At first, the idea of riding a bike with a dog around the world seemed ridiculous. I wanted no part in the idea.
It only took a couple weeks of sunny days stuck inside my office to come around and let Dave know I was in on his adventure proposal.
Yes, cycle touring with a dog certainly poses its challenges. As a dog owner, we voluntarily added additional weight to an already heavy touring load, finding dog-friendly accommodation can be cumbersome, we have to visit many, many vets to obtain travel documents, and we wouldn’t have had our tour any other way.
To see how we have mastered the art of finding dog-friendly accommodation, check out our tips for locating great spots on the road.
Despite the frequent obstacles we faced by having Sora along on this journey, we have no regrets over our decision to bring her. She was by our side 24-hours a day and provided comfort when our battered bodies could not handle another rotation of the pedals, she lay by my side when I prepared dinner each evening, and squished in between us each morning in the tent before each day.
We are frequently asked many questions about how to bike with a dog. From how to get your dog used to riding in a trailer, to what and how we pack, and how we visit certain destinations. Whether you’re just wanting to tote your pup around the city for more car-free travel or you want to take your pup on your next bicycle tour, our tips on how to bike with a dog should help you prepare for your next journey, near or far.
How to Bike with a Dog
Selecting a Dog Bike Trailer
We have used Burley Design Trailers for years , well before we embarked on our worldly tour. They are durable, well-designed, and made in Oregon, which we always support.
Related: See our list of the Best Dog Bike Trailers.
Key factors to look for in your search for the perfect dog bike trailer:
- Size – Will your dog fit comfortably in this trailer for hours? Is it a small dog that would fit into a secured bike basket instead of a trailer?
- Space – Is there extra space to store your dog’s gear like food, bedding, toys, etc.?
- Terrain – Knowing the terrain you will be traveling is important. Will you need suspension for bumpy rides? Higher clearance?
- Shading – If you’re spending eight hours or more outside, your dog will undoubtedly feel hot under the blaring sun. Make sure your trailer has shading options and/or tinted windows and ventilation.
- Durability – We beat up our trailers, taking them over cobblestone roads, gravel, rocks, across streams, up and over mountains. You name it, we pedaled over it. Sure, our trailers always appeared well-loved, but they never lost their functionality.
- Tires – We upgraded our stock tires to Schwalbe Marathon.
- Stroller option – At first we thought this was a silly add-on, but we have used the stroller option numerous times. Whether in the airport as a catch all for our luggage, as transport for Sora when she has been injured or is recovering from surgery, or as a method of giving her privacy in crowded areas.
- Brakes – Make sure the trailer you’re looking at has solid brakes. No one wants a dog in a trailer rolling down a hill!
Trailer or Basket
Depending on the size of your dog, you may be able to use a pet basket instead of a trailer. It certainly will be lighter, however, dog safety is highly important when going a fast speeds. You’ll want to ensure the basket is secure and your dog will be ok in the event of a crash.
Get your dog use to the basket by taking it slow approach. Put the dog safely in the basket and give them positive rewards and/or praise while they adjust. Start slow.
Getting Your Dog Used to the Dog Bike Trailer
Treat the trailer like a crate and repeat the same process as you did for crate training. Set up the dog bike trailer in your house (with the brake on!) and make it cozy. Line the bottom with your pup’s favorite bed or blanket, toss in a toy, and feed her in the trailer.
Causally introduce your dog to the trailer. Start by doing regular walking next to the bike and trailer while the trailer is attached to your bike. Gradually getting your dog use to the trailer. This makes it a safe space for your pup and ensures that your dog is comfortable.
This is something you may need to practice for awhile before taking the set up out for a spin.
You can also use the stroller function (or simply just push) to roll it around the house or driveway with your dog next to you. The giant rolling contraption can seem scary to your dog. Offer positive reward and praise when your dog approaches the trailer on her own or does not flinch when the wheels make noise or you begin to push.
Sora loved her trailer so much, that she would hop in on her own when she felt tired or wanted to get away from groups of people.
Test Bike Rides
Keep the cozy set up of the trailer, lined with the bed and toys, and start out slowly by simply taking rides with your dog around the block. This will help get your dog used to the feeling of sitting inside a moving box.
Don’t worry if your dog barks or whines at first. Over time, she should become accustomed to the feeling of the movement. Just be sure to give your dog regular positive reinforcement!
If your dog has a tendency to escape out of the trailer, you can try to use a harness or doggie seat belt like the Kurgo Harness and Seat Belt combo.
Gradually increase the length of your rides. Head to the park for a picnic. Go meet friends at your local brewery. Eventually test your entire set up for a simple overnight or weekend bike trip, if long term touring is your goal.
Can My Dog Run Alongside Sometimes?
Sure! Especially so if you have a high energy dog. We reserve this luxury to dedicated car-free bike paths and very low traffic gravel roads. Sora is our marathon training partner and so was well-prepared to trot alongside for longer distances. That said, due to the faster pace of travel by bicycle, we would limit her daily average to about 10km (6.2 miles) at any given time, stopping often to allow her to rest and offer water.
