Have You Thought About Bicycle Touring with a Dog?
Guest Post By Jasmine Reese
If you’re like me, you know dogs are wonderful family members and friends. Reading this article, you’re probably at the beginning of discovering they make awesome travel companions as well.
But, I want to talk specifically about touring on a bicycle with your furry buddy.
Hi, my name is Jasmine, and this is the animal who rescued me -- Fiji. She’s more like a daughter to me now than a dog. We’ve traveled over 14,000 miles around North America via bicycle and some hitchhiking together. She’s the best cycle touring partner a person can ask for. But our adventures didn’t come without a learning curve.
I’d like to share a little bit about what’s worked for me, and how you can become a nomadic cyclist with your dog.
Gear for Bike Touring with Your Dog
While it may seem illogical to buy all the gear before knowing whether or not your dog will actually like traveling via cycle, it is the only way to train, acclimate, and assess your dog’s knack for touring. You have to buy the gear and test it all out.
Depending on your dog’s size and energy level, you’ll need several gear items for your tour.
Dog Bike Trailer or Basket.
Some people make a couple of novice mistakes when first introducing their dogs to a world of cycle travel. They either assume dogs can withstand running alongside the bicycle excessive amounts of time, or they keep their dog confined for the entire ride.
Dogs, like humans, have different physical levels. Some are powerful and can run for hours. Other dogs do not have the physical stamina. Either way, your dog will need to be towed at some point during the day, and you’ll want them to have a comfortable, sturdy, and long-lasting transport system.
If you have a small dog, you’re in luck. You won’t have to invest too much money in a way to carry them. There are ways to mount cute DIY and pre-made towing systems on your front or rear racks, or handlebars. However, a dog over 25 pounds requires his or her own space, and that’s where a nice dog bike trailer comes in.
You will want to check the trailers' 1) tow bar, 2) weight capacity and 3) material.
For me, I love a bicycle trailer tow bar that hitches above the rear rack -- like the Cycletote trailers. With a dog over 45 pounds, I found after six months of constant cycle touring, a tow bar that attached to the rear wheel of the bike began to bend under the weight of my dog. By the fourth month, the tow bar on Fiji’s first doggy trailer was bent so much that the front of the trailer would catch on to any protruding objects in the road, and I’d go flying off my bike. In 2016, I traveled for one full year with Fiji across Canada and around the U.S. with a large Cycletote dog trailer, and never experienced any mechanical problems or hitch/tow bar issues.
In regards to weight capacity, I like a trailer that not only holds the weight of my dog but can also handle additional cargo. I place my violin, Fiji’s food, our tent, and some tools in the trailer. It’s nice to have a reliable transport that won’t break under the pressure.
Third, I love that my Cycletote trailer provides Fiji with some protection from the rain and sun. The canopy material is water-resistant, and it’s light and visible color does not create a heat trap within the trailer. Therefore, she can sit inside with a little bit of relief from the elements. You also want to make sure to put a strong tire on your trailer. Flats on your bicycle are frustrating. Now imagine having to change or patch up four or five tubes!
It is important to mention that I did love some of the features of Fiji’s first trailer, including a doggy pad for her to sit on for comfort, a built-in door to enclose her in the trailer, a leashing system to keep her attached in the trailer, a rack system at the top, and a way to fold down the trailer for ease of transport. However, the mechanical issues meant it was not a sustainable design on the road.
Bike Leash Attachment.
As mentioned above, your dog will need time out of the bike trailer and a bit of exercise. It is up to you and your veterinarian to assess what your dog can physically handle each day.
Every dog is different. If you choose to run your dog for any portion of the day, you will have to make this a gradual, rewarding, and safe process. Just like us, dogs will reach a groove, peaking point, and they’ll need lots of hydration and breaks in between. You might find your dog is not cut out for running due to lack of joy, joint issues, weak paw pads, inability to acclimate to doggy booties, low energy, short legs, and more, so keep this in mind!
Introduce your dog to running alongside your bike very slowly. Start out with 500 feet, then graduate to a quarter-mile and subsequently one, three, and five miles over the course of a few weeks. Some keys ways to tell whether your dog is not enjoying him or herself:
- Your dog does not keep up with you, and you are dragging your dog. In this case, you might just need to reduce your speed, but if even at the slowest speed your dog keeps resisting, he is not enjoying it.
