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Bike Trailers for Dogs: How and Why

Bike Trailers for Dogs - How and Why

If you’ve read any of my blogs or gear reviews in the past, then you know that I am up for trying any quality dog product that enhances my outdoor experience with Bella, while my husband Pat is the frugal voice of reason who wonders if we really need more gear.  Our perspectives on Bella’s bike trailer were no different than usual. A little over a year ago, I snuck a Burley Tail Wagon (a bike trailer specifically designed to haul dogs) onto our wedding registry, sparking a debate between Pat and I.  Would we really use it? Would Bella even like it? Can we really expect friends and family to spend that much money on us?  Do we REALLY need more gear? Pat had a hard time justifying something so expensive and seemingly ridiculous, while in my mind, teaching Bella to enjoy a non-weight bearing sport would be an investment in her activity options as she began to age.  Neither of us anticipated to what degree the Burley Tail Wagon was about to positively impact all three of our lives.

Burley Bike Trailer

What follows is a combination of a guide to bike-trailer cycling with your dog, as well as a gear review and packing list.  We also address that question that was bothering Pat so much….why?

Why Train Your Dog to Ride in a Bike Trailer?

Top reasons we love Bella’s bike trailer:

  • It’s a great way to let an injured or elderly dog still come along for adventures and smell lots of good smells.
  • It offers an alternative to running and other weight-bearing activities for humans and dogs alike.
  • It does not require much experience (I’m a very novice bike rider, and I can tow her with no problem!)
  • If Pat tows Bella, her 60lbs combined with the 24lb weight of the cart slows him down but still allows him to have a quality workout, which simultaneously allows me to keep up.
  • It has brought us closer to our community.
  • It’s FUN!

I’m a teacher in real life, and my 7th-grade teaching team pitched in to purchase the Tail Wagon for us as a group wedding gift. They even assembled the whole thing during a professional development training at the school to surprise us when we got back from our honeymoon.  We’d recently purchased our first home right before our wedding, and we were struggling greatly with the lack of dirt running trails and natural areas in our new, suburban neighborhood. We wasted no time getting Bella used to her new bike cart.

Burley Bike trailer

So, this brings me to how Bella’s bike cart changed our lifestyles for the better. Pat is an experienced road cyclist and has raced competitively in the past, while I ride bikes like a toddler. Until we were given Bella’s Tail Wagon as a gift, I had vehemently refused to go for bike rides with Pat. But now, Bella was motivating me to try something new. Since I didn’t own a bike, I had my parents ship me my old grade school bike from across the country.

As Bella and I both started getting more comfortable with this whole biking thing, we started going more and more places as a family. Pat enjoyed the paved and gravel bike routes that we explored in our new town so much that he sold his road bike and bought a gravel bike. I eventually ended up purchasing my first grown-up bike of my life: a 2019 Trek Dual Sport 2.  Instead of driving to breweries after work, we rode our bikes. We smiled more. We ran errands on our bikes, got coffee on bikes, went to local dog parks on bikes, sometimes traveling 20 or 30 miles at a time. When we have time off we tend to book it out of town and to the mountains, but for the first time, we started really connecting with the community we lived in. It was a great way for us to burn off stress as a family, and best of all, we didn’t have to leave Bella behind.

This past fall, Bella started displaying pain and lameness in her right shoulder. She is still currently in the middle of a multi-month recovery process, and we are working on getting a complete and accurate diagnosis.  Bella is used to easily running 10 miles or more with us at a time in the mountains and on a regular basis during the workweek, so not having her with us all of the time has been a huge mental adjustment for all of us. It’s been a difficult recovery process with several setbacks, but having her bike cart has been a lifesaver for all of us to stay active together as a family.

Getting Started

Training Tips:

  • Bring the cart inside, let her know it’s a safe place.  Let her get in when it isn’t moving, practice closing up the flaps with her inside.
  • Use lots of treats to make a positive association with the cart.  Use treats initially as a trick to have her duck her head down so that you can secure the top flap.
  • At first, have a friend or significant other come along to keep an eye on her while in motion.
  • Make sure the tailgate is correctly secured before trying any movement with the cart. The black tailgate should be fastened ON TOP of the yellow cover to prevent escape.
  • A cozy blanket or mat may make the cart seem more inviting and might absorb some shock.
  • Make sure she only jumps out of the cart after a ride when you say it’s ok…otherwise she needs to wait.
  • Consider a restraint system.  If you decide it is warranted, rig something up that would not allow your dog to be dragged by a leash or rope if she got out.
  • Introduce more freedom, such as restraint-free riding or open flaps very slowly.
  • Uneven surfaces, such as grass and cobblestones, made Bella much more nervous at first. The Tail Wagon does not have shocks. Introduce novel surfaces slowly, and with lots of positive encouragement.

