How to Stop a Charging Dog

Feb 11, 2019

Many cyclists have had to deal with charging dogs while riding bicycles. They speak of wrecks, losing a shoe, ripped pant legs, and even socks with teeth marks. There have been damaged wheels, bent frames, and other instances of unthinkable canine carnage. So, how can this be prevented?

Biologist and animal lover, Adriana Heguy explains it this way: “Dogs chase cars because they have a prey drive. Prey drive is an instinctive behavior in carnivores that must seek, pursue, capture, and eat prey. Different dogs have different components of the prey drive. What a dog chases — balls, squirrels, cars, or cyclists — is dependent on the dog, but the component is always the same: the instinctual drive to chase something that is getting away from them. And that chase instinct is triggered by fast movements.”

Methods to Stop the Chase

Everyone has their own way of dealing with aggressive dogs. If you're fast enough or already heading downhill, you might just outrun the dog, although that has its own share of danger. However, if you're fairly comfortable with dogs, the best bet is to play to their instincts:

Stop Riding

The best method for showing that you're not prey is to stop riding and call to the dog. Be authoritative. Most times, the dog's attitude will change dramatically, tail wagging and ready to play or will lose interest entirely. If it doesn't, it's best to keep the bike between you and the dog and back away slowly.

Pepper Spray 

Trying to hit a charging dog in the face with pepper spray has bad odds of being successful. Personally, it would be my guess that a very small percentage of us are coordinated enough to pull this off while riding. To use pepper spray successfully, you'll have to stop riding anyway and let the dog get within spraying distance, so start with the Stop Riding method to see if that works before unleashing the spray.

Dog Bones

In mid-chase, a dog probably isn't paying attention to anything other than your tasty or threatening ankle bones. You may have better luck squirting an energy gel in its face, although dog bones arguably taste better.

Water Bottle

I have tried to spray water in a dog's face once, but my thought quickly switched to, “That was dumb. I am already low on water and I have 10 miles to go.” Like the pepper spray, the dog needs to be close enough for any intended effect, thus making the animal think twice about continuing the chase. However, for most of us, it would be refreshing to have water sprayed in our faces, especially on a hot July ride. For Fido, it may be the same.

Air Horn

This practical advice comes from my riding buddy, Kenny Ginn. The economy-size air horn fits well in an accessory bag, or it can be easily Velcroed to your bike.

The best part of an air horn to deter a chasing dog is that you can simply point it in a dog's general direction without careful aiming. You just push the button and BLAST. It works. One or two short bursts will likely end the pursuit or at least break the dog’s stride, giving the rider enough time to put distance between themselves and man's best friend.

Adventure Cycling's Favorite Fan Suggestions

  • Party snaps
  • Party poppers (cyclists love parties)
  • Whistles of all kinds

Whatever action you choose, make sure it's the right one for you and successfully changes the dog's behavior. 

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This story has been updated and was originally published on May 18, 2017.


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Hudson March 6, 2022, 8:31 PM

I cycled from Canada to Colombia over 9 months and had 2 close encounters with dogs that forced me to use the pepper spray that I kept accessible in the side pocket of my handlebar bag. It worked as desired.

Pepper spray also doubles as some kind of defense for humans if necessary.

John Haugen-Wente March 24, 2021, 2:20 PM

Bark loudly at the dog, as if you are the biggest baddest dog in the neighborhood. It will stop a dog in it's tracks. He will put his tail between his legs and run back from where he came. I have a deep voice, and it has never failed to get rid of an aggressive dog. Don't know if it would work for everybody, but on multiple occasions barking loudly has been my go to solution.

