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How to: Handle canine encounters when cycling

How to: Handle canine encounters when cycling

Man’s best friend may dart in front of you, give chase, knock you off, or nip you. Here’s what to do if that happens.

Highway Code, Rule 56: ‘Do not let a dog out on the road on its own. Keep it on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or path shared with cyclists or horse riders.’  

Unfortunately, some owners ignore this. As a cyclist, you will inevitably encounter dogs who are off the lead or else on long, extendable leads from time to time. When this happens, some dogs just can’t help themselves. They hear whirring wheels or see spinning legs and the chase is on! 

Don’t be afraid to communicate 

Dogs aren’t the most subtle of creatures. You’ll usually see and/or hear them first. Cover your brakes so that you can stop if you need to but be ready to accelerate. If the owner is within sight, slow down and alert them in plenty of time – it’s possible they haven’t noticed you. Good owners will summon their dog and hold its collar while you pass by. You say thanks. Everyone’s happy. 

The invisible long lead 

On rare occasions, cyclists have actually been garrotted by long dog leads. An unseen lead stretched across a shared-use path can bounce up off the front tyre and around the rider’s neck. More common is to ride into the lead and get tangled with it. Cue an embarrassing situation for everyone involved. 

According to the Highway Code, owners shouldn’t be using extended leads where there might be cyclists; see Rule 56. But they do – and the leads are hard to see. Slow down when riding between any dog and its owner, especially at night. 

cycling with dogs

The oblivious dog 

The hazard from a docile, oblivious dog is that it may suddenly wander in front of you. Bad news for you and it. The good news is that even poorly trained dogs will tend to return to their owners when called. So, as well as slowing down, try to avoid riding between the owner and the dog. Go around the other side. 

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The aggressive dog

Though encounters with dogs are inevitable, aggressive dogs should thankfully be quite rare. If you do come across an aggressive dog, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Most dogs can’t run faster than about 20-25kph, so in the right conditions – dog some way behind you, level or downhill terrain, reasonable surface – you might be able to outsprint it. If it’s ahead of you or you discover you can’t outsprint it, stop instead. Dismount and place the bike between you and the dog. Once you’ve stopped being a tempting whirry-wheeled, spinny-legged target, the dog may give up.  

If you do find yourself in a standoff with an aggressive dog, you should first attempt a verbal “Stop” or “Sit”. Failing this, the dog may be deterred with splash of water from your bottle or loud noise. For this purpose, some cyclists will opt to carry a ‘dog horn’ - an air horn for dogs. Dogs have very sensitive hearing, so it’s advisable you only use a loud sound if you’re feeling seriously threatened. If you’ve been unable to deter the dog, you’ll need to adopt a protective stance. Keep your bike between yourself and the animal, avoid eye contact and look to the owner for intervention 

If, in the worst-case scenario, you get bitten, remember to wash the wound(s) immediately with soap and warm water. This is an important step in avoiding infection and applies even if the skin does not appear to be broken. You should also seek medical assistance as soon as possible and consider reporting the bite to your council’s dog warden service.  

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