You know the guy: He and his dog nearly clotheslined you with a retractable leash as he cycled past on the sidewalk. You don’t want to be him. You also don’t want to be his dog, and you for sure don’t want to be anywhere near either of them as they careen by.
If you decide that biking is the right exercise for you and your dog, commit to biking safely and with intelligence—not like that guy.
Size. First off, make sure your dog is the right size. A small dog, under thirty pounds, isn’t built for running alongside you on your bike. For a small dog, running with a biker is like you running alongside a motorbike. The dog could die from heart failure or exhaustion or heat stroke. If you have a small dog, see the Gear for Little Dogs section below for suggestions of other ways to bike with your dog.
Temperament. Size matters, but it’s not the only consideration. Not every larger dog is focused enough to run safely alongside your bike. If you have a squirrel chaser on your hands, what’s to stop Petal from lunging and pulling you over? If your dog is aggressive, you might have trouble controlling her when you pass dog walkers. You need to make sure your dog has the right temperament, and even then you need to practice and take short test drives in quiet, low-traffic areas to see if she can handle biking.
Age. Your cycling companion also needs to be of the right age. A puppy is not a candidate for biking. The puppy’s growth plates are not completely ossified and are therefore easily injured, which can result in lifelong deformity or limp. Adrienne Janet Farricelli, a veterinary hospital assistant, explains why: When a dog’s growth plate is injured, the damaged cells will stop growing on the injured side. Because the healthy cells on the other side keep growing, the plate becomes deformed.
It’s not just puppies who are vulnerable to problems from intense exercise. So are senior dogs. According to Dr. Susan Jeffrey, a veterinarian in Madison, Wisconsin, both puppies, and senior dogs can have trouble regulating their body temperature, which makes bike-running a bad idea for them.
Breed. Finally, make sure you’ve got the right breed for intense exercise. Brachycephalic dogs are dogs with short snouts—like pugs and bulldogs—and they, as a result, have trouble cooling off enough. You don’t want to bike with those dogs. Also, don’t cycle with dogs that have joint problems. Better candidates are high-energy hunting breeds.
It doesn’t make sense to bike-run with your dog in some locations. Heavily crowded urban areas are contraindicated. Your dog could get his paws stepped on or someone could walk in front of the two of you, forcing one of you but not necessarily the other to stop suddenly.
Hilly terrain makes your dog have to work even harder. You’ll be able to coast on the downhill portions to catch your breath. Your dog will enjoy no such luxury.
Busy roads expose your dog to the dangers of traffic. A lot of drivers won’t be able to see your low-running dog.
Narrow trails are also a bad idea, as are challenging mountain biking runs where you’re more likely to fall off your bike—unless it’s safe for your dog to be off leash.
If you live in a quiet rural area, you also might be able to bike-run with your dog off leash. But if there is any danger of running into other people or encountering vehicle traffic, including other bikes, it’s best to play it safe and leash up.
If you’re bike-running in a mildly crowded park, use your bike bell to gently warn people of your approach from behind. Your bike and/or your dog might startle them.
Keep in mind that there are some communities with laws forbidding cycling on sidewalks. Also, there are people who don’t like cyclists in parks. Those people will likely be especially opposed to the double whammy of cyclist plus dog, and they might give you an earful as you pass.
Gear For Big Dogs
Whatever you do, don’t ever bike with King using a neck-secured leash. It doesn’t take much for the two of you to be separated suddenly by even a few feet, and the resulting quick snap on King’s neck could be life-threatening. Always use a body harness, no matter what other equipment you choose. These are readily available at any pet store. Get a good fit so there’s no chafing.
Once you commit to a body harness, you are also opening yourself to greater pull from your dog. Because dogs are low to the ground and on four feet, they can easily yank you off your bike, especially when attached via a body harness and leash. The answer is not that you should leash Chance via his neck; it is instead that you be aware, work on training, and use some additional safety equipment, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Never use a retractable lead. These leashes are always potentially dangerous as the human cannot quickly recall the dog once the lead is extended. In addition, a dog can quickly pull far from the human, creating a tripwire for passing joggers, walkers, and cyclists. When you combine a retractable lead with biking, the danger increases exponentially.
