A Cyclist’s Greatest Hazard: Loose Dogs

When chased by an attacking dog, most people are afraid of being bitten. But the greatest danger to a cyclist, by far, is that the dog will cause a crash. Though painful and unpleasant, dog bites are rarely serious, even if they require a trip to the emergency room. Dog-bike crashes, on the other hand, frequently cause injuries that are very serious indeed.

An unfortunate example is the cyclist who suffered a serious head injury during this year’s Bike Virginia. As also reported by the Bristol Herald Courier, local cyclists cite dogs as their greatest hazard.

In our bike club of about 120 members, at least 8 riders have been taken down by dogs in the last 5 years. None were actually bitten. But 4 were seriously injured — 2 with a broken pelvis and multiple other injuries, one with a broken collarbone that required surgery, and one needed several rounds of reconstructive dental surgery over a span of 2 years. All were out of work for periods of weeks to months.

If this isn’t serious, I don’t know what is.

Other bike clubs in rural areas probably have similar experience. This is a public safety issue that law enforcement should be taking seriously. People are being hurt, in significant numbers.

To me, being injured in a dog-induced crash is no different than actually being mauled. So it should be treated the same way under the law. VBF encourages the use of Virginia’s dangerous dog registry to control problem dogs that chase cyclists; and to restrict dog owners who allow their dogs to injure people.

VBF is working on an information campaign for cyclists, for law enforcement, and for dog owners. In the meantime, if you are involved in a dog-bike crash:

  • Call the police or sheriff’s dept. immediately, and insist that they press charges. Most Virginia municipalities do have some kind of law that prohibits loose dogs (leash law).
  • Discuss the dangerous dog registry with the police or sheriff’s dept., and the animal control officer. They may not know it, but the dangerous dog law can be applied if a person is injured by a dog in any way, not limited to bites.
  • Know that any conviction for a leash law violation and use of the dangerous dog registry will help you get compensated for your medical expenses, and property damage to your bike and clothing — from the dog owner’s insurance company, or in civil or small claims court.

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9 comments… add one
  • I cycle frequently on a rails to trails to stay in shape. and off dangerous roads. We have a great system here in Wpa. However, I am always surprised by the number of dog owners who think the trail is a great place to allow their dogs to run free. I’ve had a few close calls. To sweeten the deal, those owners I have talked to have been extremely rude and offended that I should suggest they follow the clearly posted rules (not to mention PA state law) that state their dog should be on a leash. I’m sympathetic to the desires of the dog owners to allow their animal some freedom, but certainly don’t want it to be at my or any other cyclist expense. In my opinion dogs should probably be banned from these venues as they were originally intended for cyclists and runners to go long distances.

  • OMG, I hate loose dogs! Don’t get me wrong. I like dogs. I have a beagle that is truly a part of my family. but I make sure that my dogs don’t get into trouble! Dogs should definitly be leashed unless they are in an area that speciffically allows them to be un-leashed.

    Chad C.

  • I was chased again today by a dog as I cycled along a back road, hence I googled the subject to try to get some understanding and this is why I am here. This is the fourth time. I have seen some advice that advocated slowing down or stopping. This I am not likely to do. Big dogs freak me out. Strangely, all have been German Sheperds. One I kicked in the head as I tried to out run him. The other three I did outrun. One thing I always do however, is report the incident to the city’s animal control department. They always go out and while they can’t issue fines on my say so, they have issued fines of $150 per due to no dog license and one house they staked out to catch the dog in the act of chasing which brought court action. They always get back to me with feedback so I know whether or not it is save to go that way again.

  • Dog’s are typically reverting to their prey instinct when they chase, and often it isn’t actual “aggression”, though in many cases it is. In nearly 30 years on the bike I’ve never had a crash from a dog and only a few close calls (where the dog came out without being visibible in advance).

    One of the best methods is to turn the tables; you become the dominant “dog”. Use a commanding voice, slow down if needed, and in some cases even move toward the dog. In most cases they will be confused by this non-prey behavior and back off if not run away.

    Trying to get away, shrieking, etc reinforces the prey drive.

  • When i ride, I always carry two full plastic water bottles full of just plain water.

    You can use them if you get thirsty, or if required during first aid.

    You can also use then as “dog-repellant” in case a wayward dog
    (who is excercising his territorial nature) is engaged in an act of agression! (a good high-powered “squeeze” does wonders!)

    I’ve used it twice (this year) and in views of most dogs aversion to being “bathed” have retreated as rapidly as they initiated their attack.

    But be careful! You might lose control of your bicycle while laughing at a very rapid “retreat!” due to excessive h20 exposure!

    nuff said!


  • Tonight while walking my two dogs (Belgian Malinois) two doggies barked, hit their gate which opened and out they came at us.

    My dogs are trained not to react so they stood down. The dogs approached me so I commanded, not yelled or panicked, “Get inside good doggie!”. They turned around and wagged their tales home and watched us pass.

    As JCH wisely said above, you can act like dinner, or choose to take, and be in control.

    Also I’m not surprised nobody has mentioned pepper spray. Supposedly it is effective against canines. However, if you are not willing to be the dominant animal you may not be able to repel an animal in this fashion which also demands that you be in control.

    Dogs really are not as big of a threat to bikers as cars are. That statement is ridiculous.

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