Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Relax! It's Just A Dog!

It took a while, but the confrontation with these two farm dogs in Kansas was successfully diffused....and I lived!
Ask any gravel rider what their biggest fear about riding in the country is and a large percentage of them will say it is dogs. The fear of dogs is not unfounded, I know several people that have been bitten, terrorized, or otherwise taught to greatly fear dogs, so that what I am about to write here doesn't minimize those feelings. That said, 99% of the time dogs are really no big deal out in the country. They are probably less likely to harm you than a car or truck, really, and if you do some simple things, your next encounter with a farm mutt could be just another facet of your adventure.

I've ridden thousands of miles of gravel in many states and I have had encounters with dogs from all over. So, I feel that I have enough knowledge of the subject that I can pass along a few tidbits that probably will come in handy for many people.

Now before I go any further, yes- I have had some really mean, nasty dog encounters. I've been cornered on a hilltop at night by an Australian Shepherd in Benton County, I've been nearly bitten by a large, black mutt in Bremer County, and I had the encounter, pictured to the left here, in Kansas last year- a Great Pyrenees and a shepherd of unknown lineage gave me no quarter. However; I can also say that I've never been bitten either. Nipped at- yes. Never bitten.

A dog giving chase at the Renegade Gent's Race
So, anyway, here are a few things you can do that will definitely help diffuse your next encounter in the country with a dog.

Don't Ride Alone: I've found many dogs, not all mind you, but many, will not give chase if there is a group of people. They will bark, come out on the road, but they aren't usually going to come after you if you are "in the herd". Generally the dog will stop at the end of its perceived territory and that will be that. But there are the occasional mutts that think the group is for play time, and the dog may follow you or even frolic around within your group. This kind of dog usually means no harm, but they are no less dangerous. They can easily cause a crash. Generally by stopping and giving a strong "Go Home!" command you can rid yourself of the unwanted companion. Or not. I've had dogs follow for miles, just happy to run. Oh well..........

Don't Be Afraid: Outwardly showing fear just seems to egg mutts onward as if they can sense that their "prey" is "on the run". Dogs are instinctual. Don't act like prey animals! Showing fear isn't helpful to your situation, at any rate. It clouds thinking and your amped up voice will, in the very least, only excite the mutt further. Be assertive, but don't be afraid. (At least until afterward!)

When You Are Alone: I often ride alone, so dogs are a bit bolder when it comes to single targets. I ALWAYS scan farm yards I am approaching for movement. Dogs will try to cut you off at an angle of pursuit that intersects with your direction of travel that matches up with their speed. Go faster, you can disrupt that angle in your favor, but keep in mind- dogs are fast. Bigger dogs are faster! I've had to go at speeds of upwards of 25mph to ditch medium sized mutts. A big dog like a German Shepherd or a Pinscher can easily go faster than that for short bursts. Smaller dogs with shorter legs can even go pretty fast, so gauge your reserves and situation accordingly. Downhill with a tailwind? Outrun that dog. It's fun! I call it "Dog Sprinting". But what if you cannot outrun that mutt?

Short legged dogs like this Corgi are easy to outrun, but watch out! They can still cause you to crash!
When Out Running A Dog Is Not An Option: Sometimes you are working a head wind, going up hill, after 40 tough miles, and a mutt charges you. You are not going to outrun this dog. What then?

I don't allow the dog the chance to intersect me in his line of pursuit. I stop immediately, get off my bike, and put the bike between myself and the charging dog. Probably 90% of the time that is all it takes. Here's an example that happened just last weekend on Aker Road.

I got off my bike and this big, probably 70lb-80lb dog was barking, running back and forth up along its property line, and would have pursued me had I tried out running it. I spoke kindly to it until I felt I could walk along the far side of the road. All the while I spoke to it. He came out on the road way once, but that was early on. The more I spoke to it the less amped the dog was. I felt I was going to be able to walk past its territory easily until the owner heard all the commotion, called the dog, and the dog ran back to the house. By that time I was nearly home free anyway.

Now there are the other 10% of cases. The Kansas duo, above, took me about 20 minutes to "talk down off the edge" before I could remount. In fact, the image I took shows them wandering back to the house, having decided I wasn't a threat.

Sometimes you will get the dog calmed down, it will look good, then the owner yells and the dog figures they now must protect their person at all costs. Back to square one! In those cases, I have had to stand there till the owner came right out on the road to get the dog. I've run across hundreds of dogs, and I think this has happened three times.

There was that one time I was chased by cats. Really!
Alternative Actions: Of course, I'm not the only one that has had dog encounters out on gravel roads. There are a few things I've heard about and seen that also will get you out of a pickle with a farm dog.

One is "The Command". I've seen a few folks use this to great effect. A stern, loud, "Go Home!", or "No!" can dissuade a dog and send them back to the house.

I've heard that tossing a dog a treat can also get a dog to calm down, although you may end up with a traveling companion for several miles! This tactic was put to good effect at Trans Iowa one year by Sarah Cooper, the well known ultra-distance cyclist.

