Just Ask Jack: Dealing With Dogs?

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!

dazer

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

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:

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.


20 Comments

  1. jamesmallon July 12, 2009 9:30 pm 

    I had a century-ride with three chasings, and got so pissed off the last time that I charged the last dog oncoming screaming like a bezerker. Not what that dog expected! My logic was simple: I’m going to scare the $#!+ out of this dog, or hit him hard enough he won’t be in a mood to bite.

  2. Bill Baker July 13, 2009 4:07 am 

    I have been been chased many of time and each time take care of the foul beast with either a quick spray from my water bottle or banging my bike pump on my frame. the noise kinda freaks them out.

  3. Ghost Rider July 13, 2009 4:49 am 

    Oh, yes…the waterbottle squirt. That’s an effective trick too!

    @James — did the “berserker” trick work?

  4. Iron Man July 13, 2009 6:27 am 

    I honestly considered the “last-ditch” option with one dog along my old route. I’ve been chased by so many dogs it’s hard to count. Generally a shout and/or blast from the water bottle is enough to stop the chase. But I had a three year relationship with one overly aggressive farm dog who forced me off my bike on a couple of occasions. His house was on a corner, so he was able to cut me off plenty of times. He could sustain a 30 mph run for at least 300 yds. Shouts didn’t work, water to the mug didn’t work, repeated shots of pepper spray didn’t work, and finally calls to the police didn’t work. So I honestly considered taking advantage of Missouri’s concealed carry permit as this dog was routinely in the street blocking my path not looking the least bit playful. But then we moved and I don’t ride that route anymore. Still I’d have gone Dirty Harry on that mutt if given the chance.

  5. Scott L July 13, 2009 6:52 am 

    Getting off the bike and walking has always worked for me. It stops the chase instinct, and calms the dog down. I usually stand behind the bike and maintain eye contact. I don’t use my voice unless I have to, especially if I am nervous or excited(They can tell). I’ve also found that if you live in a rural area with a lot of loose dogs, stick to the main roads. Any loose dogs are more used to moving vehicles, and are less likely to chase you. Back road “farm dogs” are sometimes more daring and aggressive. That being said I have never had a problem with dogs, but it helps to know how they typically behave and a little about the different breeds (Terriers typically love to chase, but Basset Hounds tend to just howl playfully, for example). Otherwise if you really have a problem dog you should just avoid them, its not worth the possible confrontation.

  6. Quinn July 13, 2009 8:53 am 

    for me it depends on the dog, I had a 5 lb. 4-legged mop chase me the other day, I just kept riding. BUT if there is a dog chasing me that is snarling and barking, I wouldn’t hesitiate to pull my lock out of my Chrome Hip Bone, and defend myself.

  7. jamesmallon July 13, 2009 9:24 am 

    Dogs like that on the loose are a hell of a sign that nobody walks or cycles anymore, including the kids. The dogs would behave calmer of people did, the owners wouldn’t leave them on the loose if their neighbours got after them, and the police would take loose dogs more seriously.

  8. Val July 13, 2009 9:30 am 

    Jack, you forgot the most common vocalization that dogs are trained to recognize: “BAD DOG!” Darn near all of them know that one, and will respond.

  9. Otter July 13, 2009 10:44 am 

    I was riding home from a cookout yesterday, when I spotted an unchained pit bull in a yard to my right. Uh-oh. As I passed, not only the pit bull, but his big, shepherd-mix friend, tore out of the yard, barking and growling. Riding uphill, and totally exhausted from the day’s riding already, I didn’t have a chance of outrunning them. They probably just wanted to play, but I wasn’t about to take that gamble. The big one caught up first, on my left side – I stopped pedaling to get balanced, and gave him a kick to the mouth. (I am a friend to dogs; It was a glancing blow, cushioned by soft running shoes.) He backed off quick though, and as I turned my attention to the pit bull on my right, I heard a yelp and a snarl, and now the two dogs were fighting each other instead! “Hey dummy! You said I should chase that guy, and he wasn’t nice to me at all! Thanks a lot!” I stopped to catch my breath and laugh a half-mile down the road.

  10. Ghost Rider July 13, 2009 10:44 am 

    Val — good addition! It’s a variation on “go home”, but you’re right; a LOT of dogs will respond favorably to this.