Bella can be a timid dog, and she took a little time getting used to the feel of the cart in motion.  I’d suggest setting up the cart at home and allowing your dog to check out the cart and sit in it when it isn’t moving.  Treats are very helpful in making a positive association with the cart. We started with small rides around the block, with one of us riding behind to keep an eye on her.

At 60 lbs, Bella is almost at the weight limit (75lbs) of the cart, and I would think that a dog any larger than her could be a little uncomfortable while being confined inside.  For her first rides, she was a bit anxious and didn’t want to lay down. This was a problem, because her head kept us from securing the back flap when she was sitting, and trying to push her head down just made her more nervous.  We discovered that if we threw a few treats in the back of the trailer, she’d put her head down to get them, and we could quickly secure the back flap in a stress-free way.

Burley Bike Trailer

We did have one scary moment on her first ride when she figured out she could escape the moving cart if she wiggled her nose under the main yellow flap (word of warning: the black tailgate needs to go OVER this flap to prevent a dog’s escape. We made this error because several product images show the tailgate underneath the yellow flap, but upon reading more product literature we discovered our error).

The trailer has several D ring attachment points inside for tethering a dog.  We spent some time figuring out a system to restrain her after her escape-artist moment on her first ride.  Although we were confident she couldn’t get out with the tailgate now positioned correctly, she still seemed a little uneasy and we didn’t want to take any chances, especially on roads.  We settled on Ruffwear’s Webmaster Harness because she couldn’t back out of it, and a couple of car restraint leashes we already had (see our gear list below) that we connected together. Safety-wise, we knew that if she got out somehow and was attached by a leash, that could be way more dangerous for her in the end if she was dragged, so we chose a setup that was fairly restrictive…long enough that she could turn around, but short enough she couldn’t get out and risk being dragged.

Bella’s been riding in her cart for over a year now and has ridden several hundred miles with us.  She’s now confident enough to ride without restraints, and we recently let her stick her head out of the front window for the first time on a bike and pedestrian-only gravel path…she loved it!  She is no longer anxious…she now eagerly jumps in the trailer and quickly settles down to enjoy her ride.

Gear Suggestions

Bike trailer gear we use

Our Favorite Things:

  • Burley Tail Wagon– There are other dog bike trailers on the market, but we chose this one for our wedding registry because we trust Burley’s quality, customer service, and reputation.
  • West Paw Montana Nap Crate Pad- The large size fits the Tail Wagon perfectly, is made in the USA, and the whole thing is machine washable. I found one for sale on Sierra Trading Post, but check online for sales. They are a bit pricey, but the quality is there.
  • Fleece Blanket- Extra warmth and nesting on cool days.
  • Soggy Doggy Mat – This is what we use in the cart on warm summer days, as it isn’t as cushiony and warm. Typically, we keep this as an extra doormat in the house on rainy/wet days, but we found it suits this purpose well. It also makes a cozy crash pad for Bella at breweries.
  • Cooling Gel Pad- Helpful to place on top of the Soggy Doggy in the summer!
  • Roraima Sweater- snuggly fits under harnesses.
  • Ruffwear Stumptown Jacket- loosely fits over harnesses and has a leash portal.
  • Ruffwear Webmaster Harness- good if you are looking for restraint options.
  • Kurgo Dog Seat Belt Loop and Kurgo Swivel Tether – We connected these two car restraints that we already had, which made the perfect, safe length for restraining Bella.  We connected the red swivel to the cart’s D-ring and the seat belt loop carabiner to Bella’s harness.
  • Ruffwear Flat Out Leash- the easy buckle on the handle allows for easy fastening to chairs, poles, picnic benches, etc.. while out on the town, and the clip hardware is flawless…it never snags, making for an easy transition in and out of the cart.
  • Cycle Dog Collar (We particularly like the designer tattoo series)-  Stink free, extremely durable, and super cool. The buckle is heavy-duty and easy to use, and the leash clip doubles as a bottle opener. Made from recycled bike tires in Oregon.
  • Cycle Dog Bowl- durable!  Made from recycled bike tires in Oregon.
  • Ruffwear BPA free water bladder- Ensures we always have extra water for Bella. If you already have a Ruffwear Singletrak or Palisades pack, then you already own these!
  • Doggone Good Trek N Train Treat Pouch- fits well in the outside mesh pocket of the Tail Wagon. We stash it with poop bags in the small front pouch and treats in the main magnetized compartment.
  • Ruffwear Beacon Lights–  Bella wears the new, clear version on her collar when riding at night so we can monitor her better in her cart (we usually have it flash blue or green so it looks different from our other lights), and we attach another to the back of her cart. We ride with other, brighter lights on our bikes and helmets at night as well, but this is a nice little extra bit of light if you already own one. The older, red version clips well to the lower mesh pockets on the Tail Wagon, doubling as a taillight.
Cycle Dog Bowl

