Visualize bicycling on a spring day through your neighborhood or on a quiet rural Maine road. The sun is warming your back, and the sweet scents of lilacs are wafting up your nostrils. You’re enjoying the soft notes of songbirds when- WOOF WOOF WOOF!! You’ve picked up a canine companion!
What do you do?
Do you channel your inner soccer player and try to kick an aggressive dog? Do you yell and scream to intimidate your four-legged follower? Hint: there are more effective strategies, below. According to the League of American Cyclists 8% of all bicycle accidents occur between dogs and bicycles. So what should you really do when you encounter a dog while cycling? Below are some tips to help you and your children avoid becoming one of the 4.7 million people bitten by a dog, annually. Remember, even older cyclists can learn new tricks!
The University of Davis Veterinary Medicine program recommends that you override the instinct of “flight” if the dog is chasing you. Stop and dismount. Create a barrier between you and the pooch by using your bicycle and then slowly back away, facing the animal until you lose its attention. Despite sometimes downright wacky cycling gear, you are not that interesting. The dog will be motivated to move on.
UC Davis also suggests avoiding eye contact with the animal and speaking in a low, firm voice. If you fall or are knocked down, curl into a ball and use your hands and arms to protect your face, neck and head. Thank goodness you were wearing that helmet! Canine expert, Ken Kiefer, encourages individuals to ignore the animal whenever possible. If the dog gets closer, he adheres to pup protocol described by UC Davis: talking to the animal in a calm tone. Learn more about why and how dogs chase bikes, ways they attack, and effective methods for repelling attacks by reading his web-based article, “Coping with Dogs.”
Do not try kicking the dog unless you are prepared to fall off your bike and possibly treat an ankle wound. Other questionable suggestions include picking up a stick, screaming at the dog, and trying to chase it back onto its owner’s property. If you have good balance, one “tried and true” strategy I’ve used over the years is grabbing my water bottle and spraying the dog in its face. If you can’t modify your bike route for the future, consider having a calm conversation with the dog’s owner after the encounter.