How to deal with aggressive dogs on a bicycle tour is something most long distance cyclists have to cope with at some point. What would you do when faced with one or more dogs barking and getting ready to attack? Here are some tips.
Best dog repellent for cyclists
Before I dive into this guide on dogs and cycling, here's some products designed to offer the best protection against dogs when on a bicycle.
How to deal with dogs while cycling
Dealing with aggressive dogs on a bike tour can be a stressful and somewhat unnerving experience at first.
The sight and sound of an aggressive dog running up to your bike, barking and snarling makes you realise just how exposed you are on a bicycle.
Even if you are cycling with another person, the initial encounters may still trigger a “fight or flight” response. Neither of these reactions is the best way to deal with aggressive dogs on a cycle tour though.
A calmer, more thought out approach is always better, and hopefully this article will help you to develop your own strategy in dealing with dogs. For other tips relating to bike touring, check out my bicycle touring tips.
Dog Aggression Towards Bikes
Why do dogs chase bikes?
Whilst I don't claim to be a canine expert, I have had more than a few encounters with dogs when cycling. I haven't been bitten (yet!!), but one did make me suffer a low speed crash.
I actually felt more embarrassed by it than hurt, as I doubt I was going even 1 MPH at the time! When I came off, the dog stopped barking and left the scene with a kind of satisfied swagger just to rub it in. I wasn't smiling!
On a serious note though, there was a lesson to be learned which I will describe later.
Dealing With Wild Dogs on a Bicycle Tour
First of all, lets put this into some sort of context for anyone who comes from a country where the majority of dogs are kept as pets, and are normally on leashes.
Newsflash – The rest of the world doesn't think like you do! Dogs are kept only if they serve a purpose. This purpose might be herding livestock, hunting vermin or game, or guarding property.
The one thing they all have in common, is that they are working within a territory which they consider to be their own. Within this territory, there will be a pecking order with an Alpha at the very top.
Aggressive wild dogs
If dogs are not kept, then they are scavengers or wild. They will still have a territory which they consider their own, but are less likely to actively protect it against a cyclist.
As food is probably harder to come by, they would instead save their energy for the battles that really count, such as protecting their territory against other dogs.
Scavengers or wild dogs will sometimes work in packs. Cyclists are less likely to encounter packs, but it does happen from time to time. Facing off against a pack of wild dogs is not something that you want to do for fun.
What does this mean for the cyclist then?
Although you might be happily cycling along believing that the road belongs to you, in reality, you will be cycling through many different dog's territories.
In countries where dogs are leashed or trained as pets, you might not ever notice this (unless you are a postman of course). In other countries though, the dogs will come out and actively protect that territory from the unknown.
And you, my friend, are the unknown! The only way a dog can protect it's territory is by proving it is the Alpha. It does this by barking, snarling, and if it is brave or close enough, biting. It's nothing personal.
Dealing with Aggressive Dogs on a Bicycle Tour – Dangers
The dangers of dealing with aggressive dogs on a bicycle tour should not be underestimated. If a dog runs towards you while riding you could have an encounter that ends with injury or worse. Here are the main dangers –
Dogs can cause accidents when cycling
This is where I return to my earlier story of a dog making me crash the bike.
I was cycling around a tight switchback bend on a gravel uphill section. As mentioned, the speed was negligible and my pride hurt more than the fall.
Imagine this though at a higher speed, and it could have ended up in cuts, bruises or even broken bones. If a truck had been tailgating me, I might have ended up getting run over as well.
Why did I fall off the bike? The dog caught me by surprise, and ran right up barking. My first reaction was to veer out of the way, and due to the nature of the terrain, I ended up coming off the bike.
Truth be told, I had my headphones in at the time, listening to some tunes to help get me through the day, and hadn't heard the dog approaching.
Lesson learned – Don't wear headphones when cycling in dog country!
Potential Accidents when cycling
Most of the potential accidents that aggressive dogs might cause when on a bicycle tour, are when you feel forced to veer further into the road.
