Make your dog your biking buddy — Here's how

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you and your dog need more exercise, bike rides together could be answer
  • It’s important to ensure your dog is healthy enough to jog beside you as you bike, and number two on the priority list is having the right equipment
  • Your dog will also need to be trained to trot alongside you on your bike for both his safety and yours

Most dogs today need much more exercise than they get, and for that matter, so do their humans! One way to accomplish both goals is to take your dog along on bike rides.

Obviously, this won’t be the answer for every dog parent or every dog, but if your canine BFF has the energy and physical stamina to jog alongside you as you bike, this could be an ideal way for both of you to be more physically active. And this goes double if you have a "hyperactive" dog or a large breed with energy to burn.

If your dog is very young, older, overweight, out of shape or has a health condition that might make jogging risky, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian first to ensure she’s up to the challenge. You may need to start with a milder form of exercise and gradually work up to bike rides.

Biking equipment and supplies

As long as your dog is good to go health-wise, the next step is to acquire the equipment you’ll need for biking together. From PetMD:1

A specially designed leash (e.g., a Walky Dog) that attaches to your bike to prevent your dog from colliding with you. Please don’t try to use a regular leash in place of a bike leash, because holding on to a regular leash while biking or attaching it to your bike is dangerous.

If your dog pulls in a different direction, you can lose your balance and fall. In addition, the leash can get caught up in the spokes of the bike. Most bike leashes have a spring system that absorbs pulling motions to protect both dog and rider.

A reflective dog harness (please don’t ever attach your bike leash to your dog’s collar) or reflective tape to apply to a regular harness

Blinking lights for both dog and bike

A small pet first-aid kit

An extra dog leash to use when your dog is not attached to the bike

Water bottles for you and your dog

Additional suggestions for biking in bad weather or on challenging terrain include hiking grade dog boots, reflective waterproof rain gear and cold weather gear.

Showing your dog how it’s done

First things first: Be sure your dog walks well on a leash before introducing bike rides, and also be sure you’re very comfortable riding solo before adding your dog to the mix.

Assuming he’s never done this sort of thing before, the first step is letting your dog investigate the bike before it begins moving. Next, begin slowly walking the bike with one hand and your dog with the other (on leash). Encourage him to keep pace with you, and when he does, offer him treats and praise.

Practice these sessions until your dog is very comfortable walking near the bike. Once that’s accomplished, you can get on and start riding short distances. Keep riding sessions very short initially.

While you’re still in practice mode, you should begin teaching your dog the verbal cues you’ll use while biking. The best way to do this is to teach them first on walks, then transition them to biking. These verbal cues will alert your dog to slow down, make a turn, stop and to pay attention when he’s distracted by something.

Choose simple one- or two-word cues for each command and use treats as rewards. For example, if you want your dog to make a turn, say “this way” in an upbeat voice and give him a treat when he falls in line beside you. To get him to pay attention to you, you can say “watch,” and when he looks at your face, give him a treat.

More likely than not, it will take many repetitions of your verbal biking cues before your dog is responding consistently, but lots of patience, treats and practice will win the day!

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How to make bike rides safe and enjoyable

The best types of terrain for bike rides with your dog are soft grass or dirt paths that will be easy on her paws. If you plan to bike on hard surfaces like city streets, keep your initial rides short so your dog won’t build up calluses on her paw pads, and check them after each ride to make sure they’re not raw or bleeding.

Don’t expect your dog to be able to run long distances in the beginning. Start by riding at a walking speed on an easy path for a short distance. As she gets used to this over a week or two, you can build up to a trotting speed after about 10 minutes of warm-up walking.

Keep a very close eye on your dog at all times and stop right away if she seems tired, is panting heavily, is getting wobbly or is drooling excessively, as these are all signs of overheating. Remember that dogs overheat much more quickly than we do. They can’t sweat, they can only pant and they’re closer to the ground. If she looks like she needs a break, stop and let her rest and drink some water.

Even if you’re hoping to get a good workout yourself on these rides, keep your dog’s comfort and safety top-of-mind. Pedal at a pace that allows her to keep up easily and watch for distractions that might cause her to pull away (and potentially pull you and your bike to the ground).

If you need to make a stop, don’t leave your bike with your dog still attached to it. If the bike accidentally falls on her, she could get hurt, or she might panic and try to run with the bike “chasing” after her. This type of experience could traumatize her, putting an end to your bike riding adventures. During your rides, on breaks and when you finish a ride, remember to give your dog lots of praise for being a great biking buddy.

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