Bob sent in the following question:
I’m looking for some type of user friendly object to carry while riding my road bike to defend against possible dog or other varmint attacks. I ride my bike in neighborhoods and also some rural road stretches. Really would like something user friendly to sling on my back and hands free for managing the bike. Any ideas?
It just so happens that I have a LOT of experience dealing with dogs — just not so much on a bike…in a previous career, I was a health inspector in the hinterlands of rural north Florida, and I encountered frisky and dangerous dogs on a weekly basis. These encounters didn’t always end in a pretty manner, but I learned quite a bit about reading their behavior and getting them to leave me alone as I did my work. Most of the same tactics work when you’re on a bike, too.
Dogs tend to chase cyclists for a couple of reasons. The first is territory protection; you’re invading their perceived space and they want you out of it. The second is natural playfulness…what’s more fun to a dog than chasing a brightly-colored moving object? It’s hard to fault a dog for either of these reasons…they don’t have the reasoning powers that humans do, and some of their behavior can be attributed to lax training on the part of their owners.
So, how does a cyclist deal with a chasing dog? Let’s start with some evasive tactics and escalate the response as we go…
Firstly, being chased by a dog is a great way to work on your sprint! Putting the hammer down and racing away from a dog is a fantastic way to raise your heart rate and get a bit of extra workout. Many dogs will break off a chase when they realize they’re being outclassed by a speedy cyclist. The second tactic is to ride quickly away but in a zig-zag pattern…not always possible on roads where you’re sharing space with motorists. Dogs excel in straight-line speed, but aren’t so good at taking turns, so the zig-zagging can discourage them from continuing a chase.
What else? Your voice can be a powerful deterrent, too. Try talking to the dog in a pleasant tone…”hey, that’s a good dog! You’re pretty fast, aren’t you?” Sometimes this works because the dog no longer thinks you’re a threat; rather, you’re a new friend. Gentle talking isn’t doing the trick? Try shouting “GO HOME!” at the top of your lungs. I’ve seen this work many times — it sends the message that playtime is over.
If, for some reason, the dog manages to stop you, keep your bike between you and the dog and walk away. Don’t turn your back and use your bike as a shield until you’re out of the dog’s perceived territory. If push comes to shove, your bike makes a decent weapon to repel an attack, too.
There are a variety of devices that cyclists have used to repel dogs. When my grandfather hung up his bike for the last time, he gave me his trusted Dazer, an electronic device that emits an ultrasonic tone which drives dogs away. I used mine successfully many times…this thing works!
The Dazer has a handy belt clip that easily attaches to a bag strap or your clothing…one simple press of the button and the dog goes nuts trying to get away from that sound.
Or, you could try the stuff that the U.S. Postal Service issues to its mail carriers…a product called Halt:
Halt is a mild pepper spray that shoots out of the can in a controlled stream. One good dose of this in a dog’s face and they get pretty discouraged. Just be careful that the wind isn’t blowing back toward you…back-spray from CNS and pepper sprays is always a potential side effect from these types of products, and you do NOT want to inhale any of this stuff. It’s incredibly irritating (don’t ask me how I know this!).
Ok, you’ve run out of options and it’s just you and the dog…what else is there? Some folks have been known to carry a collapsible police baton:
I’m not a huge fan of this option, because I really don’t like the thought of whacking a dog with a hard steel instrument. Also, I’d be more tempted to track down the dog’s owner — anyone who lets their dog run wild like this could use a crack upside the head! Besides, if you’re close enough to use a baton, you’re already too close to the dog and are in the “danger zone”. That being said, if the chips are down, one of these might be good to have on hand. Check with your local law enforcement agencies — carrying one of these devices may not be legal in all areas and may even be considered a concealed weapon in some municipalities.
I’m not going to cover the ultimate last-ditch tactic for dealing with aggressive and dangerous dogs: the firearm. That’s way beyond the scope of our site and opens a whole host of potential and actual concerns about legality and the use of deadly force. If you really want to explore this option, please visit Xavier over at Nurse With a Gun. Xavier has forgotten more about gun safety and carry considerations than I’ve ever known, and he’s a dedicated bike commuter on top of that. Some pretty well-reasoned arguments over there that he’s much better equipped to talk about than we are…
So, let’s pray you never have to use ANY of the above techniques and that your rides are blessedly dog-free. But, it pays to familiarize yourself with some of these tactics on the off chance you’re confronted by a dog on the way to work. Ride safe!
Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.