The Basics of Bikejoring With Your Dog
You’ve heard about bikejoring and you want to give it a go with your pooch. Here’s what you’ll need and what you’ll need to know before you get started.
Bikejoring is not for the faint of heart. The sport involves hooking your dog up to the front of your bike and navigating the trails. Sounds like a good idea? You bet! It’s an awesome way to enjoy the trails with your best friend. Sounds like an accident waiting to happen? You bet! Bikejoring is inherently dangerous and not for the faint of heart, or uninitiated.
Whatever bike you have is likely good enough to start bikejoring with. Take it into your local bike shop and have it tuned up. This will ensure your bike is in good condition for bikejoring and will also extend the life of your bike. Even if your bike looks fine, there are things a bike mechanic will notice and be able to alert you to or fix.
From there, you need a properly fitted harness for your dog. I prefer to bikejor my dogs in shoulder style mushing harnesses. Each manufacturer will have guidelines to properly fit the harness, but in general, it will sit a few inches below where the dog’s collar sits, but high up enough on the shoulders so it doesn’t impede their running movement. There might be some trial and error in fitting a harness, it doesn’t mean your dog is oddly shaped, or that there is necessarily anything wrong with the harness. It just means you need to try a different model. Any outfitter you contact loves to chat about their gear, and will be able to guide you in the right direction.
To connect your dog to the bike, you need to use a line with a bungee. Everyone has their own preference for the length of a line. In short, (pun intended) a line should be between 8-10 feet long. Long enough for the dog to feel comfortable in front of the bike, and short enough that it is still easy to manage. Many bikejorers use bayonets, antennas, or plastic pipes to suspend the towline above the front wheel, and to prevent it from tangling between the wheel and forks. Regardless, if you use a bayonet or not, training a proper “Line Out” command is essential.
Another essential is a helmet. A proper fitting bike helmet is a must, and cheaper than a funeral. Check the fit and straps making any adjustments as needed. Many helmets are sold with extra foam pads, ensuring you can get a perfect fit. It is not recommend you use helmets intended for other sports. Crashes off a bike are very different than crashes on a skateboard of falls off a horse. A bike helmet is designed and tested to offer the maximum protection for the user.
Bikejoring is dangerous. The moving parts of the bike combined with attaching a dog amplifies the likelihood of potential problems. Before you get started, there is some work to do.
Begin training your dog on foot. Ensure that everything you want your dog to do at great speeds on the bike, is understood and rock solid while you are on your feet. Harm reduction people. This includes no randomly running after bunnies and squirrels as well as controlled turns and stops.
In my opinion, the most important behaviour you can teach your bikejoring companion is a proper “Line Out”. Easy to do, it’s the basis for a well-controlled mushing experience. Begin by placing the dog in a Sit Stay. Walk forward and place a treat on a target, placed on the ground about 6 feet in front of the dog. Return to the dog and release them. The dog will run forward to the treat. Offer praise as soon as they reach the treat. When the dog has reached the treat, collect the line and move forward. Never call the dog back or reel them into you. The ultimate goal of Line Out, and the ultimate reward is the forward movement. That’s the key to any successful mushing, moving forward.
Once your dog is performing pretty solid “Line Outs” increase the time they wait at the end of the line before you walk forward. Over time you will want to build this up to a point in that you can get ready to pedal and head off down the trail. A well trained Line Out means less stressful starts and less chance of injury with the dog keeping the line tight and out away from the wheels.
Bikejoring is a perfect spring and fall weather sport, while the air is nice and crisp, and not too hot. A dog running at top speed, vehicle also pulling a bike, is akin to you running a sprint race and carrying dumbbells. Seriously hard work. Avoid hot days and always offer your dog plenty of fresh water.
The jury is still out in regards to running your dog on pavement. There have been no long term studies done as to the danger of pavement on dog’s joints. But we do know that fast, fresh and energetic dogs are in danger of blowing their pads. A painful condition in which the skin is ripped off the bottom of the pad due to abrasive surfaces.
Pavement also presents the issue of other trail users. Either families out for a bike ride, dog walkers (hopefully on leash) and cyclists. The more traffic, the more potential for problems. Dirt trails through the woods are worth the drive and present fewer problems.
But by far, the biggest dangers to bikejoring are untrained dogs and inexperienced owners. Train your dog properly to ignore distractions, keep the line tight and to listen. The more training you have done with the dog, the more communication the two of you have together. Keep things slow, and always leave your dog wanting more. Short runs are great for the first while, while you two figure this out and get your groove on.
One final word, for those readers new to mushing. This is an addictive sport. You can start, and you will get hooked. Soon your garage will be full of gear and your house will be filled with dogs. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!