Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Cyclists and dogs – two very active parts to our society which can fit so well together but very regularly seems on opposite sides of society’s spectrum.
Where I live we have the Thames towpath 20 metres to one side and part of the 2012 Olympic Cycle (now the annual Surrey Cycle race) route 80 metres to the other side so to say we see the occasional cyclist or the occasional dog walker is a huge understatement. I have heard the Thames Towpath referred to as the Thames Velopath due to the speed that some cyclists travel on it. To be fair most people that use it are polite and forgiving of others but I have heard colourful language from all users at one time or another as some are not so forgiving. And it's not just cyclists and dog owners that use this much adored pathway - it is frequented by all; joggers, cyclists, walkers, ramblers, boat users as well as dogs and many forms of small wildlife.
The towpath also leads to our small town which happens to be on the doorstep of one of the royal palaces so is also very touristy and to our benefit we have many great cafes that allow both cyclists and dogs to venture forth within their realms; so these two parts of our society (dogs and cyclists) are very interconnected whether they choose to be or not.
I am an observer by nature and nurture due to my vocation and passion; so I have a theory about dogs with bicycles (and perhaps this even relates to cars).
I believe dogs think moving objects should react in their movements in the same way other dogs do.
If you watch most dogs when they are running together they are very agile; they will duck and dive, crossing in front or behind each other in very quick motion. The other dog hesitates fractionally or adjusts their movement and/or speed accordingly to catch up or miss each other.
So knowing that dogs are brilliant at reacting to the moment it wouldn't be silly to assume (I have to assume as I am not a dog) that they would think another moving object especially anything that is one of those humans that has two legs and two wheels rather than just two legs; should be as smart and agile as most other dogs. I say "most" as we certainly do see some dogs that don’t quite have their coordination synced or young dogs that are still learning how to sync their movements. I guess in the same way us humans teach our children to ride a bicycle - most do not get on two wheels and head off into the sunset easily without first going through the bruises of not quite getting it right.
Of course if this theory is any where near close to being accurate then it is also a two way street - both sides have to take some responsibility and also have care and consideration of the learner. I know when I come up behind a learner driver I back off a bit and let them navigate the road and obstacles ahead - they certainly don't need some rash road driver zooming up behind them being impatient - we were all learners once!
So I have come up with some tips for both sides which maybe might just help tone down some of those misunderstandings and colourful language exchanges that happen - and maybe just maybe we can all adjust our behaviour for a better outcome.
Tips for cycling around dogs and dogs around cycles:
Dogs do not comprehend that you may not have the same agility skills as another dog.
As an owner - do you make an effort to call your dog to you or stop your dog so that the cyclist can pass? This will also teach your dog a new behaviour when they see a bicycle.
Owners do not want their dogs hit by bicycles and in the same token I am sure most cyclists do not actually want to hit a dog.
Dogs are not robots or controlled by remote control - in the same token as children are not either.
Dog owners need to test their dogs ability to ignore cyclists and come back when called - sometimes this testing needs to go back to the drawing board!Skills for cyclists (you could substitute the word dog for child but if you fail when testing the consequence will be even more severe and if you substitute the word dog for car it will be catastrophic).
For owners perhaps get on a bicycle and cycle with your dog - teach your dog how to what a bicycle is.
Teach your dog to move to the side of the path whenever a cycle comes along - done by moving to the side of the path each time and rewarding your dog.
Dogs (as well as people) can get a fright when something comes up behind them suddenly and also swiftly. That fright can be shown through barking etc.
Dogs don't automatically understand what the ringing of a bike bell means; it takes loads of associations for them to learn and then as an owner we would have to also teach them to either stand still or move to one side each time for them to learn it.
And for cyclists that get annoyed with dogs and/or their owners perhaps a change of looking at the situation might help - think of it being a skill to learn:
Can you dodge a dog?
Can you out-pedal a running dog?
Are your cycle agility skills advanced?
Are you able to brake suddenly and still stay on your bicycle?
How quickly can you go from stopping to starting again?
Can you zigzag in between dogs and still continue your journey?
For owners if your pooch is still learning to ignore bicycles you could always try some of the following - best said with genuine awesomeness (rather than sarcasm):
My dog is testing your bicycle handling skills – you passed (if they didn’t hit the dog; need more work if they did)
My dog thinks you are wonderful and wants to be with you (used for bicycle chasing dog)
Wow your cycle handling prowess is truly advanced (near-miss)
I was testing my dog’s self-control around bicycles – he needs more training but thanks for being a tester for me (dog still chasing bicycle)
My dog was testing how fast you can pedal (dog nipping at cyclist’s feet)
One day hopefully cyclists and dog owners can learn to live in harmony and have respect for one another.