  11. Elizabeth July 13, 2009 11:14 am 

    I’ve only been chased by a dog a handful of times and each instance has been unique but equally freaked me out. The last time, I knew I didn’t have it in me to out pedal its quickness, and I just slowed down to a very leisurely pace. It worked – the dog must not have seen me as a threat or realized I wasn’t going to play “catch” with him and he backed down.

    Down the road a piece, I breathed a sigh of relief and said a little prayer that I avoided a potentially dangerous altercation.

    That Dazer looks like a nice item to have, though.

  12. steve johnson July 13, 2009 6:17 pm 

    Only foolproof way is dog biscuits. My job requires me to come in close contact with at least ten to fifteen dogs a day. Only one German Shepard did not stop when fed.

  13. Iron Man July 14, 2009 6:37 am 

    One of the dangers of a dog out in the street is the potential not-so-bright reaction of a driver. If a dog pops out a driver may swerve to miss it and plow into the cyclist. Sounds crazy enough, but I’ve heard of it happening. You can’t control that behavior, but it could help you control your responses to a dog if an auto is approaching.

    I also have a buddy that went over the handlebars and busted his collarbone because a playful young dog jumped out in front of him. Again his reaction may have been different had he considered how stupid that dog was.

  14. LockMaster Jeff July 14, 2009 8:43 am 

    As far as sprinting goes, I was told to slow down and then suddenly sprint as the dog gets near. The sudden separation can cause the dog to lose interest.

  15. Kim F July 15, 2009 10:57 am 

    I miss the old style air pumps. You could grab them by the end and let them extend out to about a 3 ft length and take a swing at a dog. Usually just taking a swing was enough to make them stop.
    Even when passing someone walking a dog its good to let them know you’re coming. Especially with BIG dogs. I surprised a person when I rode past and their Rottweiler and almost came after me. Let them know you’re coming so they can get a tight grip on the leash.

  16. Michel Phillips July 16, 2009 6:11 pm 

    “Berserker” worked for me on a particular dog I used to pass regularly. Also SLOWING DOWN and riding DIRECTLY AT THE DOG. The key is to confound the dog’s expectations. He expects you to act like prey — i.e., run away. So don’t.

    But I like the dog biscuit idea more. Especially for dogs you’ll pass on a regular basis. Stop, feed the dog, pet the dog, tell him he’s a good dog. Do that a few times, make him your friend, and your worries are over. That’s my theory — somebody try it and report how it works.

  17. Philip Pallesen June 3, 2010 8:17 am 

    Lots of people think crate training pets is inappropriate. The thought of crate training is to get the dog to listen to your own instructions. This can often be for his or her own saftey, yet typically its used to test their particular obedience as well as demeanor. Your first step in crate teaching must be to find the optimum area for the pups dog crate. Bring to mind the particular reasons behind utilizing a cage will be to provide your puppy their own area, and in addition get him or her used to the idea of being clear of all your family members. But it really should also enable them to observe whats going on.

  18. Raiyn July 27, 2010 1:20 am 

    Aww look at the widdle spammers. It’s really a shame the morons didn’t read the %$^$^& article before posting stupid unrelated comments and linking to their craptastic websites of sub-standard wares.

  19. George McLaughlin Jr. August 10, 2013 8:56 am 

    I own two livestock guardian dogs and part of my livelihood is raising my own meat and vegetables. The dogs are essential to our operation. But they can also be a real pain for cyclists which pass by on weekends. I LOVE the suggestions about water and strongly suggest that you help the dog’s owner by trying a water pistol. The suggestion about stopping to befriend the dog is also good. Dog biscuits are a great idea.

    Another suggestion is that you do stop and speak with the dog’s owner, getting to know the dog’s name and becoming acquainted. Our dogs respond well to the command “leave it!” The effectiveness of the command is multiplied when one adds their name.

    Our daughters ride horses on our country roads. They’ve had success with using a really friendly tone of voice and telling the offending canine that it is a “good dog,” sometimes even dismounting to rub its belly. It’s a worthwhile investment in good relationships, out here in the country.

    Really appreciate this article and the spirit in which is is written. Great comments!

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