By Stacy Braslau-Schneck
Your biggest consideration when it comes to biking with your dog is safety -- yours, your dog’s, and that of people around you.
To ensure your safety, it pays to invest in some sort of attachment that allows you to place the force of your dog’s pulling low on your bike’s center of gravity. If you bike along while holding the dog’s leash in your hands, you are at risk of several problems:
If the dog’s leash is attached to the seat post or the back wheel axle, these problems can be avoided. Some products to look for include the WalkyDog, Springer, Biker Dog, K9 Cruiser, Bike-a-Buddy, and Sunlite bike leashes.
Use a breakaway leash.
Additionally, if your dog is on a normal leash, it can go on the opposite side of an obstacle. If the obstacle is something solid, like a pole or tree, then you might crash; if the obstacle is something living, like a human, it can be disastrous for everyone involved. (A 62-year-old woman in San Jose, Calif., was killed in 2009 when she was knocked over by dogs running on-leash alongside a bicycle.) For that reason, a breakaway leash is recommended. And because the risk of an accident or even just sudden stops and turns is increased, it’s especially important the human bike-rider wears a helmet.
Use a body harness instead of a collar.
For your dog’s safety, the dog should never run with a bike (or even worse, pull) while wearing any sort of neck collar -- especially a tightening collar, like a choke chain or martingale. It is extremely dangerous to ride a bike with a dog on a head halter of any sort. Your dog should always wear a body harness. Check frequently to see if the harness is fitting well and not chaffing.
Check your dog's paws.
If your dog is not very used to running on pavement (or even dirt trails) for long periods, your pal might need some conditioning time to toughen up paw pads. Check frequently.
Know your dog.
Dogs don’t sweat like humans do; they lose heat through panting and through their paws. Long-haired dogs, short-muzzled dogs (like Boxers or Pugs), and short-legged dogs (like Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, or Corgis) are in greater danger of overheating. Be sure to bring lots of water along for both you and your dog. (You can bring a lightweight bowl.)
Dogs that are easily distracted, have little impulse control, or are quickly stimulated by encounters with other fast-moving things (other bikes, other trail-users, birds, squirrels, etc.) are not very good candidates for bike-along trips. Likewise, a dog that responds well to an attention cue (“Watch me” or his own name) and has a good response to “Leave it” is probably your best biking partner.
Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers. She works closely with the Human Society Silicon Valley and is the owner of Stacy’s Wag’N’Train, which offers small group classes and private lessons in San Jose, Calif. Stacy writes frequently for Exceptional Canine.