How the dog’s riding position impacts the safety, comfort, and performance of a motorcycle dog carrier – and which riding position is best.
When we set off to design the K9 Moto Cockpit, we faced a daunting set of challenges to overcome:
- Large dog weighing in at 75lb / 34kg
- Relatively tall, middleweight motorcycle
- Challenging road conditions
- Steep, mountain terrain
- Poorly maintained tarmac
- Rugged dirt roads and heavy rains
In short, the Cockpit had to be designed for the rigors of adventure motorcycling no matter what motorcycle you mount it to.
With 75 canine pounds to accommodate, comfort, and protect, the first factor we studied was the riding position. For good reason because the riding position impacts everything you care about:
- The dog’s safety and comfort
- The rider’s safety and enjoyment
- The motorcycle’s ride performance
If the motorcycle dog carrier limits where you can go or puts you on edge, leaving you to feel anxious and unsteady at the handlebars, then you’re better off riding solo or taking the car. That’s why we also considered how sitting, standing, and laying down perform under different riding conditions:
- Aggressive riding through twisty mountain roads
- Stop-and-go in rush hour traffic
- Long highway stretches at high speed
- Loose gravel and off-road conditions
In the next section, we summarize the key points that lead to the solid conclusion that
The laying position is better for the dog, the rider, and the motorcycle – and it is increasingly better the longer and more aggressively you ride.
In the following sections, we provide a detailed breakdown of each point. Throughout, we urge you to set aside your initial assumptions and consider the experience and safety of riding from the dog’s perspective.
The Key Points About the Dog’s Riding Position
The laying position performed better for the dog, the rider, and the motorcycle in every riding scenario because the laying position produces:
- Lower center of gravity
- Less erratic movements
- Better load distribution
These benefits increase in importance and effect when the:
- Dog is heavier
- Motorcycle is lighter or taller
- Ride time is longer
- Road conditions are more challenging
- Riding style is more aggressive
Laying Is Better for the Dog
The laying position is better for the dog on the three most important factors:
Comfort because they stay balanced without tensing or straining their muscles to prevent being tossed around the carrier
Safety because they don’t smash into the sides, front, or rear of the carrier when making turns or changing speeds
Pleasure because they can focus on the sights, sounds, and smells without fighting to keep their balance
Laying Is Better for the Rider
The laying position is better for the rider because:
- The dog’s weight is lower and better connected to the motorcycle, which means fewer movements that disrupt your balance
- Knowing that the dog is safe allows the rider to correctly disengage in a crash scenario, reducing chances of injury during the come-off
Laying Is Better for the Motorcycle
The laying position also enables your motorcycle to perform with more natural ride geometry.
Lower center of gravity results when the head and upper torso are lowered several inches closer to the passenger seat
Load is better connected to the motorcycle improves making the dog’s weight feel like a duffle bag rather than a free-swinging tetherball
Laying Is Better the More You Ride
The benefits of the laying position for the dog, the rider, and the motorcycle increase for:
- Longer rides
- Aggressive riding styles
- Challenging road conditions
This means that the more pleasure and safety you want riding together with your dog, the more important it is that your dog rides in a laying position.
In the next sections, we provide details and examples to illustrate each of the points above.
The Better Riding Position for Your Dog’s Comfort and Enjoyment
It’s easy to conclude that dogs prefer to ride sitting or standing because that’s what they choose to do when given the option.
Put your dog on a boat, an ATV, or the flatbed of a truck and they will stand. But it’s actually a sign of discomfort, not comfort. Here’s why.
Response to Stimuli
Dogs stand when they are excited. It’s the active, athletic posture from which they can chase, pounce, or leap. Standing is a good sign they are stimulated.
Standing and Sitting Are Tiring
Even the most alert, stimulated dog eventually sits down for the simple reason that they get tired. Given more time, the dog will go from sitting to laying down. Laying is the most comfortable and it’s actually better for enjoying the ride too.
Laying Is Better for Enjoyment
Laying is the best position for focusing your attention. That’s why snipers lay in concealment and hunting dogs lay in a crouch while stalking their prey. Riding is an activity filled with mental stimulation. That means the best source of enjoyment for your dog is to focus on the sights, sounds, and smells, not on struggling to keep their balance.
Struggling for Balance
For all their dexterity, dogs are quite lousy at keeping their balance when the ground moves beneath them. Standing in an athletic posture, they can achieve some degree of stability. But, considered from the dog’s perspective, it’s an exhausting way to ride. Sitting is less tiring but even worse for staying balanced. Whereas the human passenger ‘hugs’ the seat with their thighs, a dog can only claw at the seat cushion.
