Globally cycling community is quite large and well dispersed with diverse cycling experiences. I reached out to them through an online poll to get a measured response to broaden our perspective on the topic we are trying to decode. A poll conducted on twitter revealed that 77% of cyclist were chased by a dog during their life time while 3% were chased by an animal other than dogs.
(Other animals mentioned by a respondent – Jaguars, Cougars, Cobras, Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Eagles, Rams, Red Bulls, Pumas, Foxes, Beetles, Rabbits, Falcons, Black Hawks, Bearcats, Tigers, Minxes, Mako, Sharks, Bobcats, Stingrays, Bantams, Colts, Lynxes, et cetera et cetera.
“In Africa they are all over wandering the streets to see whom they can scare” says Dawid Botha.
Just like me, you are expected not to believe his words and only appreciate his humor).
A similar poll done on facebook shows a staggering 79% of cyclist met with incidents of dog chase. This eliminates any doubts as majority of cyclists who participated in this poll were chased at least once. Therefore, it is true that a high percentage of dogs like chasing, next I attempted to find out why? And this time I sought clarifications from dogs. I interviewed few of them and the responses are documented below.
Interview with dogs:
Question: Did you had a good meal today?
Dog : Wait till I bark.
Question: How was the chase?
Dog : Am growing with experience.
Question: You are accused of attacking humans for no reason?
Dog : I just wanna say that its a ridiculous allegation and I completely deny it. Humans won’t tell the truth – who the good boy is. I demand a special inquiry. My freedom cannot be compromised.
Question: Apparently, the cycling community is annoyed with you guys?
Dog : Last bite wasn’t juicy, will look for fresh legs. Hey did you say someone isn’t happie!
Question: The media has published extensively about you and your friends and some of the reports highlight facts which are against you.
Dog : Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself.
Question: Do you think humans and dogs will continue to share a special bond?
Dog : I am paw-sitive.
Twitter Poll Results: (total votes 69)
Facebook Poll Results: (total votes 38)
With not much luck after interacting with dogs, I approached professionals to find some logic. A three member expert panel who studied this topic in detail included – Rajvi Mariwala a certified canine behaviourist and trainer, Apeksha Noronha a professional pet keeper and Dhruv Bogra an accomplished cyclist and author.
Rajvi Mariwala describes the partnership between dogs and humans as one of the oldest existing partnerships. Yet, as you raised the question, why do stray dogs behave unpredictably around members of your type? Dogs tend to do what comes naturally to them and chasing behaviour certainly falls under this bracket. What instincts trigger such behaviour? Territorial, herding and predatory. We’ll take them one by one. Even though humans are better at territorial behaviour than dogs – gated societies, wars – chasing dogs can cause people much concern. Especially for stray dogs – it is important to protect their precious street corner where they perhaps find food, shade and water and thus survival. Dogs chase to protect their territory and consequently ‘learn’ that chasing and barking causes people to leave their territory! And sometimes people shout or pedal faster which increases the excitement level even more. So, they’re just doing something that they think works! Other dogs may learn this tactic from the original chaser.
Many dog breeds have been developed by humans for herding. In India too, go to farms and see how dogs work with farmers and livestock. Thus, many dogs are attracted by the movement of the wheels and they try to nip them. Certain dogs will try to nip the front of the wheels while others chase from the back. These are both rounding up tactics for cows, sheep etc.
Certain dogs seem to have a much stronger predatory instinct than others – ones who may come from hereditary lines that have chased and killed small animals are much more likely candidates for strong chase behavior than say a Labrador that was bred for retrieving. Finally, pet dogs also exhibit chase behaviours, I have worked on many a case – however, there is always the option of containment – ie a leash.
Dhruv Bogra, a bicycle tourer and author says there are three types of cyclist chasers –
- Doggy mother’s who have seen their puppies crushed to death by two wheelers and cars chase out of anger and trauma.
- Some dogs especially in villages across the world are trained to bark at strangers.
- All dogs love a good chase. The moment you stop cycling and dismount they look at you bewildered and hop away thinking what a spoilsport.
I always dismount and talk to a dog. That calms them so have never got chased.
Apeksha Noronha explains, I’ve had dogs since I was a year old because my parents were very passionate about them and I enjoyed their company as it came very naturally to me. When I wasn’t busy managing my brood of 5, I was volunteering at dog shelters in different cities in India. Most of my learnings come from personal experience which led me to start my own homestay for dogs called The Pet Crib. We’ve hosted over a hundred dogs in the last 3 years and have managed over 20 breeds of different age groups and genders in Mumbai. Each dog that I’ve interacted with in the last 30 years has taught me something about both dog and human behaviour. The most important one being that a dog’s action and reaction is always in response to a past/present stimulus. His behaviour will almost always have a valid and logical explanation and it’s very important to read their verbal and non-verbal cues when interacting with them.
A dog’s behaviour depends on the purpose it was bred for and its position in the pack. Some lead, some guard, some hunt prey, some procreate and some nurture the young. Dogs who love to chase probably do so for one or more of the following reasons:
- Dogs are territorial – they are extremely protective of their space. Anyone invading their territory becomes the enemy and chasing them away is but natural. Either they’re the enemy or they’re carrying the scent of one.
- Strong prey drive – There are certain dogs breeds like Salukis, Greyhounds, Dachshunds, Huskies, Bull Terriers etc that were bred to hunt small and large animals because of which their natural instinct is to chase and hunt their prey down.
- For fun – Dogs are social animals and love interacting with others. Chasing cyclists is just another way of playing for them. They like to chase things that move because it’s a fun game for them.
A dogs behavior is natural based on their genetic makeup and external upbringing. Humans are responsible in shaping their personality to a good extent. The way we respond, react, reciprocate and care about them has direct implications on human – dog relationship. We cannot expect them to adapt in our way fully after all they are animals. They have equal rights to enjoy the surroundings as nature belongs to them as much as it does to mankind. If our presence appears a threat, they will bark, protect, run and even bite. The onus in dealing with the situation lies on us. Great learnings for me and I feel better prepared. Bring on the chase and let us start a Paw de France.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai