Dealing With Aggressive Dogs: Make Your Bark Worse than Your Bike

Maybe you only ask yourself this question while bicycling or running: Can I beat up that dog?

When a dog is chasing you, you start to calculate your odds of survival if the dog actually attacks you. Most breeds, you think, yeah, maybe I could. Not pit bulls or dobermans, but most dogs, I’d give myself at least 1:2 odds.

Career runners and cyclists have usually had at least one run-in with an aggressive dog, whether it’s a full-on attack or just being barked at and chased. And when you’re getting chased, you never know whether the dog is going to catch you and what they’re going to do when.

I was chased by several dozen dogs on my bike tour across the mostly rural southern United States last year and I can tell you that everyone has their methods to deal this. One couple we met used pepper spray on every single dog that aggressively approached them. Two recumbent cross-country tourers carried cut-off broomsticks that they would use to swing at, and sometimes hit, dogs. We had a friendlier method, squirting the dogs with water bottles, and my aim was starting to get pretty dead-on when, one day, I discovered a better method that didn’t waste any water: Barking.

Nothing proved to be more effective, cathartic, and satisfying than barking at the collective aggressive dogs of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. It also marked the point on the trip when we just said screw it, this is not normal behavior, but this is what we do now. After a couple thousand miles of pedaling all day, I guess I liked that.

So, here’s how you bark down a dog.

You have to beat the dog at his or her own game, take their tool/weapon, turn that shit up to 11, and deliver it all at once. The dog probably has gotten all kinds of things from its owner, trying to get it to calm down: a stern command, maybe a yank of the leash, choke collar, etc. Easy, buddy. Stop barking at the cyclists/runners/UPS employee, Buster. Heel. Bad dog.

What the dog has not seen is a human being going FREAKING CRAZY on it. Which is what you’re going to do. For one second. When the dog realizes you have completely lost your shit, it will be shocked. You are unstable, possibly dangerous. And, ideally, the dog will stop chasing you.

First thing: How loud are you capable of yelling? Think about this. On a windy day, 200 feet from your climbing partner, how loud would you yell “on belay?” OK, add 20 percent to that. Pretend your significant other is about to be hit by a bullet train, and they’re 200 feet away from you. How loud would you yell now? That’s how loud you’re going to bark at this dog, which is going to be 10-15 feet away from you when you do it.

The volume curve on this has to start at 100 percent. It’s a bark. You have to startle the dog, not give it a chance to understand what’s coming. Don’t think of what a motorcycle sounds like as it passes you on the highway, with the Doppler effect. Think of a bomb going off next to your bed, where your alarm clock usually sits.

Call up all your frustration, anger, and sadness from the last month of your life. You didn’t get a raise, your boyfriend said those pants make you look fat, your girlfriend asked you if your hairline was receding, someone cut you off in traffic, all that stuff. Anger is repressed sadness, so take that sadness channel it into anger. You will have one second to get it all out.

Take in one, quick, sharp breath, and

DELIVER.

Say whatever word you want, drop the F-bomb, your ex-wife’s name, whatever. Keep it to one syllable, though. I prefer a simple “HEY” — but in capital letters so big they are unable to be displayed by your computer screen. Remember, you are screaming in those gigantic capital letters, not starting low and building. Be a that bomb going off, no warning. Be confident in your bark, and visualize knocking the dog on his/her ass with the sudden volume of it.

Then, watch what happens. The dog should look confused, as if he or she just watched you turn into a grizzly bear on a bicycle. And if you’re riding next to someone, they might say something like my pal Tony said to me one morning riding on a country road in Florida:

“OK dude, I gotta admit, I shit my pants a little bit on that one.”

All but twice, this worked for me. Both times, a rottweiler was chasing us as we tried to pedal uphill. I was genuinely scared. This is maybe the time you get out the pepper spray. Or, you know, a cattle prod.

Be ready. Practice your bark. Just not in public.

Brendan Leonard is responsible for Semi-Rad.

{ 29 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Fenriq

    I can’t remember the last time I had to deal with an aggressive dog on the trail. Most every dog I’ve come across off-leash has that tail up, happy wagging thing going on. And if they don’t then the owners have them on a leash, sometimes even muzzled. But I’d have zero problem with braining a dog trying to attack me.

    I tend to think more about mountain lion attacks than being attacked by a dog. Got any tips for those? I know you’re supposed to get as big as possible and make a ton of noise but not much beyond that.

  • tyrone.sweetlick

    Yeah, I used the same technique in my days as a newspaper boy. Very effective. I didn’t care if it was 5am early, if your dog is coming at me, I’m going to scare it and wake you up. Keep it under control and we won’t have to take Fluffy to the vet for repairs.