Rob St. John September 21, 2020, 1:49 PM

I worked for almost my entire career in large wilderness areas in MT and WY. I always carried bear spray as one of redundant deterrent methods. Even when walking the 1/4 mile to the office 6AM, just in case. Moose were just as much a threat as bears. This experience led me to have a fanny pack with bear spray in one of the outside pockets when ever I walk or ride with my dogs in the woods or in town. On more than one occasion I have had to have the spray at the ready, mostly for unruly dogs. I use to have a ridge I would hike/run up outside of Bozeman. One day, I topped the ridge as started four mountain lions off a deer kill (3 kits and their mom). I pivoted my fanny pack and grabbed inside the fanny pack for the....water bottle???....Doah. Had to laugh at myself for that, and learned to carry the spray on the outside pocket. I have had it out for lions more than once, wolverine, griz and black bear, moose, dogs, and even for people.

Scott Rempel July 16, 2020, 12:37 PM

I ride a recumbent in windy, faming country, so don't have the option of sprinting (usually). Bear spray has been very effective. It shoots 30 feet, but dogs have always been 4-8 feet away when I shot them. It's still a solid stream that close, so I shoot in their mouth and eyes. In each case, they stopped immediately and never made a sound. Labs learned after one time, blue heelers never learn or stop for awhile and need to be re-educated. My one experience with American bulldogs/pitbulls was that both stopped immediately and just looked at me. It's non-lethal and doesn't hurt them.

Don June 19, 2019, 12:35 PM

When I was young, I could outrun the dogs I encountered, but alas, I'm not the sprinter I used to be. These days, I come to a stop and talk in a friendly voice, and while I'm doing this, I watch the dog's body language. If they keep looking in the direction of travel, making false starts, and perhaps wagging their tail, I know they probably just want the chase and I go on being friendly and calm. Most of these dogs quiet down and usually I can pet them (I like dogs). If, instead, a dog continues to look straight at me, growling, and I notice its movements are more deliberate and threatening, I speak in commands and I dismount to shield myself with my bike. If this commotion brings the owner to call off the dog, so much the better. If not, I try to walk my bike away. On my most recent trip, three dogs came out and actually exhibited pack behavior: two kept me occupied in front while the third circled around behind. As soon as I saw this, I changed my tone of voice, and surprisingly, they became almost obedient. When I rode off, they made a few snapping attempts at my back tire, but as I had a better sense of them by then, I just kept going and was fine. I don't suppose anything works all the time, but in 38 years of riding, I've never been bit, nor have I injured myself trying to escape. I've come to enjoy these encounters most of the time. Often the dogs, horses, cats, etc., I meet along the way make my ride even more pleasant. I guess it depends a little on each rider's level of comfort and what it is they enjoy about touring.

Molly R. June 7, 2019, 6:02 PM

Excellent article

Rob St. John September 21, 2020, 1:27 PM

*1 on this. In addition, the comments are extremely important as they reflect real experiences riders have had.

J May 14, 2019, 1:11 PM

I encountered numerous dogs in urban and rural areas while walking, bicycling, and many other situations. I plan to never be bitten, but there were several very close calls primarily when entering someones property (for legitimate reasons). My only experience with a pack of > 3 dogs consisted of about 8 roaming dogs that did not stop their aggressive approach when I momentarily stood my ground while on a snowmobile -the authorities handled the situation shortly thereafter.

Preparing for encounters before they happen and assessment and mentality during encounters are key to avoiding being bitten. I usually use my voice and an appropriate level of dominant attitude given the dogs actions, sometimes my bicycle, a stick can be a useful item if I am already holding it, but it can also bring on an attack if utilized improperly. I take pepper spray, but have yet to use it. I have cycled away from dogs that were at a distance or small.

My front bicycle light's high intensity strobe setting (about 100-130+Watts) is very fast and varies intensity as it flashes. I have deterred the several, lone aggressive dogs with it during evening and night hours -not yet needed during midday hours. It can be disconnected quickly from its mount. Most dogs charged, stopped, and those that didn't turn and run then tried to change position and get closer, but I kept it in their eyes. One was persistent (maybe 10 minutes), but with only one aggressive dog I could keep it up as long as the batteries hold. I do attempt to get out of the direct upwind position and stay on the far side of my bike. (I have found some strobe lights to be too slow or low intensity to work.)

