Man’s Best Friend, Biker’s Worst Enemy?

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Mountain bike instructor Ian Bailey gets a few things off his chest.

By Ian Bailey

I quietly punched the air reading Olly Cheesman’s semi-successful attempt to banish ‘trail dogs’ into Singletrack’s Room 101 in Issue 103.  Finally someone had the balls to vocalise an issue that I’ve been too fearful of the ‘man’s best friend’ brigade to ever mention out loud myself.  My reservations are real, after all many people openly admit to preferring their dogs to their friends or relatives and I suppose they’re admirable in that love and devotion.  However, it doesn’t override the simple fact that dogs and mountain biking do not mix.  Before you lay into me as a heartless brute and start an online campaign of hate just hear me out, I want to explore some of the questionable statements I regularly hear – you might recognise some yourself.

dog in a tshirtAww…how could anything this cute be any trouble?

‘My dog always runs with me so you don’t need to worry’

Except it doesn’t and so I definitely do.  Yes your hound may largely attempt to stay with its master but it doesn’t think like a biker.  Unhindered by the trail layout it slices corners, jumps from behind trees and takes dramatic and unpredictable tangents on any whim.  Even if it was capable of staying constantly next to your rear wheel, what about when I’m overtaking you, or vice versa?  The key thing is that as well trained as the dog may be, it lacks vital self-awareness and so I have to ride defensively in order to not mow it down.  That’s not only a distracting fun killer, it also puts me in much greater danger. I want to be scanning the trail ahead, not constantly focusing on my peripheral vision for the inevitable shaggy blur bounding across my line.

‘My dog is great but (insert other friend’s name here)’s dog is a total nightmare’

And when you’re not listening they say the exact same thing about yours!  Love truly is blind and unfortunately you continually block out the stream of deviant behaviour that your four legged friend is inflicting on the woods.  I get it, I’m sure the sun doesn’t shine quite as strongly out of my kids arses as I’d like to think but I don’t drag them out when we’re meant to be doing some timed laps.

trail dogs

‘Don’t worry, he’s just being friendly’

Aahhh, the old classic.  If your concept of friendly is jumping aggressively up, covering me in crap and ripping a hole in my new jersey then I’d hate to see unfriendly.  This simply isn’t acceptable.  If you threw mud at me and then slashed my top with a flick-knife I don’t think the commonly anticipated reaction would be to laugh and reassure you that it’s OK!  And if it jumps at my bike don’t hold me accountable!

‘My dog never shits on the trail’

So where does it go?  Admittedly some people I know bring poo bags and occasionally even use them but generally they’re taking advantage of the great outdoors as a doggy toilet.  If you did this in a public park you’d get fined, but in the forest blind eyes are turned everywhere.  And blind eyes are an extreme but realistic by-product of getting canine fecal matter in your own, not to mention that incredibly depressing moment when you realise that horrendous smell is coming from your front tyre, oh and your gloves too, and what’s that on my face?  Aaaarghhh.

‘He never chases the wildlife/other dogs’

So where is he then?  And why did I see a deer crashing through the undergrowth in a desperate sprint for survival?  Not to mention the possibility of an irate farmer with a quad and a shotgun looking to wreak vengeance for the continual sheep worrying.  Why are we stood here freezing whilst you run around shouting its name in a rapidly heightening pitch?  Will I stick a few pictures on lampposts for you instead of heading to the pub?  Give them here…

trail dogs

‘Can I grab a lift home with you?’

‘Yeh, of course’
‘The dog can sit in the footwell’
Oh in that case, ‘no, bugger off’.  Except you don’t say that do you?  Despite the fact that your mate has just seen the painstaking way you laid out the old blankets and wrapped up your dirty steed on the back seat they still think you won’t mind a sweaty, mud caked fart machine wriggling around and shoving its snout in your glove box.  And I’d be the unreasonable one for refusing the lift!

clover dog
Snow caked fart machine

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, maybe I’m rebelling against the concept more than the beast as the ‘trail dog’ seems to have become the latest must-have accessory for the hipster MTB’er.  In reality though I think I’m representing a silent majority who groan into themselves when they see their mates canine bounding round the trailhead but don’t want to upset the delicate British pet etiquette by voicing their irritation.  Biking time is very precious and maybe dog owners should ask before assuming it’s ok to drag their mutt along in the same way you do before bringing along a new mate.  It can upset the subtle balances that make mates’ rides so amazing and so don’t be surprised if you see your crew shrinking over time.

I guess the final say could be reserved for the dogs themselves.  No doubt many do delight in the run-out but I’ve also seen the ripped and bleeding paws and heard the pitiful yelp of dog crunched under wheel.  Are you really just suiting yourself because you can’t be arsed to walk it later once you’re settling into your post-ride coma by the fire?  Are you?

Now bring on the vitriol!

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Comments (27)

    Well said Ian Bailey!

