We cyclists face three potential dangers every time we get out on the road: traffic, dangerous weather, and unrestrained dogs. Don’t get me wrong– I love dogs. We have two of our own; lovable mutts with very few psychiatric problems. I certainly spend enough time sprawling on the floor petting them. But some things just don’t mix: Oil and water. Drinking and driving. Diabetes and cheesecake. Steel guitar and rap. And of course, bicycling and dogs.
Let’s cut to the chase (ouch!). You are perched on two wheels, maybe an inch wide. Your balance depends on your continuing forward motion (which, ironically, depends on your balance). Anything that hits you or your bike can spell disaster. The dog does not see an athlete out training and minding his or her own business. He sees a shiny object that smells like meat and moves like prey; some sort of Lycra-covered wildebeest just asking to be brought down. Instinct takes over.
How a cyclist should respond to this predator depends on a variety of factors, not the least of which is its doggie personality. In my years riding the backroads, field research you might say, I have noted a few patterns of behavior in different types of dogs. Feel free to save this unscientific-but-handy reference guide.
Blue Heeler: Characterized by short stubby legs, pointy muzzle, no neck, grey and black speckled coat, surly disposition and obscenely high speed. If there is a docile specimen of this type dog anywhere, it must be on Prozac. On the plus side, I’ve heard they are great for sprint training.
Dachshunds: Well-known for stubbornness, a Dachshund may look like a wiener on the outside but he is a lion on the inside. He is determined to chase you and your bicycle away from his property. You might want to slow down to allow him to do this. Don’t worry–he probably can’t reach high enough to bite your ankle.
Great Pyrenees: Large white dogs often mistaken for Polar bears at first glance. Are they aggressive? It just depends. Sorry, I have no idea what it depends on. A small ranch located a few miles from us boasted three Pyrenees of the territorial persuasion. Usually fenced well back from the road, they barked furiously as we passed. A bit closer to home, two other Pyrenees neighbors lounge on the grass right at the edge of the road. Sometimes I pass less than four feet from them, yet they hardly bother to twitch an ear. These particular specimens are my kind of dogs.
Labrador Retrievers: A bit goofy, almost* universally friendly. Though I feel nervous whenever I see a large canine silhouette looming up ahead, I breathe a sigh of relief if I recognize a Lab. Granted, you should still use caution. He may carelessly wander right in front of you, or knock you flat trying to get you to play. But then he will look down at you with deep concern and, more than likely, lick your face.
* A very important “almost.” Some Labs are aggressive.
Rottweilers: a medium-sized dog with a shiny black and tan coat. I am thankful to say I have never seen one that was not fenced. This dog exudes silent aggression. He usually doesn’t bark; he just lunges at the fence making little hungry sounds as you pass. Rottweilers have no tail because the first time they get angry, they yank it off and use it to beat someone to death.
My husband Brent says you should just outrun a pursuing dog. Not being the Hammerhead he is, that seldom works for me. So I started carrying pepper spray. (“Halt!” is formulated for dogs & does not harm them.) It was a little awkward the first couple of times I pulled it out. On my first try I failed to push the button hard enough to spray at all. The second attempt was only slightly better. The spray was in my right hand, the dog on my left side. I managed to hose my left arm with the stuff. And you thought Irish Spring was tingly! Brent called me “Barney Fife” for days. But with a little practice, most of us get along nicely with pepper spray. You may not even need to spray it. If you merely aim it the experienced dog will stay just out of range, which is what you want. As a pepper spray substitute, a blast to the face with your water bottle will generally confuse Bowser and buy you some time.
Most dogs will not actually eat you, but I am just too chicken to charge past one in my path. Even a friendly one can move the wrong way and cause a nasty spill. Yelling “Stay!” sometimes works. Or I sweet-talk them, such a good puppy, and they often slow down. If there is any doubt about getting safely past, I stop, get off the bike on the side away from him, and walk until he stops bothering me. I know there is a risk every time I stop, but I figure if he’s going to eat me, I would rather not wipe out all over the pavement first.
So that’s everything I know: enemy identification, evasive maneuvers, weapons, and tactics. Here’s wishing you many safe miles on the road, and may all the dogs you encounter be fenced… or at least slow.
Thanks for reading!