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ARTICLE: Coping with Dogs
Explains why any one tactic won't work with every dog but also explains a method that almost always works.
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Coping with Dogs

As someone who has ridden 100,000 miles, mostly on country roads in the South, I have seen a great number of dogs.  On one 28-mile ride that I made fairly often, I originally had 15 dogs who would attack me every time.  With each dog, the behavior was different, and in each case, I was successful in solving the problem until I had no more dogs bothering me.  In each case, I had to react differently.

The reason why a dog chases a bike varies from dog to dog (and has nothing to do with the fact that they once chased deer).  And the way that they chase varies from dog to dog.  And how they react once you stop also varies.

There is no method that works with every dog although some methods are surprising effective with most dogs.  The most effective method for stopping attacks doesn't involve the dog at all.

First, as to reasons: 1) Some dogs are defending their territory, and they treat you the same on the road as they would if you walked up to the front door.  That is, some will just bark, some will threaten but not bite, and some will attack, especially if you do anything provocative.  2) Some dogs are curious: who is this strange person in these strange clothes; once they have met you, they never bother you again.  3) Some are wanting to chase and run.  These dogs may bark and run after you, but they're just having fun.  4) Some are pretending that they are hunting.  These dogs will try to stop the bike, but they will do no harm.  5) Some dogs really are hunting; I had a dog bite my rear tire that was perfectly friendly when I was visiting the house.  This dog was not attacking me, just the bike.  When I stopped the bike due to the flat tire, he ignored me (I wonder what his mouth felt like).  6) Some dogs have been trained by the owner to chase and even attack.  I have seen owners giving their dogs a signal to chase on some occasions.  7) Some dogs are following another dog's orders; often I have seen a little yippy dog send a larger dog out onto the road.  8) Some dogs just happen to be traveling along the road; they are as surprised by the encounter as you are.  9) Some dogs remember the last cyclist and are out for revenge. And I'm sure I didn't cover every reason.

Second, as to how they chase: 1) Some dogs will bark, but will not make any move.  2) Some will run along their property line but never get into the street.  3) Some will run along behind you barking at a safe distance.  4) Some will run all around you.  5) Some will run into your bike and try to knock you down.  6) Some will run in front of your bike to stop you.  7) Some will lie in hiding and jump out in front of your front wheel.  8) Some will be very unpredictable and likely to do anything.

Third, as to how they attack.  1) Some dogs will never do anything.  2) Some will bark and bark, but that's all.  3) Some will bite but only if you approach them.  4) Some, especially little dogs, like to sneak up and bite without much or any warning.  5) Some dogs will bite only if they get excited.  6) Some dogs will bite at your legs and the bike.  7) Some dogs are really vicious and will try to hurt you as quickly as possible.

Fourth, there are many effective methods of repelling an attack, and I haven't used all of them.  I have never used a spray, but I have ridden with people who routinely sprayed all dogs, innocent and guilty alike, which bothered me.  My defenses are as varied as the dogs' behavior: 1) First, I ignore them.  This method works with most dogs, and I use it on all dogs that are far enough from the bike.  2) Second, if the dog is close when I encounter it, I talk to the animal.  Sometimes, I am friendly, and sometimes I am barking commands; it depends on the dog.  This method is also usually successful.  3) I speed up.  This worked better when I was younger.  Now that I'm an old dog myself, most dogs can catch me.  4) While riding, I kick a biting dog in the mouth.  Warning! This can be dangerous to the bike rider a) if your bike handling skills are not good or b) if your shoes are soft.  However, I taught at least one dog to never bother me again that way.  5) I stop. Doing so stops many dogs. However, it is what I least want to do.  When I stop, I always keep the bike between me and the dog(s) to avoid attacks, even though that behavior tends to keep the dogs riled up.  Unfortunately, some dogs will pair and circle.  6) I pick up, or pretend to pick up, a stone or stick.  Once they think I have a weapon, most dogs will back off.  Some people prefer to use their pump as a pretend weapon.  7) I scream at the dog; many times if I can make more noise than the dog, he will back off.  8) I chase the dog back onto his property.  Dogs will eventually ignore me, if they learn that I am bad news.

The most effective method does not involve the dog: 9) I have a talk with the owner.  In these talks, I explain exactly what the dog is doing and why his behavior is dangerous to me, the dog, and to other people using the road. I avoid getting angry or offensive, even if the owner does so. Losing temper in an argument usually loses the argument.  I also avoid apologizing: I firmly state that it is my right to ride on the road and that it is the owner's duty to train or restrain his dog.  I make no threats and imply no follow-up (otherwise he might wait to see what I do).  Most owners deny that their dog was causing any problems, that they have any control over the animal, or that they need to control the animal.  But very few dogs ever bother me again after such a discussion. Basically, if the owner punishes the dog for getting onto the road or for chasing cyclists, the dog will quickly give up such behavior.

If all other methods fail, there is still one last remedy -- contact your local Animal Control.

My most touching moment involving a chasing dog happened as follows:  I was following my usual ride, and when I rode by one house, a chihuahua ran out barking at me, with a young German shepherd puppy following behind him.  The owner was in the yard with his little girl, so I stopped, and I asked him to stop his dog from running out into the road.  The man laughed at me.  He said, "You're not afraid of that little dog, are you?"  I replied, "The dog could hurt me by getting tangled in my spokes, but more important, he is very likely to get hit by a car.  And, he is training your German shepherd to chase into the street as well.  For the sake of your dogs, you should scold them for running into the street."  I didn't pass that way again for some time, and when I did, the chihuahua started to run out after me.  The little girl ran and caught him and held him back, the tears streaming down her face.  I didn't need to ask what had happened to the German shepherd.


How to Avoid Dog-Gone Accidents: Mike Munk advises being careful over being vindictive.

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