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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whatever action you choose, make sure it's the right one for you and successfully changes the dog's behavior.
This story has been updated and was originally published on May 18, 2017.