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EC Notebook #30: Effectively Dealing with Dogs

by Pete Praetorius, ECI #249; edited by Bill Hoffman, ECI #33

Providing blanket advice on how to deal with dogs in every situation is impossible. Different dogs — like their owners — have different personalities In Effective CyclingTM, John Forester notes that two schools of thought exist concerning how to deal with dogs. Some say to be aggressive, while others prefer a non-aggressive approach.

The Aggressive Approach

Many times dogs will retreat if you employ the time-honored technique of shouting “No!” or “Go home!” These specific phrases are often enough to startle the dog and cause him to stop dead in his tracks. You may also choose to spray the dog in the face with water from your water bottle, or to spray him with a noxious chemical. More drastic measures like kicking or hitting the dog with a pump are not recommended because you are forced to sacrifice control of your bike.

The Non-Aggressive Approach

Others argue against being aggressive and promote talking to the dog in a calm voice. Many dogs are more interested in chasing a cyclist than biting one. It is better not to take your chances, however, by coming to a complete stop to scratch him behind the ears–you never know how he might react. The non-aggressive approach is often the safer of the two options. A word of caution, if you choose the non-aggressive approach: it is a good idea to have a backup stick or a can of pepper spray in hand, just in case your soft words fall upon deal ears.

Know Your #1 Priority

No matter what method of interspecies interaction you choose when dealing with a dog, you’ll want to avoid hitting the dog with your front wheel. Whether you are laboring up a hill on a loaded touring bike at seven mph, or later that same day pushing 40 mph while going down a hill, your first priority must be to not let the dog divert your front wheel since the end result will likely be a fall. Most of us have a fear of being bitten by a chasing dog. This fear may or may not be warranted, but dogs cause more injuries to cyclists when they cause falls than from when they bite. So when you come upon that “mad dog,” keep both feet on the pedals, both hands on the handlebars, and be ready to apply the brakes. Only after your front wheel is past the dog should you worry about being bitten.

Some Final Words of Advice

A few final words of advice: you don’t need to worry about dogs that stay on their property; that’s what they are trained to do. Only worry when they come onto the road. Also a silent dog is much more of a danger than a barking dog. No cyclist has ever been bitten by a barking dog. Think about it…

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to