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Dogs and Bikes

How to Respond When "Man's Best Friend" Isn't So Friendly

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Saw this on a cycling discussion board I was browsing the other day:

Had a scary experience with two mean dogs Sunday. They came charging out of the yard of this shack just as I hit a long climb. Somehow I managed to outrun them, going uphill. It was either that or get eaten.

Unfortunately this is a common experience for bicyclists. When a person whizzes by on a bike, it can stir up a dog and prompt it to give chase, growling and barking and even trying to bite. What if it happens to you? You want to avoid being bitten and/or crashing. So how do you respond? Here are some choices.

1. Shout at the Dog

Mean little dog
(c) Aubrey/Flickr
Many riders have found that shouting an authoritative "NO!" or "BAD DOG" will make a dog give up. Frequently dogs have no intention to bite, and are just acting fierce, trying to get you to move out of their territory. If you can trigger a little submissive behavior with a loud voice and an authoritative glare, many times they will turn back and go home.

2. Vary Your Speeed

Like shaking a defender on a soccer field, the best way to ditch a known chaser on your route is to vary your speed. Slow down as the dog approaches, then at the last moment, stand up and sprint hard. He's probably used to traffic coming at a consistent speed, and that sort of acceleration will usually shake him. If you can add a juke or swerve to your bag or tricks, anything to break his routine, will help throw the dog off course.

3. Talk to the Dog in a Soothing Voice

Rather than shouting, some cyclists have success in saying things like "good dog" or "nice puppy" in a soft and calm voice while pedaling slowly by. Maybe this is Dog Whisperer stuff, but projecting calmness while still being assertive seems to work for them. Plus it takes the fun out of the chase for the dog, which is half of the action that they're looking for.

This can be your best choice if the dog is squarely in front of you in the road, and you're not in a position to try and outrun it.

4. Stop and Walk

Though this may seem counterintuitive, sometimes all you need to do to get a dog to stop chasing you is to dismount from the bike. Be sure to climb off so that you can keep the bike between yourself and the dog. Then, while speaking quietly to the dog, just walk on by. You are then neither threatening to the dog, nor fun to chase, and the dog will frequently lose interest and return to its yard.

I remember doing this on a gravel road one time, facing a long hill with two mean-looking dogs standing at the side of the road. It was a little freaky getting off the bike, but by the time the dogs were to me, I was petting the dogs like I loved them. It was great fun sucking all the joy out of their chasing party.

5. Dodge the Dog

If you know you're facing a spot where you'll be facing Spot, pay attention to passing vehicles and use them as a moving barrier. If one is coming from behind as you approach Dogville, time yourself so that you can roll through together. The vehicle's noise can mask your approach and if you can follow through tightly together, he might not notice you at all.

6. Squirt the Dog

Water bottle on bike.
Image - Morguefile.
When you see a dog up ahead, get ready with your water bottle. If the dog starts to close in, give it a good squirt of water in the face. It can confuse them and put them off their attack enough for you to get by. Frequently they'll just stop, and the problem is solved.

If you are wearing a Camelbak, draw yourself a mouthful of water and spit it at the dog. This can also be effective, but the squirt from the bottle is usually more direct and disarming.

To juice things up a bit, you can spike the water with other, stronger additives. A reader told me he carries a soft-drink bottle with a hole drilled in the cap filled with a vinegar-and-water mix. Whenever a dog approaches me with bad intentions, he gives a little toot with it.

7. Outrun the Dog

Fabian Cancellara 2007 Tour de France
Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

Once you're going past a dog, sometimes your best option is to just hit the jets for all you're worth and hopefully be able to outrun the dog. I'd suggest combining this with several of the other options like shouting at the dog and/or spraying it with water, because taking this action is going to challenge the dog to chase, which is what he lives for.

If you choose to do this, you want to be out in the middle of the road, too, where the dog will have a harder time getting good traction than if he is able to follow you alongside in grass or gravel.

8. Attack Back

In a situation where you really feel threatened, you can feel justified in giving an attacking dog a good whack on the snout with a frame pump or U-lock or anything else that you have handy. Most dogs won't bite, but you don't want to find out the hard way which kind you're facing.

Other riders might advise kicking a chasing dogs if necessary, but this can be difficult when a person is clipped in. Plus, in both situations, kicking at a dog or swinging something at it, any type of wild and jerky movements can increase the chances of you wiping out. All in all, this option should be a choice of last resort.

9. Pepper Spray

Some cyclists use pepper spray to deter chasing dogs. It can work but I don't really recommend this unless you are expecting a regular ambush and can be prepared for a dog that you know is coming.

I'm hesistant on this option because it's not likely that you'll have the pepper spray ready at hand in most cases where you encounter a nasty pooch, and the surprise nature of the chase/attack will not allow you time to fumble around in your bag to get the pepper spray. Also, you have to be very careful that you don't end up with the pepper spray in your own face, as you are likely moving at a pretty good clip, and if you don't watch it, you could end up riding right into the cloud of noxious stuff you've just put out there.

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