Dogs Riding on Motorcycles - Is it Safe?
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There are many people who are motorcycle enthusiasts and dog guardians. Unfortunately, if a motorbike is your only mode of transportation, it is not always the best idea to bring the two together. This doesn't necessarily mean it's not possible. It just means that there are certain considerations to ensure the safety of both driver and canine passenger. Not all dogs will be able to ride on a motorcycle due to size or behavioral issues.
AnimalWised looks into dogs riding on motorcycles. We look into the safety issues involved and see what we need if it were at all possible to do. While different areas will have their own laws, we will also look into whether it is legal to travel with a dog on a motorcycle.
Is it legal to have a dog on a motorcycle?
The law concerning travelling with a dog on a motorcycle is rarely specific. Often, the specific legislation discusses pets in general travelling in vehicles. Many of these laws don't even mention motorcycles by name, but are more concerned with ‘open vehicles’. This would include motorcycles, but also includes open pick up trucks and other vehicles.
Dogs travelling in general can be problematic. The so-called ‘Paris Hilton’ law was proposed in California to ban drivers from holding on to their pets while driving. The law was not passed, although some other states in the USA have proposed the same one. This addresses another aspect of riding on motorbikes with dogs. Most countries will have legislation specific to a certain area or region, few will have nationwide laws.
If you want to travel with a dog, then you will need to look at your local laws pertaining to it. This can make it a little difficult if you are intending to travel out of state. We can take a look at California law to give an example of what might be involved. In Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code it states:
No person driving a motor vehicle shall transport any animal in the back of the vehicle in a space intended for any load on the vehicle on a highway unless the space is enclosed or has side and tail racks to a height of at least 46 inches extending vertically from the floor, the vehicle has installed means of preventing the animal from being discharged, or the animal is cross tethered to the vehicle, or is protected by a secured container or cage, in a manner which will prevent the animal from being thrown, falling, or jumping from the vehicle.
It would be almost a practical impossibility to travel with a dog on a motorcycle if it requires the installation of racks. However, the reference to installing means of preventing the dog from being discharged means there are other ways to protect your dog on the motorbike. These require the dog to be secured and fastened in a way which prevents them from being thrown from the vehicle. There are also exceptions for farm animals in many regions, although they may need to be a specific working dog for a certain purpose.
In pick up trucks, flat bed trucks and other open top vehicles, there are generally rules which mean the dog needs to be caged or in some other way restrained. In cars, the law is not always clear when the dog is inside the vehicle and it may be legal to have the dog unrestrained. However, this does not mean it is safe. If a dog is unrestrained, not only can they be hurt if there is a crash, but they can hurt others. They can also distract drivers from the road and contribute to causing accidents.
How to carry a dog on a motorcycle
When taking a dog on a motorcycle, we need to ensure the dog is safe and comfortable. The size of the dog is important in this regard. You might be able to secure a smaller breed such as a Yorkshire Terrier in the middle of the bike, but larger breeds such as a German Shepherd will not fit and will make it too difficult to ride safely.
Here we can look at a few solutions to travelling on a motorbike with a dog:
- Dog seat: this is like a baby seat which can be attached (usually to the back) of the motorcycle. The dog can sit in it comfortably, but it will need some sort of restraint. Tethers can be attached which click on to a harness on the dog. Their movement will need to be restricted, so this attachment is likely to be quite short.
- Backpack or carrier: for very small dogs, it is possible to buy a carrier which can be attached to your person. This can be difficult as you will need to keep the dog comfortable, but being strapped in might be difficult for them.
- Carrier: a carrier is one of the safest methods for dogs riding on motorcycles. It may not always be the most comfortable. If the dog is small enough, a small cage or carrier might be attached to keep the dog restrained. They will not likely be able to move much, so it's not necessarily good for longer journeys. Others, like the one pictures below, might be specially adapted for the dog to keep their head out while travelling. Carriers can be attached to the tail or the tank, but it will depend on how it affects the ability to drive.
- Side car: a side car is one of the best methods for transporting dogs on motorcycles. It will provide plenty of room and adds extra stability in general. The dog cannot ride in the side car without being restrained. A harness will be the likely solution to this problem. This is better for larger dogs which cannot easily ride on the main body of the motorcycle.
Some dogs might be trained so they can ride on a motorcycle unrestrained. However, not only is this likely illegal, it is very dangerous. If they get distracted they might try to jump off. If a sharp turn is taken, they may not be able to keep their equilibrium. They can also be very distracting for the driver. It is incredibly unsafe to have a dog unrestrained on a motorcycle, so you should not do it.
Not every dog will be able to ride on a motorcycle, even if they are restrained. We don't just mean due to size, but their temperament may not be suited to it. A dog which has been poorly educated or experienced trauma in the past may find it too frightening to ride on a motorcycle. Even if this doesn't apply, they may simply be too scared. Some dogs may even get dizzy.
You will need to train them a little and reward them for good behavior. However, don't push it and find another way to transport them if necessary. Getting them accustomed to the carrier (if you use one) is also important. You can try keeping the carrier in the house and rewarding them for spending time in it. Start on very short trips (even round the block) and see how the dog responds both on the bike and afterwards. If they are OK with it, you can then make longer trips.
For longer journeys you will need to ensure you make plenty of stops. This will allow the dog to relieve themselves and also get a drink of water etc. 1 to 2 hour journeys are about as long as you should have and you may need to stop every 15 to 20 minutes. This may vary according to the personality and health of the individual dog.
Accessories for dogs on motorcycles
Harnesses and carriers are not the only accessories which might help a dog riding on a motorcycle. In an effort to keep the dog both safe and comfortable, there are other items you can purchase. You may need to get them from a specialty pet store or online. The availability and suitability of these dog motorcycle accessories will depend on various factors, particularly the size of the dog. They include:
- Dog helmet: there are many brands out there dedicated to providing a helmet for dogs. Some of them, however, are only for show and may not provide much protection. Look for a rigid helmet which has space for their ears to rest comfortably. The helmet protects their head from falls or collisions.
- Dog bike glasses: these need to be flexible so they can wrap around their heads properly, so will likely have an elastic strap. They protect the dog from insects, dirt and anything else which might come their way on the motorcycle ride. Some may have an anti-fog option.
- Dog clothes: although dogs have fur coats, they can still be negatively affected by the cold. When on a motorcycle, cold winds can provide an increased wind chill. Clothes for dogs might be needed to keep them warm, even if they are on the tail and protected somewhat by your body.
- Saddle bag: either a saddlebag or some other type of carrier will be required for the dog's other accessories. These should include food, water and treats for the dog as well as any other necessary accessories.
Travelling with a dog
Remember that you will need certain precautions when travelling far with a dog on a motorbike. If travelling over long distances (or even if not) you may need the dog's ID. Your dog's health papers maybe needed if travelling over state lines. Also, if your dog is lost on a long journey, they are very far from home. The chances of them returning are slim. This is just one reason why it is so important to microchip the dog. This means that the dog can be scanned and is the best way to be returned to you. This will depend on the resources of where you are.
If you want to read similar articles to Dogs Riding on Motorcycles - Is it Safe?, we recommend you visit our Traveling with animals category.
1. California Legislative Information (n.d), California Law - Code Section. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=VEH§ionNum=23117.