How to Exercise Your Dog [The World of Bikejoring]

Bikejoring – The exhilarating sport that will build an incredible bond between you and your dog while serving as an excellent exercise routine.

By arriving at this article you’ve taken an important step to ensure your dog lives a long and healthy life. Finding the right exercise & activities for you and your dog will bring both of you tremendous satisfaction and extend the life of you and your best friend. This article will focus on the sport of Bikejoring with either a bicycle or scooter. Check out some videos of the Happy Pet Crew on our adventures across Washington Here & Here.

Get Out and Enjoy the World

Bikejoring with our dogs has brought us some of the most memorable experiences of our life. It’s taken us off the couch and across the state of Washington. From pitch-black abandoned train tunnels to golden trails lined with fall leaves; From the sandy beaches of Westport, WA to the midnight streets of Seattle – We’ve had a blast and we know you will too. Subscribe to the Happy Pet email list at the bottom of this page to hear more about these adventures in the future.

What is it?

Bikejoring, a form of dry-land mushing, is an exhilarating activity in which your dog pulls you (the Driver) on a bicycle or scooter. The dog is outfitted with a comfortable, yet sturdy harness that is designed to distribute the pulling pressure across the correct parts of his or her body. The harness attaches to a gangline, which is a polyethylene rope that runs to your bike or scooter. The gangline is fixed to the bicycle; we typically feed the rope through a small piece of PVC pipe near the bike to prevent the rope from falling into the tires.

People from all over the country participate in this activity, whether they sport the best quality mushing gear or rig things together themselves. Additionally, this works whether you have one dog or multiple dogs – Although, if you plan to run more than two, you should look into buying or building a dry-land cart for more stability and safety.

While most will visualize only participating with a Siberian Husky or Malamute, there’s a significant variety of mid to large size breeds running in harness. Some of our running companions run with their Doberman Pinschers, German Short Haired Pointers and mixed breeds.

We tend to start the running season as soon as the temperatures fall consistently below 60 degrees. As you can imagine, running for extended periods of time in a fur coat can be hard on your K9 creatures. For this reason many bikejoring groups will cancel or postpone an event when the temperatures exceed 60 degrees.

Creating a Bond

The bond you build with your running partner is immeasurable. Throughout your adventures across the dry-lands you’ll encounter some trying situations that require teamwork, a bit of sweat, and a little blood. In some cases, it can be as simple as passing through a slippery mud-patch, while in other cases you may find yourselves seeking shelter from an unforeseen hail storm (true story). Many dogs also show significant improvements with taking commands (except when squirrels are involved, perhaps) both on the trail and at home.

On nearly every run that we’ve been on, we take a break at the half way point. During this break the dogs lap up cool water and catch their breath. Afterward, they walk up to us with their biggest dog smiles and demand a rub-down. By now, we know the facial expressions of our dogs well and the emotions that accompany them – They express a look of great happiness.

After a run, we unload our 5 Siberian Huskies and let everyone inside. They say hello to the cat and get comfortable on the couches. We often spend the remainder of the evening together – as a family.

We Do it for the Dogs

One of the most common things we hear from passerby’s on the trail is, “Hey! That’s cheating!” This is typically friendly banter, but it makes you think; Are we doing this because we enjoy a pedaling-free bike ride? Most runs involve just as much physical excursion as a regular bike ride, so that’s certainly not the case. We’re out here to provide our dogs with an opportunity to explore the world; to exert their high level of energy; and to develop a strong, healthy heart.

Bikejoring Safety Checklist

This sport involves riding at fairly high speeds, often in excess of 20 miles per hour (Here is a video from a 4 minute mile we did). You can slip in the mud or gravel, run into a tree, experience failed brakes, and even run into the back of your dogs with your bike. Take some important safety precautions prior to and during each run.

  1. Wear protective gear: Broken bones happen. We’ve been fortunate enough not to experience this on the trail, but several of our running companions have not been so lucky. Elbow & knee pads are good to have, but a helmet is a must. Should you be rendered unconscious due to a wreck, you will not only be in a very dangerous situation yourself, but you’ll be unable to manage your team. There are no exceptions to this.

  2. Start slow: Just like with people, dogs must build stamina. Starting with a 5-10 mile run with an out of shape dog may be detrimental to their health - and they may continue to push themselves without realizing. When starting up the bikejoring season, we begin with a medium pace run for one mile outbound. We rest at the half way point, then run one mile back. You may spend more time traveling to your destination and setting up, but will be able to incrementally increase the distance with regular activity.

  3. Increase distance incrementally: If you are only able to run on the weekends, you may need to remain at a fairly low mileage (1 to 2 miles). Running 3-4 times per week will allow them to build up to longer runs. We typically add 1/8 to 1/4 mile every couple outings until we reach about 10 miles. During the racing seasons, we’ll increase our outings and build up to 14 miles. However, this includes multiple rest stops and closely monitoring our dogs.

