Maybe you only ask yourself this question while bicycling or running: Can I beat up that dog?
When 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 most 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. And when you’re getting chased, you never know whether the dog is going to catch you and what they’re going to do when.
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 that everyone has their methods to deal this. 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 use to swing at, and sometimes hit, dogs. 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 better method that didn’t waste any water: Barking.
Nothing proved to be more effective, cathartic, and satisfying than barking at the collective aggressive dogs of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida. It also marked the point on the trip when we just said screw it, this is not normal behavior, but this is what we do now. After a couple thousand miles of pedaling all day, I guess I liked that.
So, here’s how you bark down a dog.
You have to beat the dog at his or her own game, take their tool/weapon, turn that shit up to 11, and deliver it all at once. The dog probably has gotten 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 FREAKING CRAZY on it. Which is what you’re going to do. For one second. When the dog realizes you have completely lost your shit, it will be shocked. You are unstable, possibly dangerous. And, 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? 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 percent. 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.
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 channel it into anger. You will have one second to get it all 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.