QUESTION: How do cyclists deal with dogs? I live in a rural area where some people let their dogs run loose. Some dogs have charged me when I’ve ridden past their houses. I already avoid certain routes because of aggressive dogs. Got any advice?
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: That’s a good question. You’re not the only rider who avoids routes with troublesome dogs.
There’s no single solution that works in every situation, in part because of the difference in temperament from one dog to the next, and in part because getting bitten is not the only risk dogs can present to cyclists.
Regarding getting bitten, a little perspective may be useful. I’ve pedaled about 100,000 lifetime miles (can’t be exact since I didn’t keep records in my earlier years) and have ridden coast-to-coast and in more than half of the U.S. states as well on one Caribbean island. Along the way, I have managed to excite plenty of canines who have chased or challenged me while I rode by their domain, but I’ve actually been bitten by a dog only once, and it was just nip. In contrast, I’ve been bitten twice while not on the bike — once by a neighbor’s dog and once by an unrestrained dog on a city street.
I have a friend who also has over 100,000 lifetime miles and another who has double that, and neither has ever been bitten while on the bike. They attribute that mostly to luck and a combination of some of the defense measures I mention below.
Of course, my experience and that of my friends is no guarantee that your luck will be similar, and it only takes one encounter with a dog who doesn’t give up to sour or even end your riding experience.
The other threat to cyclists from unrestrained dogs is that they can cause you to have an accident. An acquaintance once found himself with a litter of puppies swarming around his bike, and while trying to avoid hitting them, he lost control of the bike, and fell, breaking his arm. Another rider I know of, being charged by an aggressive canine, became so rattled that she crashed and was severely injured before the animal even got to her.
While I’ve only been bitten once while on the bike, I’ve had one encounter that could have ended much worse. I was riding up a long hill, so I wasn’t moving fast. Near the top was a house, and right before it was a hedge perpendicular to the road. As I passed it, a huge, brown dog hurtled out from behind the hedge — apparently the sneak had been lying in wait for me. Before I had time to even think of any kind of defense, the brute plowed into me broadside, sending me crashing onto the road. He then ran off.
At that point, a woman, hearing the commotion, came out of the house and called the dog, saying “Here, Goliath. Here, Goliath.” She made a big fuss over whether the dog was hurt. (He wasn’t.) Only belatedly did she ask if I was okay. I was banged up a bit, but not seriously hurt. But the impact had damaged the cage on my front derailleur.
There are also a few dog owners who will stand in their yard and watch their dog hound you, without even calling it back. It makes you wonder whether it’s the dog or the owner who ought to be confined.
As I said, there is no single solution, but here are some defenses that sometimes work:
The first is shouting. What you shout is not important, so long as you shout fiercely and loud. I usually yell “Go home!” Some dogs will be frightened or confused by your shouts and give up the chase. The shout may also alert the animal’s owner to call the dog back.
Another tactic is speed, where you outrun the dog. In general, this works only if the dog is some distance away when starting its run at you. If you are headed uphill at the time, you may not be able to generate enough speed to pull this escape off. Kicking at the dog while you are still on the bike is very risky, and if the mutt grabs your foot, you’ll almost certainly crash.
If it you can’t outrun the animal you’re sometimes better to stop, dismount and keep the bike between you and the dog while you walk past the ground he is defending — usually the property Fido considers “his.” Once off the bike, you can continue to yell. In one such circumstance, my “Go home!” command, combined with my outstretched arm pointing toward his home, caused the dog to literally hang his head and go home. More often, the dog may stand his ground and keep barking, but when you are no longer moving rapidly, all the fun is taken out of the chase, and the continued barking has a “and see that you don’t come back again” ring to it.
Another common defense is pepper spray (one brand is called Halt, which is used by mail carriers) that you fire toward the dog’s face. It stings their eyes and nose and will often cause a charging dog to stop. It does no lasting harm to the dog. The downsides are 1), it’s hard to aim and still steer your bike and thus you risk crashing, 2) the direction of the wind can cause the pepper stream to deviate from where you’ve aimed it — in a strong wind, it may even blow back toward you — and 3) some dogs are not deterred by the spray.
One of the most generally effective weapons is a loud air horn that makes a frightful sound. I first realized this years ago on a ride when a Doberman charged me from a house I was passing. I was in the far lane, but as he entered the near lane, an oncoming semi blasted his horn. The dog did a rapid about face. I tried to duplicate this with a small hand-held horn attached to a gas canister, which I carried on the bike for several months, but the first time I really needed it, all the gas had leaked out. Now, however, you can get one for your bike where the tank can be recharged with a bike pump. The controls mount on your handlebars where you can activate the horn without letting go of bars. See one model here. And here’s a video of the horn in action, shot from a bike-mounted camera.
