Dog Tired – Part One: The Gear

As anyone that’s ever had a young dog (or kid, says my mum) knows, regular walks really just don’t cut it. Mountain biking with them, however, seems to be pretty close to the best possible way to make sure your pup actually sleeps (if only for an hour or two). The combination of running, sniffing, and thinking (“which way should I turn? Which direction is he going? What’s that four-legged thing with a tree on its head?”) is a surefire way to tucker out your little monster, *but* you need to do it safely. Today, I’m going to talk about the gear that you’ll need and want for your companion – I’ve broken it down into two sections, The Essentials, and The Optionals. Give me a shout if there’s anything I’ve missed that you think is important!

The Essentials

•    A Basic Collar with some sort of ID. I put this first because It’s literally the most important thing to have. You may be perfectly confident in your ability to control the dog, but let’s face it, shit happens. Whether it’s a particularly smelly deer, maybe another dog going the other direction, or even because one of you falls in the worst possible spot, it will pay to have a contingency plan in the event that the two of you get separated. My dog actually has two pieces of ID on his collar – one of them is a rivet-on tag from DogIDs (This is what I’m using), and the other is his licensing tag. I much prefer the riveted tag to the dangly type, because Ziggy has an awful habit of charging through the underbrush and pulling off whatever tags I have attached to him at the moment. I can vouch for the linked tag, too – we’ve had it through mud, snow, sand, and ocean water, and it’s still holding up!

•    Water! Whether it’s a collapsible bowl, one of those schnazzy water bottles with a detachable trough, or you just spray your bud from your own hydration system, your dog will need water. This is particularly important when you’re on new trails! It may seem obvious, but again, shit happens. If you get lost on a new system and you don’t have adequate water for both of you, things are not going to go well. If you know the area and know there is clean water available, you don’t have to be quite so careful. It’s always a good idea to have some extra, though. Also, be aware of Giardia / Deer Fever. Bike rides with happy dogs are great, but the drive home while your dog is suffering from explosive diarrhoea is about as far the opposite as it gets. This is also an excellent argument for the use of a kennel in your vehicle.

•    “Feces Collection Devices”,  AKA poo bags. We all know how awful riding through horse poop is, and a few of us have been unlucky enough to find out exactly how much worse it is when you ride through dog poop. Particularly at the bottom of a steep hill. Especially when you manage to fling it up into your mouth even though you’re wearing a full-face helmet. The following panicked seconds trying to rip off the helmet before vomiting while also stopping without hitting a tree are a really shitty (hah) experience. Don’t let it happen to you, don’t let it happen to anyone behind you.

The Optionals

•    Harnesses. Harnesses are actually a pretty great thing to have, as it turns out. Not only do they (usually) make your dog more visible (very important, especially if your critter tends to go “exploring”), it gives you at least 3 times more grabbable surfaces. I would also recommend using a harness if you’re planning on keeping your dog leashed to you or your bike for any amount of time – if one of you goes down, a leash attached to a harness will be much less likely to cause damage than a leash on a collar. I use, and love, this harness, though I have also heard great things about Ruffwear’s gear. Another great thing about harnesses is that they allow you to use…

•    Panniers, or side packs. Think of all the crap you’re hauling for yourself, and all the extra stuff that has to come along when the dog does. I don’t know about you guys, but I really don’t have room in my pack for an extra two water bottles and a bag of dog food. It sounds kind of rude, but when you consider how much more food, water, and various accoutrements your dog can carry for himself, it makes sense. With panniers, instead of sharing your 3L water pack between the two of you, your dog can carry his own water! If you’re doing serious riding, make sure your dog’s pack doesn’t exceed 20% of their weight!

•    Boots are something I’ve often thought about, but never actually had the money/necessity to purchase. Ziggy has always had pretty good feet, and most of our riding has been on the loamy, wet trails in BC. I’ll actually be heading down to central Oregon about a week after this goes live, so we’ll see how he stands up to the lava rock. One of the most common issues I’ve heard of with dog boots is movement – the majority of them tend to have issues rotating around the dog’s feet, so if your buddy does wear them make sure you check them frequently!

•    Leashes are only included in this list because my experience has shown that, while doing anything even remotely demanding or technical, leashes are more of a liability than a boon. I’ve seen people go down because their dog bolted for a deer, I’ve seen dogs yanked terrifyingly hard because the person they were attached to fell over, and I’ve seen two really unfortunate-looking people all tangled up in their leash. That’s actually one of the main attractions to this Rad Dog collar I have: it works great as a leash when you need it, but it won’t give you problems with tangling, or finding somewhere to put it when it’s not on the dog. If you need a leash to keep control of your dog while biking, it’s well worth your while to spend a bit of time training them. In part two, I’ll give you all a basic rundown of which commands seem to be the most important, and a general tutorial for how to train them.

Also, if you don’t already ride with a basic first aid kit, you should. Unless you’re a trained vet, I would suggest against giving your dog any medicine on the trails. It’s not a bad idea to pack something like gauze, a bit of tape, and even a plastic bag – the most likely issue you’ll see is a cut paw, so you need to be able to deal with the bleeding, keep it clean, and keep Dog from tearing everything off. Honestly, the best thing that I’ve ever used as a dog bandage was half of a MaxiPad. If you can find a few laying around, toss ‘em in!

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