Dog treats or other foods are not (in my experience) a good option to rely on as they will NOT distract most chasing or territorial dogs and they serve as an attractant for dogs and other animals that might otherwise leave you alone. When the treat does not work, one might have little to no time to attempt another tactic.

J May 15, 2019, 9:46 AM

*100-130 lumens -Not Watts

Nancy March 1, 2019, 10:57 AM

I rode my bike across the USA and was chased by many dogs. Mostly in rural areas where no one seems to have leash laws. One day it was 5 times! I was really really tired of being chased. So the last one was chasing a vehicle headed towards me. The dog stopped chasing the car and started to come towards me. We were closing fast. Being fed up with being run down, I got off my bike and put it between me and the dog as it was approaching. The dog stopped and just looked at me, for sometime. It was a standoff. I waited, he waited, I got tired of waiting for the attack to start! I finally yelled..."Go the hell home!" The dog turned and ran off. I assume he made it home. Note to self...don't try to outrun them. Be forceful and tell them to go the hell home! LOL!

TIm February 22, 2019, 6:47 AM

I've also had my share of dog chases over the years. Only once have I actually had a dog bite me on the bike. And that was due to my own miscalculation. It grabbed my leg as I went by (I saw it, but assumed by it's posture that it wouldn't move toward me) and pulled me down. When I stood up, it was wagging it's tail and looking like it wa ready to play. The event was over.

And I've had to use different techniques dependent on the situation. I have outrun dogs. I tried to pepper spray one once, but that was totally ineffective. And I was once attacked by an emaciated pitbull while I was riding up a very steep hill, >18% grade, which forced me to stop when I saw it coming. I dismounted quickly and put the bike between me and the dog. It was determined, but each time it came for me, I maneuvered the bike to block the charge. It was a fairly lengthy standoff, with lots of spinning and yelling. But in the end, I had the advantage with better health. The dog eventually tired and slinked away.

So, I am a huge proponent of the 'use your bike' as a barrier mentality. And be aware of what is going on around you.

Clark Carroll February 13, 2019, 12:07 PM

Several times, I have dismounted, removed helmet, and chased dog swinging helmet and yelling something like don't mess with me I am a mailman.Never failed. 30 years as a mailman, was only bit (2x) when I tried to diffuse the situation calmly. But then that's just me.

Jenny Lucier January 30, 2018, 8:25 AM

Hands down: party poppers are the best. Worked like a charm this summer for all dogs encountered on our coast to coast adventure summer 2017 (4500 miles).

Rob St. John September 21, 2020, 1:29 PM

But then you have to stop and pick up all the confetti ;-)

How about those fireworks that you throw hard on the ground hard and they pop? Or perhaps the ones that have two strings and that you pull in opposite directions?

Ken Jessett January 6, 2018, 3:14 PM

Nothing works to stop a 'charging' dog. I have been taken off my bike far too many times to list and been bitten a few times, but in almost every case the dog(s) came out of nowhere. If see a dog now I stop and walk the bike until it loses interest.

Stephen Mikesell October 28, 2017, 2:39 PM

I once had a girlfriend who had worked as letter carrier for the USPS in Chicago. All the other letter carriers suffered all kinds of trouble from dogs and were afraid of them. She on the other hand carried dog biscuits and had a big following of dogs who looked forward to her arrival and followed her on the route (this was before leash laws).

I found that where people ride bikes all the time dogs generally ignore bicyclists, but where bicycling is rare they will chase them. I've only been bitten once, in Birmingham, Alabama, where in a year I only saw 5 bicyclists, two of whom were policeman and one was a drunk laying in the bushes who informed me that his name was "bicycle Bob"--evidently a fixture of the area. A monstrous Alsatian once came tearing across a field in Minnesota south of Minneapolis, and thinking I was a goner I stopped and waited for my fate, but he turned out to be very friendly. Like many others it seemed he was bored and looking for attention. All other dogs up to now, including in rural Nepal, have chased and then left me alone.

