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Outdoors, Healthy and Active – A Bike, A Dog & You

If you want to have some real fun with your Buddy, train him to accompany you on a bike ride!

What better way for both of you to get a real workout while enjoying each other’s company?

The positive side is that even if you have both been total couch potatoes for longer than you would care to admit, it is a great way to get back out there, plus you can work at your own pace. There is no need or benefit to try to push past your comfort level.

Of course this advice to have fun and go biking, does not come without a word of warning.

The first is obvious: You need to get a Doctor/Veterinary clearance for both of you.

Second, consider the health of Buddy: if you start to get tired while biking, you simply just pull over and STOP, but if Buddy gets tired you may not be aware of his condition. A bottle of water for both of you is not an added convenience, it is a necessity. Please understand that the effects of canine exhaustion are not pleasant. Also this exercise is just for a medium to big dog activity. If you have one of the great little guys you can still bicycle, just buy him or her a basket and train a solid stay, of course back up that solid stay with a safety clip (with a quick auto or quick release) of some sort.

Then there is also this point to consider: without training Buddy could do some real damage to himself and to you. For example, if he is on a lead (and he should be if you are riding in any populated area) and he gets distracted and, depending on his size, I foresee a couple of scenarios. If you are biking with a smaller size dog and he goes under either the front or back tires, or if you are biking with a bigger dog which might pull you down or just pull you out of your lane and into traffic, then both are a recipe for disaster, both personally and legally.

 Biking with your dog can be done safely, but like all things in life, it just takes work to make it a reality.

First let’s make sure there are no problems with the bike itself.

Does Buddy shriek in terror at the very sight of a bike? or Is he the exact opposite with every bike becoming an object of prey to be chased, caught, and devoured?

The handling of both situations is very much dependent on the level of Buddy’s fear or aggression to bikes. If the problem is slight in nature, sometimes just going out for a nice casual outing (or number of outings) will solve the problem. Walk with both the bike and Buddy close to it, and coupled with a pocket of big-time tasty treats and some words of praise and affection, will cast out any of those nasty bicycle goblins haunting his little canine mind.

But if you have a real problem that no amount of sweet talking will make a dent in, you need to bring out the big guns.

Actually the process to desensitize either of the two problems is pretty much the same.

You will need a helper who can ride a bike and a big open area (an open parking lot works great). If you have kids, pay them a buck or two to ride their bikes around Buddy.

Now this is where you need to learn to exercise some finesse in your handling.

Have our helper go out on his/her bike, and make large circles of about 50 to 75 feet around you and Buddy. Now if Buddy reacts to the bike in any way, either through fear or aggression at that distance, you’re too close, so move your bicycle helper farther out to maybe 100 feet. You are going to have to work out what Buddy’s distance/tolerance level is for bikes before he reacts and goes off the deep end.

This is important, because if you try to push him into close confrontations before he is ready and he freaks out, you have just pushed your training back big time, not to mention that you are just wasting your time. If that happens, call it quits for now and come back later.

Now that you know where the bike needs to be for Buddy’s comfortable distance (safe zone) and when he looks relaxed, it’s time to start to work on getting some focus. Use whatever works for him, say his name, talk to him, recite the stock quotes for the day, stand on your head, do whatever it takes for him to look at you. Then at that exact moment he grants you the gift of his attention, BANG! it’s click and treat time. If you don’t know what Click & Treat means, do yourself a favor and read the featured article on this site entitled Operant Conditioning a.k.a Clicker Training, then come back here because you and Buddy will both be the better for it.

Our objective here is for Buddy to have a neutral attitude toward bikes. So in working toward that goal we start SLOWLY. Move a few feet toward the outside circle of that circular bike path (of course the bike rider is at Buddy’s distance/tolerance level doing circles), then stop, clicking and treating for his attention as you go. Then we walk a few more feet toward the outside circle, same deal, clicking and treating for his attention.

It is more than likely that at some point he is going to start getting jumpy about the bike. At the first sign of that happening, you oblige and move away, back toward the center and start over. But keep in mind that each time you allow a negative reaction to occur in Buddy’s head that it is another step backwards in his training. So please take it very slowly so that there would be no need for the retreat.