Dogs have the ability to focus on prey and movement to the exclusion of all else. If your dog sees something to chase or gets startled by something, she can easily run right in front of one of your tires. The result could be a serious injury—for one or both of you. There is no way to prevent this through training alone. The safest way to handle this problem is to use a semi-rigid dog bike leash.
This is a contraption that attaches on one end through a rigid frame to your bike, leaving your hands free to steer, and on the other end via a flexible lead to your dog’s harness—never a neck collar. The rigid frame minimizes the chance of your dog running in front of your bike tires. The flexible part gives your dog a little leeway for slowing down or speeding up as she runs beside you. The bike leash can also help you weather your dog’s occasional lunge—some models can resist a pull of over 500 pounds.
But be careful when using this contraption not to leave your dog attached to the bike after you dismount. If Lucy tries to follow you away from the bike, she might drag the bike, scaring the bejeesus out of her and possibly souring her on the whole biking experience forever.
If you’re going to be bike-running on or along roads with traffic, consider getting your dog a reflective vest.
Remember that your dog is lower to the ground and, therefore, much harder for a car driver to see. If you need to wear something reflective to make yourself visible, so does your dog.
Gear For Little Dogs
If you have a small dog and you want to go biking with him, you need to invest in a ride-along system. There are four options:
Pet backpack. The very small dog can ride in a specially designed pack you wear on your back. The danger here, of course, is that if you fall off your bike Fido might get squished. There are many options available on the market, ranging from a breathable fully enclosed space capsule to a rear-facing body enclosing pack to a forward-facing baby-carrier type pack that has your dog riding with her paws on your shoulders. Prices vary widely, from about $17 to $70. Do your research, especially with safety and comfort in mind. Make sure that Lolita can’t wiggle from side to side, which could throw off your balance while riding.
Rack carrier. Numerous companies make pet carriers that mount on the back rack of your bicycle. You have to make sure that your dog can’t jump out, but never ever secure your dog to the pet carrier by his neck. Use a harness instead. Some of these carriers are fully enclosable with a zipper, but you still need to secure your dog to minimize injury in an accident. Expect to drop anywhere between $35 and $200 on the carrier.
Front-mount pet basket. There is a range of handlebar-mounted pet baskets on the market, from retro wicker baskets to what look like metal mesh shopping baskets. Again, secure your dog so she doesn’t jump out or fall out in a sudden stop, and, again, use a harness, not a neck collar. Pet baskets fall within the range of $30 and $100.
Pet trailer. A pet trailer is just like a child carrier that you pull behind your bike via a rigid pole mount. Although Muffin won’t fall out of an enclosed pet trailer, you still want to make sure to secure him so that he doesn’t go flying in the event of a collision. Trailers are safer than other options, but they’re also considerably more expensive, running from about $100 up to $500.
If your dog is riding on the bike with you and is not completely enclosed in a carrier, you’re going to want to get some dog goggles to protect her eyes. These can set you back anywhere from $7 to $80.
Learning To Ride And Run Together
Riding a tandem bike takes practice, right? There is no reason to expect that biking with your dog is going to be a more easily mastered activity. Bikes are scary contraptions to a dog, and you’re deliberately attaching Buttercup to the scary contraption.
Practice. Start out practicing in a driveway or nearly empty parking lot, where other dogs and car traffic won’t be an issue. Get your dog to feel safe next to the bike by using treats to reward him. Move the pedals. Move a tire. Convince your dog with treats that the movement is not a bad thing.
When you’ve achieved a general level of comfort, walk the bike with the dog next to you. After Alexander is comfortable, switch sides so that the bike is between you. Treats will convince Alexander that bikes are in general a positive thing. Practice turning the bike to the right and the left as you walk together. He will quickly learn that he needs to trot faster to keep up with a turn away from him and to slow down when the turn is toward him.
Stamina Building. Once walking the bike seems like no big deal, try riding it slowly with your dog attached via the bike leash. If your dog seems okay with the whole biking experience, you can begin working on building up stamina.
