How to weigh the risks and rewards to make the best decision for yourself and your dog about using a motorcycle dog carrier to ride together.
Is it safe for your dog to ride on a motorcycle?
In a word: No.
It’s not “safe” for you to ride a motorcycle, nor for a human passenger, nor anyone else including your canine.
But, for that matter, there are a whole range of things that society permits or that individuals choose to do that all good science tells us is unsafe. Things like:
- Texting while driving – or just driving, full stop
- Not getting a COVID-19 vaccination
- Smoking cigarettes
- Carrying a firearm
- Overeating and not exercising
None of these things are safe. It’s not politics, just straight science. Some proportion of the time they cause harm or death to the doer and/or to others around them. Yet, many people consider them to be reasonable, appropriate, and worth the risks.
Science determines the degree to which something is safe – that is, likely to cause harm. The decision we need to make for ourselves and our dogs is: are the rewards worth the risks.
The Rewards of Riding – for Your Dog
As dog-lovers, we want to seize every opportunity to spend more quality time together. We want to provide our pups with fulfilling, stimulating lives. As motorcyclists, we know that riding produces immense fulfillment and stimulation. That’s why we love it and want to bring our dogs along!
The same reward set applies to our dogs. Even if you aren’t a motorcyclist, it is easy to imagine the immense pleasure that dogs receive from riding. Here’s why:
- It is an outdoor activity and dogs love the outdoors.
- It delivers a new and constant rush of their favorite things: sights, sounds, and smells.
- The rest stops and ride destinations generally involve lots of running, playing, and interacting with adoring people.
In short, riding delivers a kaleidoscope of sensations and stimuli. Riding might as well have been specifically engineered for the canine temperament. If you’re still not sure, just watch a few minutes of Moxie riding on our pack leader Jess’s motorcycle in our GoRUFFLY Around the World adventure travel video series.
The rewards to your dog are enormous. So, now let’s look at the risks.
The Risks to Your Dog
The way we assess the risks of riding with your dog – and pretty much any other activity – is by answering these three questions:
- What is your tolerance for risk?
- Who else might be affected?
- What safety measures do you take?
Before we consider each one, it’s important to establish one fact up front.
Anyone who wants to ride with their dog has enormous love and affection for their pet. The time, money, and effort is considerable and a rider only does it with the most positive intentions.
So, even if you have already decided that the rewards are not worth the risks, you have to appreciate the good intentions of those with whom you disagree. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and to disagree with our conclusions and priorities, but our motives should not be in doubt: the desire to maximize the fulfillment and quality of life that our dogs experience.
If we can agree on nothing else, certainly we should be able to begin and end the debate there.
Now, let’s look at the risks.
What Is Your Tolerance for Risk?
Motorcyclists are used to the reality that many people do not have a sufficiently high risk-tolerance for riding. That is to say, they cannot get comfortable with the risks or do not believe that the rewards are high enough.
Most low risk-tolerance individuals are consistent in avoiding all high-risk activities, such as skydiving, bungee jumping, mountain biking, or cross-country skiing. On the other hand, some simply don’t like the idea of one high-risk activity but are comfortable with – or oblivious to – others. For example, consider the number of drivers who are engrossed by their smartphones while their pup is unharnessed in the backseat and with their neck sticking out the car window.
In any case, for the majority of those against riding with your dog, their decision is based on low risk-tolerance. For them, that is where the issue begins and ends.
Your Dog Doesn’t Get to Choose – or Do They?
On the topic of risk-tolerance, it is worth considering what some critics will point out next: “But your dog doesn’t have a choice.”
It is undeniably true that you can force your dog into a lot of things they don’t want to do. You make them to wear a cone after surgery, go to the groomers, or stay on-leash during walks. There is clearly a whole lot in a dog’s life that they don’t get to decide for themselves.
However, when it comes to riding with their human, we have never heard of a dog being forced to do it. Instead, we’ve only heard the opposite. Dogs that wag their tails when the engine fires up or who leap onto the motorcycle as a way of saying, “I want to go for a ride!”
