Interview with Bark + Ride

In this article, we interview Kaz who is the founder of Bark + Ride. An outdoor lifestyle brand for active people and their dogs. They provide products to inspire fellow outdoor enthusiasts to get out there and share their adventures with their K9 companions.

This interview will contain some great advice and tips on how best to train your trail dog. What products can really help you whilst out in nature with your furry best mate and give you some interesting background and history into the Bark + Ride brand.

So firstly, for the readers that don’t know, who and what is Bark + Ride?

Hey Kate! Well I’m Kaz, the founder of Bark + Ride, we’re a Scottish, outdoor lifestyle brand for trail dogs and mountain bikers! We’re based in Scotlands outdoor capital, Aviemore, where we design quality gear, built specifically to take you further into the rugged landscapes we adventure in. Whether that’s a day at the local trail centre or a multi-day adventure into the mountains, we design collars, leads, harnesses as well as a range of other essential kits for trail dogs and their riders. We identified that there was a real need for quality gear with safety in mind, specifically with trail dogs as currently there isn’t another brand on the market providing a specific product for mountain bikers who want to experience that awesome feeling of riding with their dog.

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What triggered you to start Bark and Ride and what was the first product you brought out?

It started around 10 years ago when my passion for mountain biking really started. We had just trained our little Springer Spaniel pup Lewis to be a well behaved 1-year-old dog and he was going to be my adventure buddy.
I was a textile designer working in the city and was living for the weekends to drive home and take him out on the bike. Lewis had a really good recall and great basic puppy training. He wanted to be by my side all the time so at first, I introduced him to the bike slowly and built up the miles on our local fire road a few minutes from home.

I’d never had too much confidence when it came to biking when I first started, I always found myself worried that I’d “never be fast enough, skilled enough or indeed fit enough” to hang out in bigger groups due to suffering from a little known condition called endometriosis which ultimately really stunted my progression into being a confident biker. I would forever be plagued with negative thoughts in my head which stopped me from joining in ride outs and I had a lot of missed opportunities early on. However, the moment that Lewis was with me, that all changed. My focus was on him, I didn’t have time to think about me, and so he became my outlet for positive energy and we soon began to ride together further and faster, in groups of likeminded people!

Now I can ride happily with most groups with or without dogs as I know now that social mountain bike rides are great fun, totally chilled and really great for putting to bed those common mental battles, those misconceptions, natural in any rider at any stage!

It soon became apparent that the ordinary dog leads and collars weren’t sufficient or safe enough for our needs and I felt it was becoming a bit of a hazard having this long dangling lead around my neck or annoyingly stuffed in my backpack, I was also realising the strain I was putting on Lewis’s neck. I began thinking there must be a way to make this easier for everyone and safer for Lewis too! And so, along came the 2 in 1 bungee lead. After a few years of planning and speaking to Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, the guys there gave me the great support and the confidence to finally launch Bark + Ride. They immediately loved the concept, adored the brand name and were fundamental in those big steps from this little idea to a successful brand!
In 2018, I launched our first product at Tweedlove Festival that year which was also hosting the EWS at Peebles which was awesome fun and from that weekend on, coming home and realising wow, folks really loved the kit, Bark + Ride became reality and the successful growing brand that it is today!

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I see you are based in beautiful Scotland. Where are your top riding spots with and without your four-legged friends in Scotland?

Gosh, there’s so much in Scotland to contend with! I’ve got to be a little bit biased when it comes to this since we’re lucky to live in Aviemore. It certainly made lockdown a whole lot nicer for Harris and I as we were locked down here on our own for 4 months. For me, riding isn’t just about the type of trails it’s where you ride, the landscape, the smell of the forest, the nature that surrounds you and the people and dogs you ride with.
For beginners, new to having their trail dog by their side, a good place to try it out is along the Speyside Way from Aviemore to Boat of Garten. A great fairly flat cycle and walking path that ticks the boxes for scenery, safety and the option to drop into Boat of Garten woods to see if you can find the nice little network of natural trails with a few features to keep you satisfied. This is a great day out for the fam too, be sure to stop in at Ride Cairngorm where Nash and Chopstick the Chow will greet you whilst you drool over the newest Santa Cruz and Juliana bikes, and have a coffee and an amazingly tasty cake from The Gashouse Cafe by the railway station. From here you have the option ( if the season is right ) to take the beautiful Strathspey Railway Steam train back into Aviemore, which is both Bike and Dog friendly or ride back to Aviemore! ( distance is key, always work up your mileage slowly and never take a dog out biking until their at least one when they are fully developed physically and have basic real and heelwork training)

