Portugal is a cycling paradise – amazingly good roads, empty for miles at a time; cheap living and wonderfully kind people. However, it does have one big drawback – everyone and his uncle seems to keep a dog specially positioned to scare the living daylights out of passing cyclists.
The least worrying are the posh property protectors. In the grounds of villas these generally come in pairs, one huge, one small and are less of a worry as they are almost always penned behind impressively strong railings. I imagine the railings are to protect the villas rather than the dogs, but they serve nicely to protect the passing cyclist. Most often in fact you can prepare yourself for the encounter and sneer at fido as he rushes along the inside of the railings barking and snarling until you leave him behind at the end of his patch. Only occasionally will they have the wit to hide in greenery and threaten to spill you from your bike with a terrifying and unexpected howl as you come alongside.
More worrying are the guard dogs of rural farms and homesteads. These are rarely behind fences and it’s difficult for the approaching cyclist to tell if they are tethered or not. You will see them take off, gathering speed and heading for a point where they can intercept you and you just have to hope that (i) they are indeed tethered; (ii) they will run out of rope or chain before they can reach you and (iii) the rope or chain will hold. It’s quite terrifying when you see a dog yanked off the ground and sent spinning backwards by the fury of its attack when its chain bites and the momentum of its attack turns in on it. Luckily, the great majority of homeland hounds are on lengths of chain or rope.
What to do with those who are not and give chase? Remember that most are guard dogs and will give up the chase as you pass their properties. We try to tell ourselves to stay calm and carry on! Easier said than done sometimes, but always a good indication of what sort of form we are in one any one day. Jacqui can pretty well turn into Mark Cavendish over 100 metres when faced with the right dog heading for her. The only other advice is to get off on the side away from the dog if you have to get off.
In some senses the least worrying dogs are the wild strays you find in remote rural areas. They come as singles or small packs, but for some reason they always slope off well before you approach on a bike. On the occasions when they have stood their ground, we have been pleased to see they keep their distance and treat us with a complete lack of interest.
So, while we have considered buying a commercial dog deafener or pepper spray we have not bothered. I have a feeling that slowing down to fumble for such on the move would merely leave us more vulnerable to attack.
Luckily too, there are as many strays that seem to concerned only with getting a decent stroke or a pet!