Highway Code Rule 56 has this to say about dogs: ‘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.’ Many owners ignore this. You will often encounter dogs who are off the lead or else on long, extendable leads. When that happens, some dogs just can’t help themselves. They hear whirring wheels or see spinning legs and the chase is on.
Make a woof estimate
Dogs aren’t ambush predators. 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 there’s an owner with the dog, slow down and alert the owner in plenty of time. They can then control their dog before you reach it. Good owners will summon their dog and hold its collar while you pass by. You say thanks. Everyone’s happy.
The invisible long lead
Cyclists have been garrotted by long dog leads, when the unseen lead, stretched across a shared-use path, has bounced up off the front tyre and around the rider’s neck. More common is to ride into the lead and get tangled with it. Frankly, owners should not be using these 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.
The oblivious dog
The hazard from a docile, oblivious dog is that it will suddenly wander in front of you. Bad news for you and it. Typically the owners haven’t trained it properly so it won’t respond to their entreaties. Yet 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.
The aggressive dog
Most dogs can’t run faster than about 15-20mph, 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. Still aggressive? Point at the dog and shout ‘Stay!’ or ‘Bad dog!’. If you’re scared of dogs, carry an ultrasonic dog deterrent and don’t hesitate to use it.
Dogs like chasing but most will hesitate to attack someone who is firm, loud, and shows no fear. Most – not all. If Mr Bitey is intent on getting his teeth into you and manages to get past the bike you’re using as a barrier, grab something hefty like a D-lock or frame pump and wallop him. Seriously. You’re being attacked by an animal. You are within your rights to defend yourself with as much force as necessary.
If you are unlucky enough to be bitten, see a doctor or visit A&E as soon as possible, then report the attack to the police and/or your local council’s dog warden service.
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