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Dog Dos and Don'ts

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by Bob Zogg


Dogs make wonderful, loving pets, but they can also present a serious danger to cyclists. With any luck, you'll survive a dog's chase with just a scare, but some of our members have been bitten and others have crashed, resulting in serious injuries. There is no single way to deal with all dog encounters, and no shortage of advice on various strategies to try. Here are some strategies that you may want to try (if you are comfortable with them), along with others that you may want to avoid (in the author's humble opinion).

Dog Strategies that you may want to try

Move to the middle of the road: Getting to the middle of the road gives you more room to maneuver, and most dogs find it harder to run on the pavement (versus a grassy or dirt shoulder).

Sprint past the dog: Generally, dogs are merely defending their turf, and most won't pursue once you're past their owner's property.

Depending on a number of factors (including the speed of the dog, the dog's location relative to you when it starts to chase, your speed, your strength, and whether you're on a hill), you may be able to get past the owner's property before the dog reaches you. Only you can judge all these factors and make the decision. You'll want to make this decision quickly and execute it with gusto—stand up and sprint for all you're worth.

Shout in an angry voice: Some dogs will hesitate if you play the alpha human role and shout at them angrily. It doesn't matter what you say—it's your tone that the dog will understand. It may help to also raise your arm as if to throw something at the dog.

"Nice doggy": Or, try the other extreme—talking to the dog in a soothing, friendly voice. A few dogs will forget why they are chasing you, and stop.

Get off and walk: Some dogs will chase a cyclist, but leave a pedestrian alone. Even if one doesn't, at least you won't crash. Walk with your bike between you and the dog. You can combine this strategy with either the angry or "nice doggy" approach. Sometimes it helps to squirt the dog with your water bottle. If the dog continues to threaten you, pick up your bike and use it as a shield.

Group strategies: If riding in a group, sometimes one cyclist can distract the dog (by stopping and trying either the angry or "nice doggy" approach) while his/her companions ride quietly by. This doesn't always work, though, and it's very difficult to block a dog that wants to lay chase.

Dog Strategies to Avoid

Sprint at the last minute: Some suggest that you may be able to confuse a dog by slowing down, then sprinting like crazy at the last possible moment. Even if your top speed can beat the dog's, good luck trying to out-accelerate a dog over a short distance. Exception—if the dog is bolting at you and might collide with your front wheel, sprint for all you're worth. If the dog hits you behind your front wheel, you might go down. If it hits your front wheel, you will go down.

Pepper spray: Pepper spray can end up places that you never intended, like on you or your riding companions. This is especially risky to try from the saddle—you'll have one hand off your bars and you'll be distracted.

Squirt your water bottle from the saddle: While less risky than pepper spray, you still need to take a hand off your bars while you're distracted.

Fight back: Some suggest hitting the dog with your frame pump or kicking it. Careful—any sudden lateral motion while on a bike can throw you off balance. You'll either have only one hand on the bars or only one foot clipped in, further exacerbating the situation. Besides, if using your pump, it will break. If you insist on fighting back, at least dismount first.

Friendly dogs: Some think that a friendly dog poses no threat. Don't be fooled. Unlike an angry dog, a friendly dog is unpredictable. It may dance around and hop in your path. Or, it may jump on you, pushing you off balance or, worse, putting a paw through your spokes, causing you to take a flier.

If you get bitten, seek medical attention immediately and report it to the police. You owe it to your fellow cyclists to report the dog before it becomes a repeat offender. Also, report any dog that chases you every time you pass its house.

1) Fiedler, David; Dogs and Bikes: How to Respond When "Man's Best Friend" Isn't So Friendly
2) Dog Psychology 101;

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