So, in all the cases known to us, the dog is a willing participant. They highly value the rewards of riding with their person. Still, it is also true that they can’t understand or assess the risks involved. That’s why we make the best choices we can to balance and mitigate the safety risks. Just like a parent for a child, we want our dogs to experience a maximally fulfilling and stimulating life.
Who Else Might Be Affected by You Riding with Your Dog?
We tend to be quite conservative in assessing how our actions create safety risks for others. That is, we want our actions to create minimal risk for others. For example, that’s why our decision to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was based as much on our desire to reduce the chances of spread and illness among others – our friends, family, and community – as to protect our own health.
Motorcycling is minimally risky to others. Unlike most motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle collisions usually threaten the rider more than pedestrians, bystanders, or other motorists. So, while some critics make is seem – through passion or indignation – like they are directly and negatively impacted by your choice to ride with your dog, they are not.
Take the following example. We once received some negative comments on social media about how riding with a dog damages their hearing. We validated their concern and described some of the protective equipment and techniques to mitigate hearing damage. The commentator was more interested in voicing grievances than exchanging ideas, and spun themselves to greater levels of indignation. We concluded the exchange with this:
Anyone who rides with their dog undeniably does it because they love their pet immensely. At a minimum, they are driven by good intentions, love, and affection. Meanwhile, there are dogs all around the world who face starvation, abuse, and neglect. Maybe your passion for protecting the hearing of someone’s beloved pet might be better directed towards improving the welfare of animals that are in truly dire circumstances.
What Safety Measures Do You Take?
Despite the inherent risks, there are many measures we can take to improve the level of safety for the rider and the passenger. Some of the standard safety measures include:
- Performing regular servicing and never postponing needed maintenance or repairs
- Checking turn signals, brake lights, and tire pressure before every ride
- Wearing a full-face helmet and armored gloves, boots, pants and jacket
When you ride with your dog, there are several additional categories of safety measures to consider:
- Design and safety features of the motorcycle dog carrier you choose
- Protective equipment to secure and protect your dog while riding
- Modifications to the motorcycle to improve performance and protection
In our experience, checking off all or as many of these as possible can substantially reduce the risks.
Motorcycle Dog Carrier Design and Safety Features
If you have a small dog then there is no shortage of motorcycle dog carrier options. Likewise, there are any number of articles that compare and contrast them. On the other hand, if you have a medium or large dog, then the options are limited. That’s where our Rider’s Guide to the Best Motorcycle Dog Carriers for Medium and Large Dogs is a crucial resource to discover what the options are and how they differ. Here we want to talk specifically about the safety features you should consider.
Build quality and materials are essential safety factors but they are not a useful point of distinction. That’s because all of the commercial motorcycle dog carrier options – at least for medium and large dogs – are built to high standards and from quality materials. Instead, it is more instructive to consider the design features.
The Problems with Standing and Sitting
Your dog’s riding position is one of the most important features. If the carrier lets your dog stand, they are likely to be thrown around during the ride since they can’t anticipate road conditions, traffic, and turns. In this case, striking the inside of the carrier itself during normal riding might be a greater safety risk than the rare tip-over or collision.
Sitting is better but not best. Your dog will experience these forces less acutely, but they still can’t hug the seat with their legs and balance themselves like a human passenger. Likewise, most dogs find sitting upright to be tiring and stressful over long periods.
On the other hand, laying down is a naturally comfortable and stable position for your dog, especially over long periods and through dynamic riding.
Also, be aware of any hard components near their upper torso, neck, or head if your dog rides seated or standing. Whenever you accelerate quickly, lean hard, or grab a lot of brake, your dog’s head, neck, or torso might be slammed against the side or hard edge of the carrier.
The Carrier as a Potential Source of Danger
The full-enclosure crate or kennel design offers a good case-in-point because they appear to offer superior protection at first glance. This might be true if being struck by an outside object were the primary danger. Instead, the more likely scenario is that your dog will spend much of the ride being jostled around the inside of the crate. This is especially the case if your dog is permitted to sit or stand.
