Dealing with Dogs

I somehow have managed not to read Mark Twain’s essay, Taming the Bicycle until recently.

I particularly enjoyed the section on dogs:

There was a row of low stepping-stones across one end of the street, a measured yard apart. Even after I got so I could steer pretty fairly I was so afraid of those stones that I always hit them. They gave me the worst falls I ever got in that street, except those which I got from dogs. I have seen it stated that no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be true: but I think that the reason he couldn’t run over the dog was because he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran over every dog that came along. I think it makes a great deal of difference. If you try to run over the dog he knows how to calculate, but if you are trying to miss him he does not know how to calculate, and is liable to jump the wrong way every time. It was always so in my experience. Even when I could not hit a wagon I could hit a dog that came to see me practice. They all liked to see me practice, and they all came, for there was very little going on in our neighborhood to entertain a dog. It took time to learn to miss a dog, but I achieved even that.

Yamaha AG 100
One of these. Look! No pedals. | Photo:

My approach to dogs has developed out of two formative experiences. First is that I’ve almost always had at least one dog in my life, so I’m not afraid of them. Well, rarely afraid of them.

The second formative experience is from my puttering around Cameroon with a farm bike for two-and-a-half years.

The Peace Corps motorcycle handbook had advice for many of the animals you might encounter in rural Cameroon. My favorite was (paraphrasing), “Chickens: Hit them! You’re more likely to hurt yourself trying to avoid them.”

Mark Twain seems to have discovered a similar strategy to the one I developed on that farm bike, and it’s one I continue to employ on my pedal bike: Don’t try to avoid them. Let the dog decide which way it will go.

You know that eye-contact thing that we always talk about with drivers? It (usually) works with dogs too. When I see a dog in my path, I will aim right at it and send a telepathic message, I’m not going to decide for you.

I’m not saying that I speed up or try to hit them. In fact, I prepare to stop in case the dog doesn’t see me. But if the dog does see me, it will move out of the way.

The post is just a pretext to show this photo of my dogs Howard (L) and Skully (R)

The communication part of this strategy basically says to the dog, I am not a squirrel. Respect me because I am not something that you want to chase.

This does take a little attitude, and I’d be interested in knowing how many of you think you can pull this off.

In a previous article here (“How Should I Deal with Agressive Dogs?“) readers offered lots of advice, including carrying pepper spray, and yelling at the dog with a commanding voice. Others might think of these as a first line of defense, but I would consider these to be backup strategies.

Once, in Cameroon, some skinny little dog just didn’t see me. I started braking, but I continued to aim right for the dog hoping he would snap out of his daze and pick one direction or another. He didn’t.

I couldn’t stop before my front wheel went right over his waist, and the bike came to a full stop. It was then that the dog noticed me. He yelped, and finally chose to go to the left.

I stand by this technique.

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8 thoughts on “Dealing with Dogs”

  1. In a lifetime of dog encounters, I’ve been bitten twice. Like you I’m not afraid of them, and most of the time the dogs seems to just want to play. It’s their unpredictability that scares me.

  2. Jaime Roberto says:

    Your comment about chickens made me laugh. When I lived in Eastern Europe I found that chickens were smart enough to get out of the way, but the people walking 3-4 abreast on the street not so much.

  3. Cananda geese are pretty good at getting out of your way as well. In a rural area, dogs quit chasing you when you cross their owner’s lot line. Territorial behavior. Who needs a survey -dogs will tell you where your property line is.

  4. Like a jet fighter using chaff or flares, I advocate deploying counter-measures. Low-tech: throw a stuffed animal that my cat has played with for two years. High-tech (not yet implemented, in prototyping): a spring-loaded tube, push button activated, which deploys a cloud of cat-scented confetti of different shapes and sizes.

  5. BluesCat says:

    I aim my front wheel at the dog, too.

    My main reason has always been to build the proper reflex to a dog encounter.

    There are a lot of loose dogs in my neighborhood. If I were to constantly attempt to spin around and avoid the dog in my path, I would development a muscle memory reflex which will cause me to attempt to veer out of the way of a dog one day and into the path of an oncoming truck. Or I will bank too hard and go down. Or I will fail to avoid the dog because he will interpret it as an invitation to chase me; he will run into me and we will both go down in a heap.

    I’ve noticed that big dogs, as a rule, will not chase you if you aim for them; some of them get out of the way almost sheepishly. Barking rats, however are another story.

  6. burnhamish says:

    Canada geese will get out of the way, unless it’s Springtime and the unhatched goslings need protecting. Then, the Male goes all Mad Goose on you if you get too close.

  7. Caroline says:

    I’d like to meet your Canadian geese! Where I live they hiss at you and refuse to move no matter what time of year it is.

  8. Tinker says:

    I used to have a dog down the street that liked to chase ANY vehicle that passed. Until one day I was on my way to a job interview, when he ran from his yard of residence and attempted to bite my front tire. (Did I mention, that it was a place I was not familiar with, so I took my Ford F150 pickup?) When he bit my tire he was pulled under the front tire, and thoroughly mashed. 2 tons of truck 1, 20 pounds of dog 0.

    I’ve tried to feel sorry for him ever since, but over 15 years, I have not developed any sympathy for the Barking Rat of Unusual Size.

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