Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Cyclist as Prey

You turn your kids loose, don't you? How about this other family member? Nice doggy!

You turn your kids loose, don’t you? How about this other family member? Nice doggy!

This year is different at the LaPosa West LTVA. This year, the animal hazard I have to be concerned about is unleashed dogs. Motorcycles can pass them by at low speed without a second look, but bicycles seem to kick in their “chase and bring it down” instinct. I’ve had two attempted attacks in as many weeks while biking down this campground’s main trail, and my deference in treating them as someone’s pet instead of what they are – animal attacks – is wearing thin.

The first was a smallish mutt with legs too short to do much more than 15 MPH, which allowed me to throttle up the Aurora e-bike and keep the dog just alongside the Ibex trailer on the dirt and gravel trail. But it did manage to stay there for a good quarter mile, while some lady jumped out of her motorhome and tried in vain to call it back. That camp is a potential problem because there seem to be three other dogs, a pit bull, one that resembles a mastiff, and one that’s just as large but is a mutt or some breed I can’t identify. Oddly, the pit bull is the only one who doesn’t seem to care when I pass by – if he’s the only one staked out. It seems bored. The others charge their leashes, and it will too if the others are outside at the same time. Pack mentality.

The second episode, a mile from the main area, involved the silent type and just appeared, only barking and growling as it pulled alongside a hundred yards or so past where its owner camped. The owner had been outside with it as I rode by and, from what I could tell, did nothing but watch with amusement. This one was an undersize tan and black shepherd mix (a slightly smaller version of what’s in the photo above) and posed a problem as I returned from another campsite just after sunset. It was a two-pronged problem, the first being that it could outrun me as

the Evelo topped out at just under 18 on the rocky dirt. The second problem being that wailing up a dirt road at that speed with rocks, wash crossings and patches of deep sand and gravel is not something you want to do once dark has set in. Fortunately for me, this dog was uncertain about charging in and planting its teeth in my leg, since it seemed be uneasy about the banging trailer that would be just in back of it. This uncertainty made it give up sooner.

Yes, the BLM requires all pets to be leashed, kenneled or caged at all times, and this year has instituted a limit on the number of pets allowed in the LVTAs because of some sad case last year that set up camp with 15 pit bulls on site, which spooked a lot of folks in this rather dense area. But as many of you know, some dog owners have a problem with rules and authority, and see tethering their animals as kowtowing to The Man. Others see leashing as an affront against nature and how things should be in an ideal world. As the alternative to leashing, even having some degree of command and control over one’s dog seems to in some way violate personal principles on the face of it, but in reality it comes much closer to being too weak-willed to assert oneself as the pack leader/master, too selfish, too lazy, and too squeamish about taking responsibility for a string of inactions.

Loose dogs are the bane of road cyclists, and have long been considered the most frequent and most frightening problem bicyclists face. Of my own several episodes over the years, there are only two that still stick in my memory. Both involved rural farm dogs. In one, a friend and I yet again went past a farm where a fairly small dog loved to chase passing cyclists, a habit which was dampened when my friend, on his single-speed middleweight bike loaded with at least 20 pounds of slot car track in its dual rear wire baskets, hit his patience limit and somehow went into counter-attack mode. Once the dog closed in, he turned the bike abruptly toward the dog and tried to chase it down as if to run over it. Both dodged and darted this way and that for awhile, the dog snarling and trying to get off to one side of him to resume its attack. Didn’t happen. The dog eventually gave up the chase and ran back to its house, while I was left amazed by my pissed-off friend’s ability to violently weave and hop such an overloaded bike around in tight quarters.

The other encounter wasn’t even a chase, fortunately. It was simply me, cycling down a lonely rural road in the middle of nowhere. I was blithely taking in the Midwest farm country vista when I gazed over toward a farm house perhaps an eighth of a mile or more off the road. I thought it remarkable that the farm kept a lone pony beside or just in back of the house, as horses are seldom kept in pure corn country. Impressive! As I kept looking at it, I slowly realized that the pony was in fact a very large farm dog, and I whether I had its attention at that distance was hard to tell, but it looked to be so. At that distance, an effort to accelerate out of its territory appeared to be the preferred choice, and I took it, not even wanting to look back for fear of losing my concentration for pouring on maximum power. Nothing I could do about it anyway. For all I knew, it never moved.

