I occasionally try hiking or cycling, and I notoriously have to deal with the silly issue of dogs roaming freely through villages, even on public trails. Until now, never have I been threatened by a human or a wild beast – but by a domestic dog, many times.

They may ignore me, or allow me to pass but still bark at me, often they chase my bike, barking, maybe trying to bite my rear wheel or my heel; sometimes they escort me, following me calmly but steadily until I leave the village. Sometimes they allow me to pass the first time, but threaten me when I return home through the same village a few hours later. Once a dog seemed to seriously attempt to attack me – admittedly, I detoured from the track that time, though AFAIK I was still on a public road, not on a private property.

I wouldn’t like to get bitten one day…

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    Hi gaazkam. You mention that these are domestic dogs. Would that mean an owner might be close enough for you to call out to them? Where I live, in the United States, there are pretty strict leash-laws, where you must keep your dogs on a leash in public areas, even sidewalks. Even without a leash, you're supposed to stay within view of your dog, and clean up after it if it leaves evidence on the ground that it was there, if you know what I mean. I don't know where you're from, so dogs wandering around without any supervision may be common. Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 16:15
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    @Sue …still, occasionally, a large dog, often looking to my inexperienced eye to be a German shepherd dog is almost bound to come out of an open gate while I’m passing by: then I’m really scared. Where are the owners? I suppose in their houses. I believe what I’m describing here is technically illegal, but no one seems to care, sadly. Just as another, similar issue that plagues the cities: technically the laws obligate dog owners to clean after their quadrupeds, but again: no one really cares, so we unfortunately have ‘evidences’ all over pavements and lawns.
    – gaazkam
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 17:46
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    It would be very helpful if you would state what country you are living in. In the western US, where I live and do most of my hiking, the way I (and most people) deal with dogs on the trail is to stop and pet them, and perhaps let them play with my dogs :-)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 20:23
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    @jamesqf There are stray dogs in my neck of the woods that are more like coyotes than dogs. There are also domesticated dogs that roam free and are not trained to be nice to strangers. We had an incident reported just last week of one of these dogs mauling another that was out for a walk with it's owner. I would advise people to be wary of strange animals, especially in the wild.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 17:56
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    I have experienced this problem particularly in Spain.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 20:25

4 Answers 4


Statistically, most of the dogs in the world are dogs that are not pets, but live around humans and scavenge food or get food from humans who give it to them. These dogs are in my experience never aggressive with humans.

When a dog is kept as a pet, it will tend to be territorial about its home. When I've been out running, hiking, or cycling, there have been many times when these territorial dogs have hassled me. In nearly all cases, they acted aggressive and followed me, but never actually tried to bite me. So although it's annoying and their owners are being irresponsible, in nearly all cases all you really need to do is move on through, and nothing bad will happen.

People do, however, get bitten and even killed by dogs. Because the world has so many dogs in it, the risk is actually fairly high in order-of-magnitude terms compared to other kinds of accidents and injuries. Population-wide, your chance of getting killed by a dog is orders of magnitude higher than your chance of being the victim of a terrorist attack, but orders of magnitude lower than your chance of dying of a heroin overdose or in a car accident.

One way to protect yourself when running or hiking is simply that if a dog acts aggressive, you pick up a rock or a stick. Often such dogs will shy away even if all you do is pretend to bend down to pick up a rock. If you like, you can carry pepper spray. Personally, I bought pepper spray for this purpose and then ended up not bringing it with me on runs because it just didn't seem worth the hassle.

Many cyclists carry pepper spray. If you have a tire pump in a holder that's within easy reach, you can also pull it out while riding and use it the same way you would use a stick -- the dog gets intimidated when you swing it.

Where I live, in a city in the US, Animal Control is very responsive to complaints about dogs whose owners let them wander around acting aggressive. When a neighborhood dog was repeatedly chasing my kids, and the owners weren't willing to deal with the problem, calling Animal Control was what got them to stop. My understanding is that there's a significant fine, and they warn the owner that if it keeps on happening, they'll take the dog away and kill it. I would hate that to happen to my dog, but then I don't leave my dog running around on the street biting kids.

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    Yup, +1. But please note that some abused dogs may react adversely if they think you're bending down to pick a rock. I know, I know... that's quite unlikely, but it could happen.
    – Roflo
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 21:14
  • Do you have a reference for this? "Statistically, most of the dogs in the world are dogs that are not pets, but live around humans and scavenge food or get food from humans who give it to them." Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:05
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    @JamesJenkins: nytimes.com/2016/04/19/science/…
    – user2169
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 15:50

Disclaimer: I am from Romania, my answer is a bit tailored to this corner of the world.

