Teaching a Dog to Ride a Bike
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. 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. A 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. We 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