Rollerblading with Your Dog
Some in-line skate enthusiasts live for the mornings when they can leash up their pooch and go for a nice sprint together along a shaded park path. Not only is it great exercise, but the dog is often delighted that their human buddy can keep up with them. Always wear appropriate protective gear: a helmet, wrist guards, knee and elbow pads. This is important for skilled skaters to remember. Studies have shown that most injuries are sustained by overconfident, under-prepared veterans.
Other in-line skaters, however, see a sport fraught with danger. Without complete control over the skates and the dog, someone rollerblading with Rover could turn into a barreling, 30-mile-an-hour hazard to themselves and other pedestrians.
Among rollerblading enthusiasts, there is no solid consensus over whether dogs and skating mix. But all agree that no one should attempt it unless they are highly skilled skaters and have confidence in their dog's obedience training. They further agree that skating with dogs should only be done in an area without vehicles, and at a time when fewer people are about.
"It looks fun, but unless you have complete control over yourself and your dog, it's pretty dangerous and unpredictable," notes Noelle Robichon, a certified in-line skate instructor from Minneapolis.
Robichon is one enthusiast who believes canines and skates don't go together. "If he suddenly takes off to the right or left, you can trip and injure yourself and the dog," she said. The leash can trip up the skater, who may have to instantly choose between falling on the pavement and being hurt, or falling on and injuring their dog.
Innocent bystanders are at risk as well. Pedestrians may not be aware that a human/canine package is rumbling towards them from behind, or may not be able to get out of the way fast enough.
Having Rover suddenly take off after a small animal or object is probably one of the bigger dangers people face, notes Kalinda Mathis, executive director of the International In-line Skating Association. The IISA is an organization comprising manufacturers and skaters to promote the sport and safety.
Mathis says the IISA doesn't have a position on dogs and skating; in fact, she enjoys skating with her chow dog in the mornings. But she agrees that the exercise poses a danger to the public, the skater and the dog unless adequate precautions are taken.
One of the primary precautions is skill level. Preferably, you've taken lessons from a certified instructor on how to avoid obstacles and skating has become an instinctive, second-nature activity to you. Even the smallest obstacles – pebbles, cracks in the pavement, etc. – can trip you if you're not skilled.
Follow the SLAP guidelines: skate smart, legal, alert and polite. This includes wearing protective gear, obeying traffic regulations, avoiding hazards and traffic, and yielding to pedestrians. Always announce your intention by saying "passing on your left."
Use a slightly longer leash than normal. The leash should be long enough to give you warning if your dog takes off in an unexpected direction, but not so long as to put him in danger before you can save him.
A harness leash is best to avoid choking your dog in case you have to pull in an emergency.
Another primary precaution is location and time. You should only skate in areas devoid of traffic at times when people are less likely to be around. Mathis, a 15-year veteran and an instructor, says she skates with her dog in a park in the morning.
A third precaution is the dog's training. A dog should be trained to stop reliably on command. Many skaters are tripped by the leash when their dog suddenly goes left or right.
Watch Out for Your Dog
Rover may be eager to go for an extended romp, but you have to know when to say when.
Keep your dog hydrated.
Work up to a level you're both comfortable with.
If it's hot, keep the run very short or don't take him with you.
Dogs perspire through their feet; if the ground is hot, he won't be able to cool down.
Running on pavement is hard on your dog's joints. If he shows discomfort, stop.
One way to reduce the risk of injury to your dog is off-road rollerblading. This is recommended by enthusiasts such as Lidia Dale-Mesaros, who is co-owner of AllTerrainDog.com.
"On soft ground, there's more 'give' for the dog," she said. AllTerrainDog.com offers several products for off-road rollerblading, including a quick-release mechanism for the skater and jell-filled boots for the dogs. The quick-release mechanism, called Bail-Out, allows an owner to detach from the dog if he runs in an unexpected direction.
The product carries its own risks; if used in a high-traffic area, the dog is no longer in control of the owner. Again, obedience and training are paramount. The jell-filled boots are designed to help keep the dog's feet cool. Dale-Mesaros says they are not designed as shock absorbers.
If your dog shows signs of soreness or trouble getting to his feet, take him to the vet. The most common running-related injuries are worn-down pads. You can help avoid this by using Pad Guard, a spray that is applied directly to your dog's feet. It forms a protective barrier and works better than booties.