Tips for bike riding with dogs! Why safety is so important!
First things first. Why should anyone be concerned whether someone has actually trained the dog to trot or run alongside a bike? Because it can be dangerous, not only for you and your dog, but for others as well. All kinds of accidents can occur, some more milder than others, but when people start really getting hurt, it’s time to review exactly how we look at this activity and what we do to ensure the safest conditions.
And this would be entirely pointless if it wasn’t also acknowledged the exercise benefits for dogs! Believe it, I know, I bike my own. However, keep in mind, biking dogs is not for everyone and every dog. It’s wise to check with a veterinarian who can assess whether biking would be beneficial and your dog is physically healthy.
Since biking dogs can be dangerous it’s wise to train dogs using specific verbal signals enabling you, the human part of the equation to manage the dog’s behavior and avoid accidents and injuries.
When first training my last Doberman Josef, I thought about my signals and chose easy to remember, short, and appropriate to the behavior you want your dog to perform. For example, similar to training a dog for walking/heeling I chose standard left and right for turns, stop or whoa, used in riding horses and slow, slow, slow when it was necessary to slow the dog down, but not stop. This could be used when passing walkers, other cyclists and in traffic. These are the basic signals necessary for most biking situations.
You may find it necessary to add other signals that may be unique to your environment, dog, and yourself. I chose these because they are commonly used in dog training, horseback riding, and driving vehicles, they make sense and easily remembered. When you are riding a bicycle and managing a dog, you do not want to be inconsistent giving signals, the purpose in taking the time to train properly is to avoid accidents and serious injuries.
The best gait or pace for most dogs, in good running condition is trotting. The following quotes should help explain why this gait might be your best choice. Keep in mind, the distance you are traveling, the present training condition of your dog and their physical health. Use the same strategy you would use to begin a new exercise-training program. Slowly train, easing your dog into longer and longer rides. You might want to track your training progress in a journal and don’t forget to keep in mind weather conditions, both heat and cold and if necessary fit your dog with appropriate gear. When it’s hot, check the pavement, be aware of dog’s sensitive footpads.
“The trot is a common gait in all domestic quadrupeds. It is well-suited for rough, irregular ground and for traveling long distances at a fair rate of speed. Work is spread evenly over all four limbs, and diagonal support makes it easy to maintain equilibrium. The trot is the natural foraging gait of most wild animals.” (Gait Foot Fall Patterns)
“The most efficient working dogs are those that can work the longest at their appointed duties with the least amount of effort. The efficiently moving dog travels in a straight line with the minimum amount of energy. It requires that there be no bouncing, rolling, or yaw (twisting on the vertical axis).” (Doberman on the Move©)
What happened to someone I know and why I’m taking the time to write this!
As I am writing this, someone I know is recovering from surgery. She broke her hand during a routine walk with her dog, something she does two-three times daily, in her neighborhood. This accident happened because someone was biking a large dog and lost control of the dog when the two dogs got overly excited to meet! This is a common problem for many of us just walking our dogs!
I have no idea what if any training the biked dog received. Generally, when I see people biking dogs, the handler/owner is doing a good job. The dog is running at a reasonable pace and most of all the dog appears under good control, the dog appears to be trained, the owner is not biking the dog willy nilly [lacking thought].
On occasion, I have observed dogs being biked that do not appear trained. In these few instances, the red flags are dogs not running smoothly; they appear jumpy, running out in front of the front bicycle wheel. Biking dogs for exercise should require the same type of considerations we use when starting an exercise program. We want exercise to be enjoyable if not fun, but we also want to avoid injuries, this means we should put a little thought into the activity.
Equipment and other stuff to bring along for the ride!
- Water and bowl (collapsible/travel water bowl)
- Energy bars, they make these for dogs too!
- Emergency kit for long distance riding
- Head collars
- Good 6’ leather lead
Using Head Collars and Why!
Unless you are 100% certain your dog will not react to another dog or person, chase a moving object, automobile, truck, another bicyclist, roller blader, runner/jogger, a motorcyclist, a live moving object, squirrel, deer, any other animal your dog might chase, then you might be safe enough to use a harness. If you’re uncertain how your dog will react to other environmental stimuli, the best option is to use a head collar. The head collar acts the same way a bridle acts when we are riding a horse. Controlling the animal’s head gives you the best chance to manage the animal’s behavior. Using a head collar generally requires some training or getting used to, so take the time to introduce this type of equipment properly. Most if not all these products come with instructions for fitting and use.
Other Useful Sources:
How to Introduce Your Dog to Cycling Train your dog to behave around bikes—and maybe come along for the ride
Gait Foot Fall Patterns: http://vanat.cvm.umn.edu/gaits/index.html
Cycling Gypsies: http://cyclinggypsies.wordpress.com/dogs-on-bikes/
Graphic: Bicycle ~ Penny Farthing Cycling Dog