Thursday, March 04, 2021

It's That Time Of Year Again

Like a bullet! Dogs are part of gravel riding. Get used to it.
The roads in Iowa got rideable again and the next thing ya know there are all kinds of questions about dogs. Yep! People getting bitten, scared half outta their minds, and left wondering what they could have done differently. 

NOTE: I wrote a pretty comprehensive post about dogs and country riding in 2018 which you can read HERE. This post will be about some additional thoughts I have had since that time.

Dogs. They are a part of riding in the country- paved, gravel, or dirt roads, and even in towns and cities. Legendary tales of mean dogs and feats of speed are told every year around this time. Ever notice that it seems to be that late Winter and early Spring are the worst times for this? I mean, I almost never hear about dog issues in late Summer and Fall. ("Almost never" means it happens, just not as often.)

Dogs are cooped up, left with little to do in the Mid-West for months. What do you expect they want to do once the weather breaks? I'd be chasing you if I were a dog after sitting around in negative wind chill Iowa for two months straight! Bark!

So, I think I would suggest that you should expect to have to deal with dogs on gravel rides- especially in Spring. I am always on the alert when I come across a country abode and I scan the area for a dog. Many times the barking will alert you to a dog's presence, but believe me- the silent attacks are the worst- and to detect a dog you need to be aware. Generally they almost always are around houses and barns. Rarely if ever will you have issues with aggressive dogs away from properties. So, whenever you pass a property, you need to be sitting up and scanning the area. 

Dogs can and will be seen out away from properties, but almost always these are benign encounters. The dog can be a issue because of getting in the way, but I've rarely had an aggressive dog away from a property.

I rarely, if ever, see dogs in empty country.

 Secondly, I have noted a lot of people recounting dog encounters that were negative and there is no mention of stopping. If you don't stop, you will perpetuate the 'prey instinct' dogs have which is triggered by your movements on a bicycle and by the speed you are traveling at. Legs moving up and down and speed are two triggers to a dog's embedded instinct to hunt herd animals. You will not break them out of this until you stop and dismount. Many times the dog's demeanor changes so drastically at that point when you dismount that it can be comical. But whether or not the dog is disoriented by this, you need to be willing to stop and dismount, place the bike between you and the dog, and be patient. 

Trying to outrun a dog is usually a great way to end up getting bitten. Dogs live for this. They are hard-wired to hunt. Only the most disciplined dogs will resist this urge, and there aren't that many well trained dogs on the loose in the country. So, before you ever get out on a ride, you need to be prepared to swallow your pride and stop. I'm not sure why cyclists generally do not see stopping as an option, maybe it seems counterintuitive, but all I know is that it is a necessity when riding where dogs may be wanting to chase. 

Finally- you have rights as a road user and a citizen. If a dog does become an issue, either by its continued aggressiveness or due to inflicting injuries and damage to personal property while you are on a public roadway, the dog owner is liable. Report any incidents to county sheriffs or whomever handles the law enforcement in the area. Contact dog owners and file grievances where possible. Remember- you have a right to ride the roads, no matter what property owners may think, and as long as you stay on public roadways, you are good. Your rights become compromised once you get off public roads. So, stay out of fields, Level C Maintenance roads which are supposed to be gated, and the like. You are only inviting trouble if you venture off public roads. 

This goes for approaching a farm house for assistance. So be super careful if you are placed in a situation where you need water, for an example, because all bets are off if you walk into a farm yard where a dog is present. Just be smart and be well prepared ahead of time. Self-supported cycling is something to strive for, but I realize there are times you may need to ask for assistance. I have- been there-done that. Just be hyper-alert and careful. 

I think that about does it for my additional thoughts. If you have any further ideas or advice for folks dealing with dogs, let's have those in the comments. It may end up becoming a resource down the line for someone. Thanks for reading.


Phillip Cowan said...

I like that you mentioned the water issue. I always make sure I have plenty of water when riding in the country. Even though you'll pass many farm houses, some with sprinklers going, invariably there are at least one or two dogs to deal with. It's just not worth getting bit while trying to find the owner to ask for water.

GravelDoc said...

Great advice GT. A riders voice to the dog can be helpful. Speak calmly with a no all tone. Dogs may interpret a low voice as threatening but a normal voice saying "good doggy" may reassure the dog or even throw off the attack. It has worked for me.

tntmoriv said...

Great advice, and I second what GravelDoc said: speak calmly and nicely. That has diffused almost every one of my dog encounters very swiftly. About half the time saying, “Good Dog, ok, go home now” a few times in a sugary beauty pageant style speak to a puppy child’s voice results in them literal wagging their tails and going back to the house, the other half the time I am happy that they just quietly and calmly look at me like I’m an idiot. I’ll take the win either way.

Tomcat said...

All of what you said are great points. I'm especially drawn by the one to contact local authorities if it's an issue. Gravel roads are public domain, and if there's an issue, report it.

I have to admit - I'm a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to dogs. After a bad run-in this past summer with a Rottweiler, I've been more vigilant and aware than ever (Mr. Roll can attest to this ;D).

In any case, I think the hardest thing for me to do at this point is not instinctually try to out-ride the dog. When I was getting bit by the rottweiler, the last thing i wanted to do was unclip and start walking. It's like putting your hand on the stove with the burner on. You're not going to keep your hand on the stove while turning it off with the other hand - you're gonna instinctually pull your scalding hand away from the burner!

Also, the last comment I'd like to add is dogs don't have the same tear ducts as humans. So if you're going to use pepper spray, just be aware that it could permanently damage their eyes. I suggest using Halt, which is a product that the USPS has used for a few decades now. I haven't had to personally use it, but I'm guessing it works.

