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  • Writer's pictureSacha Packer

Biking with dogs either for fun or for the endurance test

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Come and learn more about how to get started, be safe, have fun and become explorers! Now, to preface something before we go further, anytime I talk about bike riding with dogs, there is always someone that likes to remind me that it is illegal to lead a dog with a bike....generally what I say to this is that the Police in my area have far more pressing crimes to deal with than a 40+ year old woman safely riding their bike (not on the road) with their well trained dog, not bothering anyone... The Endurance test is conducted in a legal manner, it's usually held on the private grounds such as the Dogs NSW show grounds.

Let's have a look at some other interesting Australian laws (yes, some of these are old but unchanged laws!)....

  • It is illegal to walk on the right-hand side of a footpath in Victoria.

  • It is illegal to drive a black car on Sunday in Victoria.

  • It is illegal to leave your car keys inside an unattended vehicle in New South Wales.

  • It is offensive to sing rude or obscene songs in public.

  • It is illegal to wear slippers at night in some places.

  • It is illegal to be in possession of more than 50 kg of rice.

  • It is illegal to sell or distribute non-medical helium balloons in Queensland.

  • It is illegal to drive a goat attached to a vehicle on a public road.

  • It is illegal to carry more than 50kg of potatoes is illegal, unless it's been bought from a grower or retailer authorised by the Potato Corporation.

  • It is illegal to intentional splash waiting bus passengers with your vehicle in NSW.

  • It is illegal to object to a wedding in SA.

Ok, so now you know it's illegal outside of the actual Endurance Test, we shall continue and you can decide if you want to bike with your dog after you have trained it to be safe...just be'll encounter your own Karen if you share your adventures like I get all the time online but never actually in person! Funny that...

Step 1 Yep, you’re going to need a bike and it’s going to need to match the activity you’re going to do, for instance, you don’t want to buy a road bike when you’re going off road.

Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace are littered with the remains of fitness dreams and good intentions, so you’ll be able to pick up a good deal there!

99 Bikes is where I get all my biking stuff from, their customer service is brilliant, they really take the time to make sure you're choosing the right bike, they also have a perfect ride guarantee so if you don't love it in 30 days, then you can swap it! (not a sponsored mention)

Getting the right sized bike is super important, I first started with a small size as I was in-between sizes and then changed to a medium which was way more comfortable for me. Before you buy a bike online, do some research into bike sizes and which one is best for you.

Photo credit: It’s been a long time between drinks for me since my last bike purchase and my most recent one and what I learned is that you can’t just raise the handle bars like you used to be able to, so it’s so important that you get the right sized bike to start with otherwise you end up having to pay for accessories that might not even raise the bars to your comfortable level like I did. I have a S-curved spine so I need to be more upright which requires higher handlebar height - something I didn’t consider until I had already spent the money. Read more about the symptoms of a bad fitting bike here. See some great photos of good fits here.

In addition, if a bike is too small for you, your legs are going to be largely flexed and you’re going to be expelling more energy than you need to - I also learned the hard way on this one.

If you haven’t been on a bike in many years, take your time! Spend time getting your balance and putting your foot down i.e. learning to fall and catch yourself for “just in case”. Consider just riding at the local park or nature strip until you have your confidence - if you haven’t been on a bike in a long time that may indicate you’re a bit older and more prone to breaking vs bouncing. If all else fails, grab yourself some adult training wheels.

If you plan on riding with a dog, you have some ground work to do first otherwise you’re going to have an oopsie! We used to say that It was important dogs do not start running with a bike until they are at least 18 months old as their growth plates may not have closed yet and this could be detrimental to their final developmental outcomes BUT a recent study said this isn't a thing so all we can do is accept science and go forth with a common sense approach.

Start with your dogs equipment, consider, do you need a head halti to begin with to have more control over your dog to keep you safe? If so, you’re going to need to introduce your dog to one in advance. We love Australian company K9Bridle as it doesn't ride up into a dogs eyes and it clips behind the neck vs under the chin making it safer.

One of my dogs, Ginger started on a K9 Bridle and then moved to a flat collar. Ginger has been trained to pull on a harness so that wasn’t a viable option for us. Little Man in the photo runs on a Ruffwear harness. If you choose a harness then the type of harness you use must not restrict the shoulders and never use a no-pull harness. Using the wrong harness will interfere with your dogs natural gait and lead to abnormal gait and then likely injury.

