Dealing with Dogs

I somehow have managed not to read Mark Twain’s essay, Taming the Bicycle until recently.

I particularly enjoyed the section on dogs:

There was a row of low stepping-stones across one end of the street, a measured yard apart. Even after I got so I could steer pretty fairly I was so afraid of those stones that I always hit them. They gave me the worst falls I ever got in that street, except those which I got from dogs. I have seen it stated that no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be true: but I think that the reason he couldn’t run over the dog was because he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran over every dog that came along. I think it makes a great deal of difference. If you try to run over the dog he knows how to calculate, but if you are trying to miss him he does not know how to calculate, and is liable to jump the wrong way every time. It was always so in my experience. Even when I could not hit a wagon I could hit a dog that came to see me practice. They all liked to see me practice, and they all came, for there was very little going on in our neighborhood to entertain a dog. It took time to learn to miss a dog, but I achieved even that.

Yamaha AG 100
One of these. Look! No pedals. | Photo:

My approach to dogs has developed out of two formative experiences. First is that I’ve almost always had at least one dog in my life, so I’m not afraid of them. Well, rarely afraid of them.

The second formative experience is from my puttering around Cameroon with a farm bike for two-and-a-half years.

The Peace Corps motorcycle handbook had advice for many of the animals you might encounter in rural Cameroon. My favorite was (paraphrasing), “Chickens: Hit them! You’re more likely to hurt yourself trying to avoid them.”

Mark Twain seems to have discovered a similar strategy to the one I developed on that farm bike, and it’s one I continue to employ on my pedal bike: Don’t try to avoid them. Let the dog decide which way it will go.

You know that eye-contact thing that we always talk about with drivers? It (usually) works with dogs too. When I see a dog in my path, I will aim right at it and send a telepathic message, I’m not going to decide for you.

I’m not saying that I speed up or try to hit them. In fact, I prepare to stop in case the dog doesn’t see me. But if the dog does see me, it will move out of the way.

The post is just a pretext to show this photo of my dogs Howard (L) and Skully (R)

The communication part of this strategy basically says to the dog, I am not a squirrel. Respect me because I am not something that you want to chase.

This does take a little attitude, and I’d be interested in knowing how many of you think you can pull this off.

In a previous article here (“How Should I Deal with Agressive Dogs?“) readers offered lots of advice, including carrying pepper spray, and yelling at the dog with a commanding voice. Others might think of these as a first line of defense, but I would consider these to be backup strategies.

Once, in Cameroon, some skinny little dog just didn’t see me. I started braking, but I continued to aim right for the dog hoping he would snap out of his daze and pick one direction or another. He didn’t.

I couldn’t stop before my front wheel went right over his waist, and the bike came to a full stop. It was then that the dog noticed me. He yelped, and finally chose to go to the left.

I stand by this technique.

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