How To Deal With Aggressive Dogs On Your Ride
A few years back, cycling enthusiast Bill Moses was cruising along with two other riders on the final leg of a seven-day charity ride. About halfway through the route – with the trio a bit strung out in single file and Moses bringing up the rear – they passed a house with two teenage girls hanging out on their front lawn with two German Shepherds. What had been a pleasant, sunny Saturday quickly turned dark.
“As the first rider passed, both dogs gave chase, but were unable to catch the first rider,” he recalls. “I reached for my water bottle to squirt the dogs, but at that point the chase became an attack.” One of the dogs had caught the rider in front of him by the calf and pulled him from his bike onto the ground.
“As he lay on the ground, both dogs were biting him, one at the calf and one at the shoulder,” Moses recounts. “I dismounted with my bike between myself and the dogs. I was able to give the dog attacking his leg a good kick in the side, which sent him retreating back to the house. The girls were screaming at the second dog to stop, but it kept attacking.”
At that point, Moses saw no choice but to use his bike as a weapon. “I hit the dog with the wheels of my bicycle. Amazingly, even after being hit several times, it continued attacking the downed rider,” he recalls. Just as Moses was seriously contemplating how to kill the dog to save the cyclist, the adult owner ran over and as quickly as the dog began the attack, it stopped and ran into the house. The owner apologized and called an ambulance. The rider, who is still too traumatised to want to talk about the attack, ended up with an ambulance ride to the local emergency room, where he received multiple stitches in his calf and shoulder.
Shaken, but otherwise okay, Moses saddled up and rejoined the group. Later in the ride, someone made a crack that it was like a scene from the cheesy classic nature show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But as anyone who’s actually been through one will attest, dog attacks are no laughing matter. There are a staggering 4.5 million dog bites in the U.S. every year, 850,000 of which require medical attention. While there are no firm statistics detailing how many of those attacks involve cyclists, our informal social media poll triggered an avalanche of scary stories peppered with words like “terrifying,” “stitches,” and “surgeries,” making man’s best friend look more like a frenemy at best.
For many cyclists, that’s exactly what they are. Ron Berman, a dog behaviour expert, notes that while most dogs will lick you to death off your bike, many actually see you as prey to take down once you’re all kitted up and humming past their territory at speed.
“Dogs are descendants of predators who chased down prey,” explains Berman, who has trained over 10,000 dogs. “[This lineage] leads them to react highly to things going by them fast, such as skateboards, bicycles, motorcycles, and cars. It’s part of their predatory aggression.” So what’s an unsuspecting buck, er, cyclist to do in the face of instincts? Here’s what Berman recommends.
Outsprint it. We’ve all done it. We all know it. If you can take the dog in the sprint, do it. It’s better for everyone involved. The average dog can sprint about 30km/h, though some are way faster (see: greyhound). You can beat that if you see it coming. Unfortunately, you don’t always see it coming. Or you’re going up a hill.
In which case if you are in a dog attack…
Deter or scare the bejeezus out of it.
You can startle a less-aggressive dog in its tracks by simply yelling in your deepest “master” voice, “Go home!” and maybe squirting it with your water bottle. Some cyclists carry pepper spray, but its effectiveness is dependent upon aim, which can be pretty tricky on the fly. Instead, Berman recommends a “dog horn,” which is an air horn for dogs. “If the dog can’t be avoided I suggest an air horn like the ones they use on boats. They come in smaller can-sized versions and deliver a very loud burst of sound that shocks most dogs.” Remember: Dogs have really keen hearing so it probably sounds like a nuclear explosion to them. They’ll run for cover.
Protect yourself from it.
If you can’t deter the dog and confrontation is imminent, stop, put the bike between you and the dog, and avoid eye contact. “Most times, if you stop moving, it will mitigate the dog’s aggression – but having an ‘air horn’ or ‘repellent’ can really make a difference,” Berman says. If all goes well and the dog gets bored and moves on, slowly back away until it’s out of sight.
Give it something to chew on.
If the dog goes into attack mode, give it anything but yourself to chew on. In this case, your bike is your best shield. “Sometimes they’ll just bite the tyres,” Berman says. Which, of course, beats biting you.
Okay. Super bad scenario: You find yourself in a full-on attack. The best defense is to be as unlike prey as possible and play dead. The Humane Society recommends curling into a ball with your hands over your ears and staying still. Try not to scream or roll around.
If you do get bitten, The Humane Society advises:
• Immediately wash the wound(s) with soap and warm water.
• Get medical assistance.
• Report the bite to your local animal control agency. They will come and do a basic investigation.
If you end up injured, Berman adds, it’s a smart idea to get a good lawyer so you don’t find yourself saddled with medical bills you don’t deserve. More than one rider we polled went to court and got compensation to cover the expenses of a really, really bad day on the bike. Stay safe.