By Jeff Hemmel — Let me say first, I love dogs. Truth be told I’m not so big on cats, but dogs are my kind of pet. Just not when they’re chasing me on my bike.
Most of the time, that’s not an issue. Leash laws and traffic combine to make things pretty quiet animal-wise on my typical ride. Every summer, however, I get the chance to escape to the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate NY. And while I absolutely love the climbs, the scenery, and the lack of traffic, I don’t like the increase in furry friends I encounter during the course of my ride.
About two weeks ago, I was just beginning the steep, lengthy climb back home when a particularly ferocious dog seemingly came out of nowhere. The dog’s timing couldn’t have been better. Given the abrupt steepness of the hill, I couldn’t outrun him. The road was also narrow and I was approaching a blind curve, meaning I didn’t want to chance making a turn and speeding back downhill. I had no time to grab my water bottle and give him a squirt, and was sure if I attempted to slow and unclip I’d either let him take a chomp or fall. With every turn of the pedals my calf inched closer to dog chow.
So I let instinct take over. I yelled. Then, unable to speed away, I hit the brakes, causing the dog to briefly shoot past. I can’t call what happened next any masterful plan – it was more like pure rage. But I planted my front wheel right on the dog’s tail, like Lance pouncing on Bradley Wiggins. Muttley veered left and I followed. He veered right and I followed again. The look on the dog’s face was sweet revenge, as he clearly didn’t like the idea that my spinning tire was not threatening to take a bite out of his miserable behind. Yes, it would have been a disastrous fall had I actually hit him, but all I could think of at the time was how delighted I was to be turning the tables. Instead of a dog chasing a bike, this was now a bike chasing a dog. Take that, canine.
It worked, albeit briefly. The dog finally broke away, and I rode past, stringing together a combination of curse words that I don’t think even a linguistics professor could decipher. As the dog sat down, I turned my attention back up the road. And that’s when I heard the unsettling sound of nails against pavement.
Yup, the angry pup was answering the bell for Round Two, and I hadn’t even had the chance to rest up in my corner. This time around I lunged for the water bottle, almost wiping out in the process. Problem was he was now attacking from behind, so every twist to see where he was caused me to wobble dangerously in the road. Eventually he made a lunge, and I got him with a decent squirt. One more and he ended the chase.
In the moments that followed, the reality of what had happened began to set in. Fortunately no cars had come along at the same time. I’d hate to think what could have happened had I been worried about both the dog and traffic. I also began to think about how close I came to falling while frantically twisting from side to side to track the dog once he attacked again from behind. I was furious…and scared.
And wondering what to do the next time around. I’m sure fellow Noob readers have had similar close calls. Any suggestions? I’m wondering about keeping a small air horn in my jersey pocket. Think a deafening blast at close range would scare him off?
Does anyone bottle the scent of a vet’s office?
Cyclin Missy says
I don’t know if it’s legal, and it could be considered cruel perhaps. But maybe a small can of pepperspray. As long as you don’t spray it into the wind and end up peppering yourself!
Will Slade says
Hot sauce in a water gun, or a dog whistle.
Sine Botchen says
I carry a can of “dog spray” (somehow that sounds better than “mace”) clipped just under the top tube on my mountain bike (you can actually see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gRojfljDe4 at about 58 seconds into video). It is held on with an elastic band and quick release (but heavy duty) snaps. I’ve had it for a couple of years and fortunately haven’t had to use it – yet. You can get it in spray, stream, or fog styles. I got the stuff after several close calls with dogs running loose on various trails (and no owners in sight). I’ve come within inches of being bit and I won’t consider it to be the least bit cruel if it comes down to spraying to avoid having a hunk ripped out of my leg (and subsequent rabies shots, etc.)
Also not sure if it is legal or not, but to me it’s worth the risk. I imagine it would work on humans too. If you’re alone out in the woods a little extra non-lethal protection probably isn’t a bad thing.
I just yell “Stay!” in a firm voice. At the very least, it makes them hesitate — and by then, you’re out of reach.
that’s funny, but wouldn’t work on my German Shepherd – all his commands are in German :), but then again, he doesn’t run around off leash chasing cyclists either!
All kidding aside, I have been chased also but not frequently enough to give thought to what I would do next to permanently protect me. Both cases I encountered were random, and neither required the heroics of Jeff Hemmel – now, that is one scary ride and some quick thinking on his part. I am glad for Jeff there was no car traffic. But how to prevent it in the future? – a loaded question I have no answer for. Some dog owners just don’t care and when that is combined with a dog who loves the ‘chase’ and the ‘kill’, it really becomes a very scary proposition.
Ron J says
I call animal control on each and every dog that chases me. It’s not the dogs fault, it’s the oner’s. I have done this since The time I got chased one day, I out sprinted away from the dog and when he lost interest in me he turned back home into the path of an oncoming pickup and got hit. He limped home but I don’t know if he survived. It made me feel so bad. I hope I never have that happen again.
I’m not a “dog person,” but I think what you’re supposed to do is stop, get off the bike, and talk to the dog (while keeping your bike between you and the dog). Most dogs (like most people) want to be liked, and if you’re friendly, they will be, too.
But what if there’s more than one dog? I got chased by two dogs one evening. They came running out of a metal recycling yard, and were definitely NOT friendly. I guess that makes them “junkyard dogs.” Dogs know how to hunt in packs, so I was definitely not getting off the bike! Instead I yelled at them, very loud, and not using real words, just an inarticulate snarl, like “GWARRRRRRGHH!!!”
And they backed off, much to my surprise. When I told this story to a guy who is a “dog person,” he told me that this technique is quite common, and is known as “barking them down.” You’re telling them, in terms that they understand, that you are dominant, and they back off.
Probably wouldn’t work on pit bulls, or wolves.
Jeff H says
I actually encountered the dog again, this time going downhill in a three-person paceline. He went after the first rider, then backed away as he noticed the rest of us. Again, however, a little scary, more for the fall he could have caused at 35-40 mph than the chance he had of getting a bite in at that speed. It’s a pretty rural area, but I think I’ll call animal control and see if they can get anywhere with the owner. Thanks for all the suggestions!
On this morning’s ride, we passed a small place on a large lot that most of us know well — and there he was, the “brown dog.” One rider ahead of me in our group turned his front wheel at the dog, and it backed off immediately. I was at the tail end of the group, and the dog decided to come at me with bared teeth. I shouted, “Go home!” — and he did.