Like building running stamina, your dog will need to work up to running long distances at higher speeds. Running is a great way to do this, of course. You can also start with rides around your neighborhood, if it is relatively low-traffic, or try cross-country mountain biking, gradually increasing distance over time.
We love the Kurgo Springback Lite Leash and K9 Excursion Running belt. It’s short enough to prevent her from pulling or running ahead of the front wheel and keeps her in line. Sora also loves it and becomes excited when we pull it out, as she knows that she’ll be running. Essentially, this is her dog bike leash.
Bring the Right Gear for your Dog
Like backpacking, you want to try and keep your gear to a minimum, so depending on the length of your journey and the season in which you will be traveling, so will determine the gear you need to bring for your dog.
Our dog gear set up looks something like this:
Bike Tow Leash. We prefer to use leashes that can be used hands-free so we can easily attach it to our waist or bike if our dog wants to run alongside. Two leashes we love are the Ruffwear Slackline Leash and the Kurgo Quantum Dog Leash.
Read about each leash in our detailed and honest reviews.
Microfiber towel. There will be muddy paws. We promise. This handy green towel from Kurgo does just the job.
Cooling vest. On hot days, you will want to make sure you keep your dog from overheating. A cooling vest will help keep your dog at a comfortable temperature. We have used the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler and the Kurgo Dog Core Cooling vest and like both pretty equally.
Travel bed. Select a comfortable, yet packable travel dog bed. Something you would use for backpacking or camping is perfect. There are several out there that we love, including the Kurgo Loft Wander Bed, the Ruffwear Mt. Bachelor Pad, the Ruffwear Highlands Bed, and the Whyld River Doggy Bag.
Read our review of the Kurgo Loft Wander Bed.
Furminator. Dog hair, don’t care! Only sometimes we do. Like in tent. We have used a Furminator for years and it magically would make Sora give birth to a baby lamb with the amount of fur it got out.
First Aid Kit. Don’t buy a pet specific first aid kit. They’re twice the price of a human one. Just get a travel first aid kit for humans and add items for your dog, like Benadryl, Hydrogen peroxide, and a muzzle.
For more on packing food for camping trips and long term travel with a dog, read this post.
Treats. Sora would never allow us to leave the house without treats, and the same rule applied to cycle tour. We always, always, had treats on had. My motto when it come to treats is that you should always be training! We are big fans of Zuke’s Pet treats. They have tons of different flavors to fuel any adventure. Sora devoured the Super Food packs.
Food. Kibble carriers are great for bike journeys. Many dog food bags are not resealable, so we would just buy the smallest bag we could find and then transfer it to the kibble carrier. This one from Kurgo does the trick.
And Where Exactly Do I Put All this Gear??
We stored all of Sora’s gear a number of ways. The smaller items, like the Furminator, Rexspecs, toys, and towel, we store inside a [kibble carrier]. Other items like her leash, food, etc. we would just store in the front of the trailer (meaning load-in end) where there is a deep pocket for storage. If your dog has a tendency to get into her food, then you may want to double bag it in a resealable container.
Biking with a Dog in the Heat
When the weather gets hot, we leave early and cycle late in order to take advantage of the cooler morning temps, however, we inevitably find ourselves pedaling in the heat of the afternoon more often than we’d like.
Sora has her own insulated water bottle and water bowl that we store in her trailer. We offer her water every time we stop and more frequently when the weather is about 70°F. We keep a close eye on Sora’s panting level and signs of heat. If she is panting heavily, we stop more often to give her water and ensure that she’s not overheating.
Strenuous exercise like running along side a bike, can easily over heat the dog. Watch for signs of heat stroke and take it easy.
We love the Kurgo Zippy Bowl and the Dexas Collapsible Travel Bowl, as they compact into a small size and easily fits into the pocket of her trailer, it clips to her leash or belt loops, so we can bring it along when we’re exploring cities.
Dogs cool off by panting and sweat through their paws, so we will either we find a lake or river where she can get her paws wet, or we use a Ruffwear Swamp Cooler. Sora hates sitting on a wet bed, so we make sure to squeeze out as much water as we can before we put it on her.
Lastly, we also rigged a shade to catch the areas where the built-in shade didn’t reach using a white sheet and magnets.
We carry a Kurgo Kibble Carrier to contain Sora’s dog food. We were a little skeptical at first, but after using the bag for 12 months, we can’t imagine traveling without one. It protects from critters from getting into her food when camping, plus, it keeps her food from the elements, including Sora herself.
When we stop in larger cities, we purchase three-kilogram bags of food and stay topped off to ensure we never run out. With the abundance of street dogs and other critters roaming around at night, we snap Sora’s food to a high tree branch or store it inside her trailer overnight.
And there you have it! Whether you’re off to to the local brewery to meet friends or heading out for an extended tour with your dog, you are now armed with our tips on how to successfully bike with a dog.