Cycling Hazards: Dealing With Dogs

The worst dog encounter I had on our bike tour was in Iran.

Cycling alone on a mission to chase 6 Germans in lederhosen (that’s another story), I was shocked to see a group of dogs lunging towards me. Within seconds, they had the bike surrounded and two were sinking their teeth into my panniers. Salvation came in in the form of an 80 year old woman, who beat off the dogs with a large broom.

So I had some sympathy with Steve Fabes, as I read his latest journal from eastern Europe.

“As I cycled I caught sight of a small dog racing out of the scrub. No worries. I had a couple of stones ready to launch in its direction. Suddenly another larger animal appeared and then more barks from the scrub. Another two. Two more. Larger, barking relentlessly and bearing down on me fast. I sounded my mega-horn but there was nobody around to hear it. Now three more grizzly creatures, tufts of fur missing… The dogs were coming in to bite me and I jumped around wildly to avoid them. Finally I reached the incline and gravity came to the rescue. I freewheeled down the slope taking me away from the attack.” – Steve Fabes, Cycling The Six

At the end of his journal entry, Steve asks for tips on how to to deal with dogs. Happily, most of our dog encounters were nowhere near as extreme as in Iran. Here’s the sequence we went through when approached by an annoying dog. We didn’t normally have to go through all of the steps. Most of the time, just stopping did the trick.

1. Stop – This works with almost all dogs. They love the chase and when you stop you break the chase sequence. They don’t expect you to stop so this also turns the tables and surprises them.

2. Become the Top Dog – Dogs can sense fear and will act on that emotion so don’t show them you are scared. Instead, become the ‘top dog’ in the pack. Turn to face the dogs, shout loudly and stand with your shoulders and legs in a broad stance, to make yourself look bigger. Many dogs will back off if they see you taking this dominating position.

This idea seemed to work for Frank Tatchell, a traveller and English clergyman who offered this advice from his travels in the 1920s: “Abuse them in the hoarsest voice at your command and with the worst language you can think of. They may slink off utterly ashamed of themselves.”

3. Throw small rocks or squirt some water – Once you have a weapon, most dogs will retreat, even if the ‘weapon’ is not truly dangerous. You might also want to wave your pump around or ring your bell.

4. Stand behind the bike – If the dogs are still closing in, get off your bike and stand behind it. This creates a barrier and protects you from being bitten.

5. Walk slowly past – Start to walk slowly away. Don’t turn your back on the dogs. Keep turning around to face them, screaming like a mad man and throwing rocks as you go. After a couple hundred meters, you are usually out of ‘their territory’ and can get on your bike to ride again.

We also had some pepper spray on hand in case things got truly serious, but we never had to use it.

What about you? Have you had some terrible dog encounters? How did you deal with the pesky mutts?


  1. Peter Gostelow
    21st March 2010 at 11:27 am #

    I would second most of these tactics, although prefer to use bigger rocks if the dogs are closer. A gun would also be useful. I’m not sure how effective these dog dazer devices are that I’ve read about. When there more than 4/5 I think it is hard to become the top dog, such as here in the western Sahara

  2. Tom Allen
    21st March 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    My preferred tactic is to completely ignore dogs. This takes a bit of nerve sometimes if there are a few of them, especially farm dogs, but I’ve only once met a dog that went to bite me. 99.9% of dogs just bark madly and chase until they get bored, even if they appear to be going crazy, and they’ll only try to bite if they get a reaction. I guess I’ve been lucky as I’ve never had my panniers attacked.

    For the one occasion that a dog went for the bite, a quick wallop from a well-aimed cycling boot did the trick!

  3. Colleen Welch
    21st March 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    So far, yelling really loud, “GO HOME!” has worked for me. Once when my friend and I were riding, we came upon these two dogs. I was abit ahead and they came charging at me. I yelled at them and they turned around. Then they saw my friend and decided to go after her. She is not as fearless about dogs and they seemed to sense that. But, when I turned around and came charging back to them yelling the whole way, they thought better of their plan and retreated back to their yard. So, I agree that yelling and showing no fear are great tools. Of course, I wouldn’t hesitate to give one a swift kick either!