This occurs when a dog starts running at you from land or property on the same side of the road that you are cycling. It's a natural reaction to want to pull over into the middle of the road to create more space between you and the dog.
Try to avoid this whenever possible though. The traffic behind you may be unaware of what you are doing, and you might get hit from behind.
The reverse also occasionally occurs, where a dog will run at you from the opposite side of the road to which you are cycling on. Its happened to me a few times, and in one case, a dog ran across oncoming traffic to start barking at me.
The reaction here, is to veer out onto the shoulder if there is one, the embankment, or off the road completely.
Try to avoid this as well, as you don't want to ‘ditch' your bike, especially if you face a tumble down a mountainside in the back of beyond!
Other ways aggressive dogs can cause accidents
A rarer way in which aggressive dogs might cause you to have an accident when cycling, is if it should somehow get under your wheels. If this happens, its pretty unlikely that you are going to be able to stay on the bike.
Again, you are faced with injury from the fall, and potential injury from traffic coming from behind you.
Avoid Dog Bites When Cycling
This is what most cyclists are afraid of when confronted by dogs on the road. The last thing you want is a mangy mutt sinking his teeth into you.
Forget the initial blood loss – With the danger of infection or disease you would need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Rabies would be a huge concern, especially in less developed parts of the world.
On my last hiking trip to Nepal, one of our group got bitten by a guard dog. With no way to be sure, it was off for a dose of rabies shots. Fortunately, he was covered by insurance. The first round of 23 separate injections came to over 2000 dollars!
Hopefully, the following strategies will help you to avoid getting bitten by dangerous canines!
What to do when a dog chases you on a bike – Strategies
At this point, you know why some dogs react the way they do, and the dangers that they can present. All it leaves now, is to develop a strategy for dealing with aggressive dogs on a bicycle tour.
There are a few ways in which the dangers that aggressive dogs present when on a bicycle can be avoided, and it comes down to minimising momentum and proximity.
Let's look at some ideas on what to do if a dog chases you on a bike.
Unclip from the pedals
If you are wearing cleats or using cages, unclip or get your feet out as soon as you see or hear a dog running towards you. There's nothing worse than coming off a bike when you are still clipped in. Been there, and done that!
It also frees your feet and legs should you need to pull them out of the way of a snapping dogs mouth, or kick out at a dog that has got too close.
Get off the Bike
Where practically possible, it is best to get off the bike. This might be counter-intuitive at first, as pure survival instinct will be telling you to put as much distance between the dog and yourself.
You might be able to out-cycle the chasing dog sometimes, but normally, it just encourages the dog to give chase for longer than it would do otherwise.
Getting off the bicycle stops your momentum, which neutralises the risk of falling off the bike, and minimises the chances of veering off into the road and getting hit by traffic.
By walking with the bike between you and the dog, you also help solve the proximity problem by keeping the dog at bay. At this point, you would need to play it by ear.
Sometimes, the dog will lose interest and trot away. At other times, it may continue in an aggressive manner barking and snapping. Each situation is different, and experience will tell you how to judge it.
Slow Down when cycling near Dogs
If it's not possible to get off the bike and push, then at least slow down. This will reduce the chances of serious injury should you fall off, and may enable you to use some of the following ideas.
Use sticks to keep dogs away
In some countries, I have chosen to cycle with a dog deterrent stick I picked up from the side of the road.
Now, please don't get all animal rights on me and tell me that its wrong to hit a dog. I know that, and would never hit a dog out of malice.
The stick is used defensively, not aggressively. If I am walking with my bike, or cycling at slow speeds and feel the need to use the stick by making defensive swings, then I will do.
If by any chance I do make contact with a chasing dog, then in my opinion, it was just too damn close. Whenever the choice is there between using a stick to defend myself and getting bitten, the stick wins every time.
