Now that we’ve covered some of the equipment you’ll need to get started, time to get on the bike and go! Not quite. Before you hop on the bike with your dog, you will want to master some basic commands. This way, when you are riding full speed and need your dog to avoid an obstacle, i.e. a pedestrian, you will have some confidence knowing you have verbal control over your dog.
In my experience, there are 4 basic commands you’ll want to teach your dog before you get going: Left, Right Stop, Go. You don’t need to use these exact words as the commands, but pick something that works for you and stick with it. I personally use Left, Right, Stop, and OK. I have also incorporated “slow” and “leave it” which helps me have even more control over her when we need to slow down or when she sees a squirrel. If you are really serious about bikjoring or mushing in the future, and were thinking about doing it competitively, you might want use the traditional commands that most mushers have used for 100’s of years.
The most common commands for a dog team are:
• Hike!: Get moving (“Mush” and “All Right” are sometimes also used).
• Kissing sound: Speed up, faster.
• Gee!: Turn to the right.
• Haw!: Turn to the left.
• Easy!: Slow down.
• Whoa: Stop.
• On By!: Pass another team or other distraction.
Like I said above, the words that you’re using don’t matter much, as long as they’re consistent and they don’t get confused with words that you use on a daily basis, which might confuse them and make the training process take longer.
I am by no means a professional trainer, so take my advice for what it is, a novice Bikejorer that self trained his dog. If you’re thinking of doing this professionally, I recommend getting the book below. It will go into more details than you probably care to know about the sport, and how to train your dog professionally.
So, with that said, here’s how I trained my dog to ride on a bike either pulling or side-by-side.
- Start by using the commands on your daily walks with your dog. Every time you turn a corner, use the corresponding “left” or “right” command. After doing this for about 2 weeks consistently, Sierra, my Husky, was able to start anticipating which way to go before we turned. When she did, I gave her a treat. After another week or two she was consistently turning on command. During that same period, every time we approached a driveway or intersection, I would tell her to “stop” and when we crossed I would say “ok”. These commands took about the same amount of time for her to learn. Within a month of doing this on walks, she had the commands down, no treats needed, which gave me the confidence to start on the bike. If you want to accelerate the process, you can do multiple quick walks a few times a day to speed up the learning process.
- Once you have the commands down while walking with your dog, the next step is to start getting her used to the harness and bike. If your dog hasn’t worn a harness before, I suggest incorporating the harness into her normal walks so she is learning the commands with the harness on. This way, when you get on the bike for the first time, she is comfortable with the harness and commands, it will make the first couple rides a lot smoother. To get your dog used to the harness, like everything with a dog, I recommend starting slow. It’s much easier to take a few days working your dog up to liking the harness, than to have to undo the fear they might have after forcing it on and hoping for the best. To start, first show your dog the harness, let him sniff it, and give him a treat after he does. After a few rounds of this, make your dog put his head through the harness in order to reach the treat you are holding on the other side. This way, your dog will be comfortable with the harness going over their head, because they now have a positive association with it. Once your dog is comfortable with the harness over their head, gently clip the harness and let your dog wear it for a few minutes, and then take it off, and give a treat. Gradually repeat this over the next few days and keep it on longer and longer each time. Once they’re all good with that, you can start using it on your walks.
- Time to get on the bike! Just like when you were learning to drive a car for the first time, I recommend finding a very low traffic area that has places to practice your turns, stoping, and starting. I also recommend making sure it has very low pedestrian traffic. You don’t want to start off your first bike ride with an injured, law suit happy, bystander. If you plan on letting your dog pull you, start by giving her the “go” command and try to match her pace as she starts. You will really want to take your time and watch her closely. Some dogs might just see a giant two wheel monster chasing them when they look back, so they try to run faster, and unlike chasing the elusive magic dragon, the bike will catch her if she decides to stop in a panic. Make sure you regulate the speed the first couple outings to avoid this situation. Even if your dog is pulling like crazy, make sure you are riding the brakes so you’re traveling at a safe speed. As you both get more comfortable with each other and the commands, you can slowly go faster and faster until you get so close to light speed that only the physics of the universe will be able to slow you down.
Tips – (learn from my mistakes)
- Every time you get close to a pole, tree, pedestrian, or some other unmovable object which could possibly get in-between you and your dog, SLOW DOWN and pull your dog close to you. The two times I flipped over my handle bars were both from Sierra going on one side of a tree/pole and myself going on the other. Not a fun experience for anyone involved. For more details on this, see my previous posts on biking.
- Use your bike bell/horn every time you get close to a pedestrian. Even if the person is out of the way, they can always decide to step right in front of you if they don’t hear you coming. It also prevents them from jumping in shock when they first see your dog in their peripheral vision.
- Take it easy the first few times you go out. Your dog will be working a lot harder than you, make sure you always remember this. They will need breaks and especially water much more frequently than you.
- If it’s warm out, skip the bike. If you wouldn’t want to put a jacket on an run a few miles in the current weather, wait until the evening when it cools down to take her out. Especially in the middle of summer, it can often be too hot to safely bike your dog. I never go out if it’s over 75 degrees with my Husky.
- Look out for small critters running around the area. Depending on your dog’s prey drive, a rabbit or squirrel running out in front of your dog could lead to something akin to Mr. Toads Wild Ride.