5 tips from Ross Downard of Mtn Ranks and Lily on how to get back in to biking shape.
It’s that time of year. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and it’s time to dust off that mountain bike and hit the trails. There is no better way to go ride than with your friends, even your four legged friends. It’s important to remember, like you coming off the long winter, your furry shred partner is just as out of trail shape as you are. I am going to give you a few tips on how to get your pooch back in shape to pin it with you all summer long.
Most people do not know me, but a lot of you know my mountain biking trail pal, Lily. I’ve done a few videos of my super bike shredding Jack Russell Terrier. As fast and strong as Lily is, I still need to ease her into the bike season coming out of winter, or I could severely damage her in more ways than one. So, here we go:
This is probably the most important tip of all. Your dog has been lying around all winter dreaming of sunny days, woods full of squirrels to chase, and long days out on the trail. Your pooch is out of shape and needs to be reintroduced to running for longer durations. Even if your dog has been skiing, jogging, or other winter activities; just like us, they are different disciplines and you need to re-teach your muscles the ropes. Biking is a high-speed activity and on a different surface than snow. It’s best to start out with small rides with your dog. Give them plenty of rest on that first ride, especially on down hill sections. I like to start riding trails with long climbs. The slower pace makes it easy for Lily to keep up and get used to running for longer durations. As a bonus, it helps get me back into bike shape. Slowly work your dog up to longer rides, faster paces, and longer, fast down hill stretches of trail.
Build Pad Tolerance
Being inside all winter and on snow, softens your dog’s paws. That nice soft carpet and smooth hard wood floors are nice and easy on your dog’s paws. The trail, however, is not. Just like trail endurance, your dog’s paws need to be reintroduced to rough trails. If I take Lily to Moab right out of the gate, one ride on slick-rock will have her pads worn raw. So, start out on semi-smooth dirt trails, work your way up to rougher and rockier trails, and allow your dog’s paws to toughen up. Once Lily’s paws are tough again, she can run on slick-rock for days and be fine. Another great option for this is a good pair of dog boots. They will help protect your dog’s paws without as much of a break in period. This is also more important with bigger breeds as they have much more weight behind each step and they can tear a pad much easier.
Hydration and Nutrition
Keeping a dog hydrated is very important. As they tear it up on the trail, they need a lot of water. It will help with sore muscles, overheating and prevent dehydration. Lily drinks from my hydration pack. I just squeeze the nozzle and she will drink from the flowing stream. If your dog is not good with drinking from a hydration pack, bring a portable dog bowl and extra water. Remember every time you are thirsty and take a drink your dog probably is, too. Nutrition is also important. As Lily gets into the season she needs to eat more and more calories to keep up with the high activity on the trail. I usually up the amount of food she eats by about 30%. Having good high-quality dog food makes a big difference. For dogs that are active, diets high in good quality fats are key. Dogs burn fat for energy not carbohydrates. So all the hype these days about high protein dog foods really do not give your dog the energy they need to hit the trail. Protein is important for rebuilding and supporting your dog’s muscles, not for energy. Some high-protein dog foods are not agreeable with certain dogs, I mix high-protein food in with Lily’s normal food that is more balanced. This helps round out her diet. Feed your dog after activity, feeding before running can cause diarrhea and is rough on their digestion. Dog snacks with glucosamine are great way to help keep your dog’s joints top notch. I feed one of these snacks a day to lily.
Every year, the first time I take Lily out for a bike ride she is so excited she forgets how to be around bikes. Usually, the first ride of the season I spend a lot of time reminding Lily how to behave and follow my commands when we are on the trail. It usually doesn’t take long and then she’s back at the plate. It does not take long before she knows what to do and how to listen to me when I need her to. This is extremely important since she is off leash and if she doesn’t listen to me, she could find herself in a bad situation; either getting hit by another biker, car, chasing a moose, or who knows.
5. Dog Trail Etiquette
The last thing ties in the training and ensures that everyone has a good experience on the trail, including your dog. Remember, if your dog runs around bothering everybody, it’s a good way to ruin other dog’s and your dog’s privileges on the trail to be off leash. I try to teach Lily to stay behind my bike at all times. This protects her from downhill traffic. As well as protects other riders from potential crashes out of trying to avoid a dog in the middle of the trail. When other riders approach, I use a simple command, “Lily off the trail” and she knows that it’s time to get off the trail and let other people pass. Make sure you always carry doggy waste bags and clean up after your pet. There’s nothing that ruins a trail experience more than dog waste all over the place. So do the right thing and pick it up and pack it out.