How to Bark Down a Dog

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

When it comes down to it and 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 many 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. When you’re getting chased, you never know if that dog is going to catch you, and what he or she is going to do if he or she catches you.

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, everyone has their methods to deal this phenomenon. 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 swing, and sometimes hit dogs with. 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 far better method that didn’t waste any water: Barking.

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

I’d like to share what I learned. This is how you bark down a dog that’s chasing you.

I mean really, all you’re doing here is beating the dog at his or her own game. You have to take their tool/weapon, turn that shit up to 11, and deliver it all at once. The dog has probably heard 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 FUCKING CRAZY on it. Which is what you’re going to do. For one second. When the dog realizes you have completely lost your shit, he or she will be shocked. You are unstable, possibly dangerous. 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? See, 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%. 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.

This is “HEY!” Not “heeeeyyyYYYYY!!!”

All right then. 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, and turn it into anger now. You will have one second to get all that rage out.

Take in one, quick, sharp breath, and


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.

Practice a little bit, but certainly nowhere public. I hope it works as well for you as it did for me.


10 replies on “How to Bark Down a Dog

  • Russ White

    As I’m sitting here like Misery Bear (youtube it) in my office delaying work for the day…this genuinely made me laugh. I appreciate your sense of humor and helping me to get started on my day. I think I’m going to go “bark” at some people around the office now. Thanks Brendan! Good stuff.

  • Brian Prather

    “Barking” has been my method for stopping dogs while on runs and it seems to work, at least enough to stop the initial charge. I yell “NO” as loud as I can directly at the dog. I’ve done it so much that it is now automatic and it has probably saved my ass (literally!) several times.

    Great advice!

  • Max

    Another foolproof way is to carry dog treats with you. I just chuck a handful of food at the dog and most of them can’t resist.

  • James Z

    Just started reading your blog a few days ago… Awesome stuff. Keep it UP!

    Couldn’t agree with you more on this. I usually act like I’m ignoring the dog until it’s pretty close. Then I sit up, look and point guickly (like the evil monkey on the TV show “Family Guy”) and absolutely SCREAM “NO!”. Once I actually got the dog to do a somersault trying to stop itself.

    When that doesn’t work, I slow down to an absolutely creeping pace. The dog usually gets bored after 10 seconds or so, but is more liable to calmly follow for a longer time.

  • David H

    A little squirt from my water bottle and I’ve had many dogs doing endo’s.

    Although I LOVE the idea of a good yell to let out all your built up fear/anger/resentment/frustration from all those years going to meetings.

  • Tim S.

    This has been my go to method for a long time, but last summer I found out that it doesn’t always work. I was living in a low income neighborhood of a big city. There was a nice bike path through the neighborhood towards downtown where I worked. I would bike early in the morning and everyone who was walking their dog was carrying a bat, heavy stick, or pipe. “Hm, this must really be a bad neighborhood”, I thought. A few days later I had my first encounter with the pack of feral dogs that lived along the bike path. The barking method does not work as well when your attackers are spread out. Best to just crank into high gear and get the hell out.

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