It’s just like when you open a package and find the contents inside shattered. It’s usually caused by the jostling during transport rather than from being thrown, crushed, or struck by other packages.
Some kennel-style carriers swing or slide open at the top. This is necessary to improve airflow and dogs love to stick their head out. But the sides and edges of the crate can pose the most likely danger to your dog as they are slow to compensate when you accelerate, turn, and come to a stop. This means that the carrier itself can be a more likely source of danger than tip-overs or collisions. So, if you use this type of carrier, ride carefully, especially if the inside is not well padded.
Protecting Your Dog from the Elements
Another health and safety problem with enclosed carriers is that they are:
- Designed to protect your dog from the least common forms of extreme weather
- Very ineffective at protecting your dog from the most common type of weather
Enclosed carriers are designed to protect your dog from very heavy rain and extreme cold. But the cost is high. The consequence is that these carriers have very poor ventilation and airflow, which means they get very hot. This is a huge problem since most of the riding we do is in warm or hot weather in which dehydration and sun fatigue is a much greater threat than cold or precipitation.
Moreover, it is much harder to keep your dog safety cool on a hot day than to keep them warm and dry on a cold day. So, for essential safety reasons, your carrier should be designed to provide maximum airflow and ventilation. When riding in cold and wet conditions, you can easily keep your dog warm, dry, and comfortable with just two lightweight and easily packable pieces of gear.
For more information, check out our article on Protecting Your Dog from the Extreme Weather.
Key Safety Considerations
- Secures your dog in the laying down position. It is the most comfortable and least stressful for them over long periods. It also minimizes jostling from accelerating, leaning, hard braking, and even most crash situations.
- Places plenty of cushion around the dog’s body and torso. This dampens engine vibration and soften the shock if a hard lean or tip-over occurs.
- Avoids locating hard objects, such as sides, bars, or edges near the dog’s chest, neck, and head. The carrier itself should not create potential concussion points, especially under normal riding conditions.
- Has an open-air design to maximize airflow and improve ventilation to keep your dog cool in hot weather riding conditions.
For more on these safety points, watch Jess’s video.
Protective Equipment for Riding Safely
There are a few motorcyclists who ride with their dog without securing them into the carrier and even fewer who don’t use a carrier at all. The common argument they make is that the dog is safer leaping off in a crash situation.
Instead, our experimentation and crash experience support the opposite, that is much safer to secure your dog into their carrier. The reasons are that your dog:
- Cannot anticipate a get-off in order to leap off in a calculated manner
- Might leap in the direction of the tip-over or collision
- Might leap free of the crash but into oncoming traffic
- Does not wear armored booties, helmet, and riding suit like the rider
Likewise, riding unharnessed leaves your dog free to leap off in a non-crash situation. Riding is full of enticing stimuli: the sight of other animals, the smell of food, or just the need to poop. Even a well-trained or nonreactive dog might become overwhelmed by temptation and affect a dangerous, untimely dismount.
In addition to securing your dog into their carrier, we recommend considering the following protective equipment for your dog:
A good riding harness is one that secures your dog’s torso and their rear into the carrier. No matter what position your dog rides in, hard braking or a tip-over can cause their rear to somersault forward or outward if it’s not secured in place. That’s why we created the K9 Moto Harness to include a rear waist belt with security loop.
Your dog’s eyes are sensitive to wind, bugs, and other flying debris. In the absence of protective goggles, an eye infection is the most likely risk they face. Fortunately, this risk can be nearly eliminated by outfitting your dog with quality eye protection like Rex Specs brand goggles.
Most dogs naturally swivel and protect their inner ears from wind while riding. However, if you are worried about their hearing or the possibility of infection, Ear Pro or Mutt Muffs are two popular options to consider.
Rain and Cold
You can overprepare for inclement weather by mounting a full enclosure kennel-style carrier on your motorcycle. The drawback is poor airflow and a large, stuffy, unsightly kennel on your bike when riding in good weather. Instead, have a rain poncho ready at hand. Our K9 Moto Rainfly is a great option that comes equipped with a hood and plenty of adjustability.
