In the second of my blogs on beginning bikejor, I thought I would focus on tips for training your dog for bikejor. Of course you may find your dog just doesn’t take to it and this is never guaranteed but usually if your dog enjoys running with you, they will also enjoy the freedom of running in front of you with the bike too.
Voice commands – These are a must on the bike. If you can put in good groundwork teaching the voice commands with canicross or even just by using them on walks, then your life will be made much easier when you get on a bike. You will not have the same control on a bike as on the ground, where you can pick up the line to pull your dog the correct way or away from danger. The very basics are ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘straight on’ and ‘steady’. I use ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ for right and left but whatever works for you and your dog is fine. I also use ‘leave’, ‘on by’ and ‘hike on’ or ‘go’ as additional commands but to be honest it is more important to be able to direct your dog and stop your dog than anything else on a bike.
As an additional note on this a friend recently asked the question about how to train their deaf dog to bikejor and I have to admit I was a bit stumped. I rely very heavily on my voice commands to get me around a course and out of trouble and so I would find it hard to think about having to train a dog without using them. My initial thoughts were that you could perhaps use some sort of method of vibration to communicate direction through the line, but anything like that would require removing your hands from the handle bars. In the end I decided you’d have to rely on your dog picking up a turn in the wheel of your bike to direct it. I think this would work because I know when I’m choosing lines, my dogs tend to pick up the straightest line in front of my bike to follow and move over if I choose one side of a track over the other. Deaf dogs tend to be quite sensitive to the other senses but it remains to be seen whether this would work or not…
Getting a pull out front – With bikejor you ideally want your dog to pull out in front of you rather than off to the side and definitely not behind! Some dogs may not want to be out front initially, as it requires the dog to have a lot of confidence in you to guide your dog in the right direction. I’ve found that by pairing an inexperienced dog with a more experienced dog to begin with (therefore giving them another dog to run with) is probably the best and quickest way for a novice to discover what is expected of them. So many times I’ve seen dogs running together who form up in a line shoulder to shoulder because it seems to be what comes naturally to them.
The other thing you can do to encourage a dog to pull out front is to give them something (or someone) to chase. Another dog attached to another bike or even just another person on a bike out in front calling and encouraging them can make a real difference to a dogs’ confidence in knowing that you want them to run forward. I have used both methods with great success in getting dogs comfortable with being attached to the bike.
Problem solving – You will no doubt encounter some issues when you first start training your dog for bikejor. I had an issue with one of my dogs dropping back every time I braked because my brakes tended to squeak when I did and she would look around, unhappy with the noise and not confident I wasn’t about to mow her down! If your dog is unsure, make sure you take small steps with training. Keep it simple and fun so that your dog is not being expected to run too far or too fast until they are happy with what you are doing. This might mean only doing very short distances of a few hundred metres to begin with but if you get the basics right your dog should quickly want to do more and will let you know when they are ready to do more.
You will also get dogs who will try to go much further and faster than they should at first and it is down to you to be sensible and not allow them to be over stretched. One of my dogs would run until he dropped if I let him, so I carefully monitor his action and if I can see he’s getting tired then we have a break. I also carry water on the bike as I personally wouldn’t leave home for any training session without water for the dogs.
There are also the dogs who want to stop and sniff at everything, for those dogs I would employ the methods above for getting a dog to pull out front. As with all training it is always better to make the action you want your dog to perform seem like more fun and rewarding than the activity they are participating in to avoid the one you want.
As with all dog sports be mindful of the terrain and temperature (as I have mentioned in previous blogs) and also check where you are allowed to train with your dogs with the bike. It may be you need a permit or other permission to use the land and it is always better to check locally to find out. Most of all make sure it’s fun for both you and your dog, bikejor shouldn’t be scary or dangerous if you stick to a sensible training plan and always expect the unexpected!