Another version of the frightful noise defense is to throw specially prepared “adult snap pops” onto the road. They are party fireworks that explode on impact. This article, from a Road Bike Rider contributor, tells how to make them suitable for dog defense while cycling.
If all else fails, swing your bike as a weapon.
If you’re bothered by a particular dog, consider reporting it to the local dog warden. Without evidence, and if you haven’t been injured, some officials may be reluctant to act, but the same rider who videoed the dogs responding to the air horn took a video of another charging dog to the appropriate warden. Seeing the video, the warden looked up the address from which the dog had come and found no dog license on record. He then visited the property, fined the dog owner for allowing the dog to roam unrestrained and also made him purchase a dog license. It all cost the owner about $300. The cyclist has ridden by that property several times since, and the dog was nowhere to be seen.
Dog laws vary from state to state, but there are often legal remedies if you have been bitten by a dog or crashed because of a dog. Here, for example, is some information from a lawyer in Ohio who specializes in such cases.
Dogs and their threat to cyclists remind us that no journey is totally without risk, but when the risk is generally manageable, we are poorer when we let the possibility of trouble deter us from riding.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.
Kenneth Pierce says
My biggest fear is the dog will come charging and be hit, I saw this once on a group ride and its not pretty. I can usually out ride the dog but sometimes conditions won’t allow this. So, I pull out my water bottle and give a forceful squirt at the dogs head and this startles them just enough for a clean breakaway. Safe for the dog and me, plus I don’t have to carry pepper spray or horns.
larry english says
really about all you can do is yell
taking hands off steering – it is a very bad time for that!
you cannot outrun a dog, period
even the little ones can hit 30 mph easily
the big ones, 35-40
maybe the dog will go away, yell NO
or the owner will come out and do something
ride as far away from dog as possible
tony m says
I would argue that what you yell DOES matter. I have always yelled “No” or “Stay”, since these are commands/words most dogs have heard before. It usually confuses them enough to slow down and allow me to get away. The other option if you can’t get away is a squirt to the face from your bottle. Even more effective if it’s some sports drink and you hit the eyes. Never had to do it, but I have heard about others using this technique effectively
I’ve also heard that dogs are very good at initially calculating intercept angles but not as good as making adjustments. Getting out of the saddle and sprinting might be enough to throw off that initial calculation.
Dogs – a failure… This was about 10 days prior to RAGBRAI, and I was on the RAGBRAI bike. A “juvenile” golden retriever came charging down an embankment toward my front wheel. Fortunately, no on-coming traffic, so I was able to dodge a bit. Rather than my front wheel, he got the bike right at the rear hub. There was no crash. HOWEVER, broken rim, broken derailleur hanger, and somehow a broken spring on a Campagnolo Profit pedal.
A “neighbor” heard all the barking (Puppy continued to be aggressive, and I needed to be off the bike using it as a shield) and gave me a ride back to my house. I was able to get a spare set of Campy wheels just in time for the ride, and I used MTB pedals that week. However, the derailleur was held in place by the QR skewer. (was beyond repair).
Craig Williams says
I read about the “dog poppers” on RBR a couple of years ago and have found it to be quite effective. Plus after any dog leaves its yard and comes onto the road, I make a call to our local Animal Control. They are good about contacting the owners, who mostly do a better job of keeping their animals contained. Owners and dogs come and go, so it’s an ongoing process.
Dan Boice says
Like Craig, I took note of the wonderful article by Greg Titus with the instructions for making his Dog Poppers, and they have made riding infinitely better in a rural area with lots of yard dogs. After a pop, the dogs stay out of the road, and many will scoot when they see me coming. No more having rides ruined by worrying about that evil dog up ahead! I would encourage RBR to rerun the article, and interested others just to Google “greg titus dog poppers” for an entertaining and ride-changing essay!
Leon Webster says
40 years ago when I first started riding, the dog problem was much worse. Dan Henry once told me that if you aren’t getting chased by dogs, you are riding the wrong roads. At first I carried Halt, but abandoned that when I found the can was empty while being chased by two st. Bernards. So I purchased a small Nalgene bottle, put a spray top on it, from an old winded bottle and filled it with a mixture of dilute ammonia and water. About 20% ammonia. I used that successfully to persuade dogs that chasing bicycles was not much fun.