    I tend to agree.
    My dog gets his walk first, then crashes out on the sofa leaving me free to ride bikes.

    I ride a 29er so i can roll over most dogs up to about a medium sized labrador.

    But as the owner of a medium sized labrador I do not take him down the single track because I’m not that good at multitasking. He’s well behaved and doesn’t run off but i couldn’t enjoy a ride and keep an eye o n him. One thing at a time!

    well said. Thankfully none of my riding buddies own a dog, but I’d flat out refuse to ride with them if anyone brought one along.

    Yup. Dog owner to. Lurcher cross whippet. He can’t run behind. They have to win bloody everything. So I leave him at home or session a section of hill on our own nowhere near trails and other riders.

    as someone with a paralysing fear of dogs, the “he’s just being friendly” one is stupid. you, the dog owner, know that. i don’t, and just because you’re telling me that doesn’t really help the situation either. although i’m sure that somehow, it’d be my own fault in the eyes of some folk…

    Mmmm. I take my dog out on solo rides all the time, but never at trail centres. Firstly, I agree that she wouldn’t mix well with lots of strange riders and secondly, the gravelly trail centre surfaces are too abrasive on a dogs paws.

    Well said.

    Will very occasionally take our mutt out on the moors, but it’s a dog walk where I’m riding the bike, rather than a bike ride with my dog. Certainly wouldn’t want him around anyone else on a bike, and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to make allowances because of my dog.

    Actually, it’s one of the very things things which isn’t improved by the presence of a dog.

    What a dull, whining, bitch-fest of an “article”.

    plus one for cats

    I don’t take my dog. But regarding comments I feel the same way about incompetent or slow riders when I’m out. I’m sure others feel the same way about me. I have to ride defensively to a degree. So should you, unless at a trail centre you have no idea what you may come across. Christ what must you be like when thinking about other road users…and yes cats…

    Group rides with a dog? Why would anyone be so thoughtless. A quiet bimble on my own across quiet tracks mid-week then yes why not.
    If your worrying about toxocara then cats and foxes should be in the shitlist too. Don’t forget liver fluke and the other nasties that farm and wild animals deposit with no thought for biological safety.
    Not particularly good article like most rants, lacking in balance and objectivity. 1/10 no random caps,excess punctuation or port spelling. Belongs in the forum where I can look, tut and move on. Hope it’s not in the mag.
    Here’s a clue the dog is not the problem, owners abilities and their perception of them are but an instructor can’t say that as it might lose them business. If you can’t address the central issue don’t even start.

    Agree with article’ sentiment.

    Seems to me that if two people turned up with dogs then the whole idea of riding with them will just be blown out of the water, at least it would if it was my dog as it would be impossible to manage with another dog. So it seems that its only ever going to be a one dog per group thing.

    I have taken my dog out with me on lone rides and loved it and so i can completely see the attraction of doing it but I no longer do this because the dog can’t take it. My wife is an animal physio and she gently pointed out to me, one evening after the dog was struggling to walk properly, that despite the dog being faster than me over the 20k loop we’d just done she wasn’t conditioned well enough to do this distance. The dog in question is a pointer who i walk and run with regularly and she runs everywhere but cycling is three to four times the distance. My wife has banned me from cycling with the dog. In her experience she feels that the sort of distances involved will prematurely age the dog and that it will have arthritis by the time it’s six or seven. I’ve blown my chances with her as she won’t believe me if i say we will only ride for 6 or seven miles for the dogs sake, so no longer do i ride with the dog.

    Whilst I’m sure everyone who rides with a dog wants the best for their pet I doubt if many people are aware of the risks to the dog’s long term mobility. If your dog exhibits stiffness or lameness after a ride then i would urge you to reconsider the distances. The dog will run faster and harder than you and you won’t notice the damage until you get home by which time the damage is down and in many instances you probably won’t even notice the slight limp, at least not to begin with. But it will get worse and you will end up taking the dog to a physio but that can only ever help manage things, it cant cure things

    I don’t object to folk taking their dogs out, but the turds stuck to my tyres, bike and person I do object to.

    Most of all I object to this:
    On a trail, typically a wide fire road, that is a two way section, and the much loved and normally well behaved poo factory is coming toward me, about 30m from the person responsible for it’s action, and said person does not, or cannot, make it stop, sit, get out of my way, stop chasing me, or in any way make me not worry for my, and it’s safety. Very inconsiderate usage of an animal.

    waa waa, boo hoo, its all about me me me, no one has consideration for what I want to do! Suitable for either side of the argument.

    Just to make it clear, I’ve nothing against dogs. They’ll rightfully come out and run anytime they get the chance. It’s the owners who choose to bring them out and endanger the safety/kill the enjoyment of others that need to think. Obviously this then largely only relates to group rides but that’s the only scenario that this article considers. As for the ‘other side of the argument’, I’m at a loss as to what that actually is? That you should always bring a trail dog out with you? Thanks to johnmu for backing up possibly the most salient point, is it for the good of the dog or yourself that you choose to bring it along?