For trail dog fun in a safe environment away from hazards or livestock, Badaguish is a great place to start, natural trails, soft on Trailhound Harris’s paws and some really fun trails to whet your appetite not to mention stunning background scenery with the Cairngorms in view.

For all-out fun without Harris ( even though as an experienced trial dog he does come with me), I’m lucky to have the steep and seriously awesome High Burnside on my doorstep, a mere 5 minute pedal to the trailhead and we’re up some steep fire roads for some seriously awesome natural trails. Richards Down is a really fun black decent, fast fun, no major drops or jumps and will eave you begging to pedal back up that nasty fire road for more! Further up, take the Skull Trail and Over to Huws for a beautiful descent into Lefticle and Resurrection. Theres so much more to explore here and some pretty steep seriously bitey trails here so definitely intermediate-advanced riders only.
For all-out amazing scenic bike packing adventures with Trailhound Harris, the wild and remote Glenfeshie / Drumguish takes the biscuit. With no livestock to contend with and a stunning river to weave alongside, there are several routes around here that are trail dog adventuring bliss. Stopping overnight in a bothy or two you can connect routes that weave back into the Cairngorms for some serious adventures, but beware, the weather here can get really wild, really quickly, so it’s always important to carry warm kit for you and your dog.
Aberdeenshire has some beautiful trails, with thanks to the Aberdeenshire Trail Association – Heartbreak Ridge in Ballater, MasterBlaster in Aboyne, a solid favourite and some really nice downhill trails at Pitfichie Forest Trails which has a beautiful Red decent and some nice little options for some Black downhill fun too.
We’re absolutely spoilt for choice in Scotland, it’s so hard to choose a favourite trail.
For the all-out trail centre warrior, Glentress takes the biscuit. Laggan Wolftraxx offers something to push absolutely everyone, a little hard on the puppers paws as its rocky with boulder features, but what an awesome place.
Oh, and did we mention the new orange at Glenlivet! Ooft!! Laps for Days!

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As an experienced trail dog owner what one product would you recommend for a new trail dog to be?

100%, the 2 in 1 Bungee Lead, its two leads in one which can be used in a whole host of different ways but most importantly the bungee lead is an absolute necessity when out on the trails. Its the safest way to quickly keep your dog back by your bike when there’s a hazard approaching, whether that’s other trail users, livestock, a dog on a lead, or a road crossing, wear it around your waist so its completely out of the way of shoulders and arms, it can’t catch on anything as you ride and it’s super easy to clip on and off reducing “faff” time and simply clip on to your dogs harness with the super-strong carabiner. This way you can ride a short distance safely in control of your dog until your out of danger and ready to ride again! It’s awesome for that 5-10 minutes of time biking when you need to be in control of your dog but its also a fantastic bit of kit for training your dog to walk/jog/run by your side. You can use the rope leash as an extension as well whilst their still learning.
The other cool feature is the handle has a quick release clip, one for safety and two so that post bike ride when you’re sat having a pint at the pub with your mates or pop into the bike shop you can clip the lead handle around a table leg or post safely so you can be hands-free and still have your dog under control! It’s ideal for trail centres. If you have a van with hitch points, the handle fits perfectly into the point. Perfect for loading and unloading your bike whilst your dog is in safety!

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How are your products designed to help riders and their dogs?

