For any hunter with a dog, to get the most out of their season, they must keep their companion in tiptop shape. The most common way of exercising a dog in North America is by going on the backroad or county road with a truck and asking the dog to run in front of the vehicle. In Europe, hunters take the same roads except on bicycles with dogs tethered alongside them.
For most hunters, they will only have one or two dogs to focus on. With running large packs, either the dogs are trained to listen to the horn of the vehicle or the crack of the whip. However, only Foxhound and Coonhound owners concern themselves with running large numbers of dogs. The vast majority of hunters do not live on properties which allow for so many.
After walking, jogging and running, the bicycle is the most accessible form of exercise there is. Not everyone can afford a truck, and not all can risk going on gravel roads with a car. Any bike will do, but the easiest one to find tend to be mountain bikes or hybrids.
To start, one must decide if they are going to have a dog pulling the bike with a noodle, or a dog running alongside the bike. Except mushing with a dog inside the city, limit is dangerous as the dog can easily pull into traffic. The safest way is to have a dog running alongside, preferably with something sturdy like a Springer. If one keeps their dog on the right side where the sidewalks are, then the cyclist acts as a shield against passing cars. Some of the fixtures allow for two dogs with one on each side.
Why a bicycle
- More economical as the gas price is increasing on a yearly basis.
- Keep both the hunter and the dog in shape by increasing the VO2max.
- Moderates speed according to the need of the dog.
- Access pieces of lands which are off limit to motorized vehicles.
Considerations for the dog
Cycling with a dog is different from going for a bike ride. One is tempted to pedal as fast as possible, but we must keep pace.
Keep the dog at a trot, and don’t force them to gallop. Trotting is the natural gait of the dog and is considered as an aerobic activity similar to long-distance running with endurance athletes. Galloping is anaerobic thus tiring and more equivalent to sprinting. We want our dogs to be able to search for the game in the forest for two to eight hours.
Interval training of alternating gallop and trot can be built into the routine. Design the galloping intervals around small stretches or landmarks such as going up a long hill.
Other things to be aware of for the dog:
- Go cycling late in the evening or early in the morning to prevent heat exhaustion.
- Use the brake to maintain a constant speed on the downhill.
- Run on grass or gravel. Check the dog’s paws occasionally as abrasion will wear away at the pads and nails.
- Avoid asphalt and sidewalks. The ground is not as elastic, and repetitive impact on hard surfaces will cause injuries to the joints over time.
- Do not exercise the dog after a meal. Dogs with large rib cages will develop the bloat, which is fatal.
- For the first 500 meters, allow the dog to relieve itself. Some dogs need to defecate or urinate once they start warming up.
- Take a break every 15 minutes or every 5 kilometers.
- Remember to provide the water during the breaks.
- Use a harness instead of a collar. The airway can be crushed if the dog constantly pulls or is dragged behind.
- Wait until the dog is at least a year old before subjecting it too strenuous exercises.
As a general rule of thumb, a puppy is done growing at about 12 months. In actuality, it can take anywhere between 217 to 495 days after birth for the growth plates to close. Each breed matures at different rates, and individuals themselves finish growing at different times. Until then, the dog should engage in free play and off-leash exercises. Do not push a young pup when it tires.
Once a pup matures, then one can begin taking them out for jogging, long hikes, cycling, skiing, and sledding. Obviously, one shouldn’t take a dog with a physical deformity or extreme cases of dwarfism such as Pug, English Bulldog or many other toy breeds.
- Wear yellow. Motorists respect cyclists who wear bright yellow and are often only rude to those who don’t.
- Take driver’s education, even if one cannot pass the eye exam. Knowing how motorists behave on the road and understanding the cyclist-motorist conflicts reduce the number of accidents.
- Carry a dog spray for off-leash dogs. Use the water bottle holster for quick access.
- Watch out for swathes of tall grass. The city doesn’t mow them for a reason, and often there is a large hole or ditch.
- Be wary of biking through alleyways where there are stray cats abound. Prey-driven dogs will crash the bike into a fence.
Be prepared for harassments from off-leash dogs. Many dogs in North America are not conditioned to ignoring bicycles, and most are not used to seeing cyclists with dogs. Even if the owners say the dog is friendly, they should be responsible enough to keep their dogs close. Having a dog tethered to a bicycle changes the equation, and impossible to anticipate how both dogs will react or interact.
Worse, watch out for property protection dogs. A dog tethered to a bicycle often provokes them into leaving the yard, even though they are well-trained to stay within the perimeter. The last thing anyone wants to do is separate an aggressive, muscular dog from their pooch and ending up in the hospital for it.
The cyclist tactic for dealing with this kind of dogs is to dismount and use the frame of the bike as a weapon. If your dog is tethered, however, this is not an option, and one must carry some alternative such as using the pump as a baton and call for help. Expect a delay since the scene is a spectator sport to the owners.
Ultrasound deterrent is a frontline defense and stops some dogs from chasing, but not all. They only work up to 15 meters, and fences, trees, shrubs, and hills render them less effective. If pepper spray is necessary, such as dog spray or bear spray, remember they are considered as weapons and should never be on another human being. Often, charges are laid and using a spray as a weapon is a jailable offense even in self-defense.
Cycling with a dog is safe
Most of the above guideline is mere precautions. These incidents occur rarely, and when they do occur, they could have been prevented.
Most of the problems with stray dogs chasing bicycles occur in the rural areas where there are no leash laws and private property rights are at their strongest. Peace officers nor animal control do not have the resource to enforce existing laws without angering the locals. For urbanites, the most they need to worry about are people who are convinced their off-leash dog is trained well enough to deal with any situations when they are not.
How to get started
The best way to accustom the dog is biking is by letting him run off leash on public lands and do some mountain biking or trail riding. Unfortunately, not everyone has good recalls for their dogs and must keep them on a leash.
To condition the dog around bicycles, simply put him on a lead and take him for a walk alongside the bicycle. Use treats liberally to promote present a positive association between walking and the bicycle. Do not ride until the dog no longer reacts to its presence.
Once the dog is calm, which should take a week, mount the bike and start pedaling. Start with a few hundred meters, then gradually add more kilometers to build endurance.
City hunters with prey-driven dogs often run into cats or squirrels. To stay stable on the bicycle, purchase a Springer imported from Norway. The spring-loaded coil is strong enough to stop large dogs from pulling the bike sideway. Other brands such as WalkyDog from Italy are best suited for smaller dogs which do not have the momentum or mass to knock the cyclist over.
Many dogs enjoys running along a bicycle. The most important thing is to focus on fitness of both you and the dog. A dog which was not exercised to trot or to run will tire itself out early in the day. Once the dog becomes lame or ends up with sore paws, then the hunting season ends. If we want to keep good form, then it is crucial to exercise the dog every other day.