I’ve been biking with my dog, Moose, for a couple of years. It’s one of our favourite ways to explore the outdoors together. Zipping through the trails with him is a ton of fun, and it’s the only time I can keep up with his high energy.
Folks keep asking how I dare to bike with my dog. Their thoughts go straight to wrecks, bruises, and broken bones. I promise, we’re not doing anything too dangerous. But, I understand it can seem intimidating. So, I’ve put together this guide to help you start. It includes tips to keep you and your dog safe and happy while learning to bike together. Let’s hit the trails!
Consult Your Vet
First things first, a vet can help determine whether biking is safe for your dog. Certain breeds and individual dogs may have limitations or health conditions that make biking unsafe or uncomfortable for them. Here are some questions you might want to ask your vet: Can my dog handle the physical demands of biking? What are the potential risks and what safety precautions should I take? Are there any long term health problems associated with biking?
Invest in Proper Gear
There are many bike leashes on the market and some are safer and more durable than others. It took me some trial and error to find the right one.
In my experience, bike leashes that attach to your seat give too much control to your dog and move the seat in unintended ways. I also dislike rotating bike leashes that allow your dog to run behind the back wheel and switch sides. With those leashes, there’s a risk that the rear tire entangles the leash. It’s much safer to keep your dog on one side, preferably the left, since that’s where most dogs are trained to heel. Lastly, I’m wary of bike leashes with “quick releases” that let you easily connect and disconnect metal parts. These seem convenient, but I had one break on me after a few uses.
Today, I use the “bike tow leash.” It’s a bit pricey, but it’s the best leash I’ve tried. It keeps my dog a safe distance from the bike and on the left side. This stiff, yet flexible, leash allows the dog to take cues from the bike, while the low mounting point prevents the dog from controlling or tipping it. Moose, who’s reasonably trained but not perfect, cannot destabilize the bike even if he tries to lunge sideways. By design, the leash does let him propel the bike forward, which has been a lifesaver for my tired legs on uphill rides. I joke that it’s my budget-friendly electric bike.
Whatever you do, don’t hold or wrap a regular leash around your bike handlebars. If your dog decides to pull, you’ll lose all control of steering and may tip over. It’s dangerous for both you and your pup.
Along with a bike leash, your dog needs a well-fitted harness. Avoid attaching your dog to a bike by the collar. This can cause a lot of strain on the dog’s neck. A harness should fit snugly without restricting movement.
I use Ruffwear’s front range harness and connect my dog to the back clip. Once properly fitted and adjusted, it works wonders. It’s also easy to put on and take off, it’s excellent for walking with, and not too bulky.
Don’t forget to regularly inspect your dog’s leash and harness to make sure they are in good working condition.
What Else Do I Need?
Pack a water bottle and a dish. It’s important to keep your dog well hydrated and cool during your ride. On warm days, I bring 2-3 bottles of water. Carrying that much water may seem like a lot, but you can offload the weight from your backpack to the bike with some water bottle holders. Collapsible dog dishes are convenient because you can clip them to your backpack and nothing inside gets wet.
I also bring dog treats, a regular leash, poo bags, and plastic grocery bags. I use the regular leash when we stop for rests and when my dog needs a bathroom break. The grocery bags are for double bagging dog poop.
Basic Training and Socializing
Before biking with your dog, teach them basic obedience. Practice commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “heel” both on and off the bike. I also use the commands “look at me,” “slow,” and “wait.” Your dog doesn’t have to be perfect! It just needs to grasp the basics.
Socialization is also important. Expose your dog to different environments, people, and animals to help them become confident and non-reactive. When Moose was a puppy, we took him to a dog trainer who taught us a game called “Observe Don’t React.” It’s a simple game where dogs are rewarded with treats for watching and not reacting to various situations and stimuli. You start from a distance your dog can handle and get closer over time. We played the game on busy sidewalks, in front of grocery stores, and outside of dog parks. We went from a puppy who barks at everyone and everything, to a pretty calm dog. I always recommend the game to people who want to minimize their dog’s anxiety and boost their confidence.
Introducing Your Dog to the Bike
Gradually introduce your dog to the bike. Start by letting them explore and sniff the bike while it’s stationary, rewarding them with treats and praise. Then try taking them out for short walks with the bike, and eventually, short rides in a safe and controlled environment.
