What you need to know about riding in extreme weather with your dog – and what gear you should bring along
We motorcyclists deeply appreciate the authentic, open-air experience of riding. It’s a source of joy that we naturally want to share with our dogs. At the same time, it’s reasonable to worry about protecting your dog from extreme weather.
In that case, is an enclosed carrier the best solution to protection your dog from the elements? Granted, it’s not pleasant to think of your dog packed away inside a metal box while you enjoy the sights and wonderful sensations. But, our first priority is always to keep our dogs safe and comfortable while riding.
An enclosed carrier is actually a very poor design for protecting your dog from extreme weather. In fact, it even creates unnecessary danger and discomfort under the most common extreme weather conditions. In this article, we’re going to explain why and share some gear tips to keep your dog comfortable in all weather conditions.
Build for the Heat, Prepare for the Sun, and Pack for the Cold
When we talk about extreme weather, we usually think of cold, rain, and snow. However, extreme heat is a much greater threat to your dog’s safety and comfort than the cold is.
Consider which of these is the more common riding scenario?
- Being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the summer heat on your way out of the city or
- Getting caught in a freak storm under hail the size of meteors?
For the vast majority of us, the answer is number 1. We are far more likely to go out riding in hot weather conditions. Likewise, being stuck in traffic, stopped at road construction, or waiting in line at the petrol station is much more common than being caught in thunderstorms, snow, or hail.
It’s also harder to keep your dog cool than to protect them from the cold or rain. So, when you think of extreme weather, your biggest concern should be the heat.
Build Your Dog’s Carrier for the Heat
We designed the K9 Moto Cockpit to deliver an authentic open-air with exactly this principle in mind. Actually, we created the padded tubular design for three reasons:
- It delivers a thrilling and comfortable open-air experience.
- The padded roll bars protect and cushion your dog in a crash unlike heavier enclosed carriers in which the hard sidewalls are dangerous impact points and sources of injury.
- The tubular frame enables maximal airflow and cooling ventilation.
Now, imagine the conditions inside an enclosed, box-like carrier. The sidewalls restrict airflow and ventilation while the roof absorbs sunlight and traps heat. The results are stifling, oven-like conditions that quickly imperil your dog’s health.
To improve airflow, enclosed carriers often include windows or hatches. While this can help with ventilation, the top of the carrier still traps enormous amounts of heat.
But this creates a big, dangerous problem. These openings – windows and hatches – place hard edges near the dog’s head and neck. The consequences are easy to overlook but awful to imagine. Every time the motorcycle experiences a change in momentum, the dog risks losing its balance and might smash against the hard edges.
There is a simple but incredibly important conclusion to draw from this. Your dog’s carrier should be built to maximize airflow because it’s a safety issue. Also, your carrier shouldn’t require dangerous modifications to improve ventilation for normal hot weather riding conditions.
Gear to Help Keep Your Dog Cool
An open-air carrier is going to be your single best tool for keeping your dog cool. Still, there are a couple products, which can provide modest cooling benefits on extremely hot days.
Gel cooling pad
Placing a gel cooling pad under your dog while riding can produce a cooling sensation that helps fight the extreme heat. The cooling pad is pressure-activated, which means it generates the cooling sensation from the weight of your dog on the mat. Cooling pads generally remain effective for stretches of 2-3 hours and recharge in about 15-20 minutes when not in use.
Two drawbacks about cooling pads need to be considered. First, they are surprisingly heavy at upwards of 8lb for the large, which is the recommended size for dogs 46-80lb. Second, leaving the pad in high heat and direct sunlight affects performance. So don’t leave it laying on the bike while you and your dog take a rest in the shade.
A cooling vest can help your dog stay cool in two ways. First, light-colored vests reflect sunlight so that less of it is absorbed by the fur and converted into heat. Second, most cooling vests can be soaked so that the moisture releases gradually over time and dampens your dog’s fur.
Cooling vests are small and light, which means they are easy to pack in your motorcycle luggage. No downside there. Just keep in mind that any ‘clothing’ that you put on your dog can trap heat, especially when the cooling vest is dry.
