The very first time we saw our German Shepherd Moxie’s expression as we pulled our motorcycles out the front gate and rode off without her, we knew we had to find a way to bring her along. Her puppy dog eyes were an expression of bewildered abandonment and they said two things more clearly than words can:
How could you even think to leave without me?!
Why should you have all the fun of riding and not me?
When we began our search in 2017, there were – and still are – few carrier options for bringing a large dog on a motorcycle: that is, on the motorcycle and not in a sidecar or trailer. And, in our opinion, our K9 Moto Cockpit is the only carrier that doesn’t make your beautiful motorcycle look like a circus tent on two wheels. Also, in Moxie’s opinion, riding in the Cockpit is as close as a dog can get to feeling like Snoopy atop his dog house as a World War I flying ace.
Once you've built your Cockpit, then you're ready to leap into the 12 steps we followed to train our German Shepherd dog Moxie to ride a motorcycle.
1. Set Your Commands
First off, make sure that you’ve established basic obedience and the sit!, stay!, and come! commands before you start rider training. This might seem like a gimme but things get a lot more tricky when the motorcycle is involved.
Also, as any dog trainer will remind you…and remind you…and remind you, set your specific commands for this exercise and then use them correctly and consistently. These are the riding commands that we use:
Saddle up! – Leap onto the motorcycle and into the Cockpit
Turn! – Turn to face the front of the motorcycle while on the Cockpit
Lay down! – Your standard lay down command
Leave it! – Stop fidgeting with your Rex Specs dog goggles.
Dismount! – Jump down from the Cockpit – remember to unstrap the dog first!
2. Choose Your Treats
For some dogs, leaping atop the strange-looking, noisy metal beast that we call a motorcycle might-could-maybe feel a bit unnatural. So, use your dog’s favorite ultra-high-value treat for this training exercise. For Moxie this means Spanish blood sausage called chorizo.
3. Practice off the bike
Acclimate your dog to his Cockpit before you mount it on your bike. Use treats to entice him in, let him sniff it over, and then treat him for staying, sitting, and laying down in his Cockpit.
Practicing off the bike also includes acclimating your dog to wearing his protective gear. Have your dog spend some time wearing his riding harness, helmet (if applicable), and Rex Specs around the house so they are not a sudden shock when it’s time to ride.
4. Saddle up!
Once your dog is comfortable around the Cockpit, mount it on the motorcycle and practice saddle up! Place your dog’s I-go-bonkers-for treat on the Cockpit and encourage him up. Some dogs leap right up unaided and others require a little nudge. Your best bet here is to put on his harness so that you can support and spot him by holding the harness’s upper loop.
Also – and this is very important – hold onto the motorcycle or Cockpit during the saddle up! until you learn how your bike responds to the added weight of your dog. In some cases, the sudden weight of a big dog’s saddle up! might cause the motorcycle to rotate and tip over the kickstand. If this happens, you need to steady your motorcycle during the saddle up! and you'll want to place a small riser under the kickstand to reduce the motorcycle’s lean at rest.
We want to practice the dismount! next because we want the dog to quickly overcome the feeling of being trapped in his Cockpit. Knowing right away that he can leap up and leap down will help him feel more comfortable for the next steps.
6. Turn and Lay down
Turning around atop the Cockpit so that he’s facing forward may or may not come naturally to your dog. If not, being able to lead him and support him by holding his harness will help. As for lay down!, well hopefully he’s already proficient at that one!
Now that your dog is comfortable to saddle up! and lay down! in the Cockpit, practice securing his riding harness to the Cockpit. Remember AT(D)GATT: All The Gear All The Time and that includes wearing Rex Specs to avoid eye infections and those awful yellow eye snots!
8. Turn the engine on
Practice saddle up! and dismount! with engine on. This is important because the sound and rumble of your live motor can be disconcerting for your dog. After practicing the saddle up! and dismount!, acclimate him to stay!, sit!, and lay down! while the engine idles and while in the front yard and among familiar surroundings.
9. Shuffle-walk with a spotter
Now it’s time to ride, but not so fast! Start by feathering the clutch and shuffle-walk with a spotter along a straight flat stretch. This will help your dog get used to the feel and sensation of movement and you can get used to his weight and how it feels when he shifts suddenly at the scent of a cat.
10. Test ride
At this point you’ll be giddy with excitement that you can finally bring your pup on a ride. Pick an easy, flat, low-trafficked route for your first several rides together and avoid the temptation to leap right in and tackle Tail of the Dragon or bolt across town to that special Starbuck’s where all the GS riders meet up on Saturday, you know, before they tackle some gnarly off-road.
11. Seek out SDRs
If possible, stop and dismount! somewhere with plenty of wonderful smells for your dog to enjoy. This way he will immediately begin to associate the ride with the ecstasy of an SDR: Scent-Rich Destination.
12. Go for a ride without your dog
This final step won’t be necessary for all dogs but, if your pup hasn’t fully embraced the joy of riding with gusto, it might help to make the association very plain: if I saddle up! I get treats and I get to go somewhere amazing; if I don’t, I get left at home.
There you have it. There’s no rocket science here, just a gradual, steady progression, always erring on the side of taking it slow. Even if your dog takes to saddle up!, turn!, and lay down! almost immediately, don’t skip steps or rush ahead. He could reach his stamina or fear limit at any moment and, if you blow past it, you’ll create negative associations that will make the process a lot harder and slower in the long run.
We hope you found this helpful and inspiring to get out there and ride with your pup. Please reach out with any questions or comments as you work through the training process and, of course, we hope you’ll tell us all about your on 2 Wheels + 4 Paws adventures together with your furry Cockpit copilot!
Click here to get these 12 easy training steps in a fun, simple graphic!