Slowly extend the distance you ride. Veterinarian Christine Zink recommends gradually increasing the distance by 5 to 10 percent every four to six times out. So if you start out with 1 mile, after four 1-mile rides, you might bump it up to 1.10 miles the next time out. Once you reach 2 miles, she suggests you take a day of rest in between biking sessions.
Routine. J. Leslie Johnson, the author of Bike with Your Dog: How to Stay Safe and Have Fun, recommends the following biking routine: a walk to warm up; a short, slow bike ride that has the dog trotting; and then another walk to cool down. She takes her very energetic dog for no longer than 30-minute rides, and she and her dog take a day off after every ride.
Additional Safety Considerations
Double Width. A bike with a dog attached takes up double the room on a path. Biking with your dog makes you a potentially bigger nuisance in pedestrian areas. Be mindful of the extra room you are occupying.
Heat. When it’s really hot or humid, leave Rex at home.
Water. Your dog is going to be cooling off by panting. You try panting for twenty minutes and then see how thirsty you get. Make sure Ajax gets plenty of water along the way.
Speed. Don’t go too fast for your dog. If you’re essentially dragging Bubba, you’re going too fast. Bubba should mostly be trotting or walking.
Biking Laws. No states have laws expressly forbidding biking with your dog, but local jurisdictions might. Make sure you know the rules of the road. Accidents will happen, but you don’t want to get sued on top of having to deal with injuries.
Overexertion. Make sure you’re not overdoing it with Maximillian. PetMD offers a list of overexertion signs: wear and tear on paw pads, sore muscles, joint injury, behavioral changes., and heat sickness. According to PetMD, heat stroke manifests with symptoms like excessive panting as well as “drooling, reddened gums, vomiting, diarrhea, mental dullness or loss of consciousness, uncoordinated movement, and collapse.” If you see any of these signs, get help for your dog immediately. Heat stroke is life-threatening.
Identification. If you’re a regular biker, you know that accidents are sometimes inevitable. Chances are good if you bike-run regularly with your dog that you will crash at least once. Prepare in advance for this eventuality. When you’re biking with Tiger, you’ve got to ensure that she is cared for as well in an accident. Make sure she has I.D. at all times, including a phone number of someone, like your spouse, who can help. Make sure you have I.D. too. Carry the name of your vet so that first responders can call for assistance. What you don’t want to happen is for you to get carted away in an ambulance and your dog to be left behind without help.
Even if you do it right, not everyone is going to think that biking with your dog is a good idea. Dr. Kobi Johnson is a veterinarian in Tacoma, Washington. In an article in The Seattle Times, Johnson discourages the practice, saying that “the dog is likely to overexert quickly.” He explains that the cyclist, focused on riding, is unlikely to notice the dog’s condition soon enough, and the dog will be “behaviorally stimulated” to keep up. Johnson warns that the dog “runs the risk of overheating or overexerting . . . to the point where joints, muscles, respiratory and heart function, and even internal organs can be damaged.”
So what’s an avid cyclist and dog lover to do?
- Don’t go for very long bike rides.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Make sure your dog gets water.
- Check in with your dog. Watch for excessive panting, irregular breathing, uneven gait, or coughing. Those are signs that your dog is in the danger zone.
- Don’t bring along Fluffy when it’s warmer than 80°F, very humid, or cold enough for her to get frostbitten paws.
- Gear up appropriately.
- Be considerate and aware of the other people on the trail.
- And whatever you do, don’t ever be that guy
Is It Illegal to Bike with Your Dog?
In the United States, there is no federal nor state law prohibiting biking with your dog. However, regulations vary among local jurisdictions. It is at the level of local government where such ordinances may exist. You should always check ordinances of your locality to determine whether it is legal to bike with your dog.
Rules vary among countries. In the United Kingdom, Rule 66 of the Highway Code includes two stipulations that could be used against bikers riding with their dogs on a leash:
- Keep both hands on the handlebars except when signaling or changing gear and
- Not carry anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain.
Rule 301 of the Australian Road Rules stipulates that “The rider of a bicycle must not lead an animal, including by tethering the animal to the bicycle, unless the rider is permitted to do so under another law of this jurisdiction.”
