A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Teaching a Dog to Ride a Bike

Teaching your dog to run alongside you while riding your bicycle provides you with an ever ready riding partner, and it also ensures your partner gets adequate exercise, especially if your pooch is a high energy dog like a German Shepherd. Click to enlargeI began training Ilsa to run alongside my bike when she was brand new to our family. We taught each other as we went along, and she is now an accomplished biker dog.

To successfully train a dog to be a biking partner, you need to first start out with the right dog. The dog must be of a breed or mix that demands exercise. They should have a mind for work, and a pack instinct. Your dog must trust you, and you must trust your dog. As soon as the puppy is able to keep up is the time to start training. The bicyle itself must be a large, stable bike. A cruiser style bike works best. Mountain bikes and road bikes tend to have a rake and a riding position that makes them less stable. Springer attachments bolted onto your bicycle are unnecessary, and take away from the bond formed by training the dog to stay focused on a mutual task with his master. The key is to train the animal, not to depend on a mechanical crutch.

The leash used should be a six foot leather type, strong enough to control the dog. Place the loop around your right bicep, and drape about half the leash between your upper arm and the right hand, holding it between the handgrip of the bicycle and your hand. Do not loop it, and do not attach it to the bike. Click to enlarge Secured in this manner, the leash can give you a couple of split seconds of time should the dog lunge after a squirrel without causing you to lose control of the bike.

A chain style training collar works best, as it gives the animal constant feedback and helps them maintain proper distancing from the bike. Far from being cruel, a training collar provides a nudge at the dog's neck, correcting their behavior in the same manner that dogs correct each other by nipping at a misbehaving dog's neck. The collar ring connected to the leash goes over the back of the dog's neck, not underneath. Connected in this manner, a training collar allows a quick tug and release action instead of steady pulling and choking. The tug and release tells the pet a different behavior is desired. Chain training collars should only be worn during training sessions, never in a crate or when the animal is unattended. They should be avoided in dogs with delicate throats, such as Yorkshire Terriers.

Used correctly over time, the dog realizes that the training collar means good things, great experiences, and an opportunity to go have fun working with their master. It is best to train the animal to walk on a leash with the training collar prior to attempting biking. The dog needs to learn to maintain consistent spacing, and to stay alert and focused for potential commands. I have found that a vest is an additional behavior modifier that tells Ilsa it is time to get serious, and fall in line. The reflective strip on her vest provides safety for her, as well as me at night. She looks forward to donning her vest and chain collar. Click to enlargeA bell on your handlebars is a great tool to regain the running animal's attention if they become distracted by cats or other dogs.

Traditional training of dogs involves having the animal walk on the owner's left side. I found that this does not work as well when bicycling. It places the animal between the bike and traffic, making them feel more vulnerable, or in some cases, causing them to revert to their instincts to give chase. I do not want the dog to chase automobiles as they pass! As soon as I saw Ilsa had potential to be a biking partner, I began to train her to walk and run alongside my bike on my right side. It won't gain her points in the show ring, but it certainly makes her feel less vulnerable, and it gives her a view of what's going on to her right as we travel.

Proper socializing of your dog will give them the composure they need to stay on task as other dogs bark at them from behind fences, as cats dart across your path, and as you pass by walkers and joggers. I always ring my bell when overtaking someone on foot. With a dog alongside me, I have much less chance of avoiding an accident if they are unaware of my approach from behind.

When Ilsa and I begin riding, she usually wants to lead, and will run alongside my front wheel. She quickly learned to respect the front wheel and pay attention to it so she would know which way we would be turning. At this point, she requires no commands or corrections to continue beside me as I change course. She learned that lesson at the school of hard knocks, and she learned it well. Click to enlargeWe maintain a spacing of approximately two feet, which allows her to run on the asphalt, and prevents me from obstructing traffic too greatly. As she tires, she will drop back to my sprocket, but quickly resumes her place if I ring the bell. I try to keep my pace the same as her's, adjusting to my four footed friend's needs as she requires.

Riding with a dog is not without dangers. There is always the possibility of an accident with an automobile. We try to minimize that risk by riding at times and places of little traffic. Loose aggressive dogs are a potential problem, as a transient dog and a bicycle are irresistable bait. I carry pepper spray for that possibility. Each time, thus far, keeping a steady pace out of their territory has prevented any untoward aggression from loose dogs. Bicycling is a wonderful pastime replete with aerobic exercise and other benefits. Being able to share it with your four legged friend will bring great pleasure and benefit to them as well.

Update on Leash Routing

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Blogger carl said...

Xavier, this is one of the coolest posts you have ever made in my opinion. Dogs truly are mans best friend. Keep up the good work!

3:29 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Wow, I wish I'd done that with the doglet. She's 16 now and arthritic, so it's a bit late, but she would have loved that.

Ilsa totally kicks ass, btw.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous stacey said...

wow! how far do you go on these trips?

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Blackwing1 said...