Dog attacks are a combination of territorial and chase responses. Most chases involve smaller dogs, and stop once the animals consider that the outside limit of their turf has been reached. Those who do it for sport do so (usually) with ears and tails up, barking plentifully. When the dog comes in with true hustle, ears back and tail down, the cyclist is in for a battle. There are just two responses available to the hapless cyclist: sprint, or stop and take a stand. The sprint is an attempt to get outside the dog’s perceived territory before intercept. This works in “fun” chases, where a squirt from a water bottle, ammonia & water solution, or Halt defensive spray can be employed as necessary. A whack on the nose from the rare frame-mounted air pump is sometimes employed, and many dogs with chronic bad behavior can be intimidated back merely by waving one – despite the fact that current frame pumps are actually small, lightweight spindles of plastic and aluminum. but the dog doesn’t know that. This whole procedure in itself is a serious challenge to the cyclist, who must keep strictly to path and somehow aim accurately with one hand on the handlebars. It’s a good way to go off the road, crash, or swerve into traffic. It’s not uncommon for urban cyclists to be injured or killed by passing traffic in the course of a dog attack.

Stopping to take a stand interrupts the chase aspect and converts it into a territorial dispute. The goal here is to try to keep the bike in between yourself and the dog, using it as a shield while you slowly walk out of the dog’s perceived territory. It feels very counterintuitive to the cyclist, but often works. Many dogs can be ordered back authoritatively, which can break their assumptions about the cyclist as prey. Failing that, it’s not uncommon to have to lift the bike and use it as a weapon of sorts, to either intimidate the dog or try to pin it to the ground. This tactic of bike as weapon usually works as well, however harrowing it may be.

Now and then, given a medium or large dog whose intent is a genuine attack – or given more than one dog – the situation becomes serious. The bike as a weapon becomes nearly moot, and even Halt spray can have little effect on some dogs. Given the right dog(s) with the right intent, you have now left the realm of nuisance attack and entered a situation where you will be very lucky to emerge intact and/or alive. Here, the dog’s goal is not to bite you and drive you away. It’s to take you down and start tearing. Attempting to stave off a German Shepherd or Malamute with one’s bare hands is an unlikely victory at best, and the general advice here is to attempt to pin it with your bike so you can hopefully jamb said frame pump or even your hand down its throat to choke it. Good luck on that.

Unfortunately for me, riding an e-bike pares the defensive options down considerably. Getting that much mass and rolling resistance significantly above its powered 20 MPH maximum won’t happen on the flats, and 20 MPH is easy for most dogs to close on. A stationary defense is more of an issue. Instead of a 30-pound aluminum bike to lift and intimidate with, we’re talking about trying to lift a 65-pound, tail-heavy anchor to wield effectively. Not going to happen, at least for me. Add the trailer in back, and you now have a stationary barrier. It boils down to projected authority, agility (also in short supply), and having an effective defensive weapon available.

I remember seeing a clip on TV years ago. Middle-aged woman walking her unleashed dog in a town park. Nearby child playing on a low jungle gym structure. Dog suddenly breaks for the child, who has to literally run for his life, dodging and scrambling back and forth between a tree and the structure in an attempt to escape. Its owner stands stationary in the background, shouting the dog’s name and saying “No, no!” Police officer arrives very quickly and shoots the dog, who lies motionless for a moment before springing up to go after the child again. A moment later, another shot. Another moment later, rinse and repeat twice more. (Yes, it just happened to be a pit bull, though I have also seen gentle and kindly ones.) That kid was having to resume scrambling for his life each time, with that snarling dog not a yard behind, and I can hardly imagine how his nights or days go even today. I’ll let you think about the owner what you will, but this type of owner is all too common.

To them, their dog is like a very hairy child, basically pure in heart, capable of being reasoned with, and having a form of moral goodness to guide its basic behavior. I’m at a loss to explain this dog-as-loving-child belief, since anyone who has raised any assortment of kids knows full well that none of these traits apply to young children. Children need guidance, sometimes firm guidance, to have a chance to reach adulthood as an adult rather than as a 170-pound aging child. They need civilizing, basically. Fail that, and you fail them. Undisciplined children can quickly become selfish, obnoxious, hurtful, cruel, exclusionary and prone to conflict. And worse. Raise a fanged predator without both guidance and authority, and you have a semi-domesticated incident on the clock. No controls, no handles. Adorable, until the right situation kicks off the veneer of domestication. The owner typically adores the dog, but not in any way that will do the dog any good as far as behavior goes.

