Jess Hana (@jessthemaker) is known for her hilarious and relatable mountain biking videos. She and her partner live in Bentonville, Arkansas, with their two trail dogs, Cooper and Cash. With hundreds of miles of spectacularly varied trails, Bentonville is known as “the mountain biking capital of the world” - the perfect place for creating the videos that Jess hopes will make mountain biking more accessible to everyone, including dogs. While Cash, an XL blue heeler who’s almost 2, is still learning proper mountain biking etiquette, Cooper, a 7-year-old blue heeler mix, is an old pro. We asked Jess and Cooper to tell us more about finding the flow with a dog in tow, after she made us this incredible video showing all the realities of biking with a dog -
Has Cooper always gone mountain biking with you?
So, my ex is also a very avid mountain biker, [so] we were researching dogs that were good for trail riding, and we found that Australian shepherds and blue heelers, a lot of them love trail riding because it’s like their job. They need a job and when they do something like that, they kind of get into their herding mentality; they like it because they’re chasing the bike, essentially. So, we knew we were looking for some type of cattle dog and we found Cooper, so yeah, we knew immediately that we wanted to train him to ride with us.
That’s awesome. How did you do that?
We started off with small hikes. Really, the biggest challenge is recall. But they go through quite the adventurous phase after they turn 2 or 3; before that, Cooper was doing great - he would come on rides and stay with us, with the occasional squirrel chase, but he would mostly stay with us because that was his job. When we lived on the road, there was one time when we were riding outside of Flagstaff, and he bolted. There was a big herd of deer and he just went and chased them - it was the longest period of time he’d gone missing and we were like in the wilderness, so I was really worried about him. It was at that point that we reached out to a trainer who helped us train him on an e-collar. I was definitely very skeptical, like, “I can’t buzz my baby!” But this trainer that we worked with was very much like, “It’s really for their own safety. If he’s bolting toward a highway, would you rather him get a little shock or get hit by a car?” [The training] is peace of mind.
Being in a place that’s really popular for mountain biking, do you ever have any issues with other bikers and Cooper?
That’s another consideration when I go places; I’ll pick trails that I know are less traveled and I won’t take him on a busy weekend. Luckily, we live just north of Bentonville and there are a ton of trails here that are more cross-country style, and a ton of miles, and it’s not as popular. I’m of the belief that having control of your dog is more important than if they’re on-leash or not on-leash. I just think that being aware and being considerate [are key]. If I’m riding with Cooper and there are other riders coming from the other way, I’ll pull off the trail and get Cooper off to the side to let the other people go. Generally, in mountain bike culture, people are very friendly and low-key, and no one’s ever had an issue.
I can actually squeeze my water bottle and he’ll drink from that, so that’s his hydration. I always pack a smaller leash in case there’s a portion of road or another dog and I want to keep him near me. I actually have this really cool pouch that has a bunch of pet first-aid stuff in it, so I usually bring that with me. He has a GPS collar because if he gets lost or something happens… you never know. And it’s kind of his Strava - it tracks his doggy steps and how far he’s gone.
That’s cool. What’s his average distance?
I don’t know, actually! He definitely gets more than 10,000 steps a day! Like I said, I don’t like riding him until he’s so tired, but we went on a ride last week and he went 26,700 steps.
Being a heeler, does he still finish up with energy to spare?
Yeah, he can keep going and going, and that’s something with trail dogs - they don’t know when to stop, necessarily, so it’s good to be really aware of when to slow it down.
Do you have advice for someone who might want to try MTB with their dog?
Yeah, I would say that it’s good to have some patience, especially in the beginning. Don’t have super high expectations of it going well in the beginning because they’re dogs, and like anything with training, it just takes a lot of practice, patience, and persistence. Maybe setting expectations where it’s like, “Okay, any time I take my dog for a ride and the dog goes in front of me, the fun stops.” That was something Cooper did a lot when we were first training him. He just wanted to be up front, and he still does - I still actively have to remind him to get back. We have commands, “Get Back” or “Follow,” to tell them to stay behind us. If your dog’s way ahead and can’t hear you, they can stumble upon a bear or another human with a dog who might be reactive. It’s better for them to be behind you so that you can actually control the situation.
Really, it starts with good recall and making sure that they don’t go ahead of you on the trail. And you can practice this on a hike or by bringing the bike and not even riding it. That’s a good way for them to get used to the bike, too. So, walking next to your bike, and your dog can be on-leash while you’re doing this, too. A longer lead is good, so that they get used to that, and then give them a lot of reward for staying behind the bike and behind you. Building that practice up and then eventually, maybe you don’t need the leash anymore, and then you slowly start adjusting certain variables: Now you’re going to be riding the bike really slow, doing the same exact thing. So yeah, practice, persistence, and patience when training your dog. And always having some kind of high-value reward on you is always good, especially for recall, so if they do get distracted by something else, it’s like, “Hey, hey, I’ve got bacon!”
That makes sense. Is it kind of a requirement that your dog has good off-leash behavior for them to go mountain biking? Riding a bike with a leashed dog seems potentially dangerous.
I would say so. I still, at times, put Cooper on leash, like if there’s a section of road that we have to ride. Obviously, if you’re holding your leash and you’re holding your handlebars, if there’s a pull, that’s not good, so a good way to counteract that is to attach the leash to your center of mass, like around your waist, so that you have more stability. And the leash actually needs to be short enough that they can just be next to you. And that would be a slower-speed, if-you-need-to situation. But on trail, it would be really hard to have them on-leash because single track is so narrow and you don’t want the leash to get caught in the bike.
Photo credit: Jay Rogan
Those are great tips! Does Cooper have a favorite trail?
Cooper loves Sedona! He actually loves desert riding so much. [Laughs] When I was living in the RV, we spent a lot of time in Arizona. He loves sunbathing, and he can just jump up on the rocks and dart around and sniff different areas. It’s funny, he just loves it.
What would you say is your favorite thing about riding with Cooper?
I can just tell he’s happy. And it’s a fulfilling thing to be spending time with your dog while you’re still doing what you love, too. I love mountain biking and it’s a really cool experience to be able to share that with my dog, and that my dog loves it, too.