Ever gone crazy with envy when you see a dog owner pedaling happily away on a bicycle with a loyal dog merrily galloping by their side? Me neither. But I do have a high-energy dog that requires lots of exercise if we want even a slim chance of him letting us sleep through the night. So I thought I’d see if my dogs mixed well with bicycle riding. Once I realized how challenging it can be to get a dog to gallop along so merrily, that envy surely kicked in.
Here are a few things I learned about mixing dogs and bicycles.
Do make sure your dog is up for the adventure.
If you happen to have a breed that thinks the best thing in life is sleeping, you may want to think twice before attaching him to your bicycle. Some breeds, like basset hounds, just weren’t designed to race down the street next to a whirling two-wheeled machine.
If, on the other hand, your dog has more energy than a windup toy on caffeine, break out that bicycle. My current attempt at bicycling with my dog from owning the high-energy Belgian Tervuren. The only activity that seems to tire him out is running up and down San Diego’s Dog Beach for hours on end. And since we live in Arizona, that one’s tough to fit into our daily schedule.
Don’t go too nuts on your first ride.
This is a lesson I learned at my previous attempt at biking with one of my former dogs. I grabbed a leash, grabbed my bike, and decided to take my big dog on a ride around the subdivision. When we were at the farthest point from the house that the subdivision would allow, he promptly sat down in the middle of a cul-de-sac and refused to budge.
And when this 120-pound big boy refused to budge, no one went anywhere. After standing there next to him and my bike for what seemed like several days, I was finally able to coax him to amble back to the house, a slow, painful, tedious process that involved walking the bike, walking the dog, and stopping to let him sit without budging along the way.
Conditioning your dog to run longer and longer distances is a good idea, building up to progressively longer rides as his body gets used to the new form of exercise.
Do get the right gear.
While many have biked using a regular leash and collar or harness, the setup seems rife with too many potential errors. The same holds true for chintzy, plastic dog-bike attachments. And no, I’m not just saying this because I spent somewhere around $60 on a metal bicycle-dog contraption that comes with nuts, bolts, nuts and a spring-loaded detachable pole you clip to your dog’s collar.
Although the chintzy plastic attachments cost about one-third the price of the heavy duty metal ones, folks who bought it said even 10-pound dogs can break the thing. One commenter said her lightweight pooch lunged at squirrel, snapping the attachment in half like a cheap piece of, well, plastic.
With the regular leash:
- Your dog can bolt willy-nilly behind, beside or in front of the tires, ultimately ending up beneath them.
- The leash can get caught in the wheel spokes.
- You can get annoyed or overwhelmed trying to hold the leash while manning your bicycle.
- Your dog can freak out and try to jump on your lap while you’re pedaling if a bigger dog he doesn’t like comes along and he gets scared (this one happened when a bicycling guy and his dog tried to run me and my 120-pound big boy dog off the sidewalk one day).
Don’t hog the sidewalk.
Yeah, yeah we know. Bicycles are supposed to ride in the street with traffic. While I would normally agree with that one, it’s different when you’re trying to bike with your dog. Cycling around low-traffic neighborhood streets should be OK. But bicycling with your dog along main thoroughfares seems about as safe as sticking needles in your eye.
That doesn’t mean you, your bike and your dog should be a sidewalk hog. Stop to let others pass if needed. This especially applies to strollers, speed-demon inline skaters, old people with walkers and big dogs that might scare your smaller dog into jumping into your lap while you’re pedaling.
Do grow a second pair of eyes.
Remember how your parents would threaten to grow a second pair of eyes on the back of their head to make sure they could always watch you? It’s your turn to channel that power. You’re going to need a second pair on the side of your head on which your dog is running.
Not only are you tasked with watching where your bike is heading, but you should constantly check in on the state of your dog. Stop if he’s panting excessively or otherwise showing signs of distress. Stop if he steps on something crappy, like mesquite thorns or a thistle patch. Stop if he has to poo. And you’ll have no choice but to stop if he decides to sit down in the middle of a cul-de-sac and not budge an inch.
Do expect to stop.
Even if you’re not stopping to let your dog rest or pull a thorn out of his paw pad, you may need to slam on the brakes for any number of reasons. Stopping is also a strategic tactic that can stop you from falling over if your dog decides to see how hard he can pull to make you do so.
Don’t give up.
While some dogs may take to the bicycle thing in a millisecond, others may flee from the big, horrifying two-wheeled machine the millisecond you pull it out of the shed. Don’t despair. And don’t give up. Start slowly, by introducing your dogs to the bike by letting them stand next to it while plying them with tons of treats.
Do the same for any dog-bike attachments, giving them the idea that the horrifying machine and the big metal attachment that goes with it are wonderful items indeed. The next suggested step is to walk your bike and the dog around a spell before you actually start to ride. When you finally do get to ride, keep it slow, steady and at a pace your dog can handle.
Praise him, again and again and again, as if running beside the big, two-wheeled thing is the absolute best thing he’s ever done. And it just may be, right after learning to do his business outside.
It may take a few weeks to get your dog in gear for a moderately paced, moderate-length bicycle ride around the neighborhood. But your efforts will well be worth it. Especially if you paid $60 for a heavy duty metal bicycle-dog attachment.