You know the moment, you are riding down a quiet country road, feeling strong and grateful for the ability to take in the scenery at this speed. Then suddenly you hear a distant “bark, bark, bark!” You look to the side to see a dog running at what looks like full speed in your direction and you have seconds to decide if you should pedal faster or come to a dead stop. It is the cyclist’s dilemma debated for decades.
Full disclosure, I am a dog lover and have been a trainer for over a decade. However, I am also a cyclist and have had many encounters with loose dogs over the years. I do not believe because I love dogs that all of them have no malicious intentions when running at a cyclist. Some of them do…but more often than not it will not be the dog who barks loudly all the way out to the road, making his presence abundantly clear. The dogs you most need to worry about are the ones who know enough to be stealthy and quiet and seem to come out of nowhere. The body language of a dog up to no good is a high tail (does not matter if it is wagging or not; wagging can mean he is happy or anxious), ears back, lowered head, a hard stare, hackles up, and maybe a combination of these or none of these.
Most dogs are simply out for the glee of a good game of chase. They have no intention of running into you so that they can knock you off your bike and have a good gnaw at your hamstrings. Dogs, like most living things, have a keen sense of self preservation and will not knowingly put themselves in danger. They do, however, have a couple of objectives in running at a cyclist: (1) they are guarding and trying to get you away from “their” property, (2) they have a genetic prey drive and find the constant revolutions of your feet or your bicycle’s wheels too tempting not to attempt to catch either, and thus, it is a game for them.
Most dogs will give up the chase when reaching the boundary of their yard or tire out when they know you cannot be caught or when they are satisfied, they have kept their family safe from this strange wheelie thing and scared you off. Some will even give up if you stop and stand over your bike; again, you have ruined their game. It is always best practice if you decide to dismount that you keep the bike between you and the dog.