How is your dog on a lead as it is?

  • Do they know basic commands?

  • Will they try and get to other dogs?

Lack of lead manners is dangerous on bike for you and your dog and of course the people around you.

Start by walking the dog next to the bike.

I hold the lead which is a requirement for the endurance trial which we train for but there is a bike attachment called a Springer. If you’re holding the lead then I recommend you never allow your dog to move in-front of the front tyre, as this could be really dangerous when you’re biking out and about.

Get your dog used to being next to the bike - this takes as long as it takes. I then start to introduce cues such as left, right and slow. When I say left, I turn the bike front tyre towards the dog and go in a circle. We don’t go for proper rides until they know and respect the bikes movement. “Slow” is when I break, I teach this by saying slow and then slowing down into a stop. Slow is important for when you’re coming up to roads or you need to navigate around something. A nice “leave it” could save you from dangerous situations too.

A dog has to learn they’re not allowed to stop and toilet or sniff or anything else when you’re on the bike because that is dangerous so toilet your dog before you go. Having pit stops along the way is also a nice idea. Set this rule in stone from the get go to keep you and your dog safe. If you have a dog that likes to mark, they may and try and kill you to begin have been warned.

You are going to come across other dogs when you’re biking, know what you’re going to do in advance. When Ginger was just a novice. I would pull over to the side and put her into a sit or a drop to allow other dogs to pass. Ginger is very into other dogs and is curious so she had to learn to ignore, plenty of treats for a good girl here were provided.

Also know that other dogs will be triggered by your bike and even the dog so be aware of your environment and watch other dogs body language and that of the handler too. If you see someone struggling with their dog, call out to them to ask them what they want you to do.

Pull over and provide as much room as possible, your bike should be between your dog and the other dog, you can also angle your wheel towards your dog to create a barrier to be clear to them about what you don't want.

Be careful to never ever surprise a dog and handler by just whizzing past them, that’s an asshole move. Ring your bell and call out - lots of people wear earphones and may not hear you but their dog should alert their human to your presence. Same goes for just a person by themselves, whizzing past will often scare a person that didn’t know you were there, pass by at a safe and appropriate speed.

If you ever come across horses being ridden when you're biking, stop, get off your bike and move well away. Horses are flight animals and if they get spooked, they and their rider could get seriously injured. You can always ask the rider what they want you to do. Your dog could also get triggered by the horse.

My advice is never allow your dog to meet other dogs when you're on the bike, this could set you up for an accident in the future.

If you're training for the endurance trial this will be much more important because you do not want your dog to show interest in the dog in front of you or behind you. I would highly recommended once you and your dog have mastered riding that you start riding in a line with other bikers with anywhere between 2-5m distance between each other from time to time.

Creating fitness in you and your dog will take time, slowly does it. When we first started, it was simply up and down the road then around the block. Use an app such as ‘Pacer’ to help you track your distance, you might stay at 1km for a week and then when you and your dog are both doing well, you can build to 2kms and so forth.

If you're training for the endurance trial you need to bike over different surfaces such as roads, dirt roads, gravel and grass. Believe me when I tell you that riding on grass can be brutal depending on firmness and grass length and type, so you are going to need to get your fitness up there. I recommend ride on grass wherever you can, it's the fastest way to get your fitness up. Thick tyres on your bike is going to be a must-have for riding on grass as well as the tyre pressure! There are tyres called fatties which are really wide, these might be over-kill but have a chat to your local bike shop about your needs.

Other bike features

As a general F.Y.I - the seats that come with new bikes are like some form of torture device, you'll probably want to replace it with something much more comfortable. For woman, you'll be looking for a wider seat as we have wider pelvis'.

Also, strange enough, a kick stand is not always an included feature. For my own bike, the bike shop didn't have one that fitted it, it's super annoying to have to lay it down on the ground...apparently kick stands are so last year.

A speedometer for you bike if you're training for the endurance trial is a must so you can see how fast you're going, generally you'll be aiming for 10km/ph. Having a dog get used to trotting vs galloping is what you want, that's what you'll be doing on the day and it's much harder to sustain a trot than a gallop.

Lights front and back will be important if you'll be going out in dim light, you can even get ones now that plug into a USB charger to recharge.

A water bottle holder is something I recommend, not necessarily for you but for your dog especially if you're using a dog sports drink that you'll give to your dog at pit stops. Click here to see the bottle we use that is for dogs.