  • Leon Shaner

    Hmm… Not sure if I am buying this one… I usually have to get off the bike and put the bike between me and the dog while walking methodically ahead until I get far enough that the dog decides to leave me a lone (can be a long way), and yes…yelling very loudly all the while. Maybe an extra loud yell would be enough, but I’m not so sure I’m willing to take a chance on it. There’s a certain comfort level in knowing that if I had to, I could beat the crap out of the dog using my bike as a weapon. ;-) (Well maybe not my new 17 lb road bike, but certainly my 30 lb mountain bike *smile*).

  • Lean Dean

    After getting a bite on my lower leg that required 6 stitches, I now carry a small cheap plastic squirt gun filled with…ammonia! One shot to the face works every time! it’s cheaper than pepper spray and can also clean fresh tar off your bike!

  • Sam Gendler

    More folks are dog owners than aren’t, so I imagine most people know this, but the vast majority of aggressive dogs you encounter when running or cycling are responding to your movement and not actually interested in attacking _you_ at all. The easiest way to get a dog to stop chasing you is to stop moving rapidly away from it. It’s the rare dog owner who has a dog that is known to actually attack people who will also leave it off-leash, so unless you are on someone’s private, fenced property, it’s pretty safe to assume that the dog that is barking so aggressively at your heels will actually just sniff your crotch and say hi if you stop and give it a moment.

    I’ve got 2 large dogs, one of whom will bark and chase anything on wheels – but only if it is on the other side of a fence. As soon as she is on the same side of a fence as the skater or cyclist, she’s friendly as can be. And if you know her body language, even the barking and snapping through the fence is all in ‘good fun.’ Her tail is actually up and wagging and her posture is all play, not attack, but it sure looks scary to whomever is rolling along on the other side of the fence.

  • Dan Nelson

    Fenriq,

    Same technique will work on cougars (a.k.a. mountain lions). This sets you as the dominant beast before the cats/dogs can act. A solid bit of aggression will make most aggressive predators re-evaluate the situation (though that re-evaluation MAY still end in a decision to attack). Timid, tentative aggressiveness though (such as continuing to walk/ran away while slowly raising the volume of your yelling) will tell the predators that you aren’t a threat, but merely a scared piece of prey.

  • Andrew

    Try yelling “Get off the couch” with the same volume you described and use the tone of voice you would use with your own dog.

  • kgb

    When my daughters were babies and occasionally they would get into hysterical crying like babies do, nothing would stop them. Rocking no. A bottle no. Yelling no. Singing no. Nice soft talking no. The only way I could get them to stop: I would cry hysterically back at them. They’d stop on a dime. Every time. No kidding.

  • Loonfeather

    Dogs smell fear. My wife is deathly afraid of dogs and they know it. They leave me alone. That is because they sense danger. And when one is foolish enough to poke the bear, I snarl, salivate and charge. 95% of them get a WTF look on their faces and turn tail. And those that don’t, incur the wrath of Loon.

  • Pedro

    I remember the case of a very aggressive dog that was in my way to school, one day instead of just stopping I did exactly what the post said, I started to yell, but more than that, I started to run to face the dog(instead run and try to escape), the dog stop run in my direction and it turned in the opposite direction and his bark went from aggression to fear, I chased and yelled the dog for almost 60 feet.
    That was the last time that this dog was aggressive with me, after that I could walk in front of him without any problems, probably it was something stupid, but I was young and it worked.

  • Scott

    In some cases it can be a fight to the death. A person is a large animal, albeit without fangs and claws, but an adult person fighting for their life with a domesticated dog has a pretty good chance of winning the bout. I’ve read that shoving your arm into the dog’s mouth and choking it means you get some serious wounds, but you survive. Bicycle pumps also come in handy. Sorry if this was too gruesome for some.

  • Paul Aydelott

    It’s all in the timing. If you get your timing right, you’ll bark a millisecond before the aggressive dog. That confuses them to no end. Dogs do it too.
    An Aussie I had was always frightened by an German Shepherd on our daily walk. One day she figured out her timing and got the jump on the shepherd; he became intimidated with her aggressiveness. From that day forward she looked forward to going by that house so she could do it again–even after the family had moved for over a year.

  • Northern Lights

    I have had many pass-by encounters where I was able to outride a pursuing aggressive dog, but I have had two encounters where it was obvious I could not. My tactic was to yell, dismount and use my bike as a “weapon” to fend them off. I would rather face off with a dog than get bitten on the leg or knocked off my bike. Both encounters were with Rottweilers, and one involved two dogs. I was successful, in part because I was able to fend off the dogs while inching past their perceived territory for a long enough time that they gave up. Both times I had to thrust my bike, tires first at the dogs holding onto the handlebars with one hand and the seat with the other. With the two dog encounter I had to sweep my bike around to avoid one of the dogs circling behind me. Not pleasant experiences but it worked.

