If you’re looking for the perfect riding partner to accompany you on a mountain biking trip, why not look to your dog? Your four-legged friend is likely more than willing to get exercise and explore some new territory. Many seasoned mountain bikers have a faithful and well-behaved dog by that their side as they zip through turns and obstacles. While you may be eager to grab your dog and give it a try, not every dog is built to keep up. Mountain biking with dogs takes a lot of training and hard work. There’s a lot to prepare and many things to consider to ensure that your pooch is successful on the trails.
Why Mountain Bike With Your Dog?
Mountain biking is a great way for both you and your dog to stay physically fit. Instead of burning calories on a short walk up and down the street, your dog will be exposed to various exercises they’ll benefit from. They can build muscles while increasing their overall endurance. Because no two mountain trails are the same, your dog will receive a unique workout every time you go on a new adventure. Furthermore, your dog acts as a great motivator to ensure that you stay active for years to come.
Beyond the obvious health benefits, the activity also provides excellent behavioral training. To be successful, dogs have to know how to get past obstacles, accommodate other bikers, and stay focused while they keep up the pace. With regular training, these skills can easily translate to other areas of your dog’s life.
Will My Dog Like to Run Along?
Dogs are pack animals. If you take off, they’ll follow your every move to stay close. However, this natural instinct is limited in many breeds. Not all dogs are built for the rigors of running through variable terrains. Some breeds are prone to injuries and health concerns that limit their athletic abilities. Additionally, dogs may have difficulty adapting to this new lifestyle if they aren’t used to a lot of physical activity. On the other hand, there are some breeds that excel at the sport.
These dogs are incredibly agile. They can get through variable terrain and obstacles with ease. Furthermore, they’re usually full of energy and always ready for an adventure.
Known for their intelligence and strength, German Shepherds are ideal for mountain biking. They thrive with exercise and have a coat made for colder environments.
Also built for cold environments, Siberian Huskies are light on their feet. They can move through obstacles elegantly and often have the endurance for longer trails.
Border Collies are very athletic. They’re energetic creatures with high endurance levels. They’re also very intelligent and capable of figuring out how to get through obstacles without a problem.
With their large and muscular bodies, Alaskan Malamutes can climb hills without getting tired. Their thick coats can also keep them warm in cold environments.
Weimaraners need a lot of exercises. They work hard to keep up no matter what type of trail they’re on. Furthermore, the breed is very loyal and great at coming back to their owner if they stray off.
These dogs are built for running long distances. They’re lean and have a natural gait that allows them to push farther without getting tired. Their short coat also helps to keep them cool.
Kelpies are natural athletes. They do best when they stay busy and active. They’re also known for their high endurance levels that make them successful on long trails.
These breeds are very fast. Originally known for being hunter dogs, they have the muscles to run for a long time. They also have large lungs that help to build endurance.
When Should a Dog Not Run?
There are certain instances in which running can do more harm than good. Overweight and senior dogs should limit their activity. They don’t have the endurance to keep up and have a weaker cardiovascular system. Too much running can put stress on their heart and bodies. The same goes for dogs with certain health issues. Some breeds will develop hip dysplasia and arthritis. The conditions make running painful and can cause permanent damage if ignored. Dogs with short snouts should also avoid running. Breeds like Pugs experience breathing difficulties when they work too hard. Running can limit their oxygen intake, which can result in collapse and injury.
Is My Dog Old Enough to Run Along?
It’s important to wait until a dog has fully matured until you take them on a trail. Usually, dogs are full grown in around 14 to 18 months. However, it depends on the dog’s breed. When they mature, their growth plates are closed and the joints are set. Too much running before this has happened can lead to injuries that affect the dog throughout its life. Injuries at a young age can lead to issues with ligaments, bones, muscles, and joints. While a short run on a safe surface isn’t a problem, it’s best to avoid rigorous trails until they’re ready.
What Gear Do I Need?
