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Autumn exercise and your pet; cycling with your dog

BEHOLD - the bike is a thing of beauty!
BEHOLD - the bike is a thing of beauty!
(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Interested in cycling with your pet and not sure where to start? This article will cover the basics of cycling with your dog. This is a continuation of the article Autumn exercise and your pet; exercise basics.

First,  improve your pets' fitness level. A dog must put forth an intense effort to match speed with a bicycle for any length of time. Consider beginning your pets training with running; see Autumn exercise and your pet; running with your dog for training tips. Second, your dog's paw pads must toughen and form calluses to protect their feet from abrasions and bruising during running. Generally this can be achieved over time by covering shorter distances initially and then progressively adding time. Additional products such as boots or liquid foot pad protectors applied as a coating are available under such names as  Pad Kote or Tuf Foot.

Third, find a good place for your exercise. As highlighted in the article Autumn exercise and your pet; running with your dog, off road running for your pet is easier for both you and your pet. Cycling training can begin in any open field where you can focus on vocal commands and proper heeling and pace matching.

If your long term goal is to run your pet alongside your bicycle on the road train your dog to heel to your rear axle. As road cyclists know, emergency maneuvers may be required within a seconds notice due to cars, potholes, and pedestrians. Train your dog to be able to quickly respond; in addition to a steady speed, add in short bursts of speeding up and down, swerves and sudden turns. Add in vocal commands to allow you to notify your dog of upcoming changes; it really doesn't matter what the words are- if its whoa for slowing, etc. just try not to pick words they might hear others yelling. Your dog suddenly turning when you're going straight might result in an ugly crash! Once your pet is following your cues and commands well in a safe and controlled environment progress to a closed neighborhood street. Why not start on the street you might ask? The concrete hurts a lot more than dirt does- you will have accidents while initially training your dog. Once everything is going well for short controlled distances within the neighborhood (allow time for your dogs' paw pads to toughen on the concrete) you can eventually roam out of this safe zone. Here's the addition most people have problems with, the leash, since by law it is required. The safest way to leash a dog running alongside a bicycle is to mount a leash holder on the bicycle. A recommended form is the Springer, a seat post mounted, spring framed unit that places the leash held via a safety release just above the bottom bracket of the bicycle-- your bikes center of gravity. Quick pulls by your pet are absorbed initially by the spring. You can overcome a  force large enough to move your bike by shifting your weight and pulling the bike away from the turning direction. A set of plastic rings acting as a safety release connects your pet to the Springer. These are designed to break should your dog decide to put a tree, fire hydrant or street sign between the two of you! A leash mounted, held or wrapped around a wrist high on a bicycle allows no response time, you will simply find your face sliding along the concrete.

If you intend to run your dog behind your mountain bike on nearby trails its a little easier. Proper trail etiquette or knowledge of the rules of the trails are essential, however. Train your dog to stay tucked in behind your rear wheel on tight trails but allow him to run slightly to the side to avoid wet spray from your wheels on wet trails. Train him to match speed and act as an extension of your bike, trails are often so tight that passing requires riding briefly off the trail, a dog in the middle of the trail causes everyone to come to a rude halt. The need will also arise for passing other riders traveling in the same direction since slower riders are not required but should yield to faster riders. In a group situation a trail dog should follow the last or the slowest member of the group to allow passing within the group. Practice coming to a sudden halt with your pet remaining behind you as this may be required for yielding on a downhill trail to climbing riders and for trail obstacles crossed at low speed such as trees, etc.

As with any exercise with your pet keep a constant roving eye over your surroundings for any potential distractions. Regaining your pets attention is easier when they first alert to people, wildlife or other exercisers then when they're in the heat of the chase!

As your pet improves in health and conditioning add additional time and mileage. Don't forget to vary your path and occasionally your surface of choice. Taking a usually concrete run dog to a trail or field for an easy ride a few times a week can not only break up monotony but give their joints a needed break.

Clare Sanders DVM CCRT is the founder of Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine of Mississippi, for more information visit