  • Dushan

    Not sure if it’s true, but I heard that a dog that really intend to attack will be silent while running at you. When he barks, he’s in a “domination mode”, not a “combat mode”. Any thoughts on that ?

  • Rick in NH

    Couldn’t agree more with the author. One of my summer jobs during college was selling bakery goods door-to-door. One day as I was leaving the front yard of a small rental cottage after no one responded to my knocks, a German Shepherd flew right *through* the screen door at me, running full tilt and snarling like Cudjo. I pointed at it and I screamed “NO! STOP IT NOW! BAD DOG! GO HOME OR I’LL BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF YOU!!!” The dog stopped dead, cocked its head, and slunk back into the house (through the torn screen door…). Since then I have been chased by dogs half a dozen times while on a bicycle or motorcycle, and the same approach has been 100% effective. As long as you act like a semi-crazed Alpha male, they’re not willing to mess with you. (BTW, I am a dog owner and a dog lover, and would never intentionally harm a dog.)

  • BobG

    Aside from barking as you suggested, the method i employ is foolproof: When a dog comes charging, i immediately drop to the ground either crouching or prone position, facing it…that way i disappear from the dog’s field of vision. Dont know why but this works for me while leisurely walking. Might not work riding a bike.

  • Shane

    LOL At least I’m not the only crazy one. But this really works. Apart from the loud shout, I think your body language helps… i.e. stare the dog down with your meanest look, show your teeth and make yourself look bigger by doing an ‘incredible hulk roar’. If you’re wearing an unzipped jacket, flare it out. Go into it ready for full on combat. He will sense it and back down.

  • Shannon

    I have always been nervous around strange dogs. Once when out walking, I encountered a little fluffy dog in the middle of the sidewalk. As I drew nearer, it began #growling# at me, like it could do any damage.. Anyway, I do get nervous, so I mustered up all my courage and started shouting “Bad Dog!” and pointed my finger at it. The poor thing cowered, tail between legs, and just shivered a I scooted past him.

  • Joe Gergerich

    A barking dog should be watched carefully. A single charging dog I have stop dead in its tracks every time by yelling very very loudly ….. maybe 500 attacks in 50 years bicycling. A pack of dogs, 2, 3 or more, I may out bicycle or if the dogs are really close, I STOP. THEY ARE CHASING A BUFFALO, DEER, OR AN ELK. ONCE THE PREY STOPS, THEY STOP. ….. EVERY TIME ….. BUT I AM ALWAYS READY TO FIGHT: HEAVY CHAIN, CLUB, TOMAHAWK, OR THE CLOSEST ROCK.

  • FrankS

    Try to find the most powerful word / noise you can deliver. I do street photography in Venezuela, we don’t have good animal control and we have many streets dogs, not all friendly. I use SSSHHHH a lot and sometimes something like WHOOOOOAAHHHHHH, but something very important is your attitude, you have to turn your body or face to them, look in the eye and making the noise at the same time. Once a whole pack of street dogs came over me and my two children in a street market, so I added arm raising. All the dogs got very scared, jumping back, one falling on his back and all running away like race dogs. I was even concern for their safety. But I was the hero of the day.

  • E. Foley

    I’ll add to the list of folks that say that some dogs have no interest in attacking you.

    I recently adopted a 4-year-old Cocker Spaniel. She would gladly chase a bicycle (if I let her) but she is TERRIFIED of strangers. So if you were to stop and she caught up to you, she’d immediately back off and run away. She growls and barks, but it’s a fear response. She’d only bite if you backed her into a corner.

    But yes, the yelling approach works well. I had to use it on a pair of “free range” dogs we met on our walk one day that were acting aggressive. I pulled myself up to full height and yelled “GO HOME!” They turned tail and ran the other way.

  • Thomas

    I think it’s best to practice it in public. Just go to the park and bark at all the dogs on leashes until you get it all right.

  • Dave

    For what it’s worth, there was a dog that would loudly bark at cyclists from a porch by the road where I used to cycle. It never attacked, but I got tired of having the stuffing scared out of me. One day, I just stared him down.

    He still barked at other cyclists after that, but made an exception for me. That’s not the same thing as an attack, but it does show that dogs respond to dominance signals.

  • Martha & Pan

    We have such a dog that every night is outside our house….. It has befriended another stray dog of the area but only this one is aggressive. It waits until we pass him and have our backs to him and then charges not only barking and growling but also bighting. Will the barking back method work on this one too? Because this isn’t a one of a time thing. It’s possible to come across him on a daily bases.

  • Alexei Davydov

    Excellent and funny article. I evolved to such behaviour myself over years. When you go by the same dog that you scared off yesterday, it may decide to try you again (but with more caution and from a distance); in this case just one serious look in her direction may be enough.

    And yes, it’s not prudent to try it on rottweilers (or on bull terriers and such) :-).

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