Using Stones to keep dogs away
In some countries, dogs are so accustomed to the very motion of someone reaching down to pick up a rock to throw, that they will stop chasing and immediately run away. They can also make a good distraction in order to pedal yourself out of the danger zone.
When it comes to how to repel dogs while biking, this is a simple method. Even the hand movement without throwing the stone sometimes works.
Command Dogs With Your Voice
Never underestimate the power of your voice when in a conflict situation, and this applies equally to humans as well as aggressive dogs.
Shouting at an aggressor may put them off or make them think twice. Combine that with reaching for a stone or swinging with a stick, and most dogs will back away.
Water might work keeping dogs away
Some people claim that squirting a bottle of water in the face of a chasing dog will make them stop in their tracks. I've never tried this myself, because normally, water is quite a precious resource and I don't want to leave myself short.
I've also heard of some people carrying small water pistols. Again, never tied this, but it at least sounds fun even if it doesn't prove to be effective!
I come from a country where we don't have pepper spray for general sale, so can't really comment. The major drawback I imagine, would be that you might end up spraying your own face, and then cause more problems than you were trying to solve!
Dog deterrent for cyclists
There are also a number of products on the market that are said to off protection against aggressive dogs. I've not tried any of these myself, but theoretically they may have some use.
Products and devices that may offer protection from dogs while biking include an air horn dog deterrent, a dog dazer, and animal deterrent sprays.
There is no one method that will guarantee success when confronted with an aggressive dog, but using a combination of the above should see you good in most circumstances.
Agree or disagree with any of it? Have any other suggestions to make on what to do if dog chases you on bike and starts snapping at your shoes??
I'd love to hear your thoughts on dealing with aggressive dogs on a bicycle tour. Please leave a comment in the comments section below.
FAQ About Dogs and Bicycles
Everybody wants to stay safe and avoid a bite as they ride their bike! Some of the popularly asked questions about how to deal with angry dog behavior while cycling include:
What to do when a dog chases you on a bicycle?
You can either try to outpace the dog by riding faster, as after 30 seconds or so most dogs will give up the chase. Alternatively, you can dismount and walk with the bike between you and the dog, or employ a defensive tactic such as spraying water, using an air horn, or throwing stones if the dog attacks.
Why do dogs chase bikes?
‘There must be some predatory sequence that kicks in when dogs see cyclists! My theory is that a dog will chase cyclists out of what it considers to be its territory.
Can a bike outrun a dog?
Even with a fully loaded touring bicycle you can outrun a dog on flat ground. This might be more difficult if a dog starts chasing after you when cycling uphill though, and you might want to employ a different tactic to deter them.
Will an air horn scare a dog?
A horn that is loud might cause enough distraction for the dog to break off the attack, as well as attract attention from passers-by who can assist you.
Do ultrasonic devices stop dogs chasing you on a bike?
An ultrasonic device might not make a dog halt in its tracks or run in the other direction, but the frequency it emits will help to startle the dog, giving you time to ride safely out of its range and territory.
What is the best way to deal with an aggressive dog while on a bike tour without using pepperspray?
Biking in areas with aggressive dogs can be an intimidating experience. Commonly, cyclists will swerve into the middle of the road to create more distance between themselves and the dog. Some people carry water pistols or ultrasonic devices to scare away dogs. Other carry a simple whistle.
If you liked this post on what to do if a dog is chasing you on a bike, you might also be interested in these other bike touring blog posts:
- Touring bike accessories and gear
- My bike tours around the world
- Touring bike reviews
- City Bike Hire Schemes
- Bike Touring Blogs
- Meet the Cyclists Bike Touring interviews and blogs
20 thoughts on “How To Deal With Aggressive Dogs on a Bicycle Tour”
Now iam in india… pet dogs in houses is not a problem here.. But gangs of street dogs declaring public roads as their territory is terrible…yesterday i got chased by a group of seven dogs… It was my first experience.. Fear made my hands freeze and i was not able to change the gear to ride fast… Some how i escaped without getting bitted… This article was very helpfull..
