Bicycling with Your Dog: A Safety Guide
If your dog is ready to run marathons, another option to consider might be bicycling with your dog.
The greater speed of a bicycle gives dogs the chance to really let loose without requiring an equal effort from a human companion, which makes trotting, sprinting, and even running alongside a bicycle an ideal choice for medium to large breeds that have a lot of energy and endurance. On the other hand, there are a few more hazards involved between four paws, two wheels, and a leash; read on to learn more about considerations for safer cycling with your dog.
Just like humans are advised to consult with a physician before beginning a new exercise regimen, so too should your dog get a vet check-up to ensure they’re appropriately healthy to join you on your cycling adventures. They should be free of issues with their bones and joints and with good, strong lungs and hearts. Younger puppies whose bones aren’t through growing and older dogs with arthritis can ride along instead, in a basket or bike trailer designed for the purpose.
Your vet might warn you against heat exhaustion and overexertion, which are the more common risks associated with this kind of activity. Build up your dog’s stamina by starting slow, taking frequent breaks for water, and stopping if you notice he seems tired or is panting or drooling excessively.
Temperament, too, needs to be part of your dog’s health considerations. If your dog is easily frightened or easily distracted, or has a high prey drive, or a prey drive that includes bicycles, you may need to invest in more training before trying to bicycle with him. A guideline that may help you determine whether he’s ready is whether he can heel consistently on a lead despite other obstacles or distractions. Heeling, and the ability to follow basic verbal commands to turn, speed up and slow down are vital to a dog’s safety—and yours—while bicycling.
First things first: make sure you, the cyclist, are appropriately kitted out for bicycling with your pooch. Choose a bicycle and tires suited for the type of terrain you intend to ride, wear your helmet and appropriate clothing, and use reflectors to make your bike visible. At a minimum, you should also carry basic emergency equipment including water for yourself and your pup, a bicycle tire pump and repair kit, and a small first aid kit to repair small cuts and minor abrasions. The more safely and confidently you ride, the easier it will be to add a canine companion to your routine.
Next, outfit your dog. Not with silly costumes, but consider how you intend your dog to accompany you. Flat-faced breeds may find it difficult to get enough air for the exercise of running alongside. Dogs under 25 pounds may be simply too small to keep up without risk of being dragged, so they may prefer a carrier. There are several pet varieties available on the market that can fit over your bicycle’s handlebars or fit over the rear tire; look for ones that include or can be retrofitted with options for shade and weather. Larger dogs who aren’t up to running alongside for the full length of your intended ride will be most comfortable in a tow-along trailer or wagon. Whichever you choose, make sure your dog stays secured—use a short leash to clip him in if necessary.
If your pooch will be pedal-side, make sure you use a lead intended for that purpose. A regular lead, especially a retractable one, held in your hands as you pedal is a recipe for disaster. Your dog could become entangled in its leash, easily pull you off-balance, or even get under your bike’s tires. A lead that attaches to the frame of the bike, has pull-resistant features, and employs a rigid or semi-rigid baton-style device to keep your dog a specific distance from the bike is your safest bet. Whether you use a collar only or a harness will largely depend on the style of lead you choose, but do consider whether your pup’s paws are up to the task. If they’re not hardened from regular walks already, you might want to invest in a product to protect them until they are: pad cuts and abrasions can be serious.
Get familiar with any local laws that might impact your ability to bike with your dog, including leash laws and restrictions on where dogs are permitted. Keep in mind that you and your pooch take up considerably more space, so wait for favorable traffic conditions before trying out those roadside bicycle lanes. Pet-friendly trails and bike paths are a good option where the terrain isn’t so rough as to challenge your concentration while riding with Fido. Just remember, if dogs are permitted, chances are good they aren’t the only animals around, so even if it is permissible, allowing them off-lead may create unintentional, unwelcome consequences. And please, always do the responsible thing and clean up your pet’s waste.