Mountain biking has become a very popular sport and is a fun and healthy activity to share with your dog. However, before you start, check with your pet health professional to make sure your dog is healthy enough to participate in such a physically demanding activity.
Once your dog is at least six months old, you can begin to train it to run alongside you. Take plenty of time to train your dog properly and don’t rush the process. To prevent serious injuries to your dog, have the necessary equipment on hand before you leave for your biking trip. Train your dog by starting with a very short ride, increasing it as the dog becomes more accustomed to running with a bike. Short loops around the park or an oval-shaped trail or roadway is a great way to begin.
Some mountain bikers use a lead for their dogs and some don’t; it all depends on the personality of your dog. With dogs that need some sort of restraint, a flexible bar, which you attach to your bicycle, keeps the dog at a safe distance. A dog-tracking collar or embedded chip is another great tool to insure the safety of your dog in the event it finds something interesting and decides to wander off and investigate.
Only the most obedient and alert dogs should run alongside your bicycle without a lead. Teach free-running dogs to stay on the same side of telephone poles and trees as your bike. Practice signalling your dog with a whistle or special command, in case it gets too close to your front tyre or other bicyclists. It is important to scan ahead for any hazards along the roadway or trail that can hurt your dog’s feet, such as sharp rocks, branches, drains, drainpipes, broken glass, nails, sharp road metal or hot bitumen roadways.
When you and your dog are ready to try a mountain bike trail, make sure that it is all right to take your dog with you on the trail. Start out on a short trail, just one or two kilometres, before trying the longer trail and bring plenty of water for both of you. Progress slowly until you can ride and your dog can run alongside you for approximately eight to nine kilometres. When riding in a group, let others know the commands you will use to signal your dog, in order to avoid confusing the other bicyclists.
Your pace should be slower when you ride with your dog, especially when travelling up and down hills. For longer rides, keep your dog on grassy or soft surfaces. Check your dog’s pads often to make sure they don’t look damaged or worn. Bring along protective dog boots, in case your dog gets sore paws. If your dog starts limping, stop immediately and check the dog’s pads. Bring it home immediately and contact your veterinarian.
To avoid overheating, do not go out in the middle of the day when the temperatures are at their highest. Try riding in the early morning or late afternoon hours. Do not exercise your dog for two to three hours before or after a meal to prevent bloat, which can be fatal if not treated quickly.
Finally, be considerate and pick up after your dog. The experience of riding with your dog can be fun and healthy for everyone, if you train it properly and make the right preparations.