Unless you’re planning for your dog to ride along on your back, you’re going to need some gear.
- Leash – A high-quality leash is a must-have for staying in control as they train. It’ll prevent your dog from straying too far off course while still giving them the freedom they need to run. There are a number of great options designed for fast-paced running. Most contain a bit of elastic that adjusts for slight variances in distance. They can be attached to your body or directly on the bike itself. Because they have that elastic, you can rest assured that a bit of pulling won’t throw you off the bike.
- Treats – You need to be able to let your dog know that they’ve done a good job. You should always have small treats on hand. They can be used as a reward, to guide your dog in the right direction, or as an energy-boosting snack.
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- Poop bags – Nobody wants to come across your dog’s mess on the trail. Poop bags make quick work of dealing with your pup’s bathroom break. They can help you avoid fines and the disapproving looks of other bikers. There are many compact storage options that can be attached to the leash or bike.
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- Collar light – Visibility is important, especially when you’re riding at night. Blinking lights can be attached to your dog’s collar. They make others aware of you and your dog’s presence to avoid accidents and injury.
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- Hydration system – Keeping your dog hydrated is important. Make sure to bring along plenty of water on your ride. It can be carried in a bottle or in a handy hydration bladder. If you don’t want your canine companion to drink directly from the source, bring along a collapsible water bowl.
Camelbak Hydration Backpack
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- Bear Bell – When you’re on a mountain biking trail, you’re exposed to a lot of wildlife. Bear bells are a loud accessory that can scare dangerous animals away. They can be attached to the bike via velcro or on your dog’s collar.
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How To Cycle With Your Dog
1. Walk Your Dog With the Bike
Before you start riding, you need to get your dog comfortable with the bike. Start by taking the bike with you on your daily walk. Teach your pooch which side you want them to stay on. You should also work on keeping them parallel with the front wheels. Take this time to teach them where to run, how to keep up the pace, and to never get in front of the wheels. Eventually, they’ll get used to the bike and associate it with being outdoors and having fun.
2. Begin With Short Rides on the Leash
Once your furry friend is comfortable walking alongside the bike, you can go on short rides. Make sure you’re in an environment that’s safe and relatively free of distractions. Start off slow and make sure they’ve adopted the habits you’ve been teaching them. Reward them for staying on the right side and correct behavior if they run off or get in front of the bike. Make sure you have complete control of your dog. While it might take some time, you shouldn’t continue unless you know you can control your pup.
3. Progress to Short Rides Off the Leash
To be successful, you need to be able to trust your dog off the leash. Make sure that your dog has great recall skills. When you’re comfortable riding with the leash, it’s time to practice without it. Ride in an enclosed area if possible. Again, start slow and use the same training techniques to further cement the behavior you’re looking for. Use recall commands and plenty of treats. Use this practice time to give your dog as much training as possible. You need to be positive that your dog is obeying your commands.
4. Slowly Build Up Your Dog’s Fitness
After all this training, you’ll probably want to hit the trail as soon as possible. However, it’s important to start off slow. Running on a trail is completely different to running on a smooth concrete path. Go on smaller rides to build up your dog’s endurance and fitness level. The more you ride, the better your dog will get at the activity. Eventually, they’ll develop their muscles and cardiovascular health to go on much longer runs.
5. Pay Attention to Your Dog
One of the most important things you need to do while you ride is to pay attention to your dog. Look out for signs of danger or distress. Limping, excessive panting, or even falling behind you is a big red flag. It could indicate that your dog is struggling or something even more serious is occurring. Make sure that your dog isn’t experiencing pain and that they’re capable of keeping up with your riding. If there’s trouble, don’t force your dog to continue.
10 Tips for Mountain Biking With Dogs
1. Look After Your Dog’s Feet
Because mountain bike trails often have a number of different types of terrain, you need to keep your pup’s feet protected. After every ride, check their feet for splinters, cactus needles, or anything else that could cause them pain. If your dog has particularly sensitive pads, it may be a good idea to invest in dog booties. The same goes for riding in snow or hotter environments.
