Biking with Dog

This is the first in a series of guest posts that will be published while Dottie and I are away. First up is S., a former blogger at academichic who now chronicles her bicycle life at the lovely new blog Simply Bike.

One of our first purchases after my return from Germany this summer was a Burley trailer for our dog. I had seen people pull their dogs to the park in Germany this way and was dying to try it out with our Indie. Much avid Craigslist searching and $60 later, this Burley child trailer was ours.

Burley "inbetween" picture

Burley makes both child and pet trailers for bikes. (New Burley trailers cost around $300-400, both in the pet and child variety, so we figured that at the discounted Craigslist price we could make the necessary conversations to make the trailer fit our needs). This particular trailer was designed to hold two small children so we figured that it would be adequate for one mid-sized dog. My dream was to convert this trailer to hold our dog and some odd picnic items to take our family on bike-powered day trips to the park or to the lake. My husband and I love riding our bikes to our local lake for a day of swimming but whenever we wanted bring our pup along, we were faced with the decision: bikes or dog? With this trailer, we could have our cake and eat it too. Or, more accurately, our bike ride and our dog.

Family Picture

Family portrait

We thus set forth to make the necessary changes to the trailer. We cleaned the trailer (it had a slight mold problem, we were dismayed to find); we removed the child seat; and we added a sturdy floor mat to flatten and reinforce the bottom of it. We bought an orange flag for visibility and we waited for a nice cool weather weekend to give this new ride a try. And, like every safe cyclist, Indie wore a helmet.

Safety First

To help Indie associate the trailer with happy moments, we planned her first ride to beover to our friends’ place, whose dog is Indie’s best friend. A short two-mile ride and a doggie date awaiting sounded like the perfect plan for our maiden voyage. Treats in stash, we loaded her in the trailer and headed out the door.

Proud mama

Apparently, two miles in the trailer was about a 1.8 miles too much for Indie. We barely made it down our street when she started whimpering and whining and digging at the mesh cover with her paws. No amount of sweet-talking from me or treat bribery could calm her down. By the time we reached the end of our block, she sounded like her leg was being sawed off.

Halfway to our destination, I was riding behind the trailer when a little black head poked out and turned around to say hello. The only thing: the trailer had been fully enclosed and secured. There was no opening or ‘window’ for a convertible-style doggieride. Indie had successfully clawed her way out of the mesh enclosure and T-rexed her way to freedom. We had, of course, anticipated resistance and had tied her leash to the inside, essentially seat-belting her in. While her head was free, she had no way of making a great escape and so, with no reason to abort the mission, we trudged on. And in case you’re wondering, having partly escaped her confines did nothing to soothe her spirits; she continued to wail and cry at decibels that could have shattered glass.

Biking with Dog

Indie en route was not a happy camper

After what felt like an eternity, we reached our friends’ home with nothing other than our hopes and Burley trailer harmed. Indie was fine and, within minutes, she was the overjoyed pup she usually is as she got to run and play with her friend Shasta. But the bike ride did not go quite as hoped and – I hate to admit – we rode our bikes home and returned in our car to pick up Indie. So much for that much anticipated family bike outing. Our only consolation: when we do have children and we strap them in a bike trailer, their nails will have been trimmed to non-shredding capabilities and a pacifier will hopefully dampen the sound of their cries. I’m not quite ready to give up our dream of group bike rides yet, you see.

Visit S. at her simply beautiful blog, Simply Bike.

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33 thoughts on “Biking with Dog

  1. Janice in GA says:

    I found a similar trailer for $10 at a local yard sale and have thought about doing the same thing. But I’ve learned from past experience that MY dogs don’t always jump with joy at things that *I* think will be fun.

    So I’ve started getting my Jasper dog used to the trailer by letting him hop in and out and praising him for staying. We’ve progressed a little to me pulling him in the trailer for a short distance by hand, and praising him (again) for good behavior. I’ll keep that up until he looks like he’ll be ok, then I’ll attach the trailer to the bike and start over.

    I did the same thing last week teaching him to jog beside me on the bike. I just walked the bike with him for maybe half a mile, till I could tell he understood the rules. Then I got on the bike and went v-e-r-y slowly till, again, I could tell he was getting it. By the time we got home, he was trotting along pretty reliably!

    You can often get by small steps to somewhere you couldn’t get by big ones. :)

    • great training! I had to go through a similar process with my dog who when I first got him hated getting in the car. We spent weeks just practicing in the driveway having him get in and out of the car with me.

      I recently bought a child trailer too, but admit I haven’t tried it yet because I know it will take a lot of time to get my dog okay with hanging out in there.

      To the author- good luck with Indie. I’m sure it’s possible and you have great family trips in store.

  2. G.E. says:

    Aww… I feel your pain! Why can’t those pups just cooperate with us? We’ve actually had similar thoughts of taking a kids bike trailer and somehow modifying it for our dogs. The biggest issues it that our dogs’ combined weight is around 175 lbs (not to mention the mods we’d likely have to make in support to such a trailer), and I’m not entirely certain I can pull them up the hills around here. I still would love to give it a try though!