All of our products start with safety at the forefront of every design. From the bright colours of our Chillbreaker Coat, the strength of the bungee cord used in the lead, to the way our harnesses are designed for maximum cover and comfort I’m always thinking about the dog’s safety and comfort in mind. The Chillbreaker Coat is Lumo green so that at the trail centre he can be seen around the carpark by other road users. The shape of our harness means that if your dog scuffs the ground as he/she flies over a feature with you, he can’t get struck by a twig or stone that would normally cause injury. We design products to give you the confidence to take your dogs further.
We plan to have a whole range of products for trail dogs but as a small organically growing business we must grow at a steady and responsible pace. It’s all too easy to want to throw products out into the market as the need is so great at the moment but I’d rather have a product I fully am committed to and know its the best we can make it sustainable rather than just make another version of something that’s already out there.

Tell us about your traildog, Harris. How old is Harris? Did you get Harris with the intention of him becoming a traildog or did it happen more organically? What is Harris’s best trail attribute?

Trailhound Harris is a 2.5-year-old teenage German Wirehaired Pointer, basically, that’s a velociraptor on steroids for those that know the breed at this stage. He’s built for speed and endurance and is also am incredible hunting machine in the wrong hands. My ex-partner and I at the time wanted a dog that could go the extra miles out on multi-day adventures. We were both used to training spaniels predominantly and for some awesome reason, a Wire-haired Pointer came into our vision. We did A LOT of research about the breed. Read all the red flags and saw the level of commitment and hard work needed to make this dog a good trail dog. I’m not going to lie, it’s been one hell of a ride, but I can honestly say as much as he tests me every single day, has pushed me to the edge on many occasions and is extremely difficult to train, he is one hell of a trail dog when we’ ’re in tune with one another. He has a huge chase drive which can feel amazing with our friends out on the trails we know well but he can be a handful at the jumps park and all he wants to do is chase you over those jumps.
I still have a lot of work to do with him. Most other dogs you will intend to have as trail dogs, if raised from a pup require a normal level of expected training and generally, if you aim for a working dog such as a spaniel or a collie, generally, they want to please you all the time. Pointers / Vizsla’s and Weimaraners fall into a very different type of working breed and it should be a reminder that in particular, wire-haired pointers are one of the most headstrong and wilful breeds to try and train who may also only listen to an alpha male, no matter how you try.

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What are your top tips for those that want to train their dog to be a trail dog?

Consistency in training is key.
Good eye contact. Good heelwork and Awesome Recall with a van load of treats will generally set most dogs up to be a good trail dog. A dog which is socialised well from a pup with other dogs and is used to seeing and hearing the sound of a bike is really important and those things can be set up easily at home for a gentle introduction. The last thing you want is this awesomely obedient dog whose scared of the sound of your breaks or the buzz of your freehub so we are in the midst of creating a set of Traildog Training videos to help you get the most out of your new-found trail dog or pup.

Have you had any mishaps whilst out with Harris? What happened? And how will you avoid them happening again?

Well not until a few weeks ago actually! I’m recovering after a very nasty elbow and arm fracture and dislocation which required intensive surgery and I’m still in recovery. Looking back, I was absolutely knackered and in need of a break. I’d chosen to go up to my local spot High Burnside on a roasting hot night, just Harris and I. We didn’t see many folks when we were out but I pushed on up to the top of the decent. It was so hot, no air at all and the night before had been torrential rain. I did a little training at the top to keep Harris in check but as I set off down the descent full blast Harris cut out in front of me, I changed my line and ended up losing traction on my front wheel over a set of really slick roots which landed me OTB in a nasty rut whereby I landed with my arm totally out of joint behind, me, face to the ground. Being on my own and a distance away from the fire road I ended up waiting an hour for the ambulance to get me out as I dragged myself along the trail. That was a whole level of pain I never want to experience ever again but 8 weeks later I’m just about getting the strength back in my arm albeit its going to take months of recovery to get back on my bike. I’ll never be able to straighten out my arm again fully but who needs that anyway for mountain biking eh!
Huge lessons learnt. Don’t ride alone when you’re tired. Don’t change your line for your dog unless there is a serious hazard, If you’ve got a seriously speedy dog, it’s ok to let them ride out in front if there are no hazards out ahead and the fire road will not have a chance of vehicles or livestock nearby. It all sounds like simple stuff but sometimes these things just happen. It was a great lesson for me to listen to my body when it’s tiring as that’s when judgements can be blurred.

