Please don't surprise her.


We're willing to work on our problems with sharing. If we know you're coming, I'll shorten the leash to make sure she can't reach you. I'll practice her "what's that?" command and reward her with treats that taste much better than sweat and rubber (or so I'm told). If we know there's a large group of you, we'll even pull off the trail and practice sit-stays until you've passed.

The world needs more teamwork. Let's help each other out.

Love,

Beth and Barley

P.s. To those of you who do regularly alert us to your presence, thank you! We appreciate you more than you know.


20 comments:

  1. Awe! We're sorry about the cyclists! I've been having a hard time with them, too! The girls don't herd them but they get worried when they go by so close!

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    1. As long as I've got Barley's attention, she's not bothered by them at all, but the second one comes up without warning we both jump a little--and I'm just waiting for the day when she jumps right in front of them!

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  2. I have a border collie. She is always on alert. She starts to bark just before my husband starts to pass out. He has Parkinsons and she is aware of it and follows his every move. Her prey sense is high as well. She is a rabbit hunter and even took off after a doe deer. Of course, she didn't get the deer, but not for want of the chase!!

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    1. They are very special dogs! Barley's very good with deer, but she needs regular reminders not to chase squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits! Runners, skaterboarders, and people on scooters are all fair game in her mind, too :)

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  3. I cannot imagine how frustrating it is to deal with bikes while walking a dog. It is one of the reasons we do not frequent trails. I have less patience than my dogs...lol. As you say manners would go a long way. I do not understand what is so hard about just letting walkers know you are passing on a bike.

    Thanks so much for joining the hop!

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    1. On most of our trails, we don't have to worry about too many bikes, but the one closest to home is in the state park at the end of the "resort" town on the lake, so at this time of year bikers start coming out of the woodwork! Most of the time, they're great--I can hear lots of grandparents coming up behind us telling their grandkids they need to say "on your left" and I always make sure to thank the bikers who give us some sort of warning. But this week, we've had more than usual that seem to lack common sense--especially the ones that don't move over at all and are just inches from Barley. I honestly think they see her walking so calmly beside me that they think she'll continue to do that when they breeze on by--luckily, they've all been right so far.

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  4. As a bicyclist and a bike-reactive dog owner as well, I feel your pain. You expressed your message so politely! Too bad the bikers that need to read it probably aren't reading your blog.

    Our greenbelt is very busy, with wheels of all sorts and walkers of all kinds. Because I'm also a biker, when Habi and I walk I make sure that she doesn't stray over the center line into the path of either an on-coming or a passing bike. (Though on a mid-winter walk when the thought of bikes was a distant memory, we did abruptly turn and walk across the path to get a closer look at a bird, just as a biker was approaching. Fortunately he had good brakes. Oops!)

    We trained Habi to walk on our right side, to keep our bodies between her and the bikes. This has worked very well. And every time we hear/see a bike coming from either direction we say "bike manners!", which means step off the trail and sit.

    We totally agree with you - we love bikers from behind who announce themselves (and because I walk my dog, I make sure to call a warning when on a bike)!

    Thanks again for such a well-presented, clear but courteous post.

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    1. Thank you--for your kind words and for calling warnings when you're on a bike! Training Habi to walk on your right is a great idea! Barley and I started on the left--we practice the right sometimes for agility purposes, but I'm not coordinated enough to be quick enough with the treats when she's on my right! As long as I can get her attention before the bikes do, though, she's fine on the left :)

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  5. Ugh. Mr. N has almost been run over by a bike on the sidewalk so many times. If I didn't pull him up by his leash/harness, he definitely would have been injured. Did the cyclist apologize? Nope. Do they ever? Rarely.

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    1. Poor Mr. N! Barley's big enough that I think she'd probably just be sore and not have major injuries--I'm more worried about the thought of the bikers flying over their handle bars, especially when they aren't wearing helmets! Mr. N would definitely get hurt, though! I'm not sure why manners seem so hard for people sometimes.