    • friedel
      22nd March 2010 at 6:40 am #

      Great story Colleen! We also charged dogs occasionally on tour. After you lose your fear, it starts to be a bit of a game.

      I agree with Peter though, that when you meet packs of dogs, it gets a lot more difficult. I’m not sure there is a good solution there, other than to try all of the above and flag down help if you can or get out the pepper spray.

  4. Doohickie
    14th May 2010 at 5:06 am #

    I had a dog come after me recently and I did pretty much exactly as recommended in the post and it worked fine. On my commute to work, there is an area where there are two fenced-in ranches at the top of a hill; both have dogs. On the south side of the street I noticed one of the dogs was out sometimes, but it never seemed to pay any attention to me. On the north side was a yard with German shepherds that liked to bark at me, but they were contained.

    Riding home one afternoon, one of the shepherds was out and sitting at the top of the hill. Outrunning the dog was not an option because of the hill, so I dismounted. I also went ahead and crossed the street to the north side. The dog started walking toward me. At this point I was pretty much in front of the yard with the shepherds. Although this appeared to be a shepherd mix I didn’t know if it was from that yard. It was now probably 50-75 feet down the road and approaching me. It crossed over to my side of the road. I decided to cross back to the other side.

    The shepherds in the yard were barking wildly now, and it seemed to get the loose dog excited. It started barking and snarling at me. It was now directly across the road from me and started to cross. It was maybe 20 feet from me when I started yelling at it, “NO! GO HOME!” It paused but the other dogs egged it on. I grabbed my water bottle and gave a squirt which seemed to confuse the dog.

    It stopped right there in the street and continued to bark at me. At this point I realized that although it was colored like a German shepherd, it was big, REALLY big, and had a face more like a coyote or wolf. I don’t know if it belonged in either yard or was a feral half-breed. Anyway, I slowly retreated until I felt safe enough to mount and continue my ride home.

    For a lighter dog story, check out something that happened to me on this evening’s bike ride. (The picture on that post might look familiar. 😉

  5. CTD
    21st May 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    The last time a dog started to come at me, I stood up on the pedals, turned toward him (a big-headed pit/Rott mix), and barked back as loud as I could. Brought him up SHORT!

  6. cindy engel
    10th November 2010 at 2:41 am #

    Im currently touring SE Asia alone and have daily run-ins with dogs and it feels like only a matter of time until one bites me and will probably be a long way from any help. Am wondering where to buy pepper spray in Laos or northern thailand if anyone knows? I cant cycle and hold a large stick either. Im not scared adn have survived so far by shouting and being aggressive to small groups but am getting worried about larger groups and cambodia…any help welcome 🙂

    • friedel
      10th November 2010 at 5:34 am #

      Cindy, do you stop when the dogs approach you? What’s your current tactic? I’m not sure about pepper spray in those areas. We had virtually no problems with dogs (once or twice in Thailand but neither time was serious) in SE Asia. Maybe it depends on the time of year, is that possible? We were there in the hotter months and all the dogs just seemed to be sleeping all the time.

  7. sally
    18th June 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    I am terrified of dogs, I was bitten on the mouth as a 7yr old and dogs sense my fear. I have travelled in many countries on my bike with my partner who thankfully can stay calm when we are approached or chased. We bought a dog dazer for an 8months trip around S E Asia,NZ and parts of Europe. thenkfully we did not encounter too many really vicious dogs but the couple of times we did, the dog dazer was brilliant, the dogs just stop in their track and wince, it seems to be so painful to their ears that they just run away dazed and confused. I would recommend having one in your barbag for easy access.

  8. Noah
    15th August 2011 at 8:38 am #

    I came across 2 cougars,alone in Manitoba once.

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