Cycle Dog Bowl

You certainly do not need all of these products to cycle successfully with your dog…nearly all of these are items I already owned previous to owning a bike, but I appropriated them for the trailer.  These have become my go-to pieces of gear if I know we are going to ride for an entire day, or even into the night. It’s worth noting that if you have a larger dog, you won’t have room for a really cushiony crate pad or bed. I was happy to see that West Paw’s Montana Nap in the Large size fit well, offering great comfort, but was low enough profile that it didn’t take up too much of Bella’s headroom in the trailer.  If you bike in chilly weather, a coat is an important consideration for your dog…you might feel warm, but remember your dog isn’t doing any physical work! We prefer to bundle Bella up, but let her have the windows open as much as possible so that she can take in smells and fresh air.

Other Helpful Items

  • A kickstand for your bike- stabilizes the bike when loading and unloading your dog from the trailer, I’m a HUGE fan of having a kickstand, even though Pat tells me it’s a little bit dorky.
  • Burley Tail Wagon Kickstand – allows the cart to sit up on its own. This is a relatively cheap add-on component that we decided to purchase. Again, it makes loading and unloading easier.
  • Ortlieb Handlebar Bag – I seriously love this thing for riding around town recreationally…holds my wallet, keys, phone, gloves, headlamp, chapstick, maps, and more. The whole bag can be popped off the mount, and contents are easily accessed while riding with the magnetic closure that faces the rider.  I use it as a purse when we go to breweries or run errands. Alternatively, it can also be left on the bike and locked closed with the provided keys. It’s a very high-quality product and the details are well thought out. These are pricey but keep a lookout… I purchased mine at a steep discount.

Bike trailering…is it for your dog?

Maybe for you if

  • Your dog is 60 lbs or less…a larger dog could possibly still enjoy the trailer, but the maximum weight limit is 75 lbs, and we think that if Bella was a bit larger (she’s exactly 60 lbs), she would be uncomfortable with the space available.
  • Your dog already knows basic commands such as sit, stay, lay down, wait.
  • Your dog has a high level of trust/tight bond with you.
  • Your dog enjoys being in crates and does not mind some confinement.
  • You are looking for a new way to get out and explore with your dog.
  • You have an injured, sick, or elderly dog that you want to get outside for an adventure.  (Note: the cart can also be converted into a stroller with an add-on kit for dogs that need extra help getting around).

Maybe not for you if

  • You have a very large dog (see notes above).
  • Your dog does not enjoy being confined.
  • Your dog is very nervous in novel situations.
  • Your dog is a young puppy or a very high energy dog that is still working on basic commands.

Retailing at $399, I’m not going to pretend that the Burley Tail Wagon would be an easy investment for the average person to make. I will say, it was the perfect wedding gift… but if I needed to save up some money to purchase it myself, I absolutely would do it again.  We’ve discovered that the Tail Wagon truly is an enriching lifestyle choice, not just a piece of gear!

Where to Buy

Find the Burley Tail Wagon at Moosejaw, REI, or Backcountry

More for Advanced Cyclists

Are you an advanced cyclist looking for a more technical review of the Burley Tail Wagon? Check out Long Haul Trekkers’ excellent, thorough review of the Tail Wagon as well as other Burley trailer alternatives for dogs.

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