Biking With Dogs: Dos and Don’ts for Canine Cycling
If your dogs are like mine, there’s no end to their reserves of energy. Morning runs, puzzle feeders, squirrel chases in the backyard, a seemingly endless in-house wrestling match that tends to peak right in the middle of my Zoom meetings, and another mile of walks each night do nothing to curb their energy. These two could run all day and I still don’t think they’d feel sufficiently worn out. I love them so much it hurts. Literally—my legs are so tired from all these walks.
Despite my best efforts at incorporating regular enrichment opportunities that help work their mind and their bodies, my slow-moving biped ways just can’t keep up with the amount of sheer exercise they crave.
So what’s a dog mama to do?! Both of my hounds are former shelter pups who likely missed out on socialization opportunities during puppyhood, so doggy daycare and romps at the dog park are wrought with frustration and fear for all of us. And while they’re both hound dogs who were bred to chase critters all for hours through the mountains, tramping through the woods in pursuit of wildlife is also out of the question for us city-dwellers. So when I saw someone in the neighborhood biking with his dog running alongside him, I wondered if this could this be the answer to my activity-seeking prayers. Then his Lab darted after a rabbit and my glimmer of hope ended as quickly as it appeared, with human over the handlebars, dog disappointed, and a curse word or two from all of us.
“There has to be a better way to do this,” I thought. And as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. Many people cycle with their dogs—some even competitively through a sport known as Bikejoring—and there are training tips and specialized devices designed to make it safe and enjoyable.
How to Bike with Dogs Safely
Rule #1. If you want your pup run alongside you as you bike, make sure they’re up for it. Some dogs, including short-nosed breeds or dogs who are overweight or have health issues, are not built for runs. “Not all breeds are meant for biking! Dogs that are brachycephalic (like bulldogs) have a hard time breathing normally, so rigorous exercise like biking is not a good idea,” says Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, RBT, and Daily Paws’ pet health and behavior editor. “Large, heavy dogs and older dogs will not enjoy biking as it is too rough on their joints. Dogs with thick, heavy coats may also find it too uncomfortable.” But, she says, dogs that already LOVE to run and go for fast walks will be the best candidates for biking, though running can also be risky if your dog is overweight or has other health issues. Check with your vet before starting your pooch on any new exercise regimen to make sure it’s safe.
Rule #2. If your dog tends to be overly excited or wants to pull while on walks together, you need to focus first on teaching them to walk nicely next to you before adding something else to the mix, like a bicycle. Using positive reinforcement methods, Bergeland says to teach the dog to focus and walk on a loose-leash next to you. “You should also teach them safety cues like ‘watch me,’ ‘stop,’ ‘wait,’ and ‘slow.’” Cues like these will help make it easier for you to give instruction while the two of you are out for a spin.
Rule #3. Get your dog used to being around a bicycle before going out for a ride together. Kjell Ottesen, dog owner and president of Springer America, the makers of a special bike attachment designed for dogs to run alongside their humans, says some dogs may not be comfortable even being near a bicycle—let alone confident enough to run next to it. “Some dogs are afraid of the bike, and can even be wary of the noises it makes,” he says. “I always recommend starting by just putting the dog next to the bike to get her used to the sounds and movements before trying to go for a ride together.” Doing this with treats and positive reinforcement can help your dog associate the bike with good things. It may take a few days or even weeks before they feel confident around the bike itself, so patience is key—though some dogs may never warm up to the bike. If that’s the case, an agility course or scent work competition could be another fun way to burn off excess energy together.
Rule #4. Once the dog is comfortable being around the bike, you’ll want to start slow (both literally and figuratively). Ottesen cautions that dogs need to build stamina to bike alongside their human, since their muscles and their paw pads are not used to running in this way. “Biking is not like playing in the yard for hours,” he says. “Try 5-10 minutes the first week for rides, and increase from there.” Running on hard surfaces can be dangerous, so dogs must be conditioned before heading out for longer rides lasting more than a few minutes at a time.
Rule #5. Keep a close eye on your pooch while running. Ottesen, who regularly bikes with his rescued pit bull Bella, says it’s important to go slow and monitor their health. “Dogs don’t have the same stamina as humans,” he says. He cautions against taking dogs out when it’s too hot outside, or for long rides that humans on wheels would find easy. “Remember this is not a bike ride for you, it's for your dog,” adds Bergeland. “Avoid going long distances, going on rough trails, or in any heat. The ride should be slow and easy the entire time with opportunities for breaks. Check in with your dog constantly to make sure they are enjoying the activity and are not getting too tired.” Once your pup is tired, it’s time to pack it in for a rest.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Biking With Your Dog
There are numerous products designed to help people bike with their dogs, including harnesses, bungee leashes, and attachments that help prevent the leash from getting caught in the wheels. Holding the leash in your hand—like you would for a normal walk with your pup—could be troublesome, as my neighbor found out on his ill-fated tumble after the rabbit.
If your dogs have a high prey drive and are prone to chasing small animals, you may want to consider a special bike attachment that helps absorb the shock of that inevitable tug when a squirrel is within eyesight. The Springer bike attachment incorporates a heavy-duty spring that attaches directly on the seat post of the bike to the dog’s harness. Ottesen says that the point of gravity on the Springer device is low enough that 90 percent of the force of the dog’s pull is absorbed into the spring. “By nature, the spring is trying to get back into upright position. So every time the dog pulls, the spring and arm tries to pull back the dog, and the dog senses that pull which tells the dog it's time to come back.”
There are also special attachments for bikejoring, the canine sport originally created by sled dog racers to help their dogs train outside the winter season. Popular in Europe, the American Kennel Club says bikejoring can be an option for dogs who love to lead, including breeds like Siberian huskies and other dogs who “excel at mushing.”
But not all of our canine companions are cut out for biking with their humans. Young pups should steer clear, as Ottesen cautions that depending on the breed of dog, it may be 10-14 months before their soft bones are fully formed. Same goes for our pug-nosed friends and dogs with mobility issues. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay home! If you’d like to bring along a dog who’s not fit to run, you could try a carrier like a bike trailer for pets that hooks onto the bike for them to sit comfortably and enjoy the ride. No matter how you hit the trails, remember: safety first, for you and your dog! (That means helmets for humans, too.)