How to Teach Bicycle Riding To Get Your Agility Dog Fit
We all need a little change of pace from time to time and so do our dogs. Learning how to run on leash next to a bicycle not only makes exercising you and your dog easier, it also gives you both a change of pace. If you live in a beach state it means you and your dog can enjoy time at the beach while getting needed exercise. For those living in rural areas it means being able to venture farther and enjoy even more of the great outdoors while exercising. And for those of you, like me, that do not enjoy jogging it means a more fun way to ensure you and your dog is in top condition for their dog agility careers.
Before even pulling your bike out of the garage you will need to do some preliminary training with your dog. Most agility dogs have or will learn simple directional commands such as left, right, by me, easy and here. Make sure your dog is comfortable with doing these commands while walking on a leash like they will be next to the bike. You don’t want to use an obedience style heeling position command as the dog could get too close to the bike and get caught up in the wheels, pedals or chain. You want your dog next to you but at a safe distance.
You should also invest in the proper equipment that will keep you and your dog safe and comfortable during exercise sessions. Essentials include a non-tangling lead; a body harness, never use a choke collar and a slip collar could, well, slip off; a reflective vest for your dog or reflective tape on a bright dog vest; a small first aid kit that includes vet wrap and gauze for your dog and water bottles for you and your dog. Extras include: a bike lead baton that attaches to the bike to keep the dog clear of the wheels and pedals and an extra leash in case you need to stop and detach your dog from the bike; a doggie backpack if you need help carrying water bottles and your dog may appreciate hiking grade booties if you will be biking in areas that are hot, cold or rough terrain. If you will be riding at dawn or dusk you will want blinking lights for your bike and for your dog via a lighted collar or tag lights. In most states this is the law.
You will also want to clear your exercise regimen with your vet to be sure there are no underlying conditions your dog has that could cause this type of exercise to do him harm. If your dog is over weight your vet should instruct you on a feed and exercise program that will get them to a safe weight to take on this kind of work load as well. In fact, depending on your health you too may want to confer with your doctor before starting your new routine as well. Once you both have gotten the doctor’s ok, you are ready to start.
You don’t want to throw a collar on your dog, jump on a bike and go, however, you need to take time to teach your dog proper biking etiquette. This will keep you both safe from injury or crashes that could easily occur if your dog gets spooked by the bicycle or sees a critter that needs chasing. First make sure your dog is comfortable being around your bike without getting on it. Move them around the bike and let them check it out. If they are apprehensive about the bike use treats and work your dog at a distance they are comfortable and inch your way closer to it while working your dog.
When your dog is fine with the bike standing there, introduce them to the idea that the bicycle moves. Roll the bike back and forth so they can see it move and if they are fearful be sure to click and treat every time they look at it and come near. When your dog is comfortable with the bike moving you can either walk the bike and your dog or get on the bike and ride it at a comfortable walk speed for your dog. Be sure to only go a short distance at first, say a block or two and gradually build up distance and speed. During your practice runs is when you will also want to add your directional commands. You need your dog solid and comfortable with them before adding any speed to your sessions.
When you increase time, distance or speed you will want to keep a careful eye on your dog especially in inclement weather such as heat and humidity. Stop if you see your dog panting heavily, drooling excessively, or losing coordination. This could be a sign of hyperthermia. Stop and give your dog a breather if they seem to be slowing or appears to be tired. In both cases be sure to find shade for your dog and let them have time to get a drink. Do not increase the work load until your dog is comfortable and able to maintain the current load without these symptoms. If your dog does display any of these you may need to make your increases smaller.
Be sure to stop and give your dog breaks and let them know what a great exercise partner they are being. Remember, they are doing more work than you in most cases so don’t wait until you are tired to take a pit stop. Watch your dog and stop when they need a break. Best of luck and have fun enjoying the scenery and your dog’s company.