Pat McAllister October 21, 2017, 9:35 AM

I ride in the rural south and have had many encounters with dogs. For most dogs, just pointing at them and yelling "get off the couch" works pretty good. Sometimes I stop if the dog keeps coming and continue yelling. The real problem arises when there are more than 2 dogs. When you stop one will try to get in behind you. I have used Halt on a few occasions.

I did have a small dog get under my wheel once in a subdivision which caused me to crash. A second suburban incident occurred when a leashed lab on an extending leash was being walked by a young girl. The lab was barking at another dog behind a fence about 15 feet away. I was easing between them when the lab pulled the girl hard enough to grab my ankle. Doctor's dog bites lawyer.

But I really like the party popper idea. Gonna get me some of those.

Josh July 1, 2017, 9:54 AM

When walking on rural roads, I carry three things - A five foot walking stick, 7 oz. bear pepper spray, and 9mm. My experience is that a charging dog (which is just defending his home) will attack the stick when pointed at him, then the pepper spray (which goes out to 30 feet and a 6 foot diameter) slows him down. If he persists, I drop him. I don't take chances with loose dogs. The owner might not be happy, but the owner is the problem, not the dog. The dog should be confined. You might have to end up defending yourself from the owner as well, but that's ok. Human idiots need to be taught lessons.

scandalized April 8, 2022, 4:10 PM

How do I flag a murderous comment for removal?

Daniel February 17, 2019, 10:06 AM

Let's see if I understand, you fail to understand dogs behaviors and instincts and how to manage them and instead shoot them? And then blame the owner? How about shoot the owner... (kidding)

Joseph Morris June 15, 2017, 12:07 PM

Another dismount-er here. Repeatedly tested in rural Ecuador where every fourth house has an un-leashed dog. Unlike other commenters that confronted or tried to make friends with the dog, I just dismount (on the non-dog side) and keep walking, ignoring the dog. Most keep barking for a while, but all stop chasing, and once you get past their territory they give up. Of course, if I had enough of a head start or I'm on a downhill, I just outrun them.

Cerdic Wills May 27, 2017, 5:16 AM

Thanks for the marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you are a great author.

Mark Herman May 22, 2017, 11:05 AM

When I rode my transcon two years ago I mostly I just tried to outrun them, and shout "no" when they get to close. When that failed I also used the "stop and interact" method. One farm dog in Oregon corralled me into a lemonade stand run by his family. So that worked out well. If safety allows crossing the road is enough for many dogs - they are often taught to stay out of the road. I had bear spray with me but never wanted to waste it on a dog. Thought I might need it for a human once.

Seven years ago I carried a can of Halt when I rode the southern 1/3 of the UGRR and used it maybe four times. All in Tennessee. I agree that it is a bit problematic to use. Upon reflection I felt I was being a bit trigger happy. In one case two dogs were "happily" chasing me. They got close. I squirted. One dog veered off. The other went from a "happy" expression to "pissed" expression. Seriously, I think I made things quite a bit worse. Fortunately, I outran him. So I quit carrying Halt.

One comment above type-cast dogs by breed. That is probably not a bad approach, but I would amend his description. (1) Small dogs can be the most problematic. Call it a Napoleon complex. They are the most likely to chase, and can get right under your pedals. (2) Shepard mixes and other breeds that are often used as guarding dogs are the ones that I watch most carefully. Most of the time they don't consider you to be worth worrying about. The ones that do are the most likely to cause damage. But I'm probably biased by my experience with my grandfather's dog...

