I am afraid of dogs, even though we have one. I am not exactly sure where this fear comes from. My mother occasionally recalls an experience I can’t remember when I was two and she rescued me from a German shepherd dragging me down the street by my hair. Or, maybe my fear comes from all the stories my grandfather told about his dog encounters. As a child he was bitten a couple of times and from then on went on all walks with a long wood staff. Maybe my fear of dogs has to do with an interview I heard on NPR about a guy getting eaten alive by a bear—it just seems like something that could also happen with a dog.
Getting a road bike provided me with a lot of new reasons to fear dogs. Over the years, some of the more memorable dogs I have encountered on my bike include a chow-cheetah mix that outran our tandem at 26 miles an hour, two chihuahua-pit bull mixes that almost got squashed and wrecked us, the pit bull monster that broke away from his owner and nearly ate us all up, the house of the seven black labs, five snarling curs on a road named “Lamb,” and a great dane whose teeth were as high as my handlebars. Then there have been all the puppies that have chased us along busy roads. I particularly hate going past houses that have life-sized plaster dogs as yard ornaments, because from a distance they look like real dogs poised to get me.
The following video illustrates how we felt today during the one encounter riding home today.
See the baby deer – that was us today on our ride.
Cycling on rural roads has taught me some truths about dogs and bikes:
1) Dog owners do not always leash their dogs.
2) Dog owners who live on busy roads do not always leash their dogs.
3) To a dog, there is something irresistible about a human whizzing past a house at about the same speed as a running deer.
4) The best, loveliest rides have the meanest dogs.
5) The worst dogs appear when you are going uphill.
6) Before a bike ride through the country, it is better not to watch that episode of Planet Earth where the wild dogs attack the gazelle.
7) Dogs are less likely to go after groups of riders.
One of my favorite conversations with other cyclists is how to deal with dog encounters. Some of the strategies I have heard include using pepper spray, throwing handfuls of rocks, squirting with the water bottle, shouting “no,” kicking in the face, clubbing with a tire pump, activating dog sonar to hurt their ears, yelling “go faster!” and carrying a gun. While I wouldn’t try all of these, I clearly need a strategy besides yelling “no,” and “go faster!” which didn’t really work today on our ride home from work (I am writing this from the hospital. Just kidding, y’all). On the next ride, I’m going to stuff my jersey pockets with pebbles.
What I really want to know is, does that dog sonar really work? Here’s one of the brands of “sonic” dog repellent:
That’s like Prairie Home Companion’s riff “Duct tape: it’s almost the only thing you need sometimes.”
I have to say that being on a tandem is much better for dog encounters, for a number of reasons. You can go faster and outrun a dog. The stoker, i.e. me, is free to inflict all kinds of self-defense tactics (see above) on canine offenders. You are quieter and sneakier, especially if your tandem is as well-maintained as mine. You can take a picture of the mean dog to display on your tandem blog (one day, folks!) and finally, your hands are free to call the sheriff on the beast’s owners.