- Your dog tries to stop constantly even if he does not have to go potty; he just wants off the leash attachment.
- Your dog runs away or pulls away from the bike and leash attachment. Or willingly runs and jumps in his trailer after you let him off the leash attachment.
- Your dog’s tail is tucked between their legs, and they are showing signs of anxiety.
- Your dog is limping or his paw pads tear or break easily.
For an upright, two-wheel bicycle, it is never advisable to tie a standard leash to the bike. You want to use a special bike-leash attachment made to absorb the shock of your dog’s pulling, so you don’t fall over. There are quite a few systems.
My first leashing system was the Springer America. I never felt Fiji pulling me off to the side, and it had a release system in the event of impact or falling. That way, your dog could get away safely. Unfortunately, the Spring America did not transfer to my recumbent trike, so I now use a regular leash because I no longer have the balance and falling over concerns that an upright, two-wheel bike presented.
Harness, Paw Wax, and Booties.
A harness is important because your dog will pull. You do not want them choking themselves, so do not attach the leash to their collar. A harness will let them run and pull comfortably.
I get most of my active dog accessories from Ruffwear. While expensive, their dog products are incredibly durable. The amount of times I had to replace a cheaper harness because Fiji’s torn it up from her regular rubs in the dirt, swims in lakes, and roughhousing with new doggy friends certainly amounts to more than what I paid for her current harness. Fiji wears a Ruffwear Front Range Harness, and it’s lasted in every condition imaginable for the last two years.
Unfortunately, while traveling across countries, you will not have the luxury of a packed gravel trail to run your dog on at all times. They will run on paved roads and trails. You’ll see glass, lots of loose rock, nails, tire wires, thorns, and other things that will damage your dog’s paw pads. That’s where paw wax and booties come in. While it’s not necessary to wear booties at all times, paw wax is something I put on Fiji once per week to give her pads an extra layer of protection. It helps to keep small debris from getting stuck between their toes, provides a good amount of protection from the heat and cold, as well as salts and other chemicals on the ground. It does not protect from sharp objects like nails. You’ll have to be vigilant to make sure your dog doesn’t step on any nasty sharp objects.
I also get Fiji’s booties from Ruffwear, and I only put them on her when the pavement is hot or we are riding on a highway with lots of debris from semi-truck tires.
If you do have a running dog, you will need to carry extra water. Fiji drinks almost a half-gallon of water a day. So, one or two bottles for yourself will not cut it. I suggest adding a six to 10-liter dromedary to your gear list, especially if traveling through the desert or other areas with limited access to services.
Training for Bicycle Touring with a Dog
OK, I didn’t follow my advice here on my first bicycle tour with my dog. Like myself, Fiji entered the world of touring a complete novice. I just left and knew nothing about anything, and Fiji was a 1 ½-year-old pup with tons of energy and bad manners. Thankfully, I was determined to complete my tour, so her behavior didn’t really cause me too much discouragement. However, she adapted quickly and became a dream dog after a short time, so I got lucky.
Embarking on an adventure and taking on a physically challenging feat is more about mental power. If you’re stressed and annoyed, your journey will not fulfill you. That’s why it’s important to make sure your dog is cut out for touring life in the behavioral department.
An untrained dog will mean limiting your access to certain places and sights, campgrounds, motels, homes and more. Having so many restrictions on where you can go and what you can do because your dog will take all the fun out of touring.
If you decide to bring your dog with you on a bicycle tour, your dog should be adaptable and a quick learner. Also, recall is so important. You don’t want your dog to run off and not listen to you when you tell him or her to come back.
That about covers it all. I like to remind myself that Fiji did not ask to come with me. She follows because she loves me. So, it’s up to me to make her life on the road with me comfortable, safe, and fun. I have to exercise patience with her and put her first because she’s a life I am in charge of.
If you have any questions about touring with your dog, you can email me at info@FiJaPAW.com Follow the FiJaPAW journey @ https://FiJaPAW.com/subscribe. At CycleTote, we'd love to help you prepare for your tour, contact us today!