Love your four-legged friend? Would you like to take to the trail with your furry pal as a riding companion? Many riders love to hit the trail with their trail dogs. It’s a blast to watch them revel in the outdoors with the wind in their faces as they chase you down the singletrack; however, there’s more to a good trail-dog ride than simply tossing the leash over your handlebars and hitting the trail. We polled a few of the most knowledgeable experts to ask what makes a good trail-dog ride.
Info provided by James Conaway-NutriSource pet foods Shilo Vigil-Squeaky Wheel bike shop Kris Bolin-Tailwaggers pet shop
Best trail-ride friend: Taking your pups to the trails is a blast. They’re the best riding companions. They’re always ready to go, always happy to let you pick the trail, and never get a flat tire to slow you down. It is, however, the dog owner’s job to ride responsibly for both the safety of the dog and all the other trail users. Photo by Bob Ward
What makes a good trail dog?
As with mountain bikers, it really helps if the dogs are built for the sport. They should come from some sort of working or sporting stock. It helps if they want to stay with you, stay focused and aren’t too easily distracted. Think about the dog from the movie Up, and how he’d react to the word “Squirrel!” He would probably not be a good trail dog because you wouldn’t know when he was going to just take off. You want a dog that is on point mentally as well as physically. Short-muzzled dogs, such as bulldogs, pugs, etc., are not good trail athletes. They have breathing challenges based on how they are built. They are fine for short hikes. If you are unsure, ask your vet or a knowledgeable independent pet store.
Photo by Bob Ward
Are there any specific breeds that work particularly well as trail companions?
Working breeds make the best trail dogs, such as Australian cattle dogs, labs or Jack Russells. That’s not to say mixed- breed or rescue dogs won’t work—they work well in fact. Just look for mixes with working breed backgrounds. The best trail dog we’ve seen recently was a Rottweiler/ Australian Shepherd mix named Tonka.
Laurie Troy of thepetmom.net Photo by Pat Carrigan
How do you begin the training process? What’s the first step?
The first step is hiking with the dog to get it used to being out on the trail. Next is some basic work in the park to get the dog used to being around the bike. Herding dogs sometimes want to run right in front of you and try to direct you on the trail. This has to be corrected before hitting your first singletrack. Build up the distance gradually. If you take your time and train with love, you will strengthen your bond. The dog learns to respect you as the master, which leads to a lifetime of friendship, love and loyalty. Your dog will quickly become your favorite riding partner.
Photo by Bob Ward
What are the absolutely critical commands the dog needs to learn?
Your dog should really understand the “heel” command. This will help to keep the dog from wandering away in the forest. “Stay” and “sit” are also important. These help when you encounter other trail users. Moving to the side of the trail and having your dog sit will let other trail users know your dog is in your control and well behaved. It does a lot for our sport when we make a good impression on other trail users.
Do you prefer to have the dog carry its own water, like with one of those dog vest things?
I use dog packs more for hiking than biking. You want the dog to be able to move freely. Also, dogs do not sweat like we do, so a pack can really trap their heat. In SoCal, that is not a good thing. When riding with your dog, bring your larger hydration pack and adjust the amount of water you carry accordingly. I even stick an extra bottle in the pack in addition to the 100-ounce bladder. Just like people, some dogs drink more than others, and it is up to you to make sure your dog stays safe and hydrated.
Photo by Bob Ward
What are the risks involved with taking your dog on the trail? In our neck of the woods, we worry about heat exhaustion and snakebites. For others, it could be ticks or poison ivy. What should riders be aware of?
Heat exhaustion is something to keep in mind. Dogs do not sweat like humans and can overheat quickly. You are responsible for your dog. Take it seriously. Consider the weather and duration of your ride. When in doubt, leave your dog at home. If you have a smaller trail dog, coyotes can also be a concern. A harness with a handle, such as the Ruff Wear harness, is great for grabbing your dog quickly.
Photo by Pat Carrigan
Snakes are a reality and your dog is right at snake level. Your vet offers a rattlesnake vaccine that will help should your dog get bitten. If it happens, stop running your dog and get it to a vet immediately. The vaccine will help buy you time to get to a vet. There are classes that you can put your dog through that will teach your dog to avoid rattlesnakes by sight, smell and sound. This is as important as your helmet if you take your dog on the trail. These classes are well worth the money. Talk to your local independently owned pet store to find a class near you. Also, hit them up for a topical flea and tick solution.
It’s important to know that dogs can give you poison oak or ivy, even if you don’t realize they’ve been in contact with it. It can remain on their fur and easily be transferred to your skin.
It’s not a bad idea to bring a little first-aid product for your dog. We carry Vetericyn spray for cuts (the best in the industry) and liquid bandage to seal a wound for the ride home. Dogs are barefoot trail runners, so it’s good to have a plan in case they damage a pad.
Is there anything else you’d like to add here?
Start out slowly. It takes time to build up a dog’s stamina. For us, the best part of taking our dogs out on the trail is watching our best friends smiling, running, jumping and racing around with us on the trails. It brings me so much happiness to watch them enjoy it. Make it fun for your dog and you will be rewarded with the best trail buddy you have ever had.
Photo by Bob Ward
Do the nutritional needs of a super-active trail dog differ from that of a stay-at-home dog?
