Bicycling with Dogs: Safety First

Safety is a very important consideration when biking with dogs. While many dogs have the ability to run fast for long periods, it isn’t necessarily good for them. A brisk walk is a much more reasonable pace — just a little faster than is comfortable for most humans; this is my approach to biking — it allows the dog to go at his or her pace, which is faster than mine. We go a little faster in short bursts (think how long they would run flat out to catch game and do a little less than that), but most of the time we go at a pace that is just a brisk walk for the dog. Before doing this, make sure your dog’s joints and foot pads are in good shape.
I prefer to have the dog on my right, so I can place myself between the dog I am working with and any potential problems coming the other way. Mostly this means other dogs or bicycles. As in all things, I recommend going slowly in the process of teaching dogs to bike. I also recommend some sort of device which controls the dog’s distance from the bicycle, in order to avoid collisions. I use the WalkyDog, and I am happy with it. There are other reasonable choices, also.

It is usually best to take a short walk before beginning the bicycling, so the dog has a chance to relieve him or her self. I make sure to stop often and give them a chance, as well — sniffing, peeing and defecating are important parts of exercise for dogs.

I start by attaching the WalkyDog to the dog’s harness, and walking them around a running track, to get them used to how that feels without the distractions of people or traffic. Then I walk them next to the bicycle while holding the WalkyDog in one hand, and the bike with the other, just help him or her be comforable. I offer lots of praise and treats for a confident stride.  If they show fear, then we stop, back up in our steps and acclimatize to bike and WalkyDog from the beginning. Actual fear has only been a problem once, and that was simply a matter of teaching the about the bike from the beginning.

Once the dog is comfortable walking next to me while I hold their harness with the Walky Dog in one hand and push the bike with the other, I attach the WalkyDog to the bike and simply push the bike, which is now attached to the dog. When they are used to that (again, food and praise for confidence, while ignoring any lack of confidence — don’t praise a fear response, or it can get worse), I swing a leg over the bike, and just kind of push it long with one foot on the ground and one foot on a pedal. By now the dog is ready and usually starts to pull the bike a little — that is our cue to go. I keep the bike in its lowest gear almost always. It is essential to not go too fast — dogs can and will run themselves to death if we are not careful. This is all about exercising our dogs in a safe and appropriate manner, and that means their safety, and ours, are vitally important.

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