I’ve owned or resided with some eight dogs in my life, ranging from being happy-go-lucky, welcome-the-burglar types, to posing a guaranteed threat to children. I once owned a forty-pound dog which was highly territorial and all too prone to attack. Aware of its foibles, I was careful to keep it locked away from workmen puttering around the house, and carefully introduced it to friends and other occasional visitors as accepted “friendlies” who it would then quickly befriend in the cloying way that such dogs often reverse their behavior with. It took some doing, but I managed to establish myself as pack leader, so to speak. The house’s rear deck at one time was broached for awhile by destructive opossums nearly as weighty as this dog, and he’d often detect and attack the unwelcome visitor on his final walk in the dark. Not to brag (yeah, sure), but I could easily break off his attack, or prevent it if I knew the critter was present before he got to it. He obeyed and backed off on command, even in the heat of battle, simply because he viewed me as leader of the pack, nothing more, and nothing less. This was no accidental perception. This, and the fact that I knew enough not to trust him around unfamiliar people kept him out of trouble – at least when I was the one who was home with him.

Dogs require more than an owner. Kindly and loving, or not so much, dogs require a master, a leader. Every dog alive knows this, yet we humans prefer a more egalitarian approach. Letting a dog be itself, without a sense of service and submission to a leader, is a good thing in too many people’s minds. And on those occasions where reality then intrudes, they tend to either sidestep responsibility, blame the victim for tempting their dog, or perceive the resulting situation as an unavoidable mystery. But the reality is that the combination of an untethered and undisciplined canine is a hazard to both people and itself. Its natural urge to sink its incisors into its newfound prey will have one of three consequences: an aborted attack, damaged or dead prey, or a damaged or dead dog.

In the case of chasing down and attacking a pedestrian or cyclist, those same consequences will follow, and the choice is up to the owner. Leaving the choice up to the dog is unfair and simply underscores moral limpness. Fortunately for bad dog owners, the BLM has a policy which prohibits the discharge of firearms in the LTVA areas, which are also subject to local and state laws. In Arizona, as elsewhere, there are laws that make it illegal to fire a gun within the limits of any town. The LTVAs are within the town limits of Quartzsite, so you can’t just go around shooting campers’ misbehaving pets just because they might be noisy or you don’t like them, and that’s a good thing. The legal exception: having to defend yourself against an animal attack, or the imminent threat of one. So, shrugging your shoulders as your dog chooses to go after a human being can impose an aspect of Nature that you did not anticipate: legal self-defense. As for me, I’m sure I’d feel terrible shooting someone’s pet and making it suffer but, then again, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so if it appeared dedicated to a true attack. If I were equipped with only a sidearm instead of a can of Halt or bear spray, and push came to shove, I’d vote for me. And I wouldn’t think highly of its owner.

In one encounter I know of, Nature itself, or perhaps simple physics, intervened. A friend who had run a camp in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula had a German Shepherd who took the “one-man dog” manta seriously. That usually made life interesting for a few of the dog lovers in the 100-plus people who visited each summer. When the dog was nowhere to be seen one year, I asked. It had been loose in the bed of his pickup, and decided to either lean or jump out to attack a cyclist riding along the side of the road. Unfortunately for the dog, the vehicle had been moving at highway speed, and it suffered fatal injuries upon landing. He had loved that dog, but not quite enough. He had ascribed to it a discernment that it did not have.

Each year, I seem to come across dogs that are for some reason separated from their owners, clearly lost and in trouble in the dry desert, or deceased after a very unpleasant death. Do these things “just happen”, or is it a failed owner who will see it as a sad event before hitting the animal shelter for a replacement family member to coo over and blog about? That’s the thing about love. One kind of love does what is needed to do right by the loved one, often at the cost of inconvenience or personal sacrifice. Another kind of love does just the opposite, and you read about those in the paper, usually some estranged boyfriend who brutally murders the woman he “loves”. It’s all about me.

That works with dogs, too. Some people would rather watch their suffering, terminally ill pets die an agonizing death by inches rather than euthanize them, because they “love” them too much to let them go. Some people think that catering to their dog’s stronger will is an expression of love. They turn it loose, and lament that it sometimes just seems to ignore their control. Then, they do nothing to either correct this or work around it by leashing them. Oh well. This was what kept TV shows like The Dog Whisperer on the air with a bulging backlog of clueless clients. Clients who had no idea about how a dog thinks or what it needs, since they see it more as a furry child than as a domesticated animal with substantially different perceptions of the world embedded in its DNA. You can ookey-poo over them and let them run the show as pack leader all you want, but please, don’t call that love. Call it what it is. When you’re willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of your pet’s welfare and the welfare of surrounding pets and people, then we’re talking love.

