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Wheely Good Time: How To Cycle Sanely And Safely With Your Dog
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If you’d rather be on two wheels than two feet, then biking with your dog is the perfect activity. But before you peddle away, Kevin Roberts has some “wheely” great tips for you!
When it comes to biking with your dog, you have two options: Sane and safe, or fast and fun.
The sane and safe method is the more controlled approach, where your dog trots alongside of you and the bike. You pedal and your dog has to jog to keep pace. The fast and fun option, otherwise known as bikejoring, is for adrenaline junkies. When you’re bikejoring, your dog wears a specially designed harness while tied with a specially made leash to the bike (think of it as dog sledding on wheels).
This week, we are tackling the safe and sane option – this is perfect for people who just want to give their dog a good workout, while burning off some calories.
Even though this is a great option for the average dog owner, there are a few things we need to take a look at before you get rolling. Let’s start with your dog and your biking skills.
First off, is your dog fit and able to handle biking? Your dog needs to be at least a year old before undertaking the strenuous exercise of running along beside a bike. Short-muzzled dogs, dogs with existing injuries and overweight dogs should find another activity to partake in. Biking is hard work, and you don’t want to put undue stress on your dog. Dogs aim to please, and may push themselves too hard trying to please you and keep up.
Next, it’s time to assess your biking skills. Are you confident and comfortable on a bike? Are you able to stop quickly, and size up the trail ahead to avoid any surprises? This includes scanning for squirrels and other potential distractions/disasters!
If you have evaluated your dog and yourself, and you both meet the above-mentioned biking requirements, we can continue.
Before you attempt to bike with your dog, the two of you are going to need to have some communication system in place. It’s time to brush up on your basic obedience training. Work with your dog on the sit command, and his ability to focus and control his speed. A dog who can heel without pulling is a delight to bike with. The better behaved your dog is, the smooother and more enjoyable this experience will be for both of you. My dogs are trained for Left (Haw) and Right (gee) commands, so when I bike with them, I can tell them to expect a turn. A dog who yanks you back and forth across the sidewalk on a walk is not ready for a bike ride. You need to work on impulse control and a solid “Leave it” command before you can ride safely.
What Should My Dog Wear?
To properly outfit your dog for biking, he’ll need his regular collar with ID, and a properly fitting shoulder style harness that includes a solid back ring. The harness should be large enough on the neck that the dog has room to breathe, but not so large that it rides up to restrict airflow, or droops down and gets in the way of the dog’s legs. If you have a short haired dog, look for a harness with well-padded straps. This will help avoid hair loss where the harness rubs.
A harness designed to stop dogs from pulling isn’t suitable for biking with a dog – these types of harnesses attach from the front. If your dog got spooked or unsettled, it would be possible for your dog’s back end to get tangled up in the bike’s front tire. Many of these front-attaching harnesses are designed to limit the dog’s natural gait, so they can’t pull. Putting your dog in one of these harnesses and asking them to run would be very uncomfortable for him.
On that note, never run your dog on your bike with a leash connected to a collar, a pinch collar, or choke chain. There are too many things that can happen, so it’s better be safe than sorry (you dog should be wearing his regular collar, but for ID purposes only). If you need a pinch or choke collar to control your dog, you’re not ready for biking with your dog.
Where Should We Go?
Wherever you’re comfortable biking is the ideal place to go. Make sure the location is away from traffic, and enforces an on-leash dog policy. Biking with your dog through the off-leash dog park is asking for trouble! For daily exercise, I bike with my dogs in my neighbourhood. I bike along the sidewalk, and the dog that I am biking with runs along beside me on the grass. Having a special bike attachment that’s made just for dogs ensures my pooch stays on the grass. Grass is much safer for dogs to jog on, and easier on their pads than pavement.
If the area you are biking in has lots of hills, remember that while you coast down the hill, the dog still has to run to keep up! Go easy on the dog, and apply the brakes for a relaxed coast down the hill.
When Should We Go?
The best time to bike with your dog is in the early morning – the temperature is cooler and there are less people about. The surface your dog is running on will not be radiating heat like it does in the evening.
How To Hold The Leash
Let me start out by saying you should never wrap the leash around the handle bars. The safest option is to invest in an attachment for the side of your bike, so that your hands stay where they should be – on the handle bars! Make sure the attachment is secure enough on the bike so your dog won’t be able to pull it forward. It will keep the dog away from the wheels of the bike and still allow you to pedal without him being in the way.
If you must hold the leash in your hands while biking with your dog, bunch it up and hold onto the handle bars, rather than looping it around your wrist or around the bike. Seriously though… you’ll thank me after you buy a bike attachment, it’s honestly the best and safest way to go.
Set Your Seat Low
A handy tip I’ve learned in all my years of biking is to set your seat a little lower than you usually do. This allows for a lower center of gravity, which enables you to have a little more control over the bike and to help avoid falling.
With the right training, the right gear, and the right trails, biking with your dog is an awesome way for you to both get exercise. Always be mindful that your bike gives you a huge mechanical advantage over your dog. This means you don’t need to do nearly as much work to go fast, while your dog is lacking gears and has to really work to keep up. Pay attention to your dog, start out slow and keep your speed and a comfortable pace.