You could also employ the ever popular "squirt the water bottle in the face" technique, although I've never seen that done or heard that it actually was effective. 

Finally, while it may seem really weird, I have disoriented dogs by actually barking back at them. Admittedly, I've been told that I have a rather convincing bark. So, that may not be a good alternative for everyone!

Got any good tactics for dealing with farm dogs? Tell me in the comments!


Phillip Cowan said...

The squirt in the face tactic seems to work for me about 90% of the time and it does no real harm to the animal. Sometimes the dogs lock up all four brakes which can be sorta comical.

CrossTrail said...

In the moment, I grabbed my sports drink bottle and flushed the dog's face. Startled, he stopped cold, started licking his face and then decided he wanted more of that! The chase was back on! Now, in earnest!

Barturtle said...

Living in KY, which is pretty renowned for its dogs among TABR riders, I stop and pet them.

Michael said...

I had had a dog making a bee-line for one of my ankles once. I grabbed frame pump off my bike and gave it that chew on instead. I guess it did like the taste as it gave up on the chase.

Jon Sagara said...

Yelling "NO!" just like I'm scolding the animal seems to work pretty well. So far, at the very least, it stops them in their tracks and makes them reconsider for a bit.

onoffrhodes.com said...

We call it the "voice of God", what you refer to as the command. Just tell the dog "no" in a very authoritative voice and it can diffuse many situations. The particular dog may be trying to assert their alpha and you have to go one bigger than them. It's a kind of dog psychology basically.

Unknown said...

When cats come at you with their tail up it's generally a friendly greeting.

I was on a gravel trail a few years ago and saw a dog hanging out with two goats. I was more worried about the goats ramming me, so I dismounted (took a few pics) and then walked my bike with the bike between us.

I rode another mile down the trail and saw someone walking and asked her if she knew anyone missing a dog and a few goats. She said "ahh shit, they got out again?" and went after them.

Michael Lemberger said...

Back in the summer of 2012, my buddy Steve and I were rolling south on a county highway a little ways outside of Belleville, and it had just started to rain on the brand-new asphalt. As we were passing this farm with a huge green lawn out front, Steve said to me in this calm deadpan voice, "Dogs. Sprint." and I'm all like oh, yeah, dogs sprint. Wait, what? So I turn around and there are two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers charging across the lawn toward me at that intercept angle. The portly older one soon slowed down and was content to bark at me from the lawn, but the young one, all full of piss and vinegar, came roaring out of the ditch with his eyes on my right anklebone. I was having none of it and gave him a mighty "HYAAW" right in the face, using the "voice of God." [side note: it has to come from the diaphragm, and nowhere else—just imagine you're one of those horns on top of a diesel locomotive] The poor young buck put on the brakes so hard, he slipped and wiped out on the wet pavement. Last I saw, he was slinking back across that huge lawn for the safety of home.

Michael Lemberger said...

I also seem to remember a herding dog joining us on the Death Ride in 2014, somewhere right after Wadena. I think he'd still be with us if we hadn't hit 30mph on the downhill to get away from him.

Cory said...

I wonder if you saw my facebook post a few weeks ago lol(which was posted foolishly with 200% adrenaline shortly after it happened). Yeah I had 2 pits come out of a yard at a full burst on me. I wonder now, after reading your article, if I could have dismounted and talked to them? I guess I will never know. I seen them coming, panicked, and put the pedal to the metal. I was going into a 15 mph headwind and I was a little tired after already cranking out a few miles. Fueled by adrenaline I managed to outrun them a half mile to the nearest highway. Then I figured I better take highway instead of gravel as they were still in pursuit. So I turned left and cranked it downhill on pavement when to my surprise they cut across the field and caught back up to me. I managed to finally outrun them after a mile or mile and a half. I was scared and upset after I was far enough away that I was able to stop and take a break. I appreciate this article. It was very informative and every rider needs to be aware of these things.

Michael W. Hersman said...

Yep, this and yelling at them to go home. I usually get a look like, how did you know my master's commands...lol.

Chris Weis said...

Great advice, but I have a gravel dog that has a particular set of skills...

I ride by a farm just at the top of a little incline on a local gravel route I frequent. Between the road and the farm is a ditch with tall grass and a row of thick pine trees, so I can't see the property/yard, or the mid-sized dog that I can only assume is winding up his death run for a good 30 yards before shooting out of the grass onto the road. Unlike other dogs I encounter, he isn't chasing from behind or at an angle, but rather coming at me directly from the side or from in front of me. I think he's trying to bite the back of the front tire or my foot, but usually he's so out of control and at such speed that he wipes out and slams into my bike from the side. After that, he's done and runs back into the grass. It's certainly a unique technique. It's happened multiple times now, once almost taking out my front wheel. What seems to work best is to (1) slow down to maintain control, (2) put my foot out and let him smack into that vs hitting (or going under) a wheel, (3) question my life choices.

Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, I know that dogs with the "car chasing" gene usually don't make it very long, but this pup is a scrapper. I kind of admire him for his conviction. :-)