As always, great write-ups GT. You contribute a lot to the gravel community and I'm very appreciative of that.

Guitar Ted said...

@Tomcat - I am sorry about your experiences with dogs. That's hard to deal with and you have valid feelings and points about how you've had to deal with that post-incident. I know that others also have had similar mental scars from dealings with dogs.

Your point about trying not to harm the dogs is also well taken. thanks for pointing out the issues with using pepper spray.

Thanks also for the kind words. I really appreciate that and your support here.

Kenneth said...

If I have to get off the bike and walk because of a dog,I always remove my sunglasses when speaking to the dog, and if the dog is aggressive, This simple jester, more times than not, softens their aggressive nature. If I do not trust the dog, the bike always stays between the dog and me. I have never had an aggressive dog follow me much beyond the property that they are guarding. Now the friendly dogs are a different story. I have had friendly dogs follow me for miles.

Guitar Ted said...

@Kenneth - Good point on the sunglasses removal. I've wondered if that might not make a difference.

R said...

It seems to me, everyone has their own method of dealing with dogs... and because everyone is different, and everyone is comfortable using different methods - there probably isn't a universal 'right' answer to this. Maybe what's universal is - Don't Panic (there's always time for that later)!

But, GT summed it up exactly right - dogs are a part of gravel - Be Prepared (mentally and physically)... Would you hurt a dog to save yourself (in a fight with a dog, what are you going to do?) Just like any threat - if you don't have a plan or some basic training - you're going to have less desirable results.

I agree the silent dogs are the worst - they sneak up on you and give you the biggest scare(s)...

For me - I've never stopped to get off my bike - if a dog runs up along side me, sometimes I will downshift - to make my legs spin much faster (making it harder for the dog to time his bite whilst chasing)... I also have a very loud, commanding voice, and a strong "NO!" goes a long ways for me. I have also lifting my hand up above the dogs head - letting it know a strike is immanent (a simple flinch from the dog is enough sometimes). Oh, one last bit of advice I've never seen on these boards - but usually dogs will take angles on you - they'll race you to the corner of their property lot... (or some spaniels will chase you 8 miles)... BUT - if a dog beats you to the corner - and is in front of you on the road - I would recommend playing a game of "Chicken" with the dog - and ride your bike hard - straight at it (which may seem counter intuitive)... but if you take a wide berth around the dog - it will have space to lunge at you, and take a new angle at you... If you charge the dog straight on - it will flinch and barrel into the ditch/side road - and it will have to take a much wider, longer loop to come back around at you...

But for real - all of this is just part of riding gravel (thankfully, I'm a dog person - but some folks are already scared of them)... I once came upon a horse, alone, with no owners around, standing in a ditch... I stopped and turned around, but it still chased after me - talk about being absolutely Terrified!!

Thanks for the space to write and share thoughts, GT - it's nice having a place to escape into my bike-mind with you gravely folks.

Guitar Ted said...

@ R - Thanks for those comments. I didn't mention it, but I've also had success with skidding to a sudden stop, which tends to shock the dog and gives you a bit of an advantage by way of surprise.

Glad you are enjoying the blog. Thanks again!

Nooge said...

The theme here is to help the dog see that you are a person, one that is not a threat. Then the dog will calm down and let you be.

Ironically, it’s the same problem for the cyclist. If you view the dog as a threat your instinct is to out run it or fight it. If you can instead be the calm one, you can both be calm and de-escalate. If you both are feeling threatened / angry, you both feed of that and get a bad outcome.

R said...

There was a house east of Grinnell, on a busy gravel intersection, and there lived 4 pit bulls, and one mutt/shepherd - with a garage door that was always cracked 2' open. If you wanted to ride to Malcom for a beverage/dinner, and couldn't take the B-roads because of rain/mud... you 'had' to cross this intersection (otherwise you'd be on HWY 6, or stuck in the mud - 90th and 390th for those that want to know). I was chased by those dogs several times.

There was no way in hell I would get off my bike and try and de-escalate a situation like that. Rides had to be planned around that intersection - never cross it without a tailwind. Unfortunately, those dogs did catch ahold of an elderly rider - and put him in the hospital. (That was the end of those dogs in that house).

Situations like that are super rare (and unsustainable in the long run)... Most folks with 'dangerous' dogs have them well trained or penned. The risks of meeting a dog on gravel truly does beget the "be cool" advice... But, sometimes - shit happens.

Guitar Ted said...

@ R - Thanks for those thoughts. I agree- sometimes the situation is not something you can work out without intervention. That's where when incidents of aggressive, unrestrained dogs need to be reported to authorities. While that may have not saved the elderly man's having to deal with that, it may have expedited the resolution of the situation. In a best case scenario, the authorities may have communicated with the offending owner and perhaps they would have gotten the message, perhaps heading off a future bad encounter.

Then again- you and others may have done the reporting, but I don't know that.

In the end, we have to remember our rights, and use the system when it can be used, to communicate to dog owners that these sorts of aggressive, unrestrained pets are a danger that they are liable for.

R said...

Yea I believe there were reports made, and warnings given (obviously not heeded well enough). The tenants of the house were renters - and not the actual property owners. The house has been completely torn down at this point and no longer exists (whew).

I am sorry if I came off harsh on dogs, that was absolutely not my intention. I'm a dog owner, lover, and I would prefer to get bitten by a dog (if that meant it would then leave me alone) than fight with a dog.

We all just want to enjoy our rides, have fun - and be safe.

Guitar Ted said...

@R - I didn't take your comments as being harsh on dogs at all. I read it as a realistic concern in some cases where owners are derelict in their duty to be caretakers of animals.