2 September 2013

Biking with your Dog: Your Options



Old School, River-Dog, Baby-Belle and Secret Weapon

Biking with your Dog

 

If you want to bike with your dog, you have a few options. If you want to work on mushing commands and enjoy great speeds, bikejoring might be the way for you! A dog running beside the bike with an attachment, such as a Springer, or Walky-Doggie are also excellent options if you want more control and a better work out. If you are looking for a leash free alternative, your third option is to train your dog to be a trail dog, and run along behind your bike.   No matter what you do, bring plenty of water for you and your dog!

 

Biking with your dog, while holding onto the leash is dangerous.  It does not give you proper control over the bike or the dog. 


Attachments


When you run your dog with an attachment on your bike, the dog is running beside you. Generally you want to keep the dog to your right, so you can pass oncoming trail users with your dog on the right hand side of the trail. Some people running multiple dogs put the attachments on both sides of their bike. It is best to avoid putting attachments on both sides of your bike if you are running in areas where you will encounter multiple other trail users. The dogs, plus the bike will take up a lot of the trail width, which other users may not appreciate.

 
You lose the option of steering the dogs away from trouble as easily. Say you are biking down a path, and there is a smelly dead thing on the trail, with a dog on one side of the bike, you can simply steer your bike between yourself and the smelly dead thing, while keeping the dog moving forward. With a dog on each side, your options are limited.

If your dog is aggressive to other dogs, seek the help of a trainer before you attempt to bike with your dog. Managing this behaviours while on a bike is unsafe.

Proper gear for running your dog beside your bike will be a walking harness. This differs from a harness designed to stop a dog from pulling in that it has a clip or ring on the back of the dogs shoulders. Ensure that your dog can not reach the front wheel while attached to the bike. If your dog lunges after another animal, or trips, catching part of their body in your front wheel will be dangerous for you, and devastating for your dog. Ensure you remove any training collars from your dog, and do not attach the dog to the bike by a collar.

Do not run your dog in an X-back harness while attached to the side of your bike. The point of attachment is too far back, and the dog is at risk of contacting the front wheel of the bike.


Serious skijorers and people training pulling dogs, stick to a sledding harness for pulling, and a walking harness for not pulling in. Your dog quickly will learn what behaviour is expected with what gear you bring out. If you are biking as a way to condition you and your skidog for the upcoming season, then stick to your skijoring harness for pulling out front, and a walking harness for running alongside. Often people who have wanted a jump start on their season have set back a good pulling dog, by inadvertently training it to run alongside rather than pull out front. You train what you practice, and you practice what you train.

With your dog attached to your bike, ensure that you are running when it is cool enough for your dog, and safe enough for your dog.
 
Running your dog on pavement or hard surfaces will wear the pads and can damage the dog's joints. Look for well shaded trails, with access to swimming or drinking water. The best trails will be packed dirt, or woodchiped.
Some companies market dog booties for summer use to protect the dog's paws. While this sounds like a good idea, keep in mind that dogs “sweat” through their pads. Putting boots on in the summertime will heat your dog faster. So keep it simple, if the surface isn't safe to run your dog on, don't.

Trail Dog

Before you heard out with your dog off leash, check the trail system that you are planning to use. I often bike with my dogs off leash, but I always bike the area first to scout it for potential problems.
Before I bring a dog out on the bike trail, I do some focus work with the dog. Some basic obedience and a “Touch” command work well. I say “High Five” and the dog comes and touches their nose to my hand. This I teach first on foot, then on the bike while not moving, then on the bike while moving. Having some sort of focus on you, means you can pass other trail users, or distractions easily.
 
 
 
 
Some other behaviours that work well for a trail dog are:
Staying behind the bike. If your dog is heeling behind or beside your bike, it's easier to keep track of them, you see wildlife before they do, and they aren't at risk of getting hit by the bike on the downhills or slippery sections.
  1. Coming to your side. If I want the dogs to run on one side or another, they are trained to come to one side of my body or the other. This is a handy behaviour on the trail so I can position them where I would like them.
  2. Stay. If you need to clear a section of the trail, adjust something on your bike, or consult your map, it's nice to have a dog who is going to stay put and not run off! Work on your stay so it's reliable and you know your dog will hold it.
  3. Out Front. Sometimes I send the dogs out in front of me, on a steep hill, or if I want to see how deep a puddle on the trail is, I can ask the dogs to run ahead of me. They love this command, and it really gets their speed going. Which is also great motivation to keep me moving forward.
Before you head out, ensure your dog is fit enough to join you as a trail dog, you are setting the pace and your dog will be working hard to keep up. When in doubt, ask your vet. Monitor your dog for signs of lameness during and after the run. My dog, Old School, was able to bike with me until she was 15. As long as we avoided trails that weren't too steep, or muddy, she kept a good trot and enjoyed her runs.
Sometimes I put a bear bell on the dog's collars so I can easily hear where they are while I am riding, and I don't have to look down. These are also handy in more remote areas where other trail users may not be expecting a pack of dogs and a bike to sneak up behind them.


 

Bikejoring

 
You want to train your dog for bikejoring start with a good book or join a local dry land mushing club. Bikejoring is fast, and because your dog is tethered to the bike, there's a lot more that can go wrong. Bikejoring is not for the novice or the faint of heart.
Start with training your dog in some basic obedience. Once you have good control over your dog, work on foot with your dog in harness. Have your dog “Line Out”, which means pulling the line out tight. This ensures there are no tangles and there won't be a huge jerk when the dog hits the gang line hard. A dog who is standing and yapping at you on the start line is a danger to himself and you.


 
Once you are moving forward a “Tighten Up” command will ensure that the line is always tight. A line which is starting to droop will get caught up in the bike, flipping the rider or injuring the dog by pulling him into the wheel.
Your dog will also need to have a “Slow” or a “Stop” command. You can't simply rely on the brakes to slow a dog. A powerful motivated dog will only see the application of the brakes as a challenge and only dig in harder. A tip works to pump on the brakes to get the dogs attention, at the same time as giving the command to slow or stop.
If your dog can do all of this, while you are on foot, then you are ready for adding the bike. Do not simply attach the dog to your bike, and head out to chase other teams. Bikejoring is a sport with many risks. Manage the risks so you and your dog can enjoy the sports for years to come.

More ways to bike with your dog? Check out Paws and Pedals.