Pesky Canines: How to Avoid Dog Attack Whilst Cycle Touring
Updated: Apr 21
DISCLAIMER: While this works for me, I take no responsibility if you get attacked by a dog.
I love dogs, and I still do but as a cyclist it is, at times, a tense love-hate relationship. Dog attack was one of my main concerns when I started out on this trip. I have heard many stories of a cyclist’s trip cut short as a result of a significant chunk bitten out of a calf muscle or a rush to medical facilities for rabies vaccinations. Luckily I’ve had my rabies jabs.
I encountered next to zero issues with dogs cycle touring through most of Europe. Western Europe. However, I faced a steep learning curve in Romania. This learning curve only sharpened as I continued the cycle further through Turkey and into Georgia. In my opinion, the dogs simply get larger and more aggressive the further east you travel.
In many of these countries, shepherd dogs were crucial to protecting livestock from wolves and bears. They still are to a certain extent, as populations of both bears and wolves are recovering and doing well in many locations across Europe. For example, it’s worth being cautious of bears when cycling through some regions of Romania.
These shepherd dogs are big, not your average collie. They don’t back down easily and more often than not there will be several of them. Sometimes they also come with a sharp spiked collar for added effect (see below). Only kidding, these collars are actually to protect the throat of the dog if attacked.
On day three in Romania I had chosen to follow a quiet back road through the mountains toward Cluj-Napoca. In the space of several hours, I had 4 nerve-shattering encounters with dogs.
The first encounter saw a large white maremma dog chase and snarl after me, eventually returning to a calling owner. Later that day I was cycling through a gypsy community when I spotted a large group of dogs resting on an embankment ahead. I knew there’d be trouble and they hadn’t seen me yet, so I approached slowly and started looking for the location of the shepherd.
Once the dogs spotted me, I was quickly faced with the onslaught of almost 20 dogs. The majority were just barking and less aggressive but, three were particularly aggressive. Lunging and coming in quite close to me. I kept the bike between me and the dogs and within a few minutes some children, who could have been no more than five years old, came running up and the dogs instantly retreated back to the trees. Allowing me to pass.
There's nothing quite like an adrenaline rush to perk up the atmosphere when cycling along quiet back roads. I really wasn’t keen on a trip to the hospital. So, I picked up a stick and quickly established a system for getting past dogs.
Different Types of Problem Dogs
The dogs that will cause you problems are either strays, street dogs, or livestock guardian dogs.
The strays are often less of a problem, they’re typically unfamiliar with seeing cyclists and will just bark and make a fuss. Sadly street dogs are sometimes treated badly, which means they’re fairly easy to scare off due to their general fear of people.
It’s the livestock guardian dogs or general guard dogs that are the main problem. These dogs are big and are encouraged to be aggressive. *Don’t expect owners to apologise for their dogs terrorising you, despite the fact that you’re on a public road.
How to Avoid Attack
Just how have I managed to keep my calves puncture free so far? Firstly I keep my eyes peeled when passing through areas likely to have dogs, for example past farm houses, car yards, petrol stations, and where ever livestock are roaming.
If I see a dog I quickly gauge them and the situation, and ask myself some questions:
Are there multiple dogs?
Are there any people around?
Can I sneak past without them noticing? (I love slipping past sleeping dogs).
If it’s not possible to sneak past, then I slow down until I’m sure the dog has seen me and watch their reaction to the bike. This is pretty clear cut, an instant ‘chase and bark’ reaction, means you’ll need to slow down and most likely stop. When you stop, get in a defensive position. Always keep the bike between you and the dog.
The severity of the bark determines just how serious your defense needs to be. You learn to differentiate between an angry snarling bark and just an alert bark. If there’s no reaction or very little then keep cycling, but keep a second eye on them.
Don’t underestimate how effective the tone of your voice can be. When you pass by a disgruntled dog, talk calmly and quietly to it. This does wonders to help to diffuse a potential firecracker of a dog.
Some strays have a pretty tough life, in Turkey the municipality veterinarians will treat strays for free but you’ve got to get the animal to the vets first. I think this guy had a nasty run in with a car.
It seems counter-intuitive that when you have a 40kg maniac dog tearing after you that you should stop. Stopping is very effective. Often the act of stopping flips the dogs natural chase instinct, and the dog will become less confident about attacking. You are then in a better position to defend yourself when at a standstill.
Some people think they can outrun a dog, and in some situations, it’s possible (like if you’re already flying downhill and have a decent head start). But I could think of nothing worse than getting knocked off your bike and having to face up to the dog from on the ground. So, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
In probably 90% of my experiences with aggressive dogs, there has been a person nearby. Sometimes it’s the shepherd or just a local person who would have some influence over the dog. Make a lot of noise, both to deter the dog as it’s approaching, but also to alert anyone nearby who can call the dog off you.
Finally the gold standard – rocks and a stick (A stick has multiple uses, but that’s another story). In many places locals and dog ‘owners’ use rocks to chase dogs away or a shepherd will have a big stick to keep the dogs in line.
I had one situation in Georgia with a super aggressive dog where the farmer came running out of the property hurling rocks at his own dog! It wouldn’t even listen to his yelling, but it eventually got the hint when a few big rocks whirred past his head. Trust me you won’t hurt them, they’re pretty tough.
Focus on Deterrence
One word of advice, don’t actually hit the dog with the stick. Some dogs will actually get more aggressive in reaction to being hit, which kind of makes sense. In Tbilisi, Georgia, I saw a street dog bark at all the men walking down the street. Most of the men tried to detour wide around the dog to avoid him, but one man became angry and kicked out at the dog. He didn’t actually touch the dog but just this aggressive action was enough to set the rest of the dogs off. Pretty soon he was surrounded by an angry bunch of street dogs, all protecting their buddy.
Whether it’s angry people, or angry dogs it’s important to stay calm. Sometimes you can deter a dog and resolve a situation just by talking calmly rather than having to yell and throw rocks. All of this is, of course, learned and adapted along the way. I still have some pretty close shaves from time to time.
It’s also important to note that I do consider myself pretty comfortable around dogs to begin with. If you have a fear of dogs, then I can only imagine cycle touring would be particularly challenging.
Despite my many adrenaline raising experiences with dogs I don’t harbour any hard feelings, and will always befriend the dogs that come to investigate my camping spot or in search of food.
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