I recently received an email requesting my opinion on a newly developed mode of transportation — namely a dog powered scooter. When I started to look into the matter I found that there were a number of places where one could purchase not only dog powered scooters, but dog powered bicycles and tricycles of many varied designs. Several of these manufacturers are not very clear as to whether they are suggesting these devices as an alternate mode of transportation, which would be "environmentally friendly", or whether they view these devices as simply a form of entertainment and exercise.
In any event my research led me to recall the fact that, in addition to dog sleds used in snow-covered regions of the world, historically dogs had once been quite commonly used for transporting people and goods. Dog carts were often used by people who couldn't afford a horse, ox, or mule. They were also useful in crowded cities where there wasn't enough room to maneuver larger draught animals in the narrow streets.
Dog pulling milk cart in Belgium 1917
Dog carts remained in widespread use well into the 20th century. It wasn't the rise of the automobile that wiped them out, but rather the rise of the animal welfare movement. In England, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals declared dog carting as "cruel servitude" (yet still permitted the use of draft horses and oxen). This ignored the fact that most of the draught dogs were considered to be "pets" as well as coworkers by the people who used them, often living indoors with the rest of the family. Eventually the RSPCA managed to get legislation to ban all dogcarts in England. In Continental Europe, legislation was also introduced, but mostly aimed at ensuring that dogs had comfortably fitting harnesses, could lie down and rest without being unhitched, and were not being overloaded. However ultimately, even there, many countries would also come to ban dogcarts. In the 1920s and 1930s, in the United States and Canada a number of states and provinces joined with the rest of the world and banned dogcarts on public streets and highways. The rationale used in North America was, for the most part, not based upon animal cruelty concerns, but rather on the suggestion that dogcarts were hazardous and unsafe because of faster paced automobile traffic now travelling on those same roads.
In the 1800s, while dogcarts still crowded the streets and highways, some other alternate forms of transportation began to appear. Most notably was the invention of the bicycle and its many variants. While these were effective means of personal transportation, they do require physical effort on the part of the individual riding them. Since people are inherently lazy it is not surprising to find that several varieties of dog-powered, bicycle-like, modes of transportation were patented in France and in the United States. While these devices caused a bit of a public buzz at the time, they never caught on, and eventually were swept away by the same laws being introduced to prevent using dogs as draught animals by pulling carts.
Every now and then it appears that the concept of dog powered transportation seems to be reinvented. Thus in 1930 this item appeared in the magazine "Popular Science".
Dog powered vehicle Texas 1930
At least in our modern reincarnation of using dogs as vehicle motors, the dogs are running freely again, and not trapped in a tread wheel.
Despite the fact that the laws against dogcarts have never been rescinded on either side of the Atlantic, dogcarting as a sport and an entertainment for families seems to be on the rise in many places. This activity seems to do no harm and the dogs seem to like it. Therefore let us hope that nobody notices that big dog pulling a cart containing a happy child lest someone lest they decide to dust off a musty old law of that long past century and put a stop to such practices. If they do that same legal curmudgeon might also choose to bring penalties against the use of our newly reinvented dog-powered scooters and bicycles. That would be a needless and pointless action—however those laws are still on the books.