There’s no doubt mountain biking with your best furry friend is fun.
Watching them navigate the trail, fly over jumps, cut down the trail and wait for you to catch up...
There’s nothing quite like it!
But, the truth is, as much as it’s silly fun for you to mountain bike with your dog, it’s not always awesome for your dog or other trail users.
I realize mountain biking with dogs is a highly debated topic. And dog owners and non-dog owners are often divided on this issue of dogs off leash on trails. It’s why I asked expert dog trainer, Maren Bruun,to help us out and answer some questions on how to safely mountain bike with your dog.
What’s the number one issue/conflict you see out on the trails where people are biking with their dogs?
One of the most pominent issues I see is dogs interfering with others on multi-use trails. And mixing on leash and off leash recreation is often part of the problem.
There are often many uninvited and unwanted approaches by dogs to humans and other dogs, whether it’s friendly, rowdy, a bluff charge or showing teeth -- and, of course, dogs chasing cyclists.
Many of these problem type behaviours include an element of surprise, fear and stress for all.
One of my biggest beefs, and a huge reason we see so many conflicts on trail, is owner’s that don’t understand their dog’s behaviour / body language. They don’t “listen” to their dog’s early whispers for “help” and then react when their dog reacts and they “yell” too.
I see so many dogs that don't understand their owner and are left unsure and conflicted, then when their owner gets upset and yells or uses other harsh corrections, the dog “listens” by shutting down and appearing “good” but they are actually shutting down.
And far too many cyclists pedal ahead leaving their dog to “fend for itself” and run to catch up with them.
Many dogs are forced to go skittering past other dogs and (actually ignore normal dog social etiquette) are pressured to keep up with their owner… putting them in tricky situations and creating social stress for the future.
How can a dog-owner best avoid these conflicts on the bike trail?
While out on the bike trail you should always have one eye on the environment and one eye on your dog to ensure you don’t miss any early warning signs.
Owning a dog can and should be a joy and as a dog owner you have a responsibility to meet your dog’s needs and train them so they have the skills to be a part of your life more fully.
Always have your dog under voice control and within your sight. If a situation arises that is beyond your dog’s ability to handle or respond, have them under physical control and far enough away to limit being triggered or being a trigger to other trail users.
If you see another person with a dog on leash, leash yours unless you're 100% sure they will stay by your side. Respect others trail users as you don’t know their story or why their dog is on a leash. Not all dogs want to meet others. Ask first as they could be stressed, injured, contagious, etc.
Anytime you see another trail user make it a habit to call your dog to your side. The more predictable and practiced, the more reliable this behaviour will be and eventually automatic.
Know your limit - ride within it.
Be honest about your dog’s behaviour. Learn about body language and get to know the early signs that your dog is going to shift focus. This is the time to interrupt and redirect, not after the fact.
Don’t take your dog on bike rides unless you plan to focus on your dog and put his or her needs first.
And be sure to choose the right trail for you and your dog's skill, ability and temperament.