The trail dog is an athlete and will perform best if fed as such. For the recreational trail dog, we recommend a high-quality, low-glycemic, grain-free dog food such as NutriSource Prairie Select or Pure Vita Duck. For hard-core ranch dogs or search-and-rescue dogs, you want a food like NutriSource Performance. This is a food with healthy grains (think Ezekiel Bread) that offers proper fuel for longer sustained efforts. All of these foods offer patented probiotics that help make the nutrients more bio-available to your dog. They are super easy on the stomach (important to any endurance athlete) and offer technology such as L-Carnitine, which helps repair muscles quickly while benefiting the heart and moving long-chain fatty acids through the body (weight loss). This is a supplement we personally use for better performance on the trail. Google it.
Keep an eye out for tenderness of joints. A good hip and joint supplement as needed can help keep your partner on the trails with you for many more years and provide your dog added comfort along the way.
The nutritional and equipment needs of a trail dog are different than the typical couch-potato pup. These are a few of our favorite products designed specifically for these adventurous pups.
NutriSource Performance food provides high-quality protein to maintain muscle mass and strength in hard-working dogs. The high-quality fats and carbohydrates provide the fuel for dogs that exert more energy. The chicken content provides the flavor to encourage ready acceptance and eating under stress, and the high nutrient density in NutriSource Performance helps hard-working dogs maintain energy and endurance.
Another option—grain- free:
Grain-free dog food is made with delicious quail as the #1 ingredient that features excellent palatability, digestibility and taste dogs love. Try it if your dog is a picky eater.
Freeze-dried food option:
Primal freeze-dried formulas offer you the convenience and benefits of a well-balanced, safe and wholesome raw-food diet without having to grind, chop, measure or mix the ingredients yourself. They’re easy to take on the trails without the heft of dry food.
PowerBar for dogs:
Zukes provides energy food for canines. The tasty treats give a shot of energy on the trail in a compact and easy-to-carry package. The hip and joint version of the snack even has a shot of glucosamine, a nutrient that’s proven to help with joint pain.
The trail essentials:
A foldable and portable bowl, a quality harness, and the proper meds in case your trail pup’s paws get cut are critical for every trail dog. We prefer the Ruffwear harness; 3M liquid bandage and a portable first-aid kit with antiseptic spray are must- have accessories.
Photo by Pat Carrigan
How much food and water should you plan to pack for a ride specifically for the dog?
For most outings your dog will not require much food on the trail. It’s best to bring easily consumed treats such as Zuke’s Power Bones (the original powerbar for dogs) or freeze-dried meat treats like Pure Vita Beef Liver and Sweet Potato. Freeze-dried raw diets such as Primal work really well on the trail. These options help keep the dog on point and positively motivated. Dogs require as much or more water than you do. It’s better to have too much than too little. Stop often and hydrate your dog. Again, bring your Camelbak Hawg, not the Lobo.
Are there any foods to avoid for pups? Is it okay to toss them a bit of your Clif bar rather than packing just for them?
Avoid the empty nutrition of poorly formulated food. Stay away from sugary snacks (read the labels). No big meals just before the ride. Their stomachs will react the same way your stomach will. You could toss your dog a bit of your Clif bar, but there are products with that same philosophy and technology that are made for your pet and are easy for your dog to turn into energy.
What should you pack for feeding or watering the dog? Do you prefer a collapsible bowl, or do you just shoot a bit out of the water bottle?
We like collapsible bowls for breaks on the trail. They work the best for rehydrating. For sips in between breaks, our dogs would drink from a bottle or take a shot from the Camelbak.
Photo by Pat Carrigan
Can dogs handle stream water? Or is that a recipe for disaster?
We do not recommend letting your dog drink from a stream. A dog can get Giardia as easily as you can. If your dog gets the trots, talk to your vet. That said, a nice plop in the stream is a great way to cool down for both you and your dog. If you can keep your dog from drinking it, splash around a bit in your favorite stream crossing.
ACCESS AND ADVOCACY
How can you tell if a trail is dog-friendly?
Look for posted signs. Generally, you want to be away from crowded trail-use areas. Most parks require your dog to be on a leash. More remote areas might make more sense for you and your dog.
“I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.” —Bill Murray Photo by Bob Ward
Do you use any kind of leash or lead? Does this depend on the type of trail?
There is a company called Ruff Wear that makes a harness with a handle on the back. These work well if you ever have to grab your dog quickly. It won’t hinder movement or trip the dog. The harness is a great place to hang a bell. This lets other trail users know you are coming.
What can you mention about being courteous to other trail users? Obviously not everyone likes dogs, and some people are scared of them. How do you address this?
Be the person you would like to encounter on the trail. Always yield. Pull over and have your dog sit. The handle harness is great for this because some people do not like dogs. Even people who do like dogs do not know your dog. We are our own rolling PR campaign. Make a good impression on the trail.
One bad apple seems to ruin it for everyone. What are some tips you can give for not being “that guy”?
Carry poop bags. Pack out your poop. Leave the spiked collar at home. Project positivity.
Should you bring a trail dog on a group ride?
We won’t bring a dog on big group rides. Small groups with friends who know your dog can be fine. You learn what to expect from your human riding buddies on the trail, and the same is true for your dog. People who haven’t ridden with your dog might do something that is unexpected and spook your dog. This could lead to a crash for a rider or your dog getting hit. Safety and familiarity are important.
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