Dog Days on the Road

Riding south on Peru’s coastal highway. Miles of hot, flat, yellow desert to my right. Good road surface, good speed, I’m feeling good.

But wait, what’s that in the distance? A small dust cloud, jet-streaming across the desert floor toward me. And what’s that noise? Sounds like barking. Dammit! Here we go again – I’ve been spotted by a pack of wild dogs. Now I’ll have to choose between riding as fast as I can and hoping they lose interest, or stopping and arming myself with rocks for an imminent standoff.

Nobody can talk about their bicycle travels in Latin America without mentioning the dogs. But how you feel about them depends on whether you’re on your bike or off.

Off the bike, most Latin American dogs are pitiable creatures – mangy, balding, limping, grovelling, sniffing out meagre meals from roadside trash (Cuba’s dogs are the saddest). I’ve often shared my food with a sad-looking puppy. Once, I even bought a bag of dog biscuits so I could feed dogs without having to share my own food.

But when you’re on your bike, dogs are an annoyance and a hazard. Chasing, barking, jumping in front of you on a tricky descent, trying to bite ankles while you pedal – what is it about the pedalling motion that makes dogs crazy? I’ve often felt irritated and frustrated (and occasionally, terrorized) by Latin America’s dogs.

I have several ways of dealing with attacking dogs…

Sometimes, I carry a stick. The stick should be long enough to keep the dog at bay and light enough to swing easily, but heavy enough to cause some pain. I keep it within easy reaching distance so I don’t have to stop riding to grab it. In countries where they are pets, dogs love sticks and associate them with a game of fetch. In rural Latin America, dogs fear sticks and will back off when you’re wielding one.

Although I’ve made good use of dog-sticks (as I call them), I’ve made better use of rocks. I keep a selection in my handlebar bag for quick access. The advantage of rocks over sticks is that you can scare dogs away before they get too close. I’ve become quite good at this. If I see a pack of dogs ahead, positioning for an attack, I fish out a medium-sized “distance rock” and throw it as hard as I can at the ground in front of them. The rock bounces up violently at the pack and they scatter. This is usually enough, but I always make sure I have another rock at the ready. If I need to, I throw it at the most aggressive dog (there’s always an alpha) and keep riding.

When sticks and stones fail, my strategy is to stop riding. Dogs almost always lose interest once the bike stops (that pedalling motion phenomenon). Sure, it’s frustrating to lose momentum, especially on a nice descent, but it’s better than crashing or being bitten.

If they don’t lose interest and it looks like it’s going to be a standoff, I position my bike between myself and the dog or dogs, keeping eye contact. Then I throw rocks. Sometimes, even pretending to throw a rock will frighten them away. Usually there’s someone around who will see what is going on and help chase them away.

I’ve never been bitten by a dog in Latin America and it scares me a little; not because of the bite wound, but for fear of rabies and other infections. If it ever happens I will flag down the next vehicle and get to a clinic as fast as possible.

As for that pack of mad dogs in Peru, I decided I would not be able to get ahead of them before they reached the road so I stopped and grabbed as many rocks as I could. After a brief, non-violent standoff the dogs lost interest and allowed me to resume my ride.

What have been your experiences with dogs in Latin America? Comment below.





bite: morder

dog: perro m

dog bite: mordedura f de perro

feed: alimentar

rabies: rabia f

rabid dog: perro m rabioso

is there rabies in this area?: ¿existe la rabia por acá?

stick: palo m

throw stones: tirar piedras


 Feature image (top of page): A pack of dogs in a pile of garbage at the side of the road outside Potosí, Bolivia.


© El Pedalero, 2012.



9 Responses to “Dog Days on the Road”
  1. Isaac says:

    I was riding from Gaeta to Rome one night while touring Italy. It was a gypsy neighborhood and i had been on the road for at least 10 hours. Google maps was leading me straight into a dark field, and i knew the directions were screwed up, but then 3 large dogs came out of the left and started chasing me straight into the dark field, which turned out to be a dead end, thankfully there was no incline, so i sped up and then turned around and rode straight through them fast enough that they didn’t dare try to jump in front of me. or that’s how i remember it….

    • El Pedalero says:

      It’s a strategy I’ve used too, depending on how scary the dogs are. I can usually scare them off by steering into them. Thanks for sharing that story, Isaac.

  2. Ann says:

    Did you have any troubles with dogs in Cuba? I’ve done a couple of lovely rail-trail tours in the US but have been very particular about where I road tour after a few unpleasant encounters with traffic and dogs. Sounds like traffic isn’t an issue in Cuba, but what about dogs? Thanks.

  3. Jack says:

    Small shops and markets in Bolivia sell catapults for use against dogs. If you can take your hands off the bars while firing a stone at the approacjing insane, wild, feral, aggressive dogs, youre standoff days are over.

    In a western country, the owners would be fined and or the dogs put down. Several thousand times over for the number of dogs. They are particularly bad in SE Bolivia where they take over towns at night.

    Ive also considered a bull whip. Dogs know when you bend over to get a stone, that its timefor them to go. They also know a catapult means trouble for them.

    Thanks for your blog.

    • El Pedalero says:

      Bull whip … I love it! That would make me feel even more like Indiana Jones when I’m touring.

      You’re right about dogs understanding what it means when you bend over to pick up a stone. Oftentimes, that’s all it takes!

      And, yes, Bolivia gets (especially in the SE Altiplano) wins the prize for crazy dogs, I totally agree!

      Thanks for stopping by the site and sorry about the delayed response – I’ve been out in the middle of nowhere touring for the last few months and I’m just catching up on the site now.


  4. Ethan says:

    Is it necessary to get the rabies vaccines before doing a 3 month cycling trip in Chile and Argentina?

  5. Guillaume says:

    Our technique was to slow down, or stop, and yell “Kayate!” in a deep voice, or something along the lines of “Shut the f*ck up you stupid canine!”.

    Worked quite well!

Leave A Comment

Copyright El Pedalero 2016