Cycling is a great way to help an energetic dog get exercise, and it’s hard to find a better partner for a leisurely ride than your favorite four-legged friend.
Even if you don’t plan to try riding with your dog, it’s important to ensure your pup is comfortable around bicycles so he won’t lunge at them and potentially cause an accident. This can be challenging, especially with herding dogs and other chase-prone breeds.
As the owner of a terrier who considers two-wheeled vehicles his sworn enemies, I can relate to the frustration of watching a pet well up with inexplicable rage at the sight of bicycles. Early exposure can be critical to acclimate a chase-prone puppy to being around bicycles. But what do you do with an adult dog that’s already hardwired to consider bicyclists prey?
The key is desensitization, says professional dog trainer Joyce Gamsby-Kesling, who’s been cycling with her dogs for 14 years. She recommends you start by walking your dog next to your bike over the course of a few outings. Once your dog gets accustomed to tolerating his two-wheeled enemy in such close proximity, grab a friend and head to an uncrowded park.
Have your friend ride around the park in circles while you stand with your dog at a distance of about 50 feet. Figure out the distance at which your dog isn’t reacting to the bicycle and can still focus on you and respond to your commands.
Gamsby-Kesling says once your dog moves beyond his threshold—the point at which he begins reacting to the bike instead of paying attention to you—your training won’t stick, so be sure to proceed slowly.
Say your dog’s name, and if he focuses his attention on you, give him a treat. Gradually move closer to the bike, but if you see any sign that you’re losing your pup’s focus, take a few steps back until you can hold his attention again. Continue to train using this method, aiming to move a little closer to the bicyclist each time. It’s a process that takes patience and persistence, but over time your pup should allow cyclists to peacefully pass by.
The next level is riding with your dog. Riding with a dog can be done safely, but there are important factors to consider before you grab a leash and hit the streets. Gamsby-Kesling emphasizes the importance of thoroughly training your dog and ensuring he recognizes verbal commands before attempting to take him on a ride. Her Jack Russell responds to the commands “sit,” “slow,” “left,” “right,” and more, so she’s able to prepare the dog for upcoming turns in advance.
“If I’m slowing down, I [say] ‘slow, slow, slow,’” she says. “The tone and the way you say the words is really important. If I want to speed up, then I raise my tone. If I want to slow down, I go down into lower tones.”
She says it’s also critical to consider legal issues associated with off-leash dogs. If your dog causes you to crash, causes someone else to crash, or breaks loose and attacks someone, you can be sued for violating leash laws. If you have any doubt that your dog will behave on a leash or fail to respond to your verbal signals, stick to walking or running until you’re confident you’re both ready to ride.
Here are 5 more tips for cycling with your pup:
1. There are several collars and harnesses on the market specifically made for cycling with dogs. Gamsby-Kesling uses a Gentle Leader head collar and a 6′ leather lead, but also recommends Opti Fit. Other products like the BikerDog or Springer attach to your bike and let the dog run behind you, though the Springer doesn’t use a harness. Whatever arrangement you choose, make sure your dog is comfortable and secure.
2. Start with short rides at a speed the dog can maintain comfortably. Gamsby-Kesling says the best pace is a trot, where the dog is gently jogging along and you don’t see any pressure back and forth on the lead. This shows that the dog is comfortable running alongside the bike and not pulling away or hustling to keep up.
3. If you’re going to use a carrier to ride with your dog, make sure your dog is secure and comfortable. Start the training process by placing the carrier on your living room floor. Teach your dog to jump in the carrier on command, and offer a reward for staying in the carrier. Don’t ride with your dog until he or she is well-trained and enjoys being in the carrier.
4. Be aware of how weather conditions affect your dog. Don’t ride with your dog in conditions that might be too hot for his sensitive paw pads, and make sure you bring water for your dog on warm days or long rides.
5. Give your pet lots of positive encouragement and feedback. Once you’ve mastered the art of cycling together, you’ll always have an enthusiastic riding partner.
Lastly, we hope it never happens, but here’s what to do if you’re attacked by someone else’s dog while riding.
Source: Bicycling (www.bicycling.com)