Some tips on how to get out and about with your best friend during the pandemic.
Want your dog to be this happy and lazy every day? Get your goodest family member out for a daily bike ride!
Disclaimer: this post shares a personal story of how I taught our hound Hector to walk/run beside my bike. If you choose to teach your dog to ride with you, you are choosing to do so at your own risk (and your pup’s). Please always exercise caution when riding, and be sure to properly assess your own skills on a bike, and your dog’s leash skills before starting to ride together.
Gooood morning, London! We have a serious situation on our hands. The dog parks are closed for Covid-19. You have a young, energetic pup who needs her daily runs and is practically tearing down the back door to get outside. She misses her dog park, where playing tag in the woods and wrestling with her frens tire her out to the point of lazily loafing on her bed for the rest of the day. Walking her on leash is OK for smelling the neighbourhood sniff spots, but she isn’t tired after walking at slow human walking pace, and she still seems to have boundless energy.
What can you do?
The answer might be teaching your dog to run beside you on a bike! My dog Hector (pictured above post-run) gets a quick 15-20 minute run when he needs some exercise, and I get some fresh air, too. He gets to run further and faster than he would if I was on foot, and we can get to his favourite places (like the pet store), too. Every day since the Covid-19 shut down, he trots beside me to the shop, so he gets his exercise during my commute! Most evenings we run down the path near our house to the river and back again, and he’s a fit and healthy dog and super well-behaved at home!
How did I train Hector to run with me? Mostly practice, and going slow. It took us the better part of a year to get good at it, and even now he’s not perfect. This post isn’t intended to be a fool-proof method, but it’s what worked for us, and it follows the general guidelines our puppy trainer Yvonne set out. In the hierarchy of bicycle zen, the only greater experience than riding a bike with your dog is riding a bike with your kids and family. And isn’t your dog part of your family anyway? Here’s what you need to get started:
- Dog. Minimum rating: 11/10
- Bicycle. Preferably step-through and upright to start, with well-tuned brakes. Trust me on this one. You can graduate to any bike (cargo, drop bars, etc.) once you’ve practiced dodging squirrels on your well-balanced Dutch bike.
- Leash. Regular, with a knot tied just below the end loop. I add a climbing-grade carabiner to the loop for weight and easily hitching to various points.
- Treats. Medium-high value like freeze-dried liver. Lots of ‘em, broken into small pieces.
Step 1: get your dog comfortable around bikes. Hector grew up with bikes everywhere, but your dog might not have. If he hasn’t seen bikes very often, or if he has a fear of them, put the bike you want to ride in a place the dog normally goes (backyard is good), and give your goodest boy a treat when he goes near it. Repeat until he’s curious, and chooses to go near the bike all the time.
Step 2: walking doggo with bike. This may seem obvious, but don’t start riding your bike right away with your dog. Walk your dog for a few days with your bike on the opposite side. Leash in your left hand, bike on the right is ideal (we’ll get to why this is important in Step 3). Treat the dog for staying on your left side, stop moving if they walk in front of the bike. Stop moving from time to time and treat the dog for stopping with you. I use the command “stopping” to cue Hector to slow down, but I’m not sure if he really understands it, or is just really intuitive at responding to my speed at this point. You also need to train the dog to stop when you drop the leash. If you use a weight on the end of the loop, it makes a noise that cues the stop, which is helpful. Practice, practice, practice. Treat, treat, treat.
Step 3: slow roll. After a few days walking together with the bike beside you, it’s time to practice riding together! Find an safe, open space with a squirrel population near-zero. Schoolyards are good. Parks can be OK if there are few people around. The fewer possible distractions the better. Sidewalks aren’t recommended for just starting out, as they’re too narrow. Use your left hand for the leash, and hold the leash by the knot you tied in it. Do not hold the loop, and never put the loop around your wrist! This leaves your right hand for the bike. You’ll occasionally be operating your bike one-handed (similar to when you signal a turn), and you want your bike-focused hand controlling the rear brake. Using the back brake instead of the front is essential to ensure your bike doesn’t flip over if you have to make a sudden stop. On an upright Dutch-style bicycle, starting out and getting your balance is fairly straightforward. On your fixie or drop-bar road bike, this becomes a greater challenge. Practice getting on your bike and pedaling slowly with your pup walking beside you. Stop after a few pedal strokes and treat the dog for stopping. Drop the leash from time to time, and treat the dog for stopping then, too. If pupper tries to cross in front of your path, stop the bike immediately, and dismount, and wait for the dog to get beside you again. Repeat until you feel comfortable at slightly faster than walking speed, then extend length and increase speed as you feel comfortable. I use my bike bell just before changing directions, which is helpful in the long run to cue a behavior change when you want to go around an obstacle or avoid a person.
Step 4: practice. Most things in a dog’s life that make them happy are routine and repetition. They need practice and positive reinforcement to succeed at tasks. Hector and I ride together every day, and some days are better than others. We practiced for months in the park before we ever went on the sidewalk or street. You both need to practice where there are squirrels, and other dogs and humans, too. Hector’s pretty good at ignoring most dogs and humans, and he’s doing better with most squirrels, but rabbits and deer instigate something in his little dog brain that get him ready for a chase. Get good at knowing when you can rein in your pup from chasing something, and knowing when you’re surprised/off balance enough to need to drop the leash (and hopefully doggo will learn to stop when this happens). Above all, don’t crash for the sake of your dog’s squirrel habit. With enough practice, your pup (even mine with a hound-dog nose) will learn to stop when his leash hits the ground. On Dundas Place a couple days ago (super advanced level, don’t try this for a year or more), I got mixed up going around a garbage can, dropped the leash, and he stayed put. Good boy. Liver treat. Carry on. My confidence that he’ll stop when we become disconnected gives me the ability to go with him to lots of places I couldn’t have taken him a year ago. As a bonus, he walks better when I’m on foot, too!
Our nightly trips to the river are an important part of our bond. We have an understanding that we both need to spend a bit of our day in nature, and that a bike is the way we get to do that together. When we get home at the end of the day, he’s a better dog, and I’m a better human. 14/10 for sure.
I can be good when there are deer, too.