In March of this year my boyfriend and I decided to adopt a dog. We were looking for a medium-sized dog that is good with cats and doesn’t require a ton of exercise or excessive grooming. When we saw a picture of Titan, a 7-month-old long-haired German Shepherd, we couldn’t help but take a look at him. Once he looked at us with his sweet, brown eyes we were in love. So we went home with a large dog that requires a lot of exercise and extensive grooming…but at least he’s good with the cat.
To make sure he’s well exercised, we play Frisbee with him every night. We take him swimming at least once a week, take walks, and watch him run around the house like a maniac. Luckily puppies tend to exercise themselves. But when I received a lime green Jamis commuter bike for my birthday I decided I wanted Titan to be able to ride along with me. I figured it would be a great way for both of us to exercise and spend time together. It’s quite the rewarding experience once both of us got the hang of it.
There are many products to help make the experience easier for you and your dog if you are looking to cycle together.
Tow leash products that attach to your seat or rear dropout are available so that you aren’t trying to bike with one hand and one hand on a leash. These products keep your dog at a safe distance away from your bike to prevent tangling and have shock absorbers. They also prevent wrecks from you becoming unbalanced, or an injury to your dog if the lead gets tangled in the spokes.
Other important products to consider are harnesses, dog boots, and a collapsible water bowl. A harness is an essential aspect of cycling with your pet. Attaching a tow leash to your dog’s collar can cause choking or injury.
As for boots, taking your dog cycling on pavement can be hazardous during certain temperatures, particularly very cold or very warm temperatures. Titan and I bike around our neighborhood so we are careful to bike at night when the asphalt isn’t hot on his pads. If you are biking with your pet during hot temperatures, be sure to use dog boots.
Regardless of temperature be sure to bring a collapsible dog bowl with you so your dog doesn’t get dehydrated. Keep an eye out for the signs of heat exhaustion in your dog. This includes excessive panting, loss of coordination, or nausea.
Introducing your pup to your bike is a gradual but necessary process. Start by introducing your dog to your bike while it’s stationary. Place treats on the tires or seat and offer a lot of positive reinforcement. This will teach your dog that the bike is a fun and happy thing. Once your dog is familiar with it without apprehension, walk your bike and call your dog to you and encourage him to follow you with praise and treats. After your dog is comfortable with that, add the harness and tow leash and walk your bike with your dog attached.
Be sure to vary the terrain, direction, speed, and stability of your bike while you are walking so your dog can get used to the constant changes while walking beside it. If your dog is showing apprehension you can stop the training process and go back a step or shorten your training sessions. Once they start to get the hang of the process, you can introduce commands to help riding such as, “stop,” “turn,” or “slow.”
Once your dog is comfortable with training and you are ready to ride with him next to you, remember to keep up with positive reinforcements and treats. Just as the training process was gradual, keep the riding gradual as well. Start off with slower speeds, shorter time frames, and areas without distractions at first. Keep to your dog’s pace so he doesn’t get stressed or exhausted on the ride. Depending on your dog’s age, size, fitness level and breed, he may have some limitations.
You will need to proceed with caution once you’ve graduated to riding while your dog runs next to you. Be sure to do extra training on commands if you have an animal that likes to herd or chase so you aren’t in a situation where your dog takes off after an animal and both of you are injured. For herding breeds, it tends to be difficult for them to be satisfied with running next to you and not behind you. Luckily, using a tow leash will help eliminate their ability to run behind you.
Once you’ve started riding you can start branching out from the sidewalks in your neighborhood. Other great areas for cycling with your dog are camping areas with dirt roads and not much traffic, parks with wide bike trails, or wide mountain roads. I wouldn’t recommend biking with your dog on busy city streets due to the obvious safety concerns. With your dog attached to your bike you are around three times wider than you are when you are biking alone and thus becoming a bigger target for accidents on busy streets.
For mountain bikers, I don’t bringing your dog biking with you if you are using a lead. Maneuvering around obstacles and rough terrain is much more difficult than any flat surface. Wrecks happen even for the most seasoned mountain biker and it’s extremely dangerous to have a mountain biking wreck with your dog attached to the bike. You can bail off of your bike, your dog can’t. My favorite areas are wooded areas with wide dirt roads. Its cooler, the ground isn’t too warm for Titan, there isn’t any traffic, and it is a more peaceful ride for both of us.
Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. When she isn’t writing she spends her time riding her bike, throwing a Frisbee for Titan, and exploring the outdoors in Boise.