Laying Means No Balance Lost
The thrilling dynamics of riding – leaning into turns and sudden speed changes – affect a body less when it is compact and creates more friction with the riding surface. For a helpful comparison, think of the experience of riding a wave at the beach. It’s a whole lot harder to be knocked off a bodyboard than a surfboard.
What Do Dogs Choose?
If laying down is so much better, then why don’t dogs choose to do it? Because they evolved to fight or flee threats, not to ride on a motorcycle. When an earthquake strikes your dog wants to stand and bolt. Laying down feels vulnerable because it’s harder to leap off and escape, even though it’s safer and more comfortable. So, just because we want to consider things from the dog’s perspective, we don’t always want to accept their judgment.
The Riding Position That Is Better for Your Dog’s Safety
From the human point of view, safety is all about crash protection. In our case, crash protection means a bigger helmet or larger knee pads. Logically, then, the answer to better crash protection for our dog is a larger crate or fully enclosed carrier. The idea is understandable but wrong: protect what you care about most by putting it in a big, heavy box.
Laying Is Safer in a Crash
What happens when you put a vase in a box and then you tip it over or shake it? The vase becomes dislodged, strikes the sides or top of the box, and shatters. Now imagine that the vase is your dog and the box is the carrier.
The dog is far more likely to lose its balance in the sitting or standing position. That means being thrown dangerously against the sides or edges of the carrier. Instead, the laying position dramatically improves the dog’s balance for the reasons we described above. The greater surface area of their body on the seat creates more friction, which keeps them glued in place.
In a crash situation, the laying position dramatically reduces the extent to which your dog is thrown against the carrier. Furthermore, as a more compact mass, the laying position also reduces how much of your dog’s body is exposed to injury – from external hazards or from the carrier itself.
Laying Is Safer for Normal Riding
Although a crash situation presents the greatest single threat to the dog, mild and moderate injuries happen much more frequently when standing or sitting during normal riding conditions.
Even less aggressive riding involves frequent leaning and sudden speed changes. Even a very experienced canine rider cannot anticipate changes in momentum and road conditions the way a human passenger can. That means your dog is highly likely to be thrown or jerked when seated or standing during normal riding.
Imagining this from your dog’s perspective, whiplash and neck injuries would be your immediate concern. But how about smashing your head, neck, or chest against the sides or edge of the carrier? The laying position reduces the movement and weight-shifting that causes much of these injuries but the type of carrier matters a lot too.
The Type of Carrier Matters a Lot
Remember the example of the vase shattering inside the box? It teaches us that coverage isn’t the same as protection. A fully enclosed crate or kennel has four sides and a top that your dog will crash into when they lose their balance.
Design Flaw One
One option is to make the carrier larger, but this can actually make the problem worse. Like a poor-fitting helmet, there’s more distance for the dog to jostle and accelerate before smashing against the side.
Design Flaw Two
Another option is to pad the inside, but this also has drawbacks. Upholstery is expensive and padding traps heat, which can turn your dog’s enclosed kennel into a sauna.
Design Flaw Three
A third common mistake is to allow the crate to swing or slide open. The intention is well-meaning because no dog – or person – would want to ride in an enclosed metal box, especially not on a hot, sunny day. The problem is that opening the crate:
- Reduces the safety benefits of a full enclosure – now your dog’s head comes out the top of the carrier or hangs out the side
- Creates new safety hazards because now your dog easily slams their head or neck against the hard edges at the openings
Imagine Your Dog’s Experience
To evaluate the safety of the enclosed crate mode, imagine these everyday riding scenarios from your dog’s perspective:
- Your dog hunches or stands inside a metal and plastic enclosure, straining to see out and obtain airflow through a window grating.
- Your dog rides sitting or standing inside an enclosed crate and then you lean into a turn, swinging your dog’s head to the side and smashing it into the sidewall of the carrier.
- You slide open the top of the carrier and your dog rides with their head extended out to enjoy the sights and airflow. The light turns red and you hit the brakes, coming to a sudden stop that jerks your dog forward and smashes their neck into the hard ledge where the top of the crate slides open.
Now imagine how much more dangerous these enclosed crate situations would be for your dog in a crash scenario. The laying position would substantially improve their safety but it can’t entirely make up for poor carrier design.