  3. Simply Bike says:

    Thanks for having me guest post, Trisha and Dottie!

    Janice – we thought we were taking baby steps by only going two miles away, but maybe we should have settled for 200 feet. With LOTS more treats.

    I’m curious how others have gotten their dogs to enjoy a trailer ride, if at all?

  4. Nice piece about biking with dogs. I use an old Burley when I am biking my dogs to the mtb trails to go for a long ride. They can’t run the 3 miles to the mtb trails, run 10-15 on the trails and then run home again. But if I am only going 5-10 miles, my dogs run along with me. You have to work up to that distance, but it is pretty easy for a dog in good shape. I did a little post about how to do this on my blog here:

    http://overthebarsinmilwaukee.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/see-spot-run/

    • Simply Bike says:

      Dave – awesome post! Thanks for the link, I will have to take your tips and try this with Indie. She’s a blue heeler & black lab mix and is extremely high energy and a GREAT runner. She’s done up to 12 miles with me and I have read that blue heelers can run up to 40K a day. Now that I’m not doing any marathon or half marathon training, I’m running much less and biking/running with her would be a great way for her to get those extra miles in. Thanks, again!

  5. Don’t give up! You can have your cake and eat it too! We have two dogs: Coco, a 15lb border terrier and Dusty, a 60 lb. lab mix and have bicycled with them a lot (including month-long and two-week tours). I think some dogs may never take to biking, but in our case, Coco took to biking almost immediately (although she does bark on occasion). She originally rode in a B.O.B. Yak on many adventures. However, Dusty was much more difficult, being bigger and pretty excitable.

    A couple of thoughts:
    When we went looking for trailers, we eventually bought a trailer made specially for dogs. It (the Doggy Ride) had the advantage of doubling as a crate with the wheels removed. Dusty loves his crates, so we had the Doggy Ride in our apartment for more than a month getting him used to it before we biked with him. With a trailer that you have converted for dogs, I think it would be especially important to make sure that the platform your dog rides on is very stable. Also, we found that anytime that we tried to completely close our dogs in, they freaked out, so that while we would leash them to the trailer, we never completely closed the flaps so that they could stick their heads out and enjoy the passing wind.

    I think also a tired dog is going to take to the trailer much easier. It sounds like in your case, knowing that Indie was very excited that you were going for an outing before you even left, that made her all the more excitable when you got her in the trailer. I would suggest taking it somewhere where she can run for a few miles before she loads up in the trailer so that she is already a bit tired. While we were on tour we usually tried to walk our dogs in the mornings before striking camp so that they had used a bit of their energy before the biking day.

    Also, I think dogs are always going to prefer to run than ride in the trailer, so it might be nice to try it out in some places where they can run. I can tell you on a hot day after our dogs have run a few miles, they are more than happy to get in the trailer and relax!

    While our dogs hardly ever whine, they do on occasion bark, and it is something that we just had to get used to.

    Don’t give up, the pleasure of biking with your dog is well worth the effort you put in!

    • Simply Bike says:

      Daniel – thanks so much for this! Indie LOVES her crate so the thought of having a trailer that is much more crate like seems really productive. I also think that you’re right about the enclosed part, she seemed so eager to get her head out that she completely clawed though the mesh, creating her own opening:

      Burley AFTER "after" shot

      I guess we should have just opened the top to begin with.

  6. cycler says:

    My dog is small enough (18 lbs) that I’ve been known to put him in a backpack, with his legs all folded as if he were sitting, and his head sticking out. Getting him into the backpack is traumatic, but once he’s in, he doesn’t struggle , so he’s either humoring me, or doesn’t mind too much.

    I haven’t done it for years though, and he has a bit of arthritis in his hips, so he probably wouldn’t tolerate it as much now.

  7. I forgot to mention in my comment above, when I put my dogs in the Burley, I don’t cover them and I always hook their harnesses to the frame of the trailer with a very short lead so they cannot jump out. They did not like the trailer at first either, but it did not take long for them to realize that getting in the Burley meant a trip to the mtb trails and the river. Now they sit in the trailer without complaint.

  8. What a great post! This is something we’ve been wanting to do for awhile. Living in the city, we’re forced to drive our dogs everywhere (even shorter distances) or leave them behind altogether. We were considering some of the cargo-style bikes because we were more comfortable having them in front of us. I always assumed the dogs would just sit nicely, just like they do in the car, so maybe we would need to test some things before we actually buy them.

    • Simply Bike says:

      I know, same dilemma we had about driving when we really didn’t want to, just so that we could take the dog along. Good luck, I hope your experience goes better! Especially if your dogs sit nicely in the car, they might be as well behaved by bike. Indie’s not exactly good in the car either, so I guess we should have seen this coming ;)

  9. Lanie says:

    I second the DoggyRide idea. We have 2 dogs, both 40-50lbs, and they both ride in our DoggyRide. It’s expensive, but it has the advantage of a window for your dog’s head to stick out (you can close it), D-rings to attach their leashes to, and a firm floor for them to stand or sit on. One of our dogs immediately lies down, and the other one sticks her head out to smell the breeze. One of our dogs will not go in a crate, period, but we’ve been able to get her to use the trailer. It took some coaxing to get them in the first few times, and we had to do a number of practice trips around the parking lot and neighboring community center. But now the dogs love it and we can take them with us on short bike trips.