I lived and cycled for many years in a backwoods cotton growing section of Arizona (north of Tucson) and the hillbilly “Deliverance-type” owners would literally sic their dogs on me as I rode by, then stand in their doorways enjoying the show while I ran (rode) for my life. These dogs weren’t playing! If they would have caught me, they’d have done serious damage. I never used pepper spray because 1) as Dave mentioned, I’m more likely to spray my own face; and 2) I didn’t want to injure a dog that was acting on its owners orders. If I could have sprayed the owners’ faces, I would have happily done that.
But it is a scary thing indeed to be chased on a bicycle by a dog out for blood.
I have been chased by dogs every now and then in Europe, but they always retreated when I stopped and shouted wildly at them.
Today, I was attacked by two dogs on my commute home from work in Pennsylvania. I did not see the dogs approaching at all. First thing I knew was that my bike was hit full force at the back wheel by something, then my foot was torn from the pedal, and something was snarling and growling at me. I almost fell from the bike but was able to come to a somewhat controlled stop. The main attacker was barking at me, snapping at my legs, while I was screaming at him in a deep voice from the top of my lungs. There was no time for thinking in this surprise attack. I am a tiny female, 98 lbs, 5’4”, but the scare tactic worked. The attacking dog and his buddy both retreated into a house, through the half opened door. No owner ever to be seen, despite me calling out for him/her.
It was a very scary experience that left me shaking and feeling nauseous. If the dogs had been bigger (they were one king poodle or labradoodle and some muscular herding type dog about the same height and color), like Rottweilers or German Shepards, or some of the European guarding dogs, I guess I would have been shredded to pieces.
This is why I cannot cycle in Greece. Im not a tourer, just leisure. I was hurled by 5 dogs when a teen and heard another such story (both survived) but its very scary.in Rural areas of Greece expect a lot of stray dogs and sometimes they are not aggresive, they are actually needing your help (they are dumped here to die from dehydration and food). You may find local rescue groups in facebook if you find friendly dogs or often ambandoned mom with puppies in rural Greece. (or other country with stray problems).
I am Greek, by the 5 dogs who attacked while walking in nature i was saved by a man who just happened out of sheer coincidence to be mending some fence there, he came around with a big stick. He didnt even have to beat them, they just run away when he approached. So a big stick (maybe a hiking pole?) works.
Water pistol works on some dogs not all. I had a collei that was afraid even of water droplets but now i have a shephard (my dogs i mean) who can take the rain with a smile. So i dont think she would back off with a water jet. (but then, i never let her loose, as in this country she may never come back –? car hit or poison baits for dogs..)
In Germany where I lived a while i was chased by dogs but the owner was always nearby to find his/her dogs and mend the situation. I did buy a pepperspray which is too easy to buy in Germany unlike Greece.
In Greece as i said im afraid to cycle in rural areas even in urban areas there are stray dogs. A stick and a water spray that can shoot 2 meter away lots of water (but doesnt work on all dogs) and maybe as last resort a bag of stones, some cake cubes (food!) and some pepperspray tucked in easy to grab place.
So much just for a dog bark but be sure this can be lethal. A woman walking in cultivated seaside area in Cyprus few years ago was mauled and killed by 5 rotweilers. Their owner didnt face much prison time, life goes as normal, woman was ”trespansing” so they blamed her for her own death. DIsgrace.
My bigger problem in Greece is cars who completely disregard cyclists, i was even hit by one. COmpared to living in Germany, Greece is pure hell for cyclists.
we were bikepacking in the mountains and were chased by very large sheep herding dogs…we threw cookies behind us..it worked.
I second for water spray, it works!
I’m living in Turkey for 4 months and wild dogs are a real problem. I do MTB and easly i cross more than 50 wild dogs per ride.
I had in the past 2 rottweillers and now 2 golden retrievers so i know a little about dogs behaviors.