A carrier that maximizes airflow and stopping for plenty of water breaks is the best way to ride in hot weather. If you ride in an especially hot climate – which increasingly describes everywhere these days – then unrestricted airflow is essential. Also bring a cooling vest (Kurgo makes a good one) and consider placing a pressure-activated cooling pad under your dog while riding.
Motorcycling poses risks but your dog is probably more likely to get injured while exploring off the bike. For example, one extraordinary woman traveled for days off-road through Australia’s Tamani Desert with her dog in the K9 Moto Cockpit. The only injury that the dog suffered was a snake bite while bathing in a river near the campsite. Preventing injury by using a good carrier and protective equipment is best but be sure to have a first aid kit on the bike just in case.
Modifications to Improve Performance and Protection
Depending on the type of motorcycle you ride, there might be a few simple modifications that will improve the performance or protection, both of which mean better safety for your dog.
Riding with hard side cases or well-packed saddlebags
This is one of the most effective measures that you can take to protect your dog in the case of a tip-over or crash. In most crash situations, the aluminum boxes strike the ground well before the stock components do. This substantially decreases the crash angle, which means your motorcycle is more upright in a get-off, which means your dog is further from the ground. A wide handlebar and engine guards can serve a similar function, and the combination of all three is ideal.
Stabilize your bike for dismounts
Unlike a human passenger, when you come to a stop your dog remains in their carrier until after you place the bike on its kickstand, dismount yourself, and release their restraints. This load can reduce the motorcycle’s stability when leaning on the kickstand, especially with a big dog or heavy carrier with a high center of gravity. If you detect any instability, it is a good idea to purchase a kickstand foot extender, use a block, or modify the length and/or angle of the kickstand.
Here are a few additional modifications to consider depending on the type of motorcycle you ride:
Some OEM rear shock(s) do not allow for adjusting the rebound and dampening, which influences how the motorcycle handles road features like bumps and turns. Having rear shock(s) that you can fully adjust can improve the handling, performance, and safety while riding with your dog.
Tank pannier bags
If you travel with your dog on the motorcycle or like to bring along some gear for day rides, invest in a pair of tank saddlebags. These can be used to pack some heavier items in front of the rider and help counterbalance and remove load from the motorcycle’s rear.
Make yourself visible
The carelessness of other drivers is always your greatest risk factor as a motorcyclist. So, even if you have a large crate or kennel-style carrier on the back, place running lights or reflective tape on the carrier to make yourself more noticeable, especially at night.
Final Thoughts on the Safety, Risks, and Rewards of Motorcycle Riding with Your Dog
As humans, it’s only natural that we want to experience the things we enjoy with the ones we love – our dogs foremost among them. Likewise, our dogs want to spend as much time with us as possible and they revel in the kind of stimulant-rich experiences that motorcycling delivers. The rewards are high and shared by both rider and canine.
There are also risks. Every mature motorcyclist understands and accepts them each time we throw a leg over the bike, gun the engine, and pull out of the driveway. We make the decision to ride without illusions and it’s only right that we do the same on behalf of our dogs.
For us at RUFFLY, we deeply considered these risks and rewards as we searched for ways to bring our beloved dog Moxie on motorcycle journeys with us. We asked questions, sought advice, and performed experiments. These investigations led us to determine that the rewards of riding with Moxie are enormously high and outweigh the risk of harm. In the process, we incorporated everything we learned into the design principles and safety features of the K9 Moto Cockpit.
In the end, there are no guarantees. We love riding, we want Moxie with us, and we want her to have as thrilling a life as possible. The time we spend riding with her is precious – despite and because of the risks involved. Ultimately, for us and we believe for Moxie, it is the very best way to live extraordinary together.
Other resources to explore
If this was your first introduction to motorcycle dog carriers, then check out our Rider’s Guide to the Best Motorcycle Dog Carrier for Medium and Large Dogs. If you have more questions about riding with your dog or about the K9 Moto Cockpit, then head over to our FAQs page where you can also send us your questions. Next, check out our K9 Moto Cockpit Gear Guide video and @k9motocockpit on Instagram for photos from our community of riders.