Thursday, 13 March, 2003

How Fast Can A Dog Run?

Sometimes you learn things unexpectedly.  Today's lesson: how fast can a dog run?  I was cruising down a county road this afternoon recovering from a sprint when I heard the pitter patter of little canine feet approaching from behind.  Turning my head, I saw what I think was a Jack Russell terrier approaching with evil intentions.  I pushed a little harder on the pedals and easily outdistanced the dog, who gave up and trotted back home.  A couple hundred yards later I realized that I'd taken a wrong turn.  Damn.  Now it's either ride the extra 5 miles this route will entail or turn around and have a little fun with the dog.

I approached the dog's yard going about 12 MPH.  Sure enough, the little mutt came tearing out the driveway headed right toward my front wheel.  Having had some experience with dogs, I knew he'd dart to the side at the last second and try for my foot.  But pavement isn't grass, and he slipped and scrambled trying to turn around.  I shot by him and turned to wait.  As he approached, snarling and snapping, I accelerated to 15 MPH but that wasn't quite fast enough and before I knew it he was right at my heel.  I picked up the pace a little more to get in front of him, and soon he was following my back wheel quite nicely at 17 MPH.  We stayed like that for about 15 seconds until I was satisfied that he couldn't run any faster, and then I sprinted off to let him return home.  Another successful science experiment.

Out on the county roads away from traffic, dogs are the only real danger to cyclists.  Barking dogs aren't a problem, because they're usually friendly or scared and won't approach, or they're safely contained behind a fence.  But any unfenced dog is a potential hazard, so be wary.  Dogs that want to attack usually do so quietly.  Attacks from the rear are easily countered by pedaling a little harder. A dog can't maintain 20 MPH on smooth pavement for very long.  I've found the best way to handle a frontal attack is to maintain a steady pace until the dog is even with the front wheel and then accelerate.  You don't have much other choice in this attack.  If you slow down you give the dog a better opportunity to catch you as you pass, and if you try to dodge the dog you're going to end up in a heap—either because the dog dodges right in front of you, or because you've presented a better target. The most dangerous dog is the one who comes at you from the side because you don't get much warning.

If a dog does catch up with you, it's best not to panic. And don't worry too much about going faster—your brain will have pumped about a quart of adrenaline into your bloodstream and you'll be rocketing along faster than you ever thought possible.  Dogs seem to like going for the feet, which fortunately are usually moving too fast to be caught easily.  Trying to kick the dog in the teeth is a very bad idea because it makes your foot easier to catch.  Your best course of action is to grab a water bottle and squirt the dog.   That distraction will usually slow him long enough for you to get away.

If you're moving too slow to sprint past a dog, get off the bike well in advance of the dog's approach and keep the bike between you and him.  Get out your water bottle and squirt the dog.  That'll usually keep him back, and might even make him decide to go away.  I've also found (back in my running days) that bending over as if you're picking up a rock is quite effective.  I guess these types of dogs have been hit by plenty of rocks, and have learned that a person bending over like that means that a missile will  soon be on the way.  It's not a good idea to try hitting the dog with your bike.  If you miss you're going to give the dog an opportunity to attack, and if you hit him you'll probably just make him angrier.  Your best bet is to try to find help, either by waiting for a car to come by or by walking to the nearest house (keeping the bike between you and the dog).