Biking gloves - a must have for the colder months! Regular gloves are fine but if it's misty or rainy, woolen gloves won't cut the mustard. You may want to consider ones that your phone screen can pick up to. Check out some options here.

A biking jacket is a great idea, they're wind and water proof, I choose one in a bright orange colour so people can see us coming and there's no dramas wearing one when it's warmer.

Having your vet check over your dog before you start biking is a great idea to alert you to any joint issues or owies. If you training for the endurance trial, your dog will need to under go a vet check within 14 days of the trial and on the day need to be Vet assessed 4 times including temperature checks so if your dog isn't ok with manual handling, you'll want to work on this well in advance. If a Vet can't assess your dog then you won't be able to participate in the trial - the Vets at the Endurance trial are pretty good at managing challenging dogs.

For those building to longer distances, I recommend a pit stop at 5kms in the shade even if you think your dog is super fit. A pit stop allows them to toilet, have a decompression sniff around and a little drink but don't let them water load otherwise they could vomit.

Weather is important! Never bike in hot weather, not only is that hard on the dog, it’s dangerous for various reasons. Early morning rides are going to be the best unless it’s winter and nice and cool. If participating in the endurance trial, it gets cancelled it the temperature hits 24 degrees C.

Check their pads at your pit stops and after your ride to make sure they’re ok - you may need to use a pad product to make them more sound such as Mushers Secret or Tuf-foot. You can use both products, i.e. Mushers Secret in the morning and Tuf-Foot at night.

Keep their nails nice and short otherwise you're interfering with their good posture and natural gait.

Consider a sports drink for the longer rides for them, we use Go Dog by K9 Power. You make up a batch and give some before, some during and some after to help aid in recovery. Heads up, it's a bit of a weird texture and is best to be blended, I use my smoothie maker. In addition, on it's own, dogs don't seem to be that interested in it, I mix it with a little Super Fuel. Word of warning: Do not give too much before you go otherwise you could cause a tummy upset and potential vomit - yes, learn from my lesson. Aim for about 10-15 minutes before you head out.

Avoid doing longer distances every day, the body needs a recovery day. You will need to assess how your dog pulling up. You'll generally see this within 24 hours after they have rested. Do they look stiff, slow to rise, any lameness? If you notice they're not pulling up awesome, you may need to reduce your distance and build upon that. Building distance can take many months. Is your dog sore, you should see a Vet and see if there is any joint disease or other reasons other than lactic acid etc.

Use an anti inflammatory diet and supplements to support what you’re asking the body to do. Adding healthy fats to your dogs diet so they pull their energy from that vs carbs is how a dogs body is meant to function at its best. Chat to us about developing your dogs balanced fresh food diet if you're not sure how to move forward.

Supplements we use across different dogs:

If you are training for the endurance trial - you never need to do 20kms in training, that’s a lot on the dogs joints and body in general. At most you’d be looking at doing 2 legs (8km + 6km) with a 15 minute break in between every now and then - other than that, building to 5-10km rides 1-2 weeks in the 1-2 months before the test is reasonable goal to include as part of your fitness program but just remember the more you ask the dog to do, the more wear and tear there will be.

Be safe, be kind to yourself, your dog and have fun, be an explorer.

In 2023 after 2 years of cancelled events due to Covid and floods, we completed the annual Endurance Test in Sydney and here's our experience. Photos in this section were posted on the Endurance Test ANKC Facebook page

We arrived at 6:30am with gates closing at 7am. My goal was to get Belmont to do a poo before we set off because if your dog toilets during the test then you need to get back into line (we're in numbered order) and that could mean you and your dog have to exert more energy than you want. Poo was completed WOOHOO, we handed in our Vet clearance form that we obtained within the last 14 days, got our bib with our number + the catalogue. Your number order is based on the height of your dog to the shoulder.

The team checks that you only have a flat collar on your dog, no chains, slip leads, head collars etc. are permitted. Before the start of the Endurance test, the first Vet check occurs. All dogs will have their temperature and heart rate taken, they will look at their pads and consider their overall condition. Not all dogs will be ok with this especially temperature checking so try and train for it in advance and if they're not happy on the day about it you have to decide if you're simply going to firmly hold them through it. Within 14 days of the test, you'll be doing a Vet clearance so your dog will give you an idea of what they're going to be like.

