Dogs: A Cyclist's Best Friend?

Posted by James Anderton on Jan 19th, 2019

I love dogs. I grew up with dogs. A man's best friend but sadly they are not a cyclist's best friend. In many countries across the world dogs represent a nuisance and a danger to the innocent cyclist passing through. Sure they are only protecting their patch but in mistaking the cyclist for a threat to their domestic bliss they can cause the cyclist much alarm, and occasional harm. I'm not sure what it is about bicycles that freaks dogs out so much. As you approach the motion of your legs and the whirl of your spokes make you seem more of a threat than you are. When dogs see something that is "running away” from them, their natural instinct is to chase it down. I recall once cycling in the mountains of Ecuador. Going uphill slowly when i was suddenly attacked by 3 dogs coming at me from all angles. I had no choice but to get off the bike, make myself big and wave my arms around frantically. They soon scurried off. Whilst off the bike I thought I may as well sit down and figure out where I was. Within a minute I had one of the dogs sat at my feet, the other resting its head on my lap and the other trying to lick my face. We sat there in perfect harmony for 5 minutes and then I decided to get going again. I got back on the bike and they immediately started going nuts. Snarling at my ankles once again.

There's an old Swedish proverb. Barking dogs don't bite. It's nonsense. There are many out there who would love a piece of your ankles. If you are going downhill then you have a good chance to outrun a dog. Uphill you have no chance. Even on the flat it is a close run thing. Dogs are quick and they love a good chase. Unless you are super confident you can outrun the dog then you should break the chase. Normally this does the trick. Disappointed the chase is over the dog will slink off. Often dogs are full of bravado but as soon as you meet their challenge they lose their nerve. They see it as their duty to protect their patch but don't actually want a confrontation. I find it more of a problem when there's two of them. They seem to egg each other on. Safety in numbers. Neither dog wants to be seen as the first to back down. In such a case I stop the bike. Make eye contact. Show no fear. Dogs can sense when you are scared and that only encourages further aggression. If they still persist I get off the bike, put the bike between me and the dogs, pick up some rocks, stones, or whatever is at hand and fling it at them. You should aim to miss of course. Unless your aim is bad in which case you should aim to hit. If there's nothing to throw I squirt some water at them from my water bottles. This usually works for me.

There are other methods worth considering:

Ultrasonic Dazers

A device that emits a high pitched sound that freaks the dog out momentarily and they stop chasing. The sound is inaudible to human ears. Sounds ideal and is a relatively humane way of diffusing an attack. You will have to have the device handy at all times as you never know when a dog will run out at you. Also it doesn't work on all dogs. Such as a deaf dog I imagine.

Pepper sprays

These are aerosol sprays that emit a stream of liquid that has Capsaicin pepper extracts. There is a version formulated specifically for dogs, called Halt! It was originally designed for mailmen. This option is good in that it discourages the aggressive behaviour of the dogs. Strikes me as a little less humane. Although it does no permanent damage the dog will have a painful half hour of scratching his face with his paws. Once again you need to have the spray handy at all times and you also need to be accurate in your aim. If it's windy it might blow into your face which wouldn't be ideal.


You could chuck the dog some biscuits if you have some handy. Would work more often than not but reinforces the aggressive behaviour. More importantly it will leave you low on biscuits!

Kick them in the face

If a dog gets too close you can swing your foot at them. Not very elegant but will give the dog something to think about. Let them know you are not to be messed with. It won't cause them any serious harm but be very wary of doing this at speed as you could easily lose control of the bike.

The Crocodile Dundee method

Does not work. I've tried it.

The Crocodile Dundee method of hypnotising a dog sadly has very little effect

Rabies Vaccination

It's important if cycling in certain parts of the world such as India, China or South America that you have your rabies inoculations. Unfortunately the jabs are quite expensive. Mine involved 3 separate jabs a week apart and cost £200. A rabies shot does not eliminate the need for treatment if you’re bitten. It just gives you extra time to get to a hospital and greatly simplifies the process. Without a rabies shot, the full treatment after a bite may not be available. You would have to fly somewhere where it is and get a move on whilst you are about it.

Final Thoughts:

I hope this article doesn't sound like you will be forever fighting dogs whilst cycling around the world. In the majority of countries it is barely an issue. Most dogs will ignore you. The aggressive ones are chained up. Even the ones that come after you are just enjoying an opportunity to stretch their legs. In some places though it is an issue and it's something you will have to deal with every now and again. Personally I don't use any of the devices. My panniers are heavy enough and I would find it difficult to keep the device/bottle close at hand. Breaking the chase, standing tall, making eye contact, throwing stones, doing a little dance has always done the trick for me. Only once in Serbia did i have a dog I just couldn't shake off. He ended up following me for about 10km snapping at my heels until i finally hit a descent and burned him off.