Encourage and reward your dog for good behaviour during the bike ride. Use verbal praise and treats to reinforce positive actions, like staying by your side, responding to commands, or navigating obstacles calmly. Positive reinforcement helps build a strong bond between you and your dog and makes biking fun for them.
Once your dog is comfortable with biking, you can gradually introduce distractions like other cyclists, pedestrians, and dogs. The more exposure your dog gets, the easier it will be for them to remain calm around potential distractions.
Just like humans, dogs need time to adjust to new activities. Begin with shorter rides and gradually increase the duration and distance. This lets your dog build up their stamina and adapt to the physical demands of biking.
Before starting your bike ride, a short warm-up walk will help your dog stretch their muscles. It’s also a good idea to end your ride with a cool-down to slowly lower their heart rate.
Know Your Dog’s Limits
It’s so important that you respect your dog’s limits and fitness level. Pay close attention to their behaviour throughout the ride. Watch for signs of fatigue, stress, or discomfort, such as excessive panting, lagging behind, or reluctance to continue. Adjust your pace or take breaks as needed.
Some dogs will push their limits because they are eager to please. This is the case with my dog and many other Labrador retrievers. To compensate for this, I take extra breaks and watch his behaviour closely.
Stay Attentive and Responsive
Keep an eye out for anything that might distract or upset your dog. My biggest fear is off-leash dogs. Even a friendly off-leash dog has the potential to wreck us, so I only bike on designated on-leash trails. If l see an off-leash dog, or an out of control on-leash dog, I turn the bike around. If I don’t have time, I stop the bike.
Choose Dog-Friendly Routes
Finding some good routes is key to enjoying your bike ride. Look for local parks, nature reserves, or trail systems that permit dogs. Off-road trails are great choices because they have less distractions, no car traffic, and are easier on your dog’s paws. I like multi-use paths that are shared by hikers and cyclists. They have wide lanes and are perfect for biking.
If you can find some, shaded trails can help prevent your dog from overheating. I also look for trails near lakes or rivers so that Moose can cool off in the water.
As always, be aware of any local regulations regarding dogs in public spaces.
Be Mindful of Temperature
Dogs are more susceptible to temperature extremes than humans. Avoid biking during the hottest parts of the day, especially when temperatures are high. Excessive heat can cause your dog to overheat or get burns on their paw pads from hot pavement. To play it safe, I have a rule of not biking with my dog when it’s above 20°C (68°F). On days pushing near 20°C, we take it really slow. Every dog is different, and some handle the heat better than others, but my dog is not a fan of hot weather.
On the flip side, if you bike in winter, consider dog booties or other protective gear to keep your dog’s paws protected from the ice, salt, and cold. It’s not uncommon for dogs to get frostbite on their paws.
Prioritize Your Safety
Always wear a helmet, hydrate yourself, use hand signals to indicate turns and stops, and install a bike bell. Also, don’t be afraid to use your voice to advocate for yourself and your dog if other trail users are behaving irresponsibly. Remember, if you get injured, your dog is left alone attached to a bike. So, take care of yourself and don’t push your limits.
Schedule Regular Bike Maintenance and Check-Ups
Regular maintenance and check-ups will keep your bike in great working condition. Before every ride, check tire pressure, brakes, and your bike leash. If you’re like me and know nothing about bike maintenance, schedule regular tune-ups with a professional bike shop or mechanic. They can perform a comprehensive inspection to address any issues. Tune-ups may include wheel truing, drivetrain cleaning, bearing adjustments, and other necessary adjustments or repairs.
Never Force Your Dog
If your dog consistently displays fear, anxiety, or resistance to biking, do not force them to do it. Not all dogs enjoy biking. Find alternative activities that you can enjoy together instead. There are so many other fun things to do, like hiking, fetching, agility, frisbee, swimming, scent training, camping, canicross, skijoring, and dock diving.
I feel very lucky every time I hit the trails with Moose. It’s such a great way to get outside, it’s definitely strengthened our bond, and it’s a good way to exercise a dog. I hope this post gives you some confidence to try biking with your dog, and that you find similar joy in it. It’s really not that hard. With a little preparation, some positive reinforcement, and a few treats, you’ll be coasting through the trails too. Happy biking!
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below. I’d also love to hear how your first bike ride goes!