What to do when you encounter a dog. Well, if you are afraid... there is no help for you – run fast.
I've read many articles that say that people should do this or that, but I know just as many examples that those things did not work in a given situation. So it is very tricky to give an advice that it may turn to be completely wrong. Some people even carry pepper spray or whistles. Me, I have never needed any tools, because that may make the dogs even angrier. And beside that, I have never been bitten or attacked by a dog.
My advice is to observe and judge the situation: how many are there; is there a bitch with puppies; are there any sheep around; can you out-cycle them or is it a steep uphill; etc. And do not let anyone tell you how to deal with the situation, not even me, since there are always exceptions. You might want to keep in mind few things though: Dogs protect their territory, their owners, their young ones, and the sheep. So if you don’t mess with any of the above, you should be fine.
Before considering defense strategies, please try to see if you can avoid encountering with the dogs. Assess issues regarding their distance, your speed, or even taking an alternative road. That is the safest thing I can advise.
From my experience I can share this.
- Stray dogs are the biggest pests in urban areas. But they are afraid. So, most of the times, if I just look at them directly in their eyes, they will go back. Sometimes a brave step toward the dogs or a big yell is sufficient to chase them away. They attack only in the back or when they are in a really big group. But they'd more chase than attack. And no matter what I do they do not stop barking. If there is a bigger group of stray dogs, consider picking up something to throw or to wave at them.
- Village dogs, and generally guard dogs are more dangerous. But they are dangerous only if I come close to the house or yard they are guarding. I have noticed that one may bark when I am close, but would not go outside of the yard to attack me even if the dog is free and the door is open. Like saying: “Pass on, I guard this place.”
- Shepherd dogs are a story of their own. Most dangerous but also easiest to deal with. It all depends how far the sheep are. The best thing to do is to stop, and call out for the shepherd. He will call off the dogs. I always stop, and let the sheep pass. If I see the shepherd I always head towards him, while being followed at close distance by 4 to 7 dogs. I am calm, I show respect to the dogs, and all goes fine. Otherwise I notice the dogs positioning them selves in formations, strategically to keep me as far as away possible from the sheep. When encountering the shepherd dogs may be advisable, out of precaution to have a pepper spray in your pocket.
In a more general matter, it is advisable that you step of the bicycle when encountered by dogs, any dogs. This is more of a precautionary measure. If you are on the bicycle, a dog may pull you off balance and you may end up lying on the ground. If this happens you will not be able to defend yourself. So do stand firmly on both of your feet when in immediate danger.
If the dogs are not stray or wild, talk. Naturally, try to talk to the master of the dogs. But be careful of your tone of voice. The dogs should not be able to sense hostility. Be calm and peaceful. Even if you do not know the local language. No matter. Your calm approach will calm the dogs. And who knows, the dog master may know some of your language.
However, though this is valid for the dogs in Macedonia, it is not valid for the dogs in Greece. Apparently the people in Greece train the shepherd dogs to really make an effort to harm people. I've had recent experiences were shepherd dogs, big shepherd dogs started chasing me even from a whole kilometre away. On another occasion the dogs went back (opposite of my direction) along a water canal for several hundred meters, to get to a bridge so they can cross and then chase me and they did get to me. Along the main roads, I had dogs jumping over fences just to get to me... Dogs in Greece are not nice to cyclists. Luckily for me, in all of those situations I had a pepper spray for dogs, so I simply aimed at their head whilst riding (and looking backward) and sprayed them. The pepper spray always did the trick.