How Do You Secure a Dog in a Bike Basket?
Some dog baskets are enclosed. But even when using those baskets, you should secure Junebug to the bottom via a short lead and harness to ensure her safety in an accident. Make sure that, if the dog falls out of the basket, the lead is short enough that she won’t reach and possibly get tangled in the bicycle spokes.
Never secure your dog to the basket via his neck. Always use a body harness.
How Do You Make a Bike Leash?
There are numerous do-it-yourself bike leash plans on the Internet. The elements that all the best plans have in common are as follows:
- A rigid pole (PVC or metal) securely mounted to the seat post and extending to the side of the bicycle (preferably the side away from traffic);
- An approximately 3-foot springy lead (such as bungee cord or metal spring) attached via the pole to the seat post—there must be some give for when the dog lags slightly and some recoil for when she speeds up or moves to the side; and
- A carabiner or other type of clip to attach to the dog’s harness.
If you’re not the kind of person handy enough to do a good job with this project, spend the money on a manufactured dog leash. You don’t want to be riding with your dog and experience the contraption falling apart and possibly jamming your spokes or the lead having too much give, resulting in a dog vs. tire encounter.
Should My Dog Wear Booties When Running?
If you’re bike-running with your dog on asphalt, check to make sure Daisy’s foot pads are not cracked or cut or swollen. Gravel and asphalt can cause injury. Asphalt, because of its color, also absorbs heat and can get quite hot. You want to ensure your dog’s pads aren’t getting burned.
If you discover that Daisy needs protection, you might want to invest in dog booties. As when selecting any dog gear, you need to think about your dog’s specific needs:
- Fit. Make sure the booties fit well and don’t rub against the paw or ankle. Make sure they are designed to stay on.
- Weather. Choose boots that are good for the weather you’re dealing with. Do you need water-resistant boots, or would you be better off choosing shoes that breathe? If you’re biking in cold weather, make sure Mr. Pickles has warm boots to protect against the cold.
- Terrain. You also need to base your selection on the terrain of your route. If you’re dealing with rocks or wet sand, get something that has some padding. But if you’re going to be on asphalt, you need something with grip that also protects against heat.
Manufacturers have come up with a huge variety of designs for different purposes. As always, do your research. Be sure to include consumer reviews because consumers are the ones who truly know how well the booties fit and stay on.
In addition to considering booties, you might also think about waxing your dog’s paw pads. Paw wax helps prevent cracking. It can also help to prevent a blown pad, which is one that has lost one or more layers of skin. Finally, wax works to prevent snow or ice balls from gathering between your dog’s toes.
How Do You Mountain Bike with a Dog?
Mountain biking with a dog is a whole different activity than riding a bike with your dog in a park, on a city street, or in a rural area. Flying downhill on uneven terrain on often narrow trails marked by tree roots and rocks introduces a different set of issues to the equation.
Generally, you don’t want to have your dog attached to your bike in this situation because it’s too dangerous—for both you and the dog. Neither do you want to be holding the leash—you need both hands on the handlebars, and you can’t risk the dog pulling your hand. That leaves you with the option of having the dog run free.
If you’re going to go leash-free, you need to work with your dog on some key training points:
- Obeying voice commands in case you encounter other bikers on the route.
- Not running off after wildlife. Some wildlife, like mountain lions, might enjoy the fun of chasing and catching your dog, so staying on the trail is important.
- Keeping up so she doesn’t get lost.
- Staying out of the way. You won’t be able to stop as quickly when mountain biking and you may have more trouble keeping your balance on uneven terrain.
Don’t forget the usual safety considerations:
- Take frequent breaks so your dog can rest—he doesn’t ever get to coast downhill.
- Bring plenty of water on your ride if there are no streams or lakes. You’ll need a collapsible dog bowl too.
- Protect your dog’s paws with booties and/or wax.
Finally, bring a leash just in case. If you bike with your dog, do it right. You may need to leash up at some point and walk your bike.
Let me know in the comments below if you have enjoyed biking with your dog. How often do you ride with your dog and what were some barriers to getting started?