This issue is very common in Central/Eastern European countries and in the Balkans: not only the household dogs in villages, but stray ones (even in cities), and especially the shepherd dogs. Might be a bit repeating the other answers, but I really must point this out, as it has been the source of many accidents, attacks and (yet unsolved) disputes on law inforcements.

Shepherd dogs are bread to be aggressive: whether assertive barking when turning the hundreds of sheep, giving alarm of an intruder or scaring away bears. The herds can be met literally anywhere (I met them near my hometown, or also at 2200 m altitude in the mountains), and if you approach them they most probably become aggressive.

Methods of staying safe:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings. Dogs can notice you from far, and you can also hear them. If you hear the barking from afar, slow down, don't anger them with some running pace. When approaching a village, you can automatically slow down: house guarding dogs tend to be more suspicious of hurrying/running people. Also with the sheep herds: these can be heard already from hundreds of meters - dogs barking, bells ringing etc. You can make a few hundred meter detour to avoid them/not to raise too much awareness.
  • Walk with a stick. May it be a trekking pole or a random stick you find along the path, it is a good protection against dogs. No need to hit the animals, just swing it around yourself to keep them away. Find this stick in advance, not when the dogs are already behind your heels.
  • Pick up stones - in time! Don't rely that you will have stones randomly laying on the ground, waiting for you to pick them up (especially in settled areas). This adds some weight to your bag, but you wouldn't notice it so much. Have a few smaller stones in your bag's side pockets, at an easily reachable spot.
  • Pepper spray is an option too. Same applies: keep it at an easily reachable spot. You will have no time to search for it once you are surrounded with barking, angry dogs.
  • Rather an empiric thing: I noticed that talking to the dogs helps calming them a bit. Also, if you try shouting, there are better chances the owner realizes that the dog barks at a human, so they would call their dog back (rarely applies to Romanian shepherds, though... my - and my friends' - sad experiences show that they rather stand there and laugh on the poor trekker who tries to chase the dogs away, instead of calling them back).
  • If possible, make sure the owner can see you and realize you mean no harm.
  • Have some food you can spare: a small piece of bread you can throw farther, or something interesting for the dogs. Of course, not sharing your whole bag, but it helps calming aggressive dogs down. They might follow you afterwards, though.
  • someone recommended ultrasound dog repellents (like this one), but they seem a bit cruel to me
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    Fresh experience: a few days ago I hiked with a friend, and at a point we got surrounded by 9 big dogs, barking wildly and slowly drawing their circle closer around us. What we did was protecting ourselves with the sticks (gathered in advance) + making circles around ourselves with our bags, while slowly moving ahead on the road. As we got farther from their territory, they slowly drew back, one by one.
    – Akabelle
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 8:47

I have experienced this problem, mainly in Spain, Germany, or the Alps. Some things I have found to work:

  • Be assertive. Show who is the boss. This doesn't come naturally to me at all but the last time I encountered an annoying dog, on a rarely used trail that was passing next to a house in Spain, it actually worked.
  • Hike with hiking poles. If you move the tips of a hiking pole into the direction of a dog, it will likely back off.
  • Put your backpack in front of you as a protection.
  • I lived in a rural area for several years that had lots of loose dogs. It was perfectly legal to carry a gun and shoot any dogs that got aggressive, however, I never heard of anyone actually doing that. Everyone that walked on public roads in that area went armed with a short, 3-foot stick, the slender tip of a fishing pole, for example. I never heard of anyone getting bit. No dog would approach closer to 10 feet from me when I held a stick.
    – 243DRob
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 0:43

This is more of a road experience for a rural area in Washington state. Near a lake a group of pet dogs (all had nice collars) would form a pack during the day and liked to chase bikes. On flat ground I could outrun them. I carried pepper spray but was hesitant to use it. One day they caught me on an up hill and the pack leader turned his head to chop on my leg. As that point his intentions were clear. I got him clean in both eyes with pepper spray and he never bothered me again.

Bike or foot from bark to bite you will typically see them prepare to bite. Have pepper spray or other defense ready.

Walking a walking stick / pole is good defense.

Try and remain calm and proceed with a look of confidence. If you show fear is when they get more aggressive.

This a set of dogs that were probably not going to hurt the guy but no one should have to deal with that. dogs farm road


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