Has it happened to me? Have I become an annoying dog owner, imposing my can-do-no-wrong fluppy (fluffy-puppy) on reluctant hosts?
Fully vaccinated and out of quarantine, husband Bruce and I decided on a trip to New Jersey to celebrate our immunizations. Our destination? Frenchtown, home of a high school friend, and my column editor, Rick Epstein, and wife Betsy, also vaccinated.
Of course we would bring Flora. She is a small, lively and adorable 5-month-old mixed breed pup. She and I are focusing hard on the three B's — begging, barking and biting — and I didn't want to interrupt the training. But when I asked permission to bring her, there was silence on the phone. Then Rick said, "Please don't. If experience is any guide, your dog's needs and behavior will dominate the visit, and we're not interested in that."
I replied, "She's well-behaved and will stay in her crate most of the time."
After some light badgering, he said, "OK."
Husband Bruce and I arrived at Rick's house at dinner time. Flora found a shoe near the front door and ran with it from room to room. With some effort I got her settled in her crate in the dining room, and she immediately started whining. My words, "But she never behaves like this," brought a knowing nod from Rick, who said, "Right. The dog is perfect at home." I wanted to crawl under the table and hide. How could I make this right?
In two months of owning Flora, I have learned that a sleeping puppy is a quiet puppy. Short of drugging her, how could I get this energetic pup to snooze? The solution: exercise. Rick lives on the Delaware River alongside a bike trail. It was smooth, straight and flat; the perfect spot to run with a dog. I used to be able to run five miles, but after my double hip replacement, the doctor told me jogging was no longer possible. Besides, I could never run fast enough or far enough to tire my fluppy. The next-best solution, suggested by dog-training expert Cesar Milan: bicycling.
I would rent a bike. But at Frenchtown's bike shop, Corner Cycle, owner David told me it was too hard to sanitize bikes and helmets between customers, so he stopped renting for the duration of the pandemic. Desperate to prove my dog was not like others, I decided to buy a bike.
David insisted I test ride before purchase. Afraid I had forgotten how to ride a bike, I walked the first one around the corner, out of sight, before mounting. If I crashed to the ground, at least no one would see. Wow, was I wrong! The old saying is true; once you learn to ride, you never forget. In seconds I was shifting gears like a pro as I flew up the street and even rode with a group of motorcyclists for a few moments. I was ready to buy, but David had me try out two more bikes. Each was delightful, but my heart settled on a powder-blue, step-through model (known in my youth as a "girl's bike") with seven gears and grip brakes — no back-pedaling to break for this girl.
After the final tune-up and the addition of a water bottle and bell, I christened the bike Clarabell and took her for a spin on the riverside trail with Flora in tow. Dave worried she might dash after a squirrel and pull me off-balance. Not my Flora. I held the leash as she ran alongside, happy for company traveling at her speed.
Flora was the perfect (in my eyes) dog after that. She slept without a whine, and Rick even applauded my efforts to manage her. Flora wasn't the only tired one. My little-used muscles squealed with soreness. Did "training" the puppy also mean that I'd get in shape?
Back in New Hampshire, I'm continuing her education, which includes bike dog-training on the hilly dirt road that leads to my farm. I've learned that if I'm going to be one of those people who insist on bringing a dog everywhere, I better be prepared to cycle her tired. A sleepy dog is a docile dog.
The New Hampshire hills and all this exercise are building my endurance, but it suddenly occurs to me that they are building Flora's, too. (Anybody want to buy a powder-blue bike?)
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products.