  4. Bring Water: Dogs must be able to hydrate while on the trail. Don’t forget to pack enough cold water and a collapsible bowl for the ride. Allowing them to drink from ponds and streams may not be suitable.

  5. Watch the lines: As your dogs become tangled in their lines (very common), you’ll be using your hands to situate the ropes properly. In some cases, your dog may lunge forward to start running while your fingers are still holding the rope. If your fingers are tangled up in the ropes while they lunge, it can lead to broken fingers. This too has occurred with running companions. Be mindful of the ropes and your hands.

  6. Put booties on your Dog: Depending on the terrain you are running in, placing booties on your dog may save them from excessive wear, punctures, and bleeding. Thorns, glass, and debris can work its way into their pads and leave them limping. Covering their paws is an added safety measure to prevent this.

  7. Carry a first aid kit: Small cuts and punctures are somewhat common on the trail. Carry some cleaning solution, paw balm, styptic powder and bandage wraps in the event this happens. If needed walk back to your starting point and prevent your dog from running.

  8. Carry a dog-sling or hammock: Should your dog experience an injury that renders them immobile, you must be able to carry them to safety. Since this sport can take you out and away from town and is primarily for mid to large breeds, you may be unable to carry them in your arms for long. Consider investing in a lift harness or sling. The dog is placed into the sling and the sling is carried over the shoulder like a backpack or shoulder bag, allowing much more stability and distance. You may also consider a compact hammock, which can be used like a sling as well.

The Community

There are many groups and organizations for newcomers and bikejoring enthusiasts across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. If you’re interested in riding along with someone who has experience, consider posting something to an online message board for your local area. Many towns have local Facebook Groups that allow you to reach a significant number of people.

Running with another person or in groups can create long lasting friendships with others. For us, these usually end in a post-run lunch where we share stories about our trail running experiences and quirky dog moments.

We’ve arranged many independent runs, rode along with friends, and gone on group runs (which are by far the most fun). Northwest Sled Dog Association and K9 Scooters Northwest are two groups that we joined about 5 years ago. Each group is comprised of dog enthusiast who have their pet’s well-being in mind. These organizations host a yearly event called Iron Paws, which include hundreds of dogs who race to bring in the most miles over a 6 week period. We’re proud to say Emily of the Happy Pet Family (& KPM Siberians) won first place during her first year.

During the cooler months, two-night camp outs are hosted at Camp Koinonia in WA, where dozens of people gather to complete in short distance speed races. The evenings are celebrated with a large bonfire and outdoor dinner event. Some of the dogs wish to join in, while others prefer to stay in their tent or RV. Check out one of the events Here.

Finding the Right Bikejoring Equipment and Gear

Starting this sport requires a few necessary items. Over time, you’ll find what works for you and what does not. You’ll discard some items, collect new ones, and always be on the lookout for the perfect set up.

To Start:

  • Harness: A custom fit harness is best. Alpine Outfitters creates high quality custom harnesses for your dog. Follow instructions on the website to measure your dog, send in the measurements and give it 4 to 6 weeks for crafting.

  • Ganglines with Bungee: Polyethylene ropes are fairly inexpensive. You can buy a single line for one dog, a double line for two dogs etc (up to a 16-dog gangline). A section of the line contains bungee to prevent jarring and jolting during the run (this is necessary). Pre-made ganglines and gangline materials are also available at Alpine Outfitters.

  • Safety Gear: See the Precautions section above for proper safety gear. A helmet is required, but first aid kits and dog slings are also important to carry.

  • Neck Line: For two dog teams – a small 8-10 inch rope with snap clips on each end will allow you to clip two dogs together by the collar. This keeps the dogs in line and prevents them from splitting across the trail (or 'clothes-lining' other trail visitors).

  • Snaps Snaps Snaps: Snap clips are a precious commodity in this sport. We recommend you stock up on them as they frequently go missing or get left behind on the trail. Snap clips as shown Here and Here are available at most hardware stores. These will connect the harness to the gangline, the gangline to your bike and the neck lines together.

  • Bicycle: Some drivers prefer well-made mountain bikes on the trails. However, this sport can be particularly wearing on a bike. Bikes are dragged along the trails by dogs, bikes are crashed and covered with mud and dirt. For this reason, we use inexpensive Walmart models that we replace every year or two without breaking the bank.

  • Scooter: Bikejoring scooters can be hard to come by and often run between $400 used to over $1000 new. If you have an opportunity to ride one, we encourage you to try it. The scooters are typically custom made with bicycle tires to allow riding over difficult terrain. The choice between using a bike and a scooter comes down to preference and comfort level. Scooters will typically require more output from the dogs. If the dogs are too tired to pull, you are responsible for pushing your way back.

We hope to hear that you decide to take the leap into the world of bikejoring. It has been a very rewarding sport and we know we are serving our dogs well. The memories created from our adventures will be with us forever and have strengthened our bond with each of our dogs.

483 views0 comments