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2. Carry Extra Water, Treats, and Snacks
Always carry enough food and water for the both of you. In fact, it’s recommended to carry more than you need and have some waiting for you back at the car. When you stop to take a quick water break, your dog should be treated as well. Let them drink from a bowl or hydration pack and give them some snacks for energy.
3. Teach Your Dog To Use a Hydration Pack
The easiest way to carry water is with a hydration pack, so it’s good to teach them how to drink from it. You can teach them to do this by practicing on a hose at home. Supply a strong and steady stream of water so they can lap up the water. When you’re on the trail, do the same from the hose of your hydration pack.
4. Regular Training
The key to success is continued training and exposure. It takes time for dogs to master the skills but they’ll become very skilled if you take them on the trail regularly. Even if you can’t hit the trail, take them around the block with the bike. You can still use the same techniques and fine-tune their behavior to ensure that every mountain biking trip is fun and problem-free.
5. Know Your Dog’s Abilities
You need to know the limits of your dog’s abilities to ensure that you don’t push them too far. While your canine companion will certainly get better with time, there’s still a line. You need to ride in a way that works with their abilities to prevent exhaustion, overheating, and injury. Keep an eye on them and adjust if needed.
6. Don’t Go Long Distances on Hot Days
To prevent overheating, keep rides short on particularly hot days. There’s no exact temperature that’s best. Take into account your dog’s tolerance and fur density to make a decision. If it’s very hot outside, make sure there’s plenty of places to stop and get water. If there’s not, take a smaller trip and save your energy for a cooler day.
7. Slower Trails are Better for Your Dog
While it may be tempting to fly at top speeds, your dog may not be able to handle it. Slower trails with fewer obstacles are better for your dog’s health and safety. Too many inclines or sharp declines can prove to be difficult.
8. A Massage Will Help Your Dog Recover
Rest and recovery are just as important for dogs as it is for humans. You can give your dog a simple massage to help them relax and recover. Simply have your pooch lay down on one side and massage their hips, shoulders, and legs. Give the legs a good stretch and repeat the massage on their other side.
9. Reward Your Dog with Attention
Some positive reinforcement never hurt anyone! Make sure to let your dog know how good they’re doing whenever you make a brief stop or take a break. Give them a treat and a good pat on the head as a reward. Verbal praise is always appreciated and can help reinforce your training.
10. Play Hide and Seek
Playing hide and seek can be a great way to reinforce your dog’s recall skills. It’s a simple and relaxed way of reuniting with your dog should you ever separate on a trail. In a comfortable area, have your dog sit and stay while you hide somewhere. Once you’ve found your spot, provide your verbal command that lets them know it’s time to find you. When they do, praise them and give them some treats. This little trick can prove to be very useful whenever you’re in a pickle.
Best Places to Go Mountain Biking With Your Dog
Most areas have great mountain trails you can ride with your dog. These trails are established and generally safer than just picking a random wooded area. When you find a trail, make sure to do a bit of research prior to bringing your dog. Check to see if your biking companion is allowed in the first place. Some trails forbid dogs while others aren’t as strict. If they’re allowed, give it a solo ride first. Assess the details of the trails and see if it’s something your dog can handle. Pay attention to how safe the trail is, locations of streams or watering holes, and what type of terrain there is. Also, keep your dog’s abilities in mind to see if it’s a place you can enjoy together.
Mountain biking trails give you the opportunity to challenge your mind and body in a beautiful and natural setting. Why not give your dog those same benefits? It’s an activity your dog will love. It allows them to spend more time with you while getting some much-needed exercise. With a bit of patience and continued training, the activity can be something that you and your beloved dog can enjoy together. Mountain biking with dogs is a truly rewarding experience if done correctly. With these tips and tricks in mind, you can train your dog to master the trail for a lifetime of fitness and exploration.