Now I realize that mine is not the only perception out there, and I will appreciate any comments by any of you three or four readers. Have at it!

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18 thoughts on “Cyclist as Prey

  1. Hey Doug I am in the LTVA West too. We gotta do a meet and greet. I am behind the dumpsters. We carry a can of Wasp and Hornet spray on the bikes. It’s got 30 foot range and the Yellowstone rangers say it will stop a bear or buffalo and send them off. Lots more spray duration than Bear Spray.

  2. Saw a bike at a the supermarket bike rack in Iowa with a can of wasp spray in the water bottle cage. Looked like a good idea.

  3. Bothers me when owners let their dogs chase wildlife also.

  4. Right on! Man walking dog or dog walking man…. too often see the latter.
    Stay safe.

  5. Hello Doug,

    I’ve been following with interest your adventures with the e-bike. I have one myself [a Bionx 250watt hub motor kit on a mountain bike] and am very interested in seeing how yours performs for transportation in the desert. I live in a city and use mine for commutes and errands. I have used regular bikes for camping, pulling a 2 wheel trailer that is also used for shopping when at home. I find that the 2 wheel feature is useful for using the trailer as a shopping cart, I could not do that with the BOB’s.

    On the subject of dogs, I used to take martial arts a long time ago and learned to do some very loud kiai’s. Once, on a ride through the Quebec countryside with my partner, a Rottweiler came out of a yard and launched itself at my partner, who had our dog running beside her. I was way back down the hill because of my bad knees, but I yelled so loud it scared that dog off as it was chomping down on my partner’s leg. She got some big bruises out of it and a lingering fear of Rottweilers. Our worst ride dog wise that summer was through the Oka Indian reservation, it was dog after dog, house after house.

    Nowadays, I think I would use the Air Zound boat horn that I bought for scaring bears off. And it’s good to know about the wasp spray, I wonder if that works on bears? That bear spray is $30 and expires every 4 years.


    • Great comment Ming, and I’m flattered. If you’ve been tracing back the “E-Bike Pack Mule” category to about August, you will have some idea of how the Evelo is taking desert usage and abuse. I’m hoping to expose it to some significant commuting distances and slopes near Yuma later in December, some enough to drain two batteries in one trip.

      If it’s one thing the BOB isn’t, it’s a handy shopping cart! It wants to turn turtle when unhitched, and I’m finding the Aurora’s step-through frame unsuited to the twist forces that the BOB can generate when heavily loaded. A model like the Orion would be much better for that. Looks like the Aurora would like a two-wheel trailer better, if loads exceed about 45 pounds.

      Cycling experiences like yours put a real damper on bicycling as a fun thing to do. I drove a low sports car through a reservation in the Upper Midwest, and was amazed at the canine anarchy. They were ganged and trying to bite the rotating tires!

      Personally, I think a boat horn is handy for most approaches, as it tends to break concentration and force a mental reset. I suspect it will deter many “sport” chases, and probably not a determined attack. The one thing I’m picking up from reading is that chemical sprays are most effective at a distance but can work even in close quarters for all but “pain-free” dogs like Rotts and Pits. At the moment, I suspect wasp spray’s stream makes it a viable, effective option for both pedaling chase and standoff, but I would feel more squeamish about it as less legally defensible since it is also a poison rather than a tested and approved deterrent. It might well save your butt, but an alleged “family pet” owner with a cheap/free connection to a lawyer could make the aftermath more interesting than it should be. One-on-one with the dog’s house way off through the woods though, anything goes. When repurchase time comes on things like Sabre Red Gell or bear spray, I gripe, but only for a moment. If it works, it’s much, much cheaper than multiple stitches at the E.R.

      • Hi Doug, you make some good points there. It might cause complications with your average pet owner if one ends up using wasp poison on their Fluffy. I do recall once suggesting to a friend to use a squirt bottle filled with water, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper.

        And yes, I should keep forking out the $$ for the tested and approved product for bears.

        I await with interest your future posts about your cross country grocery trips with the e-bike. In the city, I try to find grocery stores that are UPHILL from my house, to make for a leisurely downhill coast when lugging 60lbs of groceries home.

