A shout-out to dog owners

Many of my recreational rides involve some cycling on shared paths around the city. Depending on the time of day (and day of week), there are usually at least some other cyclists, walkers or runners around.

Shared paths have been a topic of conversation on this website before – the width and workability of shared paths, “rules of engagement”, and whether or not to use a bell on bicycles. The potential for conflict is high.

I find most people are courteous on shared paths – keeping to the left or stepping aside to make room for me to pass if they are walking (or cycling) in a group. For my part, I try to let people know I’m coming – gently ringing my bell from some distance (so I don’t give them a sudden fright) or calling out that I am about to pass. I also slow down and make sure I say hello and thank them if they have made way for me. I am super-aware that not everyone is a fan of cyclists so take care not to give any cause for complaint. (You will never see me running a red light on my bike (or a car!) for the same reason.) And I avoid cycling on the busiest pedestrian areas (like the perimeter of Hagley Park on a sunny weekend).

But it is dogs, not people, that make me most nervous. This is partly due to a lingering fear of getting rushed and/or bitten by a dog on the loose. I will never forget the large Alsatian-like dog that ran at me when I was cycling home as a teenager many years ago. It made contact with my leg but didn’t latch on – and I got one hell of a fright.

I know the likelihood of this happening again is remote, especially on shared paths where dogs are usually accompanied by their owners. (And yet it was only a few months ago that I encountered an aggressive dog (by itself) on the shared path from Tram Road to Kaiapoi. This time, I saw it from some distance away and had time to swerve off the path onto the road and build up some speed so it couldn’t reach me (although it certainly tried). Fortunately, the dog had gone by the time I came back again and I have never seen it since.)

More likely is the possibility of simply running into a dog on a shared path – which can be bad news for the dog and for you (and your bike).

Shared paths are often great places for people to walk dogs – but dogs are unpredictable and more interested in following their noses than keeping left and watching out for cyclists! No matter how slowly you’re cycling, there’s always the chance that a dog will run right in front of you at the last minute (even if they are on a leash).

However, I have been pleasantly surprised to notice dog owners are increasingly taking extra care around cyclists. What I’ve noticed recently is many dog owners are calling their dogs in as soon as they see a cyclist and stopping with them on the side of the path until the cyclist has passed. If the dog isn’t already on a leash, the owner usually puts it on the dog. And often they will position themselves so they are standing between the dog and the path.

I love this behaviour. It gives me a lot more confidence that I can pass safely by, and am not about to run over someone’s beloved pet. I still slow down, and I always say thank you, and it’s a less stressful experience for everyone.

So, this is a shout-out (a big thanks) to dog owners from this cyclist. I really appreciate what you’re doing – please keep doing it.

(Now I just need to work out how to deal with the bunnies randomly shooting across the cycle trails in Central Otago.)

What do you think? How can cyclists and dogs safely co-exist on shared paths?

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