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  6. This was a great letter. When I walk the dogs on trails, I am always doing the Linda Blair (spinning my head) to make sure no-one is creeping up on us.

    (I probably have the bossy thing too) I like to hope that most people aren't educated about the best way to share the world with dog owners instead of just being self-centered.

    I'm finding myself a bit frustrated with our walking situation. We walked twice a day every day rain, snow, cold or shine all winter long. Now that the nicer weather is here everyone else is out walking too. It makes walking the dynamic duo challenging to say the least.

    Thank you for joining the blog hop.

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    1. I try to check over my shoulder often, but sometimes those bikes are sneaky! I hope that people just need a little more education on how to share trails well, too--that's why I always make sure to thank the ones who do give us a warning, especially the kids!

      And I don't want to wish away the summer--but we've had a few cold days again this week and it's been delightful to have our parks to ourselves again ;) I totally feel your pain transitioning to having to share the world with other people!

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  7. Pawsome post! I hope you don't mind that I shared. :)
    www.dogtreatweb.com

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    1. Thank you! I don't mind at all!

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  8. We stick to quieter areas of our rail trail for just this reason. Most of the bicyclists we encounter do announce themselves when they're coming up from behind, but sometimes it's when they're already on top of us! I let my dogs roam more with a longer leash when we're on these trails, so I am also constantly swiveling around to watch for bicyclists. A lot of the trail is flat and straight so we can at least see who's coming a good part of the time.
    If only everyone could be more aware of others instead of just worrying about themselves, and share trails more politely.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. We usually avoid the state park Friday-Monday during the spring/summer because there are so many tourists using the trails, but it was just too hot and I knew that if we were going to get any walking in, we needed to be near the water and there were several different cyclists who came within inches of Barley--when she was walking politely beside me and not across the middle of the trail. I think we both jumped out of our skin a couple times!

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  9. Shoot sometimes I don't hear them when I'm running and have almost gotten run over! It's really not that hard to yell on your left. Personally, I think having a bell would be amazing fun. It's too bad that people aren't given pamphlets on good biking manners when they buy a bike. It's also too bad that people are "too cool" to wear helmets.

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    1. I'm too cool to wear a helmet--so that's why I don't ride a bike ;) Bells are way more fun--and keep you from actually having to speak to people. More bikes should have them!

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  10. Reading this post makes me want to hug you. I have a Border Collie mix and two Aussie/Catahoula/Heeler mixes - all reactive to bicycles at different levels. Rodrigo (the BCM) is the worst. Last year a cyclist came along side of us with no warning and startled us and I let go of Rodrigo's leash (I wasn't holding it strong enough). I felt awful, but wondered (1) why he wasn't using the cyclist lane and (2) why he didn't give us a heads up - we were walking 6 dogs between the two of us (I was walking with a friend).

    Instead, he yelled at me and came back later and screamed at me more. It got so bad that I contacted the police. I was shaking.

    I've had to stop walking our dogs in certain areas, because the cyclists don't use their lane or give us a heads up. They shout that if I can't train my dog, I shouldn't have him, but it's hard to train our dogs when people are so aggressive. So I've had to change our walking routines and it's a bummer.

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    1. It's so nice to know that other people share this frustration--although I wish that none us were familiar with it. I'm sorry that you've had such an awful experience. That guy sounds terrible!

      Barley and I have come a really long way with bikes, but she's also the only dog I'm walking, so it was really easy to pull over to the side of the trail (none of our trails have actual bike lanes, so when it's busy, a lot of times it's easier to just sit and wait until they pass) and practice keeping her focus on me. Now, most of the time, she'll maintain eye contact with me while big groups of bikes go by, even if we're still walking. But, I can only get her to do that if I have some warning that they're coming up behind us! If they just coming whizzing by, all bets are off. I hate that you've had to change your walking routines so much!

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