Dogs are known as man’s best friend, so it’s only natural for mountain bikers to want to bring their buddies along for the ride. Before taking Fido out to the trail for your next ride, be sure to consider these tips for respecting other trail users and your own four-legged friend.
1. Do train and test your dog to make sure he or she is able to obey your commands. Many owners are able to keep their dogs under voice control, though keep in mind that mountain bike trails pose additional challenges. Wild animals, other trail users, and sheer exhaustion can distract dogs that are otherwise very obedient.
We had a dog named Jackson (photos below), and when he was still a puppy we decided to take him with us for a ride. Being naive dog owners, we figured he would just know what to do, but it turned out, he didn’t. He proceeded to run through the woods, cut his tongue on a hidden barbed wire fence, and generally didn’t seem to want to follow us or the trail. Even though we had worked with Jackson through standard obedience training, he still had a lot to learn about trail etiquette.
2. Don’t leash your dog to your bike. Ever. Not only is this dangerous for the rider, it’s also dangerous for the dog. Consider that your dog might dart at a squirrel and pull you over, or that you might jerk your dog down a rock roll he doesn’t see coming up. Bikes have a lot of moving parts too, making any kind of tether–like a leash–a full-blown safety hazard.
3. Do make sure your dog will have plenty of opportunities to hydrate. If there aren’t any streams or bodies of water along your route, you’ll want to carry extra water for your pooch. And don’t forget a collapsible doggie bowl–that is, unless you’ve trained your dog to suck out of a hydration pack straw.
4. Don’t take your dog for a ride in extreme temperatures. This mostly means hot days when a furry, running dog will have a hard time keeping cool, but it also applies to cold and icy conditions as well. Cool days are generally best for taking your dog for a ride.
5. Do check to see if off-leash dogs are allowed in the area where you plan to ride. Some places don’t allow dogs at all, leashed or not, so make sure you know before you go. If you want to know if a specific mountain bike trail allows dogs, check the Q&A section on the Singletracks trail page for that trail.
6. Don’t ride on crowded trails. Even though your dog is going to be under strict voice control, there is still a potential for conflict. For example, many owners whose dogs are off leash like to say, “it’s ok, he’s friendly” whenever their dog approaches another person or pet. But what if that person is allergic to dogs, like my son, or even just fearful of dogs? Or what if that leashed pet is not friendly, and your unleashed dog approaches? Even if your dog is as sweet as banana pudding, chances are not everyone on the trail is going to be stoked to see your pet running wild, so avoid places where there are a lot of other trail users.
7. Do make sure your dog is wearing a collar with tags that includes your contact information. It’s also a really good idea to have your pet microchipped if he or she is going to be spending a lot of time running around in the woods, since a collar could get lost or broken.
8. Don’t ride too far. It’s important to know your dog’s limits and to remember that dogs can’t coast down hills. They’re working all the time, and their short legs aren’t nearly as efficient as a bicycle. Some breeds of dogs are better suited to long distance rides, so keep in mind your dog’s physical traits and fitness when choosing a route.
9. Do clean up your dog’s poop. Depending on where you ride, there may be different rules and regulations, but suffice it to say, if your dog takes a crap on the trail itself, you need to pick that up. Nobody likes picking dog poop out of their tire tread.
Mountain biking with a dog can be a lot of fun for both the rider and the dog, given the proper conditions. Follow these tips and precautions to ensure a safe ride for you, your dog, and other trail users and wildlife around you.