Before you ask how long this might take, let me tell you this; I can’t tell you! There are so many variables, such as how bad the problem was at the start. What is your handling experience? What is the basic temperament of Buddy? The only thing I can say about it is “it takes as long as it takes”. This is not a race, the slower you go the better the fix.

When you are confident that there is no problem of any sort with the bike, it’s time to start practicing bicycling as a team endeavor.

But before you grab your bike and the dog lead, let’s think about a couple of issues.

You will want to start out in a quiet place (like that parking lot we used earlier), go easy on the ride and do many stop and starts in short spurts.

First off, you will need to learn to communicate with Buddy, by that I mean that you should give him some notice of what is about to happen.

It should go without saying that Buddy should know and respond to the basic commands, also known to my former students as the Big Five – come, sit, stay, down and heel. Interjecting these commands in a normal bike ride should be self-explanatory, if not, they will be on your first ride.

It is just like regular obedience work. When you are riding the bike with Buddy next to you it’s “Buddy Heel”; when you stop the bike it’s “Buddy sit”; when you get off the bike it’s “Buddy Stay”; if Buddy starts to lag it’s “Buddy Come/heel”; if you engage the kick stand to walk away for a moment it’s “Buddy Down”.

There are a couple of other commands that should be in Buddy’s repertoire. Here is one way that almost self-teaches Buddy these new commands.

Here is how to do it. Once again start out in that nice quiet place. Buddy is next to the bike (Buddy Heel) and you take off at a normal pace (but of course adjusted to Buddy’s abilities). Now just as you are about to slow up, use his name and then say something like “Buddy eeeeeeeasy” or “Buddy slooooooooooooow” this is not an obedience competition, so feel free to repeat yourself in a nice, easy, low pitched and slow “Whoooooooa Boy”

When you are ready to pick up speed, also pick up volume and pitch in your voice tone, say his name and something like “Buddy let’s go!” or “Buddy Okay go!”. The words don’t matter, just make them fast, crisp, sharp and upbeat – use whatever words you want.

What does matter, a lot, is using the same words all the time and the same inflection in the tone of your voice. Happy and upbeat for “let’s pick up the pace” or smooth and low for “we are slowing down”. Using the same philosophy, get him used to hearing about right and left turns. Remember to always get attention with his name first.

When his attention is focused on you and he gives you a particularly good change of pace or turn, don’t be afraid to stop, praise and treat him immediately.

If your pocketbook can afford it, there is one thing that really should be on your shopping list. It is an attachment that fits onto your bike that holds the lead (there are a few types listed in the store section of my site) which will keep your hands free to do what they should be doing: steering your bike. Some come with an adjustable harness (a standard collar is an invitation for problems) and spring shock absorber with a quick release feature, in case of accident.

Lastly, remember you are the one who is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of Buddy, yourself and the public in general. Treat this whole adventure with the seriousness it deserves, and by that I mean that do not under any circumstances take Buddy and your bike out until you are 110% sure of your control.

And never even consider riding in any traffic areas, which is not only very dangerous but also very dumb. Taking due diligence precautions will get you ready for the outing and will go far in the enjoyment of the outing for both of you.

Afterthoughts: Just remember that not everyone shares equal sentiments about cycling with a dog; some consider it border-line cruel, while some think that the exercise and comradery is the best thing in the world for any dog capable of doing the work.

Before you make an unqualified opinion, talk to your Vet, your local Municipal Animal Control People, your Kennel Club, The Humane League, Breeders, etc. Get as much information as you can from as many canine authorities as you can (try for both positive and negative opinions), then weigh it all up. Then, after all that research, and only then, let your conscience be your guide.

If you vote it down, good for you! There is no shame either way for your decision because there is nothing in the Dog Ownership Manuel that says you must ride a bicycle to be a great pet parent. Plus, there is certainly no shortage of other wonderful ideas to keep both you and Buddy busy and fit.


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