Delinda Hood May 20, 2017, 8:26 PM

I can't out run them, my high pitch voice does nothing to stop them, and after being chased by a pack of 5 on the Southen Tier I had to come up with a new plan. In my search I discovered Party Snaps. You know those tiny things you toss on the ground and they pop. I now keep a zip lock bag of them on me and when dogs start charging after me I toss a few their way and the tuck their tails and run. I don't have to worry about pointing pepper spray or my water battle at them, These just have to be tossed near them. I'm currently on the Route 66 tour and gave then to some of the other riders who have the same problem, although I must say we've had very few dog encounters on this tour so they haven't gotten to fully test them. These can generally be purchased at WalMarts and Dollar stores and go by several names. Here's what I'm talking about They won't hurt the dog either so it's very humane.

hilmer May 20, 2017, 5:41 PM

does any one kick 'em? I do.....1 dog I clocked 3 times before he obayed his master & ran home.... stil chases but not as close. some times I,ve hurt my foot.....

Stuart Campbell May 20, 2017, 10:57 AM

Currently cycling across the US, I've had a few instances of dogs chasing me. Fortunately I'm a dog lover, so I slow down, unclip and stand astride of my bike to say hello to the friendly pooch.

You're right, it is the dog's nature to chase, so when you stop you remove that intention. Most dogs then appear afraid of the bike and quickly retreat. Otherwise, they get a bit of attention and then allow me to be on my way hassle-free. And dogs are great to boost my waning motivation!

Problem? No problem.

Bob Colvin May 20, 2017, 8:21 AM

Rode 700 mi of the ACA River Road route several years ago. Lots of travel through farm country. Lots. And lots of dogs chasing me along the way. Had read before the trip the same sort of information contained in this blog. What worked for me? Immediately stopped riding. Stood stock still, except to grab the two cans of "Bear strength" mace. Waited patiently until the dogs stopped barking and started moving away. Once in a while, I had to repeat the process as an occasional dog would come back at me. I noticed that there were 3 kinds of dogs with 3 different levels of aggressiveness. The Lab or Lab mix. Barked like crazy, tail wagging the whole time. Quick to end the game when i stopped riding. The Beagle or Beagle mix. Barked louder, chased longer, stayed longer, but it too was ready to move off more quickly. Third, and least predictable, the unknown mix. Aggressive, loud and persistent. I was approached by dogs a dozen times and never once was I attacked. Once, one of the Lab types came up to me and put his jaw on my thigh. Just for an instant, then he walked away. The most dogs in a pack, 7, and it took a good 15 minutes for the whole episode to be over. What I also realized is that these farm dogs are important to the farmer and thus, I was never quite ready to pull the trigger on the mace can, as I figured stopping the bike worked so why piss of a farmer who probably had a shotgun nearby..

Guy Jett May 19, 2017, 7:26 PM

I, too, subscribe to the dismount and confront. One time I had the dog stopped and nearly convinced to leave when the family kids heard the commotion, came out, then started telling and throwing rocks at their own dog. Boy was he confused! I managed to slip away when the parents started telling at the kids from 100+ yards away.


Oro Lee May 19, 2017, 11:35 AM

If I can speed away, I do. Normally I dismount, place the bike between us, and start walking toward the dog(s) while (in a very deep and loud voice) yelling "Bad dog - go home!" Almost always work with many running away when I start toward them. I usually have a can of pepper spray in hand but have never used it. I carry it mostly for two legged snakes. In a couple of locales I travelled concealed-carry, but not because of dogs.

Ben Harding May 19, 2017, 8:39 AM

I rode from Imperial Beach CA to West Quoddy Head ME in the spring/summer of 2016. I got surprised on Route 66 in OK by two big dogs, one on each side. In support of the "dominance" approach, when one dog overran me I turned and rode right toward him. Never saw an attitude change so fast--great sight. That sowed doubt in his buddy, who slowed a step, and I got away. I think the approach of stopping, using the bike as a shield, and facing down the dog may be best, but that's tough when you get surprised--cyclocross dismounts would be a good thing to practice. I got an air horn, which fell apart, and pepper spray, which I used effectively once. I had three serious attacks, all in the Midwest, and several more half-hearted runs. Lots and lots of barking.

