I have ridden across the country twice, among many other rides, and have ridden with cyclists who carry pepper spray and will routinely use this on any dog that comes close when they are too far away to kick them or kick at them with their foot. Call me naive or lucky, but I do not carry anything more than a water bottle and the lung capacity to yell a very determined “No” with a well-aimed spray from my water bottle, which has proven effective in deterring dogs getting too close. My fear, as a dog lover, is that they will be so focused on chasing me that they inadvertently do not notice the speeding car coming at them in the other lane. I also have the fear the dogs will mistime their pace or my pace and get caught in the bike, putting both of us on the pavement.
The reason I am so opposed to the pepper spray and/or the ill-informed practice that I have heard from other fellow cyclists wherein they will stop, jump off their bikes and run at the dogs to intimidate and terrorize the dog as they believe this is a good deterrent for the dog is that I know this can actually exacerbate the situation. The problem with this is that most barking dogs are fear barking, and most dog bites come from a fearful dog, so jumping off your bike and challenging/terrorizing not only teaches the dog that he is 100% correct in fearing a cyclist, but may make the encounter for the next cyclist to come upon this dog exponentially more dangerous for the cyclist and the dog. The dog may likely have a “I’ll get them before they get me” attitude, which makes him more likely to bite. Heaven forbid THIS cyclist also stops, jumps off his bike and believes intimidation will take care of everything.
Now, I have heard horror stories from cyclists who ride in foreign countries, and I will freely admit I have no experience with these more wild dogs. So please do not comment that I have a Pollyanna view for every dog in the world. This article is only regarding what I know, which are domesticated dogs in the United States. I have ridden through southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama where it seems there are an inordinate number of dogs who run freely. It may be unnerving to have a dog running too close, but you are likely not the first cyclist they have encountered. Hopefully, the cyclist before you is not one who terrorized a fearful or anxious dog.
I do not pretend to speak for cyclists who have been attacked by a dog and bitten previously, I have no doubt this leaves one, at the very least, wary of any dog you encounter, and I can see how a dog loudly running at you can trigger posttraumatic stress.
In my experience, I have found that nine times out of ten, domestic dogs in the US are harmless, i.e., they are not hoping to have you for lunch. However, of course have a game plan, give a deliberate and deep-throated “No!”, have an easy to reach water bottle for squirting and/or throwing to distract them long enough so your well-muscled legs can carry you down the road and the dogs give up the chase.
There will always be irresponsible owners who do not know or maybe do not care that their dogs are chasing passing cyclists. I would never in a million years tell you that I believe that all dogs are harmless. I never say never when questioned whether any given dog will bite because I do not know if there is a situation where the dog will be so frightened, in pain or sick, hungry, nervous enough to bite when it never showed those tendencies before. I just believe it is poor practice to pepper spray, kick, jump off your bike and stomp at the dog, as those may be sure ways to turn what could have been just a close call into a dog attack.