        I do recall thinking about the frame twisting forces when I was considering the BOB trailer. Good to hear about real world use. In the camping scenarios that I have encountered, I have often had to disconnect the bike and trailer to get them down twisty trails or over obstacles. Horses for courses, I guess.

        • I’ll be curious about those long distance posts myself, Ming, since long errands look likely to be more limited by me than by the bike – which is good. Still, Imperial Dam LTVA finishes a minimum 25-mile each-way to Yuma with a brutal two-mile grade, which will hit the batteries hard, right when they are nearly out of suds. Not exactly fair, with a loaded trailer too.

          Except for steering issues caused by frame twist with bad loads, the Ibex is pretty much out of sight, out of mind so far. I’ll give it that. If it’s having or causing problems, it will do so throughout the entire ride. I just hauled a 65-pound battery to and from another camp a few miles away yesterday, and found that putting it as far rearward as possible helped wobble and control greatly, nearly doubling the speed I could safely reach. Can’t explain it offhand, but I’ll take it. Now if I can just unjam the stinking suspension adjuster…

          • hmm, interesting question, that makes me think of loading a wheelbarrow, if the load is put near the handles, then the weight that you feel is more (like tongue weight), so when you twist the whole thing, you will feel it more?

            Wow, 25 miles is a long way! You know, if the Aurora can’t make it all the way, you do have the option of taking the bike on the Furd to the bottom of that hill and making it a shorter, flatter commute and save most of the wear and tear and gas costs from using the truck?

            • Ming, I do have the option of “cheating” by carrying the bike and trailer some distance out from camp, whether to the bottom of the grade or some miles toward town. But my desire to avoid that is twofold. First, on principle, by gum! A distance like that is admittedly a stretch, given the load and terrain, but that’s why I chose this particular e-bike with the options I did, and made the mods I have. I see a trip like what’s ahead as almost heroic, and have to give it a shot. The second issue is that letting the pickup truck take up the slack in that way is not good for it in the long run. It has a diesel engine that has its surrounding systems optimized for hard work, like towing up long grades, so it takes many miles to warm up because the cooling system is huge. Short trips will promote varnish deposits on the valve stems and make them start sticking, which is an unworkably expensive issue for me. Ford even cautions against this and prolonged idling in the owner’s manual, mainly because longevity expectations for diesels are higher than for gas engines, so they advise of situations to avoid in order to make it last and decrease overall costs. So any “help” for errands means two cold starts and two short runs, and I’d almost rather just drive the additional mileage to keep it hot and happy for the long run despite the up-front expense.

              Should that last bad uphill become a real issue, and the battery be unable to power both me and the load up, it will come down to how much I can contribute in the crawler gear ratio. That’s much more of a heart/pulse rate issue than a leg issue for me. Or, I can do what I do on too-steep climbs now: walk and let the bike power itself and the trailer up. But it’s all moot if I can’t get my butt conditioned for that kind of seat time. All of the other potential issues will never surface if I can’t stay in the saddle for five or six hours. Right now, I’m much more of a limitation than the bike, so I’m working on that! Adventure!

  6. One thing I used to hear about to cure dogs of chasing cars, was to have a squirt gun in the car with some ammonia added to the water. It stings their eyes and makes the chase less fun.

    • Well, it would stop ME, Swank! Back in the days of blueprint machines, the gallon bottle at work leaked out overnight, which made arriving at work interesting. Even the normal operation of those things after a few prints was nasty, as in, “Wow, can’t breathe!” I’d think even a diluted mix would be quite a deterrent. Thanks!

  7. You said everything I could say about the dog issue all the way down to the comment about some people just being old children. I have come to realize that many people age but they dont mature and grow from their childhood minds. We own 2 dogs and they are always leashed, always picked up after and never allowed to bark at people. They are allowed to bark while in our dwellings as an early warning for us. While outside their barking would just be noise pollution to others.

    Irresponsible cat owners are a problem too. I often wondered why people would just let their cats out and not be concerned about their safety. Well……..THEY DONT HAVE TO CLEAN THE LITTER BOX. The duhhh moment struck me and since then have asked people why they do that. All I have ever gotten is silence or a mind my own business remark. People just cant seem to understand that their animal has no right to exit their property or crap on someone else property or on public trails etc. Many just cant understand that the rules like “must be on a leash at all times” apply to them. As you said “it’s all about them”. So many a – – – – – – – , so few normal people.

    • I think you have something there. I must say, that getting along with an adult who is still young at heart is a lot more charming than prolonged exposure to a child whose clothing size is comparable to yours.

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