Drew Morrison-Rowe says
My favorite is to yell “Get off of the couch!”. The dog understands exactly what you said, but is confused because they are not on the couch, so they have to slow down while they think about it. Has worked several times.
Gary Gartner says
I have seen this in action while riding with Drew, it’s brilliant!
Jim Newman says
Regarding yelling, I have used – at the top of your voice – “Get off the couch” a few times, and found that it works remarkably well. Not always, but enough.
Pinck dog says
No eye contact; show no interest and they lose interest; ride close to the edge of the road so that they have to run through the grass and rocks , etc which slows them down.
Wow, that was just about word for word of everything I said on a forum a couple of years back. Interesting.
The other stunt you can do, but this only works with full size frame pumps, is if you have a real sturdy one like the Zefal HPX is to use it as a Billy club and smash the dog on it’s nose. I did that one time, the owner was even out in his yard doing yard work, he never called his dog back…a Pitbull, I was climbing a grade so this critter caught up with me and was trying to bite my ankle so I took the pump and smacked him as hard as I could, the dog let out a scream and ran home while the owner was yelling at me that I hit is dog, so I yelled back and told him the next time that dog tries to attack me I’ll kill it, keep it in your yard, he didn’t respond. When I put the pump back onto the frame I checked the pump out for damage and found blood all over the end, but the pump was fine.
Richard Kovalik says
Always carry a firearm and don’t be afraid of using it.
Gas powered BB Gun. Get their attention with no permanent damage.
If this happens repeatedly for a particular dog and the owner has been notified, you can sue the owner (and homeowner if the house is rented) in small claims court for nuisance and emotional distress. Small claims courts have low limits for the amounts of claims, but it will get the owner’s attention and may get you some compensation!
Lady Cyclist says
Usually, although of course, not always city dogs are fenced or restrained. That leaves mostly what we refer to as “country dogs”. Yelling as loudly as possible has been effective; water bottle spray has been effective, but nothing, and I mean nothing has been effective against the dreaded chihuahua that literally will chase for miles barking the entire time and always going for your ankles. My worst dog encounters have always been with the smallest dogs!
Squirting with my water bottle worked for one yappy mutt on my daily commute. It got to the point where I had him trained: all he had to do was see me reaching for the water bottle and he would peel right off.
Years later, after I had stopped commuting, I encountered the same dog. I reached for the water bottle and even though he hadn’t seen me for a good 4 – 5 years, off he went. Go figure.
My prime thought when faced with a chasing dog is keeping control of my bike. Most serious injuries I’ve seen result from the rider crashing rather than a dog bite itself. Most dogs are not intent to bite anyway, and even ‘playful’ dogs can crash you, Other thoughts-
1- ALWAYS report an aggressive unrestrained dog to the local authorities. In many areas law enforcement cannot take any action unless the dog has been previously reported as being aggressive.
2- Shout “No,NO,NO” repeatedly as LOUD as you can at the dog. Volume is key.
3- Only try to outrun a small or overweight dog, especially going uphill. Athletic Dobermans can outpace Mark Cavendish.
4. If you try squirting water- aim for the dog’s face to get its attention. Spraying its back is useless.
5- Kicking at a chasing dog is a high-risk maneuver., although I have seen it done successfully on occasion. (mostly be very experienced mountain bikers)
6- If you choose to dismount to face the dog- Dismount EARLY and quickly grab your bike by the seat stay and front fork. Hold it horizontally with the chainrings facing the dog. This keeps the dog farther away from you, and if the dog lunges at you those chainrings become a deterrent against further attacks.
7- NEVER use sprays like HALT upwind. You can get the brunt of the spray back in your own face.
Dave H says
Was taken down by a young great dane a few years back. She came into the road roght in front of me, I was doing 20mph. I was on the ground so fast I couldn’t believe it. Result? Broken fork, damaged front wheel found on the other side of the road and of course road rash. The home owner paid for repairs (about $800) with home owners insurance. Moral of the story, don’t hesitate to approach home owners to pay for repairs.
Dogs haven’t been an issue in recent years living in a more urban area. In the past a squirt from the water bottle has been effective several times. Once the wet-faced aggressor shook its head and sat down in the road. Equally effective has been using a dog as sprint training, as long you have a moment to get the legs moving. I’ve never tried a full-length frame pump for canine polo as that could not end well for spokes.
Bruce Miller says
Lots of good suggestions. In the country, have had the most success with a loud marine airhorn. Seeing a charging dog do a 180 and retreat after its sound makes your day!