While in bicycle, ı have on my back t-shirt a pepper spray (easy position to get with one hand while ride). I didn’t have to use it until now. My strategy is 1) keep the speed (around 10km/h or less even because is normally uphill), 2) do not look in dog eyes or change track 3) behave like an autist… once you leave their territorry they stop follow up, run and bark. Be always ready to unclip your shoes
While going out with my dogs, ı have a stick and i had to use it already two times … it’s unfortunately normal. Wild dogs will fight for territory leadership if a new male goes into they area, even if my golden retrievers have zero aggressivity
Thanks for the tips. I didn’t realize how scary it was for bicyclists until I started biking. I think there is something about the noise of the wheels that attracts the dogs. I don’t think water would work, but pepper spray sounds good!
I’ve never personally heard about people spraying a dog with water spray. I wonder how many people actually do that, or if it actually works. My husband is just scared when he bikes that a rabid dog will come after him. I’ll have to see if I can find dog deterrent for him.
Helpful article – and water pistol definitely sounds like fun 🙂
The unfriendly dogs I met while cycling in Georgia always lost their interest in me after I slowed down, no matter how angry they where barking at me before.
Here in Center Europe we don’t have serious issues with dogs, because the fence around the most houses is the border of their territory. But in the US I took a stick with me, threatening and shouting worked well. This year in Ontario I used a tear gas spray as I was attacked by two dogs at once. They stopped attacking me instantly. But it was on a backroad. I never hat any issues in Canada along the main roads, I think dog owners are aware not loosing their dogs killed by cars.
Dazer – a high pitched battery operated device that humans cannot hear but dogs can. It stops them in their tracks and gives you time to get out of their territory. I used it once in Wales when a road traversed a sheep farm. An old dog was by the road and when I approached three more came from the yard on the left and another two on the right. I zapped them alternately, they stopped yapping and kept their distance. I never go into dog territory without it now.
on my last tour I had pepper spray with me, but each dog attack came faster than my capability to get the pepperspray out of my bag.
I am always cycling with mtb-shoes and could protect myself with aggressive kicking and aggressive and loud shouting.
Great article. I’ve always found cycling fast past them is best, but if slow uphill climb then getting off, walking, and in worse case scenario throwing stones and shouting always works. Aggressive dogs were a part of life between Serbia and Armenia for me. Nice blog set-up, keep writing!
First I slow down, look as possible in the Eyes of the dog and barking and then “Roring like a LION” and show my teeth … back as lout I can and till now nearly every dog was so surprised and run away!
As reserve I allways has a “Stone” or bend down as if I want pick up a stone and swing the arm with the real or imaginating stone… at least this was help me to make the last aproching dog give up and run away!
In Puma, Baer or other real “Wild Animal” country I have my strong “Bear-Peper-Spray” ready to use. But never need it as the Bear I only have seen for a second or 2* then hi was out of the road back in the bush! *Not long enough 4 just to make a photo!
I use pepper spray which i make myself and have had to use once which was very effective.
over 700 people go to A&E every day in England alone because of dog bites, some of which are scared for life. i don’t want to be 701.
thanks for the article.
Thanks Dave, great advice for a potentially very scary subject! Having grown in Turkey, I know how scary things could turn with dogs (especially with large sheep herding shepherd dogs). One that I’d add is an air horn (in addition to the bear spray which are widely available in the US). There are air horns for bicycles operated by simple hand pumps. This noise should stop many wild animals from approaching the bike in the first place. I was more curious about incidents with puma/mountain lions, bears or wolves… Have you had any encounters with truly wild animals? How did you manage?
I used air horn in India. 100db in the ears: very efficient but some dogs are deaf!
That sounds like a great way to keep aggressive dogs back… or anything else that’s aggressive for that manner!
Great article Dave. I appreciate the strategies and have also found that the unclip/get off the bike is one of the best ways. I also use a 120dB Fox40 whistle which is great for traffic or for fast descents in deer country. Thanks again.