Guest Blog: Stopping a Charging Dog

May 18, 2017 - Patrick Tuttle kindly submitted this guest blog. Thank you!

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?

First, why do dogs chase bicycles?

Biologist and animal lover, Adriana Heguy explains it this way: “Dogs chase cars because they have 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.”

Very important ...

Channel all your cycling skills to stay upright. Your main intent is always to stay on the bike without wiping out or even taking out other riders.

What is the best method to halt a charging dog? How do you break their stride or even change their trajectory? What works best to avoid an encounter or tragic collision?

Pepper spray. The thought of trying to hit a charging dog in the face with pepper spray scares me. At any speed, the best bookie would give you bad odds of this being successful. Personally, it would be my guess that a very small percentage of us are coordinated enough to pull this off, not to mention, you would have to let the dog get close enough to be a good target. This is just too much time away from bicycle management and most definitely too much time allowing the dog to approach.

Dog bones. Okay then, let’s carry a couple of canine treats and drop them in the dog’s path to stop their pursuit. Seriously? A) the dog must make eye contact with whatever you are dropping to even consider going after it, and B) in the dog’s mind, the morsel you are offering must be a convincing, more delectable treat than what your tasty ankle represents. You may have better luck squirting an energy gel in their face, although dog bones are tastier.

Use your water bottle and spray water in their face. I have tried this as a reaction 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 subject needs to be close enough for the fluid to make contact, 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, “Please master, may I have another.” All the while, you’re running out of water. What are you going to do next, throw the plastic bottle at them? Yeah, like that will work. “Here boy, after your bath, here is a new chew toy.”

Air horn. The best practical advice I've heard is from my riding buddy, Kenny Ginn, who simply says, “Use an air horn.” Duh! The economy-size air horn fits well in an accessory bag, or it can be easily Velcroed to your bike.

The best part of using an air horn to deter a chasing dog is just pointing it in their general direction without careful aiming. You just push the button and BLAST. It works. One or two short bursts will end the pursuit, break the dog’s stride, and give the rider enough time to put distance between themselves and the animal. If you are on a group ride, an air horn will pretty much end a dog’s chase, whereas the other methods mentioned are less impactful and the dog may resume its chase as the next rider passes. Air horns “change behavior.”

Whatever action you choose to take needs the greatest result in the easiest manner with the least distraction — it needs to change behavior. Ride safe and carry a loud horn!

Comment below with your pointers and opinions on how to deal with dogs.

Top photo by Jenn Milyko | Social media photos by Stewart Black


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How to stop a dog:

May 18, 2017, 3:24 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).

May 18, 2017, 4:07 PM

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.

October 19, 2017, 7:23 AM

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!

May 18, 2017, 4:28 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.

May 18, 2017, 6:38 PM
Ron Dickinson

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.

May 18, 2017, 8:30 PM
Johnny Lam

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.

May 18, 2017, 9:19 PM
John Goehring

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.

May 18, 2017, 11:52 PM
Gary Wells

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.

May 19, 2017, 11:42 AM
Ben Harding

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.

May 19, 2017, 8:39 AM
Oro Lee

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.

May 19, 2017, 11:35 AM
Guy Jett

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.


May 19, 2017, 7:26 PM
Bob Colvin

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..

May 20, 2017, 8:21 AM
Stuart Campbell

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.

May 20, 2017, 10:57 AM

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.....

May 20, 2017, 5:41 PM
Delinda Hood

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.

May 20, 2017, 8:26 PM
Mark Herman

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...

May 22, 2017, 11:05 AM
Cerdic Wills

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

May 27, 2017, 5:16 AM
Joseph Morris

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.

June 15, 2017, 12:07 PM

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.

July 1, 2017, 9:54 AM
Pat McAllister

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.

October 21, 2017, 9:35 AM
Stephen Mikesell

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.

October 28, 2017, 2:39 PM
Ken Jessett

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.

January 6, 2018, 3:14 PM
Jenny Lucier

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).

January 30, 2018, 8:25 AM
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