Dogs clearly sense bicycles from a long distance. Bettina Shelby, "Riding the Mountains Down", suggests that they hear sound created by the spokes moving through the air.

John Goehring May 18, 2017, 11:52 PM

I carry a police whistle for charging dogs. I stop riding, dismount with my bicycle between the dog and blow the whistle. Most dogs will stop the chase and head back home. For the dogs that don't turn away. I make aggressive moves towards them to "turn the chase" while using the whistle. Most dogs will run from you at this point. For more aggressive dogs that stand their ground and won't leave the road side, I slowly walk away until the dogs lose interest. The whistle is economical, light and can be used to alert car drivers of your presence, frighten off bears and other dangerous wild animals you might encounter while touring.

Rob St. John September 21, 2020, 1:35 PM

Really good idea. But I believe in redundancy for serious situations. This sounds like a first go to, followed by the air horn, then bear spray, and lastly firearm. Not that I have all items at any given ride, but usually more than one depending on the circuit.

Gary Wells May 19, 2017, 11:42 AM

I use the storm whistle. A marine emergency whistle works as well. These are super loud, and I've shut dogs down 40+ yards away...just stopped, yelped a bit, and turned around and walked away...the dog, not me. They're also useful in an emergency.

Johnny Lam May 18, 2017, 9:19 PM

I've biked through Eastern Europe and now traversing the Southern Tier and we've been chased by dogs on several occasions.

I do a bit of everything. Many dogs are territorial and just by riding by without speeding up is enough for them to stop all by themselves.

If that doesn't work, I tried to yell at them on the bike.

If that fails, a squirt of water from my sports bottle and yelling works 90% of the time.

Last resort for wild dogs in places in Europe, I get off and walk away.

Ron Dickinson May 18, 2017, 8:30 PM

While complete the Trans America route we ran into a few dogs in the east. Referee whistles works effectly, especially when there were two or three of us blow at once. Most dogs stopped in there tracks confused. Others would run beside you and everytime they can close I would blow it again and they would back off.

paparoach May 18, 2017, 6:38 PM

I agree with the premise of this article that dogs get into the chase due to instinctive behavior. I grew up around farm dogs that have the job of protecting the farm. The best way to stop charging dogs is to not flee from them and to maintain a dominate attitude. Dogs respect a dominate attitude. I merely stop riding when a dog comes at me and look at them as they charge but then casually look away until they are close then I tell them in a firm voice to go home and to stay out of the road or just flat out no. It always works for me. Then I casually get back on my bike and ride away slowly and do not look back at them.

Jan May 18, 2017, 4:28 PM

It took me many years of riding to figure out it's only the spinning feet (not the wheels or the speed of the bike) that entice dogs to chase. If you can out-run (er, out-cycle) the dog(s), great. If not, stop peddling! I know it goes against the instinct to flee, but it stops them in their tracks. The sooner you do it, the further away from you they will be when they stop. The really persistent ones will start to chase again the minute you resume peddling. If you can coast away, great. If not (you run out of speed on an uphill, for example), you may be forced to walk a bit. (Keep your bike between you and the dog, if necessary.) It's better than being bitten. I have seen yelling work when it's a man with a deep voice. No kind or amount of yelling from ME has worked, but if I sweet-talk them it sometimes works; it's nowhere near as effective as stopping peddling, though. I am 100% opposed to throwing or squirting anything at a dog; it trains them to hate cyclists more and to get a better jump on the next cyclist. On a tour, that next cyclist will be someone in your group!

Ted May 18, 2017, 4:07 PM

I've been most of the way around the world on a bicycle and the thing that I have found that works the best is to just stop short and yell at the dog. It's never failed me (and it's more humane for the dog that giving it a face full of pepper spray or tazing it or whatever).

Sarah October 19, 2017, 7:23 AM

Ted, totally agree. There's no way I'm going to outrun the dog. Stop, put your bike between and the dog and yell at him with authority. Has worked for me every time. Might be a time to deploy the dog biscuits too.

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