  10. Diana says:

    I love your dog carrier! That family portrait is too cute.

  11. [...] you haven’t already seen it, check out my guest post over at Let’s Go Ride A Bike about our bicycle adventure with our [...]

  12. nicolas says:

    I hate to follow you into the helmet debate, but… “like every safe cyclist, Indie wore a helmet”? Really? Come on, please don’t mean that.

    • Mr Colostomy says:

      I second this. Sounds like a value judgement.

    • Simply Bike says:

      Actually, it was supposed to be more funny than anything else. she, of course, did not wear that helmet. We just thought she looked really funny with it on.

      I do wear a helmet because of the lack of cycling culture and safe infrastructure where I live. I have cycled without a helmet in places where it felt safe to do so. I don’t really care whether others wear a helmet or not; every adult can make that decision for him or herself based on the particular context of the situation. Sorry if my wording offended, it was meant as a joke more than a call to arms.

  13. Aaron says:

    Count me as a big supporter of the doggy ride trailer too. I’ve used one to carry a 60 lb. dog all over town. Having that opening for the dog’s head seems to make a huge difference. Also several very short trips (like once or twice around the block) seemed to help acclimate the dog to the trailer.

  14. Ginger says:

    I have the opposite situation — I have a monsterous little 10 pound beast (Maltese named Ziggy) who is wild and crazy and practically uncontrollable despite a doggie board and train program (juvie for dogs). I got a doggie basket for him (http://www.pets2bed.com/site/1405195/product/GEAR16-bike-baskets). I mounted it on the back bike rack because it wouldn’t fit right on my handlebars. I was worried about how he would act in it, but he sits there like a perfect dog, doesn’t bark or move and is either completely enjoying his ride with mom or is so freaked out he’s paralyzed!

    Either way, he’s fun to ride with.

  15. k - says:

    How serendipitous! We just got a new puppy a month and a half ago, and I’ve barely been on my bike except for a quick running of errands… Thanks for all the great tips for next year, when he’s a bit older, and hopefully has a little more impulse control.

    • Simply Bike says:

      K – Please don’t let my post discourage you either. It sounds like this is very doable from all the positive comments on biking with dog. I hope you can make it happen with your pup. I’m going to take the advice of these awesome commenters and try some new things with Indie to hopefully make a cyclist out of her still.

  16. Karen says:

    My husband and I talk about doing the same thing. I’m so glad other couples are of the same mind. I worry a bit about our hyper Smooth Fox Terrior being able to stay calm in traffic though.

  17. Charmaine says:

    I used to bring my previous cat (a large Maine Coon cat named Rocky) for rides in a Burley bike trailer. :) He enjoyed it alot and people were SO amused to see a cat in there instead of a kid! :) We would zoom down hills and he enjoyed looking around when we went slower. I think it’s good for pets to get fresh air – even cats. :) I have another cat now, and bought a flatbed bike trailer and am looking into buying a crate to strap on it to take him out for bike rides.

  18. Gvb1 says:

    I ran my dog for 5 miles today and she still whined and pawed and screamed like she was being sawed in half when I put her in the Houndabout trailer. This is the 3rd time I’ve tried to get her to ride in the trailer but no luck.

  19. Redeyedtreefr0g says:

    I tried to make a rear rack basket to let my Jack Russel ride with me. It was created out of a birdcage, and ended up being very flexy. I was nervous about using it too much because Jackjack likes to lean hard against the sides to get wind in his face and, I think, to see around my butt.

    I tired again using my regular backpack. It was deep, so I ended up folding a towel into the bottom of it both for little feet comfort and to scoot him up a bit so his neck wouldn’t be in the zipper. It was sort of interesting to get him into it, though he is pretty easy-going about being picked up or manipulated. (He was super itchy in Florida and so he was often helped into and out of a pair of overalls I made for him to keep his skin safe from his teeth!)

    He loved it! I had to be careful leaning over because of his extra weight, and I was nervous that he would freak out. Having a belty thing to secure the backpack bottom around my waist would have helped. Otherwise, he was happy as anything, face in the wind, tongue hanging out, looking at everything to the right. People got a kick out of seeing his doggie head poking out too. I was so happy.

  20. Happy Camper Dog Leash Style…

    [...] y loves his crates, so we had the Doggy Ride in our apartment for more than a mo [...]…

  21. Stumbled on this post from Google… I’m looking to get a newer cargo bike and I was wondering if you’ve seen any examples of carrying a 25lb dog on the rear rack of a longer cargo bike, like the Yuba mundo? Any sort of special crate that was found or DIY that secured onto it well. I was looking at trailers, but I was wondering first if there’s any “on-bike” solutions you’re aware of.

  22. Maxb says:

    Shaun, if you’re still looking for some advice, I would look at:

    http://cyclinggypsies.wordpress.com/dogs-on-bikes/

    They’ve done extensive touring with a dog on a cargo bike rack. 25lbs seems like slightly on the heavy side, but I think it can be done

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