Laying Is the Safer Riding Position for the Rider
Placing your dog in the laying position is also safer for the rider. There are two reasons for this – one obvious and the other less obvious.
The Obvious Reason
In the laying position, your dog can always shift positions to remain relaxed and comfortable. But, when they shift their laying position from one side to the other, it is minimally disruptive to your balance. On the other hand, consider this common scenario with your dog in the sitting or standing position:
Your dog leans their head outward to catch the sights and smells when suddenly, they catch a scent and, without warning, they swing their head to the other side.
That kind of sudden weight shift will give you a fright on the interstate but imagine it happens at slow speed in traffic, on cobblestones, leaning into a turn, or on loose gravel. Because that’s exactly when it does happen!
The Less Obvious Reason
Every rider of a big motorcycle knows how hard it is to keep the motorcycle upright if it wants to tip over. They teach riders not to try to ‘save the motorcycle’ in a crash because that’s how an injury is more likely to occur by being pinned or trapped. Instead, the proper technique is to let go and try to leap or fall clear.
It makes sense in theory, but it goes entirely against your programming to just let go. So, imagine how much harder it is to let go when your dog is riding passenger. The only chance you, the rider, have for ‘crashing correctly’ and hopefully escaping injury is to feel maximally confident about your dog’s safety in their carrier.
Better Performance from your Motorcycle
Every rider knows that riding with extra weight negatively impacts the motorcycle’s performance. But riding with your dog in the sitting or standing position is worse than laying down for two reasons.
The Carrier Makes the Bike Top Heavy
Motorcycle dog carriers that are designed to accommodate sitting and standing tend to be taller. This means that the weight of the carrier rides higher, which makes the bike more top-heavy. The physics here is why experts recommend placing heavier loads in saddlebags rather than top cases.
The Dog Makes the Bike Top Heavy
In the seated position, the dog’s heaviest parts – the head and torso – are raised to their full height above the seat. In the standing position, the butt is also raised above the seat level. In the laying position, however, the dog’s body rests just above seat height and the head is also several inches lower.
How Does This Compare to a Human Passenger?
Among the many differences between the human passenger and the canine, two greatly help the human passenger connect their weight to the motorcycle:
- Hugs the seat with their thighs
- Anticipating changes in motion
The better the load is connected to the motorcycle the less effect it has on the motorcycle’s performance. Since your dog can neither hug the seat nor anticipate changes in momentum, they do not help connect their weight to the motorcycle. Their movements are independent of the motorcycle, which produce an outsized negative effect on the motorcycle’s performance.
You know the destabilizing feeling when a novice human passenger suddenly shoots an arm out to take a selfie or swings their body to look rearwards. It doesn’t take much to imagine the effect when you lean into a turn and your sitting or standing dog over-compensates by thrusting themselves to the other side of the carrier.
On the other hand, shifting their head from side to side is about the only sudden, jerky movement that your dog can do in the laying position.
How, Where, and How Much You Ride Matters
The principles of physics apply to all motorcycles and riding conditions, which means laying position is always better for the dog, rider, and motorcycle. So, whether it’s a ride to Starbucks or a time trial on the Isle of Man, keeping the dog’s weight low and restricting jerky movements are going to keep them safer, happier, and more comfortable.
Still, the benefits are greater and more obvious the:
- More you ride
- More aggressively you ride
- More challenging the road conditions
This means that sitting or standing during long riding days, at high speed, or through mountain roads and loose gravel will be much more exhausting, uncomfortable, and less safe for your dog. Likewise, a short ride around town will strain your dog less and be less risky to their safety.
In short, if you’re not convinced about the benefits of the laying position, then take your dog out for a couple of long, aggressive days of riding. Have them sitting or standing for one day and laying for the next. The benefits of the laying position will quickly become apparent for you and your dog.
We designed the K9 Moto Cockpit for long-distance adventure motorcycle travel – the type of riding that involves tearing down the campsite, off-road riding to the secondary highway through the mountains, and then avoiding potholes and oncoming chicken buses that appear in your lane at a blind turn.
Even if this is far from the kind of leisurely riding that you prefer, you can take enormous comfort in knowing that your dog’s riding position and their carrier are designed for it.
Other resources to explore
For a detailed breakdown of the K9 Moto Cockpit, check out our Gear Guide video and article, then head over to our FAQs page and to the K9 Moto Cockpit Group on Facebook to join the community of Cockpit riders. And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube!