Friday, August 31, 2012

Dog Days

Got chased by a dog again the other day. I was enjoying a blissful summer morning ride, alone, along a gravel road in southern Manitoba, between the Mennonite towns of Winkler and Plum Coulee. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge, menacing white dog burst out of the yard of a farmhouse and was after me. Instinct kicked in—for both me and the pooch. I bolted, pedalling furiously, while unleashing a string of loud and profane threats.  But the Moby Dick of dogs was not deterred; it pursued me, and for a long time. Usually a dog gives up after about 10 seconds of chasing; however, this time the game seemed to go on for ever—at least 30 seconds. A narrow escape. My heart was thumping to beat the band. Thus did I learn that Mennonite dogs are not necessarily pacifists.  

This incident is only the most recent of several nasty dog encounters I’ve had in recent weeks, including another close call when I was out riding with my son. But it seems inevitable. When you ride country roads, you’re going to encounter dogs. There’s just something primal about a dog’s desire to chase a bicycle. So far, I’ve not been bitten or maimed, but I’m starting to think that it’s just a matter of time. Plus I’m beginning to wonder about my current strategy of trying to simply outrun the dogs. One of these times, I’m going to get caught, or I’m going to wipe out trying to escape. So I figure I’ve got to come up with a new strategy. 
Photo Credit: Rambling Man (Dec. 8, 2011)
If you look around the cycling forums on the interweb, you’ll find that this is a common problem for cyclists and therefore lots of people have advice. One of the more thoughtful (and funny) articles I’ve come across on this topic can be found at crazyguyonabike. There Neil Gunton makes a compelling argument for not trying to out run dogs. Instead, he suggests fighting back. Not by hitting the dog with your pump or attempting to kick it from a moving bike—these are ridiculously dangerous moves, he points out. Instead, Gunton makes the case for slowing down, even stopping, and spraying the pooch in the face with some kind of non-lethal dog spray.

Not my actual hand.
He recommends Halt!, a pepper spray-style “dog repellant” that comes in a small aerosol can which can be stashed in a pocket or handlebar bag for easy access. Halt! claims to have a range of about 10 feet. Apparently U.S. postal carriers have been using Halt! for years, with a fair bit of success. Generally, when a dog gets sprayed in the face, it will back off and rub its face in the grass for half an hour until the pepper wears off. Gunton’s theory is that if this happens to a dog a few times, the pooch might even learn that chasing bicycles equals burning pain in the eyeballs. Therefore, said dog won’t be so keen to chase bicycles. The primal desire to avoid pain may just trump the primal need to chase. Think of it as back-to-school for the dogs.

After reading Gunton’s piece, I’ve decided to change my dog strategy. It’s time to weaponize and engage. I’m going to start packing heat—of the capsicum variety—and when a canine comes at me, I will stop and spray (and possibly pray—that it works). Then all I’ll have to worry about is out-pedalling the dog owners, though in my experience, the owners are rarely around when these chases occur. This new approach is not going to be easy for me. The instinct to flee in the face of attack runs deep in the Gates’ genes; it’s one of our few evolutionary advantages. 

August has been a great month of cycling for me: hot days, dusty roads, lots of new territory, and even a few small adventures. The surprising possibilities of gravel grinding continue to unfold. No way I’m going to allow the pleasures of back-road riding to go to the dogs.  


  1. Ah, dogs. When I was eight two german shepherds chased me on my bike. They had done it once or twice before, and I always outran them. This time, I didn't see them coming, and they caught me--teeth right into my hip. But, damnit, I love the furry bastards, so the worst part of the experience was being afraid of all german shepherds for the last twenty years and feeling guilty about it because I knew that those two fellas just had bad owners. It's taken hanging out with some excellently-trained K9s, shepherd and malinois furballs, to get me to the point where I'm only suspicious of them and not terrified. I look forward to the day when I can meet one and not even be suspicious.

    That said, I don't blame you for taking up this new tactic, especially if you're riding with your son. I know I'd feel guilty for it, though, just like I did when I had to defend myself from the two that wanted to eat me when I was eight. Way less guilty, though, if I were protecting my child. ;)

    1. That's a harrowing tale, Moose. I'd need some serious therapy to get over a traumatic encounter like that. It seems most people I've talked to lately have a dog bite story of some kind. (It's been on my mind, so I've been asking.)I heard one just the other day about a local jogger who got attacked by Great Dane and fought back by punching the lunging dog. Apparently the owner was furious.

    2. Wow! That surprises me a little--not about the dog owner, but about the dog. Great Danes are usually so lazy. It takes most of their energy just to operate that giant frame. Dane owners, though, tend to be super-protective of their dogs, I've noticed. But, hey, just like in dealing with people, if you attack, you get punched. Them's the rules of life.


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