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We are currently training our trail dog Ollie. He likes to run out in front. Do you think its better for the dog to follow rather than lead or does it not matter?

That’s awesome to hear you’re training Ollie to become a trail dog! We love to hear peoples progress.
A lot of larger breeds that are bred for running out ahead are almost impossible to train to run behind purely because instinct and hundreds of years of lineage have told them of their place within the pack. I will always tend to go first in a group of riders with Harris behind me for as long as possible as I know he will chase down and overtake the fastest rider every time. I’m by no means a speed queen but being put ahead gives me more control and sets pace and distance from the rest of the riders. Both positions have their risks, I’d always encourage your dog to follow you to heel since you’re the pack leader at the end of the day!
Trail dog Lewis ( now in retirement) was the perfect trail dog for wanting to run by your side and personally, that’s where the most enjoyment came from. Sharing those turns together is just the best feeling ever, equally so is chasing down after your dog and clocking your speeds. Remember it is always your decision which way you choose to ride with your dog but safety is always key; if you’re in a busier trail centre or you know your chosen route ends out onto a road, by groups of people, livestock or vehicles its worth keeping your dog behind for both of your safety. Always think of your exit or potential hazards along the way.
It’s worth remembering that a dog is still a dog no matter how well you train them and just like our riders, accidents are inevitable. If you can give yourself and your dog the best set of tools to prevent these things happening though that will give you the best outcome and lower your risk of you or your dog coming a cropper.

How can you protect your dog from an injury such as putting their pads or getting dust in their faces?

Having a fit and healthy dog is the best place to start and building up their fitness slowly but surely to becoming a fit trail dog means that they will naturally have better resilience and harder wearing pads but we always recommend using our Paw + Nose balm to stop dry and cracked paws which can really stop the fun in your their tracks. Healthy pads and strong bones and muscles are the way to go. Nobody wants to see an unfit overweight pup really struggling down your favourite decent whilst you leave them for dust so it’s important that fitness is a big part of their training and done sensibly building up distance will have you really keeping the benefits. On particularly rough tracks it could be worth looking at some booties which we plan on developing shortly along with eye protection in the coming year. Luckily dogs have great eyelashes and fantastically functioning tear ducts which help to work out any dust or grass seeds that may have gotten lodged in their eyes but after every ride just as you would chew over your bike its important to check over your dog for any signs of debris caught in their paws, ears, skin or eyes.
Our trail dog harness is specifically designed to help protect against sharp twigs or rocks that can impact a dogs chest whilst descending a trail.
Lastly, water is an absolute must on every adventure not just for hydration but for chasing out any loose mud or debris on your dog too.

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What attributes do you look for in a trail dog? Any breeds that you would recommend or avoid?

A happy eager face and a waggy tail haha! Of course, I wouldn’t recommend taking a Chihuahua or a particularly tiny or short-nosed breed down the trail due to the physical limitations which have unfortunately come from overbreeding but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect trail dog. They are all perfect to us in their own ways. Obviously, a dog that is happy, healthy, intelligent, wants to please and has a love for running alongside you would naturally make a great trail dog. It’s a very important point to make though as not every dog may enjoy being a trail dog and picking up on these signs are important.
I love spaniels because that’s what I’ve grown up with and trained the most and I love their closeness and need to please but everyone is different!

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What do you hope for in the future for Bark + Ride?

Well, thanks to the support from our amazing trail dog-loving community we will have survived this crazy covid storm which has proven so difficult for so many folks. We have a whole heap of products literally waiting patiently to be manufactured! From bike-specific trail dog fuel carrying systems to adventuretastic dog sleeping bags and everything in between, we will have you covered for every adventure by bike, foot or van.

In the meantime, though we will be launching our Christmas ( oops we said the C word) edits soon and we hope that our customers will find our eagerly anticipated trail dog training video resources a huge benefit to their trail dog training and development.

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We will be testing some Bark + Ride products with my trail dog Oliver. He is a Sprigador (Springer Spaniel cross Labrador). Keep an eye out for future posts coming soon

What do you think of Bark + Ride? Have you tried their products? Do you or are you planning on training a trail dog? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

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