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.