Be Prepared for the Sun
Protecting your dog from the sun is not the same as protecting them from the heat. Sunlight generates heat but the distinction between the two is important. You don’t want to protect your dog from the sunlight at the expense of trapping heat and reducing airflow.
Given that most breeds have natural sun protection in the form of fur and light coloring, many riders find that artificial sun protection is unnecessary or even undesirable. Instead, good airflow keeps the dog cool and frequent water breaks keep them well hydrated.
The key point here is:
Make sure you’re not trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
But if your dog’s breed or a medical condition makes artificial sun protection necessary, then sunscreen is a good option to consider. You should only turn to a sunshade or tarp as the last resort because it comes at the high cost of restricting airflow and trapping heat.
If a tarp-like sun protection is necessary, make sure it is very lightweight and extremely well-ventilated or made of mesh.
Pack for the Cold
Many large breed dogs are endowed with considerable natural protection from the rain and cold. For example, our German Shepherd Moxie is comfortable in temperatures below 60ºF / 15ºC. In warm temperatures, she loves nothing more than riding through a light drizzle. Other breeds like malamutes and huskies prefer even lower temperatures.
This raises an important point about ‘extreme weather’:
Don’t protect your dog from weather that doesn’t bother them.
What about the wind chill factor? It’s an important element to consider but remember that you as the rider act as a large windscreen for your dog. Even in a well-ventilated, open air carrier, your dog is not going to receive the same unimpeded airflow that you or the front of your motorcycle does. This means that your dog might be lounging quite comfortably in their carrier even if you need to turn on the heated grips.
The same point goes for light rain and drizzle. Your body will block a surprising amount of moisture from reaching your dog. Since good airflow has a blow dryer-effect on wet fur, open-air riding in a light summer rain is a wonderful way to keep your dog cool.
This means you only want to protect your dog from temperatures or weather conditions that will actually cause discomfort. Otherwise, you might unintentionally harm rather than improve their comfort. In those situations where extreme weather conditions find you riding in the rain and cold, you only need two items to keep your dog warm, dry, and blissfully comfortable.
Cold weather vest or jacket
A cold-weather vest or jacket provides warmth, insulation, and moderate protection in a drizzle or light rain. It also requires minimal packing space.
K9 Moto Rainfly
Under heavy downpours our K9 Moto Rainfly provides a durable, waterproof shell and hood to protect your dog from being soaked. The rainfly packs down very small in the accompanying stuff sack and it is specifically designed to keep your dog dry when motorcycle riding in the rain.
For summer showers, you can increase airflow by opening the front vent where the rider’s body already blocks most of the rain from entering. For cold, wet conditions, you can maximize rain protection and insulation by cinching the hood and tightening the poncho around your dog’s body. The hood integrates with your dog’s goggles for a better fit. When your dog doesn’t need it, the hood rolls closed so you can stash it away.
With a cold weather jacket and the K9 Moto Rainfly you can protect your dog from extreme cold, rain, snow, and hail.
Enjoy the Good Weather but Be Prepared for the Extremes
It is a common and understandable mistake to build your dog’s carrier for the most extreme cold and rain conditions. But this is an example of over-engineering that has negative consequences for your dog’s health and safety.
It is much harder to keep your dog cool in warm weather than warm in cold weather. Also, riding in hot weather conditions is far more common for most of us than riding in cold weather and hard rain.
So, as it turns out, this is one those few cases where what feels best is actual safer and healthier. An open-air carrier:
- Keeps your dog cooler, safer, and more comfortable
- Provides a more thrilling, authentic ride experience
- Weighs less so your motorcycle performs better
On those occasions when the weather turns cold, wet, and miserable, you only need two easily packable items to keep your dog warm, dry, comfortable, and happy.
Other resources to explore
For a comprehensive overview of the K9 Moto Cockpit, check out our Gear Guide video and article. For more deep-dive information, check out this article about the safety features and this article about the best riding position for your dog. 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!