We had the Camden Veterinary Teaching Uni students and some brilliant experienced Vets do our Vet checks, they were awesome with the dogs including challenging ones. There are no rules against the use of a muzzle during the Vet check, so if you feel your dog needs one, take your own in-case the onsite Vet doesn't have one.

Then the willingness test occurs in groups of 5, it's a wee bit of obedience but all they're seeing is that the dog is a willing partner and willing to go with you. The have the expectation that attitude your dog has here will be shown again at the end of the 20kms when you do the 2nd and final willingness test. It was super simple: Heel for around 10 metres, this doesn't have to be a formal heel in any regard, right about turn, halt, the dog doesn't have to sit, ask the dog to stay, walk to the end of the lead and recall the dog but you can recall off lead if you want to. The 2nd and final willingness test occurs after the 15 minute rest period at the end of the 3rd leg. The rules state "The Endurance Test shall demonstrate the dog's ability to work after being subject to a certain degree of physical strain without showing signs of undue stress or lack of constitution."

We then lined up on our bikes in number order and the pace setter was in front and we headed off for our first 8kms. The dogs are a bit excited for this first leg but they tend to settle down and get into a good flow. The test is meant to travel at around 10km/ph but we didn't often hit that number according to my speedo and we slowed down to 7km/ph at one point which was super challenging because the bigger dogs couldn't get into a comfortable gait - training at a slower pace is super important.

The test covers different terrains from grass to road to gravel to dirt. It's important to condition dogs to gravel and rocks because if you don't condition their pads, you could be vetted out if their pads aren't coping + dogs with sensitive feet may not like this ground type and will need to get used to it over time. No booties or protective wear is allowed to be worn by the dog.

Whilst we look close to each other in this photo, we were generally at least 2 metres away from each other but you can ask for the person behind you to give more space. The rider in-front of me had an entire male and my dog was an entire male so we let each other know this incase it could be a problem for either one of us and gave each other room.

After the first 8kms, we stop for the 2nd Vet check and rest period which is 15 minutes. If the dogs vitals are not desirable, then they can be re-checked before we head off again. The rules state "At completion of each leg there shall be a rest period of 15mins, 20 mins, 15 mins." & "The judge to consult with the veterinary surgeon if the dog registers a high temperature only and is not showing any signs of distress, as to whether the dog continues the test. " During this rest period you can water your dog, give them a snack, take a rest etc. I choose to walk around - this break period went by pretty fast. You can't leave the vetting area until your dog has been vet checked so you need to have everything you'll need in this area before you start on the first leg. On the 2nd leg, the dogs tend to settle down quite well, this leg is 6km as is the 3rd and final leg. At the end of each leg a Vet check is completed to ensure the dog is ok to continue. The distance is to be completed in 2 hours and 35 minutes, including the two intermediate breaks, but excluding the final rest period. As we begin each lap, the pace setter is told if we're going fast enough so we know if we need to speed up. Our laps in Sydney were 2km and were inside the Dogs NSW grounds. Dogs are permitted to pull a bit but prolonged lagging may have you vetted out of the test. You will notice that handlers on bikes hold the lead, this is the only acceptable form of leash control during the endurance test, you cannot use a springer device.

Dogs of all breeds/cross breeds and sizes are allowed to enter the endurance test who have a membership with their Dogs Australia state body i.e. Dogs NSW. This Cavalier did awesome and passed. But there are age restrictions, the rules state "The test is open to dogs aged between two (2) and under eight (8) years but must not have reached the birth date of eight." I think the 8 years of age restriction needs a rule change, 8 is middle aged for many of the working breeds that do this test and are in their prime. If you don't think your fitness is up to scratch or physically might not be able to bike the entire way, you can use an e-bike. The rules state "The handler may jog the distance, ride a push bicycle or tricycle or one powered by battery, provided the required speed is maintained. Use of any other motorised mechanical vehicle will not be permitted."

Yes, you can run! Runners will go at the pack of the pack. The runner shown without a dog is a judge. Judges can run and/or be on a bike and the judge on a bike will travel throughout the line to ensure everyone is doing what they need to be doing and the dogs are going ok.

The Endurance Test is a positive environment, the rules state "Reprimands shall not under any circumstances be used during the period. A reprimand means either verbal or physical. " - there are no rules against the use of food during any part of the Endurance test.

To see the complete rules, click here.

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