Reviewed for accuracy on June 6, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
Have you ever taken your dog with you on a bike ride? Maybe you haven’t because you’re worried that your dog can’t keep up with you or that her leash will get caught in the wheels.
But, there are ways to include your dog safely. Here are a few basic safety tips for biking with a dog.
Getting Your Dog Ready for Exercise
If you think your dog actually has the energy and stamina to trot alongside you as you bike, great! This is a perfect way to get exercise.
But even if your dog appears to be in the best of health, you should have your veterinarian check her over before starting a new exercise routine, like jogging—which is essentially what this is.
You will want to be sure that your dog isn’t too old or young for sustained workouts and that she doesn’t have any underlying health conditions that could be worsened by strenuous exercise.
If your dog is overweight, jogging is usually not the best way to begin a new routine. You should first start your dog on a regular walking routine before progressing to longer, more strenuous workouts—like running alongside a bike.
Choosing Safe Dog Biking Gear
Once your dog has been cleared for exercise, you can buy the necessary supplies to keep your dog safe. Essential gear for biking with a dog includes:
A bicycle dog leash that attaches to your bike to keep your dog away from the wheels (as opposed to holding the lead up by the handlebars)
A reflective dog harness (attaching the lead to a neck collar could be dangerous; attach the lead to a fitted body harness instead)
Reflective tape (as an alternative to getting a reflective harness, you may also apply reflective tape to your dog’s current harness)
Blinking lights for your dog and bike (you can get a collar that has lights embedded in it or use a light that attaches to your dog’s collar)
A small dog first aid kit
An extra dog leash to use when your dog is not attached to the bike
Water bottles for you and your dog
Some extra supplies that can make the ride more enjoyable:
Dog boots (hiking grade to protect your dog’s feet from jagged objects and from slippery, hot or cold surfaces)
Reflective, waterproof rain gear
Cold weather gear for inclement weather
How to Safely Start Biking With a Dog
If your dog has never been around your bike before, start off by letting her investigate the bike when it’s standing still. Then, slowly begin walking the bike with your dog nearby on a leash, giving her treats as she keeps pace next to you.
It might take several practice sessions before your dog is comfortable walking near the bike, so don’t rush her. Once your dog is comfortable walking near the bike, you can get on and start riding.
Teach Your Dog Biking Cues
After you and your dog feel confident in your practice “runs,” you can begin teaching your dog the cues you will be using for biking. These include cues for slowing down, making turns, stopping or bringing your dog’s attention back to you when she is distracted by something.
These “learn-as-you-go” cues should first be taught when walking your dog, then transitioned to biking once your dog understands them.
Pick simple words for each cue and use treats to reinforce your dog’s behavior. To teach your dog to change direction, simply say “this way” in an upbeat voice and whistle prior to making a turn, then give your dog a treat as she falls in line beside you.
To help your dog focus on you and not distractions in the environment, teach your dog to respond to the word “watch.” Start off by saying the word “watch” in a happy tone, and then reward your dog with a small treat when she looks at your face. (It will take many repetitions before your dog reflexively responds to the “watch” cue when out in the real world.)
Don’t forget to reward your dog with small treats as you practice. Over time, she will become accustomed to these new cues and will be able to anticipate your actions.
Acclimate Your Dog to Running Alongside a Bike
If possible, try to use paths that are soft, like grassy or dirt paths. Don't expect your dog to be able to run for long distances in the beginning. Dogs need some time to acclimate to an exercise routine.
Start off by riding at a walking speed on an easy path for a short distance. As she gets used to this over a week or two, build up to a trotting speed after a 10-minute warm-up walk.
Observe your dog at all times and stop immediately if she appears tired, is panting heavily, loses coordination, or is drooling excessively (these may be signs of hyperthermia). If she seems to be slowing down, stop and allow her to rest and have a drink.
Remember, this isn't a race. Pedal at a pace that will allow your dog to keep up easily. Watch your dog closely. Any distraction (another dog, animal or person) that causes your dog to pull away can cause both of you to take a tumble.
During the ride, and when you take breaks, remember to give your dog lots of praise for being a good biking partner.
Practice Bicycle Leash Safety
Do not use a regular leash in place of a bike leash assembly. Holding on to a regular leash while biking or attaching a regular leash directly to your bike’s frame are both dangerous.
If your dog pulls in a different direction, even only slightly, it could cause you to lose balance and fall. The leash can also easily get caught up in the spokes of the bike.
Most bike baton attachments for biking with dogs have a spring system that absorbs pulling motions to protect both dog and rider. The special leash is built into the baton assembly.
If you do need to stop, do not walk away from your bike with your dog still attached to it. If the bike accidentally falls on your dog, she could get hurt, or she may panic and try to run from the clattering, falling bike, causing her to drag it behind her. This type of experience could traumatize your dog from wanting to be around bikes.
What If Your Dog Can’t Keep up With Your Bike?
There are a lot of reasons for why a dog might not be able to keep up with a bike. It may be because she is still a puppy, in which case it is not recommended, since strenuous exercise can affect their bone growth.
Overweight dogs that can only do short bursts of light exercise, and older or health-compromised dogs are also not going to be good candidates for cycling. However, there are other ways for your dog to enjoy a bike ride with you.
Also, keep in mind that the older a dog gets, the more likely it is for them to have degenerative joint disease (arthritis). Though running may seem easy for them, they may suffer from soreness or stiff joints once rested. Taking slow warm-up and cooldown walks is especially important for older dogs.
Bike Trailers and Baskets for Dogs
If your dog is under 20 pounds, consider a specialty bike basket that’s made just for pets. A bike basket is an easy way to go biking with your dog without having to worry about them being able to keep up.
Remember to always use a dog harness that secures your dog safely in the basket so that they cannot jump out and get hurt or cause a hazard.
Another option, which is great for multiple dogs and larger dogs, is a bike trailer/carrier. There are several trailer options, but the best are the ones designed specifically for carrying dogs.
Dog-friendly bike trailers have built-in harness systems to prevent your dog from jumping out and a cover for sheltering your dog during hot or inclement weather. Some trailers can even enclose your dog while leaving the top open for her to put her head out to enjoy the ride.
As with any new equipment, give your dog plenty of time to get used to a bike basket or a bike leash for dogs before setting off on a ride.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Sergei Gnatiuk
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