Dogs can be a big annoyance for bike tourists, from the domestic pet who isn’t trained or tied up and comes running after your wheels to the aggressive sheepdogs of Greece and Turkey.
A quick online search reveals a wealth of “cures”. There are gadgets that emit a sound that is unpleasant to a dog’s ears, pepper spray and other weapons. We have never put much weight in these solutions. Our bags are already heavy enough and gadgets have to be very close at hand to be useful.
They also may not work on all dogs. In a windy situation, pepper spray could fly off target or back into your own eyes if not aimed carefully and in some countries pepper spray is illegal.
Our solution is much simpler. When we see an aggressive dog we simply stop and break the chase sequence. After stopping, we keep eye contact with the dog and never show fear. Dogs can sense when you are scared and that only encourages further aggression.
Here are more details on what we do when we see a dog:
- As soon as you see a dog that could be a threat, slow down and prepare to hop off your bike.
- If the dog starts to approach you, stop cycling. The only exception to this is if you are going down a steep hill and have a speed of at least 30km/hour. Anything less than that and the dog can catch up. If you are on the flat or uphill, forget trying to make a getaway.
- Most dogs will stop the chase once you stop cycling. If the dog continues to approach, maintain eye contact with the dog, use your bike as a barrier and pick up some rocks.
- You can now do a number of things: bark or shout back, pretend to throw a stone at the dog, or make yourself look as big as possible. The trick is to make the dog think you are really ‘top dog’ and head of the pack. If you can, slowly walk past the dog while you are doing this but keep an eye on the animal.
- Avoid throwing stones until you really feel you have to, because sometimes this can provoke a dog further, particularly if you throw the stones as a first act of aggression, before the dog has really barked or started to approach you. The exception to this is in Southeast Asia, where dogs are conditioned to turn and run just at the motion of stone throwing.
- If all else fails, grab your bicycle pump or a large stick as a weapon and prepare to do battle! Thankfully, we have never actually had to hit a dog, but sometimes we have threatened to do just that. Usually the intent scares the dog off.
When free camping, you may hear wild dogs nearby but in our experience they rarely approach the tent and at worst just sniff around. We’ve never had one actually try to enter the tent itself. We did have two local dogs come into our riverside bungalow in Laos, but they were friendly and just wanted to sleep beneath our bed! It wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t bring their fleas too…
There is just one more thing to consider when you’re cycling: a rabies vaccination. This isn’t so important in low-risk countries but worth considering for bike tours in places like India and China. A rabies shot does not eliminate the need for treatment if you’re bitten but it 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 could have to abandon your trip and fly to a developed country.
See another article we wrote on this topic – Cycling Hazards: Dealing With Dogs