Biking 101 with your dog

Biking is a great way to exercise your dog.  Teaching your dog to run next to a bike has great benefits.

  • Your dog can run as fast as it desires!
  • Your dog is under your control during the entire ride
  • Your dog can truly relax after running for miles
  • Your dog will get into great shape.
  • Its fun!

Biking with your dog, even at high speeds is surprisingly safe, but there are pointers and areas of concern I would like to discuss below before you get started.

TRAINING: Your dog needs to be comfortable around a bike before it will run at full capacity.  To this end, you should take as much time as your dog needs when training these initial steps.

  1. Setup your bike so that it leaning on a wall, pole or car without the kick stand engaged.  The bike should be in such a position so that when you walk by it you can simply grab the handle bars with one hand and continue walking in the same direction leading the bike with one hand and your leashed dog in the other hand.
  2. After your bike is setup in the proper location, then leash your dog and go for a short walk.
  3. Walk back and forth closer and closer to the bike until your dog completely ignore the bike. (It may ignore it right away… it may be bored of walking back and forth… thats ok)
  4. Timing is key and cannot be explained, but when you feel your dog is ready, grab the bike with one hand as you pass it.
  5. Walk with the dog in one hand and the bike in the other hand for a while.
  6. Once the dog is comfortable, i.e. not looking at the bike and not concerned about it, then start to up the antes by bouncing the front tire, wiggling the front tires, etc.  The point is to make the bike as noisy as possible.  Initially your dog will be concerned, but will soon realize nothing bad is happening when the bike is making all those noises.
  7. After a while (when the time is right) put one leg over the bike and on the pedal so the pedal with the foot on it is at the bottom, or closest point to the ground.  Now you are skipping along with one foot on the pedal and one foot on the ground.  Keep this up until your dog gets comfortable with this new level.
  8. Slowly and when the time is right, make the transition to two feet on the pedals.  No need to pedal fast at this point or even at all.  Let the dog go at what ever pace it wants too.  If the dog is jogging or running with a loose leash then it is comfortable with this new activity and will likely grow to like it more and more with practice.

NOTE: If during any of the steps your dog starts to really pull away from the bike (to the side) then go back to the previous step until it is truly comfortable with that step before progressing again.
NOTE: Initially you want to hold the leash in one hand while you control the bike with the other hand for the steps above.  Eventually you want to transition your dog to being leashed to the bike.  That is by far the safest way to bike with dogs.

BIKE SETUP: Your bike needs to be setup properly in order for you and your dog to be safe.

  • Attach the leash to the seat post or bike rack (if available) or use one of those commercially available dog biking attachments.
  • If attaching it to the seat post simply pass the end of the leash (the collar clip) through the handle around the seat post, then wrap the length around until you reach the desired length.  See the next point…
  • Regardless of how you attach the leash, the end of the leash (the part that attaches to your dog’s collar) should not go past the center of the front bike tire.  If it can reach beyond that then your dog will likely be able to cut in front of your bike (to chase a squirrel or another dog) and likely get hurt.  This is KEY!
  • Likewise you don’t want to have the length of the leash too short.  If its too short your dog’s running stride will be compromised.  An ideal length is between 2.5-3 feet give or take a few inches depending on your particular bike setup.
  • Attaching the leash to a bike rack (over the back tire) is generally better than directly tied to the seat post because the angle of the leash from the bike rack will not interfere with your pedaling.  When the leash is attached to the seat post only, the leash will likely rub your calves with each pedal revolution.  Not a big deal with pants on, but can be annoying if riding in shorts.

SAFETY: Keep the following points in mind when biking with your dog:

  • Wear a helmet, especially at night when biking on uneven trails
  • Bike on sidewalks or biking trails as much as possible
  • Slowly accustom your dog to biking on pavement (streets and sidewalks).  Your dog’s paws need time to develop callouses.
  • Despite your having tried to train your dog to be comfortable running next to a bike, it may still want to pull at a 45 degree angle way from the bike.  If you are biking on pavement (street or sidewalk) this angle will likely wear out your dog’s foot pads and may cause them to bleed.  Either switch your dog to different sides of the bike periodically or try to run it on the grass while you bike on the pavement.
  • If you encounter a loose dog during your biking, if you keep your dog moving quickly in one direction, 9 times out of 10 the loose dog will eventually lose interest and give up the chase.  This is not theoretical!  It works.  We at the Ruff Break have encountered this situation many times.
  • Some situations require you to get closer control over your dog.  There are several techniques.  Reach down with one hand and grab the leash to pull your dog in closer to your bike while you pass a distraction.  Similarly, you can use your foot and leg to “reel” the leash in closer to you and the bike temporarily.  This is a great technique and enables you to stay in control with both hands even while your dog is trying to lunge at something that it should not be lunging at.

HYDRATION: Especially during the warmer month, you dog can become overheated quickly if its not running in the shade.  Stop every 15 to 20 minutes to let it rest, pant, and drink some water

DISTANCES: Every dog is unique and every dog’s physical capabilities are different.  Sure there are some averages that can give you a ball park range of how far to go with your dog but nothing beats tracking your dogs individual abilities.  At the Ruff Break we regularly measure the dogs we exercise.  See Measuring performance for details.  When your dog is new to biking, you don’t want to over do it.  This means a mile to a mile and a half is generally ok at relatively slow speeds.  Once a dog has been biking comfortably for a while, its not uncommon for them to run between 4-6 miles at an average speed of 6-10 mph.   Higher drive, higher intensity dogs generally run at speeds averaging 11-16 mph and covering distances of 8-10 miles or more.

I hope to see you on the trail… with your dog!