So you want your dog to be a mountain bike dog, follow these steps and your dog could be ready to shred some gnarly single tracks this spring.
Here is my quick guide to getting your dog ready to be a mountain bike dog
1.) Physically fit:
Your pup needs to be ready to run, and if he/she has never done anything close to running alongside a bike, then that means start slow! Start with a short run/bike ride around the neighborhood slowly build up to longer and longer rides or runs, go on hikes get your dog use to the trail, going up rocks, loose gravel, and sand. Swimming is a great work out too, even a good game of Frisbee or fetch is another great way to get your dog physically fit. Also, take into consideration your dog’s age and breed. Older dogs are going to fatigue faster than a 2-year-old, and take in if you have a short snout dog were they can overheat easily if it’s too warm out or exercised to hard. The best rule of thumb is to test your dog out on some short bike rides and see how he or she seems to feel afterward and the next day. If the dog seems to still be ready for more, then gradually extend the rides you take them on. Age is another thing to remember, a 6-month-old puppy is NOT ready to run with a mountain bike they are still growing and their growth plates have not closed yet. If you have any questions, check with your veterinarian. **Remember to always consult with your vet before undergoing any strenuous activities and puppies should never run single tracks till growth plates are done growing and they are cleared by your vet.
Train, train, and TRAIN! Having a great mountain bike dog doesn’t happen overnight. Goose has had lots of training and we have worked very hard to build a reliable recall and basic obedience commands that he will listen to on and off leash, he also knows to stay away from the tires of the bike and knows to either be far enough ahead of the bike or stay behind the bike. He doesn’t dart in front of the bike and he has a command I use to send him forward “go” my version of “mush” I guess. Again go slow you want to make mountain biking a positive fun experience for your pup. If your dog is nervous of the bike or the sound it makes, (say shifting gears) use treats and go slow every time your pup is brave give a treat to him/her, go slowly and always end on a good note and be positive. Short rides around the neighborhood is different than on the trail but still great training none the less. I use a leash (not attached to the bike) and hold my pup while I ride my bike around the neighborhood or park. You’re moving faster now, and prey drive might kick in and your pup might see something fun to chase, if that happens slow down and get off the bike and settle your pup down use a treat or a toy to redirect his or her attention back to you. Then start again. Once you are pros at riding around the park/schools or neighborhood with distractions its time to take it to the trails. You can start with hiking off leash and teaching your dog the rules of the trail and to stay on the trail and not run off after a bunny or deer. Use treats/toy and positive recommencement to show your dog how awesome it is to be with you! Then once you feel like your dog has a reliable recall and will stay with you off leash. Add your mountain bike, take your time go to a place where it is ok to have your dog off leash and take your time go slow reinforcing all the behaviors you want and have trained for. Remember it takes time don’t give up!
3.) Trail etiquette:
This is important to remember, you might be sharing the trail with hikers, other mountain bikers, and horses. You don’t want your dog jumping up or barking at hikers and you wouldn’t want your dog doing that to horses either! Bikers here in AZ are to yield to all (hikers and horses) so when we see hikers or horses we pull off to the trail and call Goose to us keeping him near the bikes until the hiker or horses pass. Also, respect the wildlife, don’t let your dog go off trail and chase bunnies, lizards or deer if he gets into the habit of that the next encounter might not be so forgiving such as a skunk or rattlesnake.
Ripping down a single track is awesome but remember your pup is working hard if not harder running the whole time! Breaks in the shade for water are critical here in the AZ desert you don’t want your pup overheating or hurting himself. We break for water regularly when we get a drink, Goose gets one too. I make sure I bring his collapsible Bivy bowl from Ruffwear I know some dogs are great at drinking out of the hydration pack but Goose wastes too much water doing that, so I fill up his bowl and he gets every drop. If we stop for a longer break and we grab a snack for us I always pack some Mini Naturals it gives him enough energy to keep going and gives me peace of mind that he is getting proper nutrition too since he is working so hard.
Goose has Ruffwear Grip Trex boots that he will wear if his pads of his paws start hurting or if he gets an injury. For the most part, he has very tough pads and running around in the desert is nothing to him. We also keep nails trimmed up, long nails can be problematic and can result in an injury. Remember each dog is different, and some dogs hate the booties so much that you’ll never get them to keep them on. Just keep an eye out for limping, and make sure to check their paws after a ride for cactus needles or small cuts. We always carry a comb and tweezers for cactus.
6.) Clean Up:
Leave no trace and always carry poop bags or a plastic bag to clean up after your dog. No one wants to hike or ride through a big pile of dog poop. Leave the trails as you found them.
7.) Have Fun:
Go out hit the single tracks and have some fun! Mountain biking with your pup is a fun way to exercise together, try to stick to these guidelines and you and your dog will have an awesome time on the trail, enjoying nature.