I was just in Norcross finishing up a Home Dog Training Session with a client and his Shih Tzu named Trixie. Trixie was just four months old and needed all the “puppy stuff”. We focused on potty training to go outside, understanding appropriate behavior, socialization of the world around her, and rudimentary obedience commands. Trixie was responding quite well, and my client really seemed to “get it”. Needless to say, he was very happy with the session.
As we were finishing up, he mentioned that he had one more “dog problem”. He went on to say that the problem wasn’t with Trixie. He told me that he greatly enjoyed taking his bike out in the evening and having a leisurely bicycle ride around his neighborhood. Recently he was running into a problem where the neighborhood dogs would chase him and nip at his heels as he went by their homes.
The more he would try and get away by peddling faster, the more the neighborhood dogs would run and chase him. Sometimes he would shout and wave one hand at them to see if that would deter them. As before, that seemed to only encourage them to run faster and with more energy. He loved to ride his bicycle, but he was out of ideas on how to stop the neighbor dogs from chasing him.
I told him that I also love bike rides and I used to have the exact same problem of having the neighbor dogs run after me while I was out for a bicycle ride. I told my client that the answer to his “chasing dog and bike problem” lay within the training we had just completed with Trixie.
Recalling the concept of canine leadership and behavioral structure, I reminded him that all dogs need to understand who the leader is and who the follower is. There can only be one leader (the boss). Everyone else are the followers (waiting for what the boss commands and directs). Dogs practice this behavioral concept through “game playing”. They reinforce the idea of behavioral hierarchy from the moment they are puppies through adulthood.
A game they often use to reinforce this concept is “follow the leader”. The rules of this game are quite simple. If you are running ahead of everyone else, you are the leader. If you are chasing someone in front of you, you are the follower. The followers want to catch the leader and the leader wants to stay in front.
My client told me that he liked to ride his bike at a fast clip as he went through the neighborhood. The neighborhood dogs saw him rushing past them and naturally thought they were being invited to a “game of follow the leader”. Since he was the one in front, they were the “chasers”. Because of the “rules of the game”, their only goal was to catch up and “tag him” through a quick nip or pull-down. As he sped up to get away, that only encouraged the dogs to increase the “intensity of the game”.
I then explained that the only way he could ever have a calm ride through the neighborhood was to remove his (unknowingly) invitation of “follow the leader” to the neighborhood dogs. I suggested that he used the same method that was successful with my “dog and bike ride” problem years earlier:
- Before I start my bike ride, I first mentally “map out the houses with dogs” along on my bike route. This is a pretty easy task because they are the houses where the dogs always chase me.
- I perform a “little maintenance” on my bike to make sure it is properly oiled and none of the parts are wiggling and “making noise”.
- As I approach a “house with a known problem dog”, I decrease my speed to a “super slow motion” that closely mimics a slow walk. I adjust my path so that I am riding down the middle of the street (while watching out for cars). If the “problem dog” is out, I give him a slight glance from the corner of my eye. It is important that I minimize any direct eye contact.
- I try to coast past the house. If I need to peddle, I make the motion as slow and deliberate as possible. As soon as I pass out of eyesight of the dog, I can return to my prior (normal) speed and move to the side of the road.
- Every time I approach a house with a “problem dog”, I repeat the above procedure.
- I gradually increase the speed (slightly!!!) on every daily bicycle ride. If I notice that the “problem dog” is starting to focus on me too intently, I slow the speed down.
- As I boost my speed, I also gradually return to the side of the road. This will decrease the distance between me and the dog and might cause him to focus more intently on my actions. If I see any increase in the “problem dog’s” focus, I will further decrease my speed and move back into the middle of the road.
- I repeat this process on every bicycle ride until I can ride past all the “problem dogs” without incident. This means that I am no longer inviting them to play “follow the leader”. That is a “good thing” for me.
What happens if one of those “problem dogs” jumps from their porch or front yard and starts chasing me down the street?
It is imperative (but counterintuitive) that I do not try to outrun them and increase my speed. If I see a dog start to approach or chase me, I immediately stop my bike and get off. Next, I calmly place myself so that my bicycle is between me and the approaching dog.
This action clearly terminates the “follow the leader game” and deescalates the situation. The dog will rapidly determine that “I am no fun” and will go back to his house. I quietly keep an eye on him as he returns to his front yard. Once he has “returned home”, I slowly walk the bike a few house lengths down the street, get on the bike, and continue my ride.
As you can see, it isn’t that we have a lot of “bad neighbor dogs”. The problem is that we are often unknowingly inviting them to do something we don’t want to happen. When we shoot past them on our bike, we are unknowingly inviting them to chase and try to catch us. Once we understand what is happening, we have the tools to reverse the process and enjoy our bike ride.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.