The benefits of biking with your dog, and some precautions
When you take your dog along with you on a bike ride, you're doing more than just tiring out a high-energy dog. You're also engaging his brain and other senses, as the dog travels quickly over a dirt trail or park path trying to match your speed. In addition, you're bonding with your dog. Having fun together is one of the best ways to feel more connected to your canine best friend and being more connected has benefits like your dog being more likely to listen and pay attention to you. Stronger obedience skills is something every dog owner wants.
When biking with your dog, it's important to take into account the same things that you would consider when running with your dog. These include knowing your dog's physical abilities and limitations on the speed and duration of the runs, your dog's age (too young or too old for the rigors of running over long distances), the potential for overheating or breathing difficulty, the surface on which your dog is running and the dog's need for water. All of these factors need to be weighed and adjusted to your dog's abilities as you get started, and they're covered in-depth in our guide to running with your dog.
Not every dog should run alongside a bike, and instead may need to be a passenger in a basket or cart. Toy and large breed dogs, dogs with short legs (like dachshunds and basset hounds), short-nosed dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome (like pugs and bulldogs) all are not good candidates to run alongside a bike. Rather, this activity is something meant for sporting-type dogs that have an easy time running and love to run all day long. Indeed, for these dogs, biking may be one of the best ways they can burn off extra energy on a daily basis.
If you do have a dog that you want to take on bike rides, there are lots of options for safe baskets and trailers for dogs of all sizes.
Photo: Little Moon/Shutterstock
Riding a bike while juggling a leash is dangerous. If the leash is tied to the bike's handlebars, your dog can easily pull you over if she tugs to go in a different direction or decides to go chase a squirrel. Meanwhile, if you're holding onto the leash with one hand and the handlebar with the other, you run the risk of your dog escaping if she gets scared and bolts. Plus, you have a greater risk of taking a tumble since you only have one hand available for steering and breaking.
The safest way to bike with your dog is to use an attachment that connects your dog to the body of your bike, such as the seat post. There are a range of options in stores that will maximize safety for you, will minimize your dog's ability to pull, and will keep your dog a safe distance away from the bike so you won't get tangled up. Popular options include the Springer, the WalkyDog, the Bike Tow Leash and the Petego Cycleash.
When connecting your dog to whatever attachment you decide is best for you, consider using a harness instead of attaching the lead to the collar. This minimizes the impact to your dog's neck. Too much pulling or tugging on a dog's neck can cause injuries ranging from damage to the trachea to spinal injuries. Using a harness takes the pressure off your dog's neck and ensures easy breathing. You can pick up something like the Ruffwear Webmaster harness or other quality harness, which you can then use for hikes and other adventures.
If you decide to stick with a collar instead of a harness, make sure it is a flat collar. Do not use choke chains, prong collars or other corrective devices as these create a significant risk for serious injury. They will not help and will only harm your dog if used while running alongside a bike. If you want greater control over a dog that is easily excited or distracted, consider using a head harness such as the Gentle Leader or Halti. This will provide greater control with far less risk of injury.
In addition to a bike attachment and a harness, also consider using a reflective collar or reflective tape on the harness to increase your dog's visibility. Even though people might notice you on the bike, they may not notice your dog. Reflective gear makes sure everyone on the road or path sees your dog and gives you both room to pass.
Before you take your dog along for a bike ride, make sure you get him comfortable with running alongside your bike. (Photo: Ivonne Wierink/Shutterstock)
Training your dog to run alongside your bike
If you’ve decided that your dog is the right body type and at the right fitness level to benefit from running with you while you bike, the most important next step is training. Your dog will need to learn to be comfortable with a moving bike, to stick with you despite distractions, and most important, to build up the strength and fitness for longer runs.
If your dog hasn’t been around a moving bike before, start out by walking your dog next to the bike, with you on one side of the bike and the dog on the other. Reward your dog with praise and treats as you go, giving him a positive association with being next to the bike. As you move, work in specific commands you’ll need during your rides, such as slowing down, turning, stopping, or refocusing on you. For instance, as you walk your dog next to the bike, speed up and then slow down while giving a command like, “slooooow.” As your dog slows to match the new pace, give praise.
Next up, leash your dog to whatever equipment you’ve connected to your bike for safe riding and walk your bike again with your dog attached, going through the same motions and allowing your dog to get used to being attached to the gear.
Finally, it’s time to hop on the bike. Start out very slowly, letting your dog simply walk or slowly trot alongside you. Go a short distance on a wide trail or path that gives you plenty of room with few distractions. You want to set up your dog for successful rides without scares or accidents, so that you create a strong foundation of enjoying these bike rides rather than being anxious about them.
Practice making turns, changing pace, stopping and, if your dog gets distracted and starts to pull, bringing the attention back to you.
Stop often for water breaks and keep an eye on how tired your dog is getting. If he begins to pant heavily, lose coordination, drool heavily or show other signs of overheating and exhaustion, stop the ride immediately.
Make your rides longer based on your dog’s fitness level and how well your dog is getting the hang of running alongside you. Remember, start slow and gradually build up your dog’s endurance and fitness for longer rides.
Rules for the road
Select a safe and comfortable place to ride. This is an important part of making bike rides beneficial rather than dangerous. Choose a place with soft ground if possible, such as park paths where your dog can be on dirt or grass.
Avoid streets with traffic, even if there are bike lanes. Riding in the street with your dog in traffic is dangerous for many reasons, the most obvious of which is you run a greater risk of being hit by a car since the two of you as a unit become a much wider target in the road. If you have no choice but to ride in an urban or suburban setting, select a quiet neighborhood with little traffic and again, take it slow and be exceedingly careful.
Take the time to warm up. Spend 10-15 minutes at a walk or a very slow jog to allow your dogs muscles to warm up, even if your dog is athletic and fit. Just as with humans, hopping up off the couch and breaking into a run without warming up increases a dog's risk of a muscle tear or joint injury.
Check often to see how your dog’s energy level and breathing are doing. Many dogs have a tendency to push themselves to the point of collapse, so be your dog’s coach and make sure she doesn’t overdo it. Allow time for the dog to have water, cool down, and catch her breath. This is especially important on warm days.
Keep the pace at a steady trot. As is true with most four-legged animals, this is the all-day pace that efficiently gets them from one place to another. It’s the perfect pace for burning off energy without overdoing it.
Never leave your dog unattended while tied to the bike. If the bike falls on your dog, it could not only hurt the animal, but possibly make him afraid of the bike. You’ll have to spend a long time training your dog to overcome that new fear.
Give lots of praise to your bike-ride buddy. Let your dog know he's doing a great job when he's sticking with you and avoiding distraction. Getting to run around while receiving plenty of encouragement will make your dog adore this fun form of exercise.