I know Ilsa's not a hunting dog, but which side do you have her walk on when she's heeling?

I trained my dog to keep his head at just about my left knee, on my left-hand side, because that's where I wanted him when I was carrying a shotgun in the field (I shoot right-handed). That way he'd never cross my muzzle when the shotty was pointed towards the ground (when carrying it broken open). His muzzle didn't cross, either.

Does she switch back and forth (right-side biking, left-side walking/running) okay?

7:55 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

She heels/walks to my right BW.

I drape the leash from my left hand to my right and then to Ilsa. I use a 6 foot leash and the training collar for walks as well.

This has the added advantage of me being able to drop the leash from my right hand and draw my pistol if needed. You would think with Ilsa along, I would never have to draw, but I don't overestimate the intelligence of a crackhead.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. What type of bike (name brand) is the one in the first photo with the red tires?

10:34 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

It's old Lucky 13 anon........

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Nomen Nescio said...

When Ilsa and I begin riding, she usually wants to lead, and will run alongside my front wheel. She quickly learned to respect the front wheel and pay attention to it so she would know which way we would be turning.

depending on circumstances, dogsledding commands might be a handy way of cueing your dog in about where you want to go and what you're planning to do. plus, most of them are words and phrases that don't come up much except on the trail, so they're easy for the dog to identify as commands.

teaching a puppy "gee" and "haw" is easy using a simple game; touch the dog's right and left ear while speaking the appropriate word. they pick that up quick.

12:50 PM  
OpenID Ben said...

My brother-in-law recently has surgery on his arm after breaking it in a dog/bicycle accident. He thought the dog was well trained up until the point a cat appeared on the wrong side of the bike.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I wonder.......was your BiL using a road bike or a mountain bike? How was he controlling the dog? Did the dog lunge after running cats on a leash while walking?

If you dog is not composed enough to ignore cats and stay on task, then your dog is not composed enough to run alongside a bike where cats may appear.

I trust Ilsa more than I trust the traffic that passes us......

3:06 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Xavier, excellent post with lots of good advice. However, I don't believe using a mechanical aid takes away from the biking experience at all. And most certainly adds to the safety of the activity. I agree that the training necessary to make it possible to ride without a aid is wonderful and should be done with all dogs. But, riding with one hand on the handlebars and taking a chance of a dog yanking you down is no a risk everyone is willing to take. There are to many variables to take this risk. I have had other dogs come out to attach my dog, once I had four horses come running down the road past me and all manner of chaos on my rides. I feel much safer keeping my hands where they belong and knowing that my pet is safely where he belongs. Additionally, depending on the type of mechanical aid you chose you can allow the dog to pull forward if you chose and help you along your way. My dog really enjoys leaning into his harness and pulling when I give him the command to hup! So, there are advantages both ways. I see your point in not using aids. I hope you see mine in saying there are some advantages in using them as well. Hope to see you out on a ride.


8:53 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

"But, riding with one hand on the handlebars and taking a chance of a dog yanking you down is no a risk everyone is willing to take."

But David, both my hands are on the handlebars, as you can see in the photos. The leash is secured on my bicep.

Ilsa is occasionally allowed to pull me along, and she enjoys it, but most of the time I keep her under control. It's an issue of controlling the animal, not managing their lack of training.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous David Harris said...

Good point Xavier. I know you have an excellent system, well thought out and effective for you. I just know from twenty five years as a professional dog trainer that not all people have the same physical and mental skills. I try to adjust my methods of training to fit not only the dog, but the owners abilities as well. Your method works well for you and I think it would work well for me also. I just wanted to point out that their is no harm in using aids to assist in keeping this very enjoyable activity safe for both people and dogs. To me there are benefits in both approaches.

David Harris

8:14 AM  
Blogger nature223 said...

I reeeeally need to leash train my dog...
she tries to sniff/eat/run/and yes poop "everywhere",when on leash.

good luck,they can make direction changes with remarkable dexterity

11:35 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Great post! Riding your bike with your dog is excellent exercise for both you and your dog. For extra safety and more control it might be worth looking into a dog bike leash. Learn more this type of attachment here WalkyDog

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

That is really not a smart thing to do. It's dangerous for you and the dog. Plus no helmet?

9:21 PM  
Blogger Me said...

I've recently started training my 1.5y/o Malinois to run with my bike. He's doing great, but how do you manage bathroom duties. I generally let him out in the yard for a long time before our rides but it's a little bit of an issue for us.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

We go riding early. the usual order of the day is to get up, we both go to the bathroom (separate areas!) and then go riding. Because Ilsa has been needing to go at night, she always empties her bowels.

Another thing I taught her early on was to empty her bladder on command. In addition to house training, this is a great asset when we are taking a trip.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Carol said...

Interesting tips. I tried to do this with my Lab but I think they've got too much energy. He kept on pulling the bike and I don't think I'd be safe biking whenever I tag him along.

2:33 PM  

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