Riding with a dog can be fun and easy, providing you are confident with your riding skills, but there are unique challenges. For instance, how do you keep an excitable 60lb American Staffordshire Terrier from pulling you a) into traffic b) off your bike c) into a lamp post, or d) with him after the nearest squirrel? These are good questions, and what follows should provide some useful tips, or a forum for you to share your own bike-with-dog experiences.
First, any dog/human activity depends on the type of training or guidance you practice. The methods I use are based on working with my dog to build a relationship based on trust, not obedience or dominance. I recommend visiting the Custom Canine site for further information on this type dog guidance. The specific recommendations below are the result of my own experience riding with my dog.
- Start slow. Find a place to practice that is flat, with no or very little traffic. An empty parking lot or ball park works well.
- Choose the right bike. Without control of your bike, you cannot protect the safety of yourself, your dog, or anyone else. Mountain bikes are designed for control in technical terrain, and may be the best option.
- Choose the right harness or collar. A face collar, or Halti, provides the most dog control in any situation, which is a safety necessity if your dog’s self control is temporarily absent.
- Choose the right leash. The leash should be short enough so that you can reel your dog in beside you at a moment’s notice, but not so short that it interferes with your steering or pedaling.
- Fasten the leash around your waist. With a Halti, the dog cannot use his full strength to pull. Even a strong puller like my Amstaff causes no more interference with my steering than a mild gust of wind, when the leash is attached to my waist.
- Stop. When things seem out of control, too fast, or at all sketchy, brake.
- Be visible. The usual visibility rules apply: reflective strips, vests, headlights, and taillights. Adding reflective material is just as effective with your dog.
- Call out turns and stops. I let my dog know that I plan to turn by saying “left turn”, “right turn”. I use “whoa” for stops. He can tell when I’m slowing down or when the front wheel starts to veer around a bend, but the oral cues give him some advance warning. His understanding of the cues develops with repetition.
- Anticipate problems. If your dog has a tendency to lunge, keep a lookout for the usual targets, i.e.; other dogs, cats, etc. At these times I wrap the leash around my forearm to shorten it and bring the dog close alongside the bike, while firming my hold of the grips with two fingers on each brake, staying focused on steering.
These practices work for my rides with my dog, allowing us to exercise together regularly. They are not meant to be a complete guide to cycling with a dog, but if you want to give it a try, they should at least give you the chance to determine whether it is right for you and your canine companion.
Travis Fehr works at New West Cycle, New West’s newest bike shop. New West Cycle is a community-oriented co-op specializing in reviving neglected and vintage bicycles.