How to safely bike with your dog in tow

The tragedy happened years ago, but I still choke up with horror when I think about it. I was riding my mountain bike with some friends along an exposed single-track trail on a very hot day when I heard screams of “Water, water! Do you have water?” A man was running downhill towards us, carrying a thickly-furred spaniel-type dog. Its body was limp and drooping. The head was hanging down with the tongue lolling out of the mouth; the tongue had turned black.

We stopped and pulled out our water bottles, but it was obviously too late. “I ran her to death, I ran her to death,” the man sobbed. He had been riding his bike fast for at least an hour, with his dog freely running along with him. Suddenly, she wasn’t there. He looked back, and saw his furry best friend lying still along the trail. He couldn’t handle both the bike and the dog, he saw her tongue had turned black, grabbed her and started running, leaving his bike behind. We turned around and rode with him to the parking lot.

He laid his dog in the bed of his pickup and bent over her, sobbing and screaming.

Few dog owners realize how essential it is to carry water for a dog, whether going for a speedy bike ride or a sedate hike. Dogs have very few sweat glands. They get rid of heat by panting, which also uses up water. If a dog spends too long a time panting to get rid of heat, while also panting from exertion, the result can be fatal dehydration.

A gallon of water weighs a little more than eight pounds. If you plan on being out with your pet for a few hours on a hot day, it’s a good idea to carry this much water, along with one of those flexible canvas water bowls sold at any pet shop and most outdoor shops. First, train your dog at home to drink from this type of bowl.

Never ride your bike while holding your dog on a leash pressed to the handlebars. One danger is that the leash can tangle with your bike’s gear wheels or chain. Another danger is that your dog may run in front of your front wheel or pull you off balance by getting distracted by something on the side of the road. Either action can cause a serious crash. If the crash is hard enough to knock you unconscious, you and your dog may be left in a vulnerable position that could cause further injury. For the same reason, never tie your pet to any part of a bike while out for a ride. But always bring a leash.

Every dog needs to be trained to accompany you closely during a bike ride, without dashing off to play with or challenge or chase another dog. Always bring treats along. Start the training by leashing your dog, holding the leash with one hand and wheeling your bike along with the other hand. Instruct the dog not to pull. When it learns to walk calmly, give lavish praise as well as a treat.

Next, take the leash off while continuing to wheel your bike along and giving constant praise and treats, as long as your pooch stays by you and your bike. Establish a set distance to stay within; limited to five or ten feet away. If the dog goes further away, use a sharp command to get him or her back within range. If you live in a neighborhood where dogs are not allowed to be off leash, find a nearby trail or park where an obedient dog is allowed to accompany you without a leash.

After your pet learns the set distance of closeness for you and your bike, stop wheeling and start riding. Ride for a minute at a time, and if the dog stays in range, stop to give copious praise and several treats.

Remember these rules of the trail. They will help keep your dog — and you — safe when out together for a hike or bike ride.

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Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly

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