If you’re anything like me, you probably walk your dog at least a couple of times a day, and maybe you visit the dog park regularly as well so that your best buddy can get a great workout with other dogs. The last time I was at the dog park, Debbie told me that she’d started biking with Chuck, her beagle.
Well, I’ve seen people biking with dogs, but given that I have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, I kind of doubt that I’d have the level of coordination needed to operate a bicycle and handle Janice and Leroy in the bargain. Still, Debbie was so enthusiastic about the whole thing, I thought I’d read up on it a bit. Honestly, it sounded a bit dangerous. But I’ve learned, thanks to my insatiable curiosity, that it really is possible to ride a bike and exercise your dog at the same time. You just have to know how to bike safely with your dog. There are seven essential steps, but before you consider them, you should probably check with your medical doctor and also your dog’s veterinarian.After all, this is going to be a more strenuous form of exercise, so you want to make sure that both of you are in good enough shape. Once you have the go-ahead, here’s how it’s done.
Well, I guess the first thing you’re going to need is a bike! Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to manage even a 5-speed (it’s that walking and chewing gum thing again). I loved the coaster bike I had when I was a kid – the kind that all you had in the way of brakes was your feet stepping backward on the pedals. It’s up to you, though. However, if you’re new to biking, I’d suggest not going with something so complicated that you’re focusing more on how to shift gears than you are on what’s going on with your dogs.
Now, you need a helmet too. That’s probably the most important piece of equipment, no matter how good a biker you are. If you bike without a helmet, you’re just begging to have your melon smashed on a curb, and if you die, then what’s going to happen to your dog? So, on that topic, I have just three words for you: get a helmet.
Bright clothing is also a good idea. The way people drive these days, you want to be as visible as possible to motorists. Take along a water bottle, too, because you are going to be getting a good deal of exercise and you don’t want to end up dehydrated. Keep in mind also that tires can puncture, so you should invest in a repair kit. And make sure you have your ID on you, just in case of an accident.
Your dog needs to be visible, too, so get him a colorful collar – I have a friend who sells collars with LED flashing lights, and believe me, one of those would get your dog noticed! What you don’t need, or want, though, is a leash.
Now I’m sure you’re saying “But Ash, how am I going to keep my dog under control?” I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me tell you why it’s a really bad idea to bike with your dog’s leash in your hand or tied to the seat or handlebars. It’s just not safe.
If you’re holding the leash, and your dog becomes distracted, he could very easily pull you off your bike, run in front of you, or even pull you into traffic. The leash could also get tangled in the spokes of the wheel, and then both of you are on the pavement looking up at the sky.
If you attach the leash to the seat, then you’re upsetting your center of gravity. I don’t know about you, but I have big dogs, and I can tell you that if either Janice or Leroy decided to take off after a squirrel, there’s no way I’d be able to stay in control with the leash tied to the seat. Then there’s also the danger of your dog getting tangled up in your bike.
Fortunately, there are things you can buy that will make your ride safer. There’s a device called a WalkyDog that attaches to the seat post (I know, I told you not to attach the leash to the seat, but keep reading) and another called the Springer that fits onto the bike frame. They both work by using shock absorbers to reduce the effect if your dog starts to pull. They fit onto your dog’s harness or collar (and really, for maximum safety, you should be using a harness). If you want to bike with two dogs (as I would, if I could bike and chew gum at the same time), you can use a device on either side.
Remember when you first learned how to ride a bike? If you were anything like me, you were probably scared to death when you had to give up your tricycle and get on that two-wheeler.
I was a slow learner, too. I remember my dad holding onto the bike. And holding onto it some more. And picking me up when I fell off. And saying “Ash, you’re hopeless.” And then putting me back on the bike. And holding onto it. And – well, you get the idea.
Anyway, for most people it takes a session or two before it’s okay for Dad to let go. For some of us, it takes six or seven sessions, and even then, we fall off from time to time, and dad says “Ash, you’re hopeless,” and, well,enough about that.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that when it comes to biking, your dog has to learn, too. So you want him to be comfortable with the bike the way my dad didn’t make me comfortable with – oh, sorry, there I go again!
So show your dog around the bike before you set off. Let him get familiar with it. You could start off in the garage, just holding the bike and letting your dog sniff it. Tell him he’s a good boy and give him a treat. Then, put the bike on the floor, and maybe place a few treats around it. Then, start putting treats on the frame, the handlebars, and the pedals. By this time, your dog should be getting used to the bike, so stand it up, walk a bit, and let him follow you. Again, use treats and praise. Once he’s comfortable walking with both you and the bike, you can put him on leash and go for a walk.
To start with, just walk on flat ground. As your dog gets more confident, go up over a curb or through a puddle. Wobble the bike, turn it, go fast and slow. If your dog seems nervous, then dial it back a notch.You might have been trying to progress a bit too quickly.
It could take a day or two before your dog is fully comfortable with the bike, but that’s okay. After all, you weren’t biking with him before, so there’s no reason why you can’t take your time.
Okay, now you’ve got your dog walking happily beside you and your bike. Attach your WalkyDog or Springer, get on the bike and go for a nice slow ride. Just pedal slowly, and if your dog doesn’t seem to be apprehensive, you can pick up the pace a bit. Of course, you can lean down and offer a treat from time to time, and it’s probably a pretty safe bet that it won’t be long before your dog is trotting happily alongside you.
How far, how long and how fast you ride will depend in large measure on your dog. An older dog might not be up to quite as vigorous a ride as a younger one. You should also make sure to pack a bowl along. I did tell you to bring a water bottle for yourself, but remember that your dog could get dehydrated too, and a drink of water along the way might be most welcome. Also, watch to make sure that he’s not getting overly tired, and keep in mind that paws can hurt on hot asphalt. You want this to be a fun experience for your dog, and it’s important that you pay attention.
I probably don’t have to tell you that riding with your dog in heavy traffic could be very dangerous. Your city or town might have bike lanes, but they’re meant for bikes, not bikes and dogs.When you add a dog into the mix, you’re presenting a much larger obstacle for motorists. And if they get irritated and start honking their horns, it could scare your dog.
I’m really lucky.If I could ride a bike without falling all over my own feet and probably injuring my dogs in the process, I’d have access to dirt roads and lightly traveled paved motorways – not much traffic. If you live in the city, of course, you could always load up your bike and your dog and head out to an area like mine where it’s pretty safe to bike with your dog.
Senior dog owners might be wondering if they could ever enjoy the pleasure of having their dog along on a bike ride. The good news is you can! If you have a small dog, why not just get a basket for your bike and pop him in for a ride? Or, if you have a large dog, I’ve also seen bike trailers, similar to the ones people use for their kids, which can comfortably accommodate a dog. Just make sure to buckle him in, and it also wouldn’t hurt to provide him with a helmet, and maybe a pair of goggles to keep the dirt out of his eyes.
Most dogs would purely love to go along on a bike ride with their person, and most dogs can be trained quite easily to ride along with you as you cycle. The key is to lead into it gradually, and create positive associations with the bike.
I realize that I might sound a little crazy when I talk about safety precautions like goggles and helmets, but think of it this way: what would you do for a child? Don’t you love your dog as much as parents love their human children? So do what you need to do to protect your dog on the bike ride. They might seem a little bit cumbersome at first, but realistically, if an accident should occur, something like a helmet can save your dog’s life, and yours as well. So, both of you, wear your helmets, ride safely, and have a great time!