    God, you got some mud on your, errr, mountain biking jaket. I feel for ya

    Firstly I agree with the article. Secondly, how do people take their dog on non trail centre rides? My loops usually involve road sections, what do people do then? Attach a lead to the handlebar? Always puzzles me.

    Ha ha, yep, good point theguyfromthealps especially given the weather since November! Still don’t think it’s acceptable to have dogs jumping up at people though. See the comment above from xherbivorex. I’ve guided several people walking and on bikes who were genuinely terrified of dogs and thought it was a disgrace that they’re ever off the lead in public places. Bit extreme but you can’t account for people’s irrational/rational fears and having the owner treating it as if it’s a bit of fun is a touch incendiary.

    Love dogs (and cats) but running alongside your own or anyone else’s is just plain dangerous – take ’em out for a walk when you get back to the van/car/house. PS I expect to come across less able riders at trail centres so make allowances, we’re not all ex Pro roadies..!

    Wow! No need to bring on the vitriol, it’s already present in the article in spades. Whilst I agree that badly behaved animals have no place in the vicinity of bikes, you might as well apply the same logic to people who take their kids for walks/rides. After all they’re unpredictable, prone to sudden movements and at least half ignore everything their parents say. Granted they’re less likely to poop in the woods..
    The thing I like least about this article is that I could go onto some petrolheads website, substitute the word “dogs” for “bikes” and it wouldn’t read massively different.
    As a rider with a dog I enjoy taking her out with me and she loves it. I’ve been to trail centres a few times and never had a problem (and that means no chasing other riders, no pooping everywhere, no chasing wildlife etc etc). Similarly taken her on rides in the Peaks, Pennines, North Wales and the Lakes and never had an issue.
    I appreciate that the author (I won’t apply the epithet of “journalist” to this bilge) has obviously had negative experiences, but I can’t help feel that the childish attempt at vitriolic humour reflects far more negatively on him than it does on the majority of decent dog owners out there

    I ride with my dog at every opportunity, be it local rides by myself or trail centres with mates. He’s a Hungarian Vizsla and a superb trail dog. He’s just being friendly, never craps on the trail and is great riding in a group.

    OK seriously, he does poo (in the first 1/2 mile) and I carry poo bags…and use them despite him literally never pooing on the trail.
    He does undercut people and slice corners, but predictably.
    He jumps off the trail before stopping or looking around to ensure he doesn’t get hit. Somehow never standing around on singletrack.
    I don’t allow him to jump up tearing holes in peopls’ jearseys, although he can’t help an excited bark sometimes which is when I appologise to anyone around and shut him the hell up.
    He never gets lost so don’t have to stop the ride while I call his name helplessly.

    I am aware some people don’t like dogs and how could they not when they see Oscar’s floppy ears and massive smile, but they don’t and I get it. I am hyper vigilant to this fact. I ride at pace with him as well as cane down hills, single track and jump. He has never gotten in my way.

    However I am only JUST becoming aware that ‘traildogs’ seem to be somewhat frowned upon my many. So, next time you see me riding around Swinley with my super happy, faster than everybody amber Vizsla, please let me know your opinion…i’ll take it well I promise.

    Op have you never needed a poo when out on a ride? where did you excrete?

    Bit of a stupid article tarring all dogs with the same brush and it also depends on where or what terrain you are riding. I ride with my dog in the New forest, he’s usually 50m away from me as it’s a big open space. Or if there is a road coming up I tell him to heel and he’s next to my back wheel until I ‘release’ him. Riding with other riders in this situation to me is fine, because the dogs usually well out of the way. However I’ve learnt that riding in places where the area either side of the trail is too thick or difficult for a dog to run on encourages the dog to use the trail which makes it get in the way and irritate the short fused rides like the author of the article, so I no longer take him on rides with other people in those situations. My dog habitually shits off to the side of the trail in the undergrowth, which is great as I didn’t teach him that!

    Generally though I love to see others out with their dogs, and people who don’t like it are usually just grumpy old farts who need to lighten up and get a dog.

    For folks that are ok with bikes and dogs together I’m building a little FB community – look us up “Bike Dogs” and say hello !

    T’other day, not trail centre, but a bridleway. Two dogs, Labrador size, belt around the corner and start that loud and aggressive barking stuff. I was able to stop OK, but had nowhere to go as the section was very skinny and hemmed in on both sides by head height brambles and nettles, had to use my bike as a shield to stop them from getting closer to me than was I was comfortable with. 30 secs later owner shows up on his bike and laughingly says “Oh I see you’ve met the boys! They’re just being friendly!”

    He seemed to take offence when I let him know what I felt about his dogs, his inability to keep them under control, and his general fuck wittery nature.

    One off case, I know, but pissed me off no end.

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