Road cyclists face a litany of concerns when out on the open road – chief among them are dogs. Even non-cyclists are aware of the dogs lining the rural roads we ride so frequently. What non-cyclists probably aren’t aware of is the damage that a dog can do to a cyclist traveling at even a sauntering pace.
On cycling forums and social networking sites alike, contact with dogs is almost as common as run-ins with irate or unaware motorists. Dogs greet cyclists happy or mad as hell, but they are always running. They NEVER walk.
Ninety percent of the time, I could care less what mental state a dog is in when (s)he’s galloping towards me. I’m more concerned that Fido is about to collide with my front wheel, sending me careening over the handlebars, or worse yet, into traffic.
I’m no dog whisperer, but during my many miles on a bicycle, I’ve encountered some beasts and come away unscathed. Let me offer a few tips.
1) Be aware and proactive. Never lower your head or take your eyes off of the road and peripheral roadsides. A dog has never jumped from wooded-cover to attack me. Dogs emanate from yards. Look for yards. Listen for barks. Be ready to coast. If other riders accompany you, warn them of the dogs and spread apart. At this point, inexperienced cyclists pose more of a threat to you than a 90-pound German shepherd.
2) Be cool, like Miles-Davis-cool. Do not yell at the dog. It angers them and it makes the people you are riding with unsure of your mental stability. Yelling at a dog is akin to yelling at a 15 year old, testosterone fueled, teenager with rocks to throw. It angers them. Assess the situation and slow gradually. Are there cars approaching from behind or ahead? If so, be predictable. Nine times out of ten, being hit by a car hurts worse than hitting a dog.
Anticipate his trajectory. Some dogs will “lead you”. Dogs that can do calculus are experienced and in it for a thrill. They are not killers.
3) Think like a dog. No matter how much you love your pooch, admit it, they’re not that smart. They don’t understand that their domain ends at an arbitrary distance from the centerline of the road. They might even think you’re invading their home. We will never know.
Dogs are at their wildest when they are chasing their prey. YOU are their prey. Do not threaten a wild animal. Pain caused by pepper-spray, a bottle thrown at his haunches, or a shoe to his skull will not endear the animal to you. Neither will yelling. Speak calmly and keep pedaling.
4) Last resort: be a badass. I know a guy who carried a 22 pistol and shot a dog that had repeatedly attacked him. Depending upon your level of desperation and/or familiarity with firearms, this is probably a bit extreme. Some riders prefer pepper spray. The danger of pepper spray is that it can easily affect you and those you ride with. Besides, it’s extremely ineffective on enraged animals, and it means fumbling through your jersey pockets in the heat of battle. For an advanced option, try kicking the animal in the head. Sometimes they collapse and you ride away, but even an ineffective blow will make them reconsider further advances. If you have to get off your bike, use it as a barrier to keep the dog away until you can call for help.
Some final thoughts:
Cyclists: Remember, if you’re unsure, ask someone to ride with you. There are dogs that are vicious and should be reported. But do not be a vigilante. Rural folks who have yard animals will not take kindly to some hippy kid in spandex threatening them with calling the cops. In fact, avoid owners all together. If there’s a dog, report it to the appropriate jurisdiction AFTER you’ve finish your workout. Many police appreciate the complaints, because they deal with aggressive dogs as often as you do. Be kind and calm to everyone; they’ll be more likely to listen. They may not like you. But they’ll write it down and warn the owners.
Dog owners: If you’re aware that your dog chases cyclists, maybe it’s time to consider a buried electric barrier. Don’t get me wrong, where I grew up, we always had a dog roaming the yard, pestering livestock, or chasing cars. Some were lost to the allure of rapidly rotating tires – I’m forever affected by the memory of Mom’s ‘86 Oldsmobile thumping over our favorite collie. Some just ran away. But remember, in many states, you as a dog owner are liable for damages to a car, truck, or cyclist’s health and equipment. I’d gander that a good lawyer could rapidly extract 15 to 20 grand from your bank account to pay for a bruised elbow and fancy bike.
Be cool, like Miles-Davis-cool.