There’s something Pavlovian deep within the DNA of dogs that gets their adrenaline pumping and saliva flowing whenever they hear the spinning wheels of a bicycle approach. Unfortunately for us cyclists, dogs have really good ears. Especially the bigger, faster, nastier ones.
The annals (and animals) of cycling history are filled with stories of titanic clashes between the canine and the wheelperson. So, here we go …
The Dogs of War
This was the headline in several of the newspapers that ran this story because, well, it’s such an obvious headline. Even if it is a bit of a cliché. Some went with: Let Loose the Dogs of War. I like that one better. It’s more Shakespearian.
The Germans were concerned about the rising number of bicycle-mounted troops in the armies of several surrounding countries. For every offense there must be a defense, and they decided the best counter was “a decision to train dogs to drag bicycle riders from their wheels,” according to a story in the April 21, 1897 Morning News of Wilmington and dozens of other papers.
What breed would be best? The German Shepherd would seem a logical choice, as they were abundant in Germany. And mean. Or the Doberman. If I saw a Doberman running toward me and my bike; I would immediately lay down my arms and surrender.
And yet, they settled on the Great Dane “as his size and strength make him a powerful and effective antagonist.” This was before Marmaduke – the gentle giant.
According to the story …
At Berlin there are now 1,000 of these great dogs in training. Every day for the past three months they have been taken to the parade ground and been given lessons in distinguishing the German and Austrian uniforms from the French, Italian and Russian, for it is necessary that they should discriminate between friend and foe. Then they are taught to rush upon a bicycle mounted enemy and dismount him.
My first thought was: Who’s the poor private who has to clean up the parade ground?
There’s more …
It is conceded by military experts that an advancing line of armed bicycle riders could be thrown into utter confusion by a much smaller number of these trained Great Danes. But if both sides have the dogs – as they will if the present plans are carried out – then it would be dog fight dog, and a battle of brutes that must first be decided before the human combatants measure skill and courage.
See, this is the type of military build up and arms (paws?) race that led to a world war.
Eva get your gun
Miss Eva Gray and Mrs. Maud Reed were out cycling, near their homes in Denning, New York. They were chased by a dog “for half a mile and succeeded in distancing the animal only when they were nearly exhausted,” according to the May 24, 1986 issue of The Chicago Chronicle.
Sound familiar? If you’re a cyclist, you probably have a similar story, or two. But I’ll bet you never did this …
After reaching their homes the young women each secured a revolver and rode two miles back over the same route in search of the dog. The animal appeared and gave chase as before. This time, however, the fair riders gave their enemy every possible advantage, lessening their speed and allowing the dog to rush up between them. But when the brute was about to seize Miss Reed both revolvers discharged and the dog fell dead. The young women then rode away in triumph, while the owner of the animal angrily threatened to prosecute them for damages.
Did this really happen? I looked for other stories, especially ones originating from a New York newspaper, but came up empty. I’m a bit skeptical … but it could have happened. You can judge for yourself, as there’s no way for me to interview Eva or Maude. They’re history.
A meat tire
A Philadelphia boy was riding down the street on his bike, “holding one end of a chain at the other end of which was a vicious-looking bulldog …”
At some point, according to the April 26, 1896 story in The Chicago Chronicle, the rear wheel of the boy’s bike rolled over a piece of raw meat, which affixed itself to the wheel. And yes, you guessed it …
The dog smelled the meat at once. He snapped at it, as it came around, but missed it. On the next revolution he was more successful, and got not only the meat, but a mouthful of wind from the tire … the wheel wabbled to one side and the rider shot over the handle.
I know this one also sounds a bit suspect, but … I’m from Philadelphia, or Philly, as we call it. And Philly is the hoagie capital of the world. Hoagie shops are everywhere. So, there’s a pretty good chance there could have been a stray slice of mortadella lying on the street.
A savage assailant
Thomas Stevens was the first person to circle the world on a bicycle, completing his two-year journey on a penny farthing in December 1886. He periodically sent back dispatches from the far corners of the world, describing his exploits … which, of course, included run ins with the dogs of the world.
Here’s what he wrote from Turkey, in 1886 …
They have a noble breed of canines throughout the Angora great country; fine animals as large as Newfoundlands, with a good deal the appearance of the mastiff; and they display their hostility to my intrusion by making straight at me, evidently considering me fair game. These dogs are invaluable friends, but as enemies and assailants they are not exactly calculated to win a cycler’s esteem. My general tactics are to dismount if riding, and maneuver the machine as to keep it between myself and my savage assailant if there be but one, and if more than one, make feints with it at them alternately [or] caress them with a handy stone whenever occasion offers.
The cure for curs, or: bombs away
Let’s head back to Germany, where they “have an effectual way of getting rid of troublesome dogs,” according to an article in the June 8, 1896 Saint Paul Globe. I think Eva and Maud would approve …
Bicycle bombs are now being manufactured in the fatherland – small, but extremely noisy explosives, which exercise a magical effect upon the cur of aggressive propensities. This startling device for the protection of cyclists has already created quite a scare in canine circles in the Rhineland, and a dog in Germany thinks twice now before attempting to molest people on wheels.
I strongly urge you not to try this method of defending yourself from curs with aggressive propensities.
Here’s a link to my previous post on dog vs. the wheel, including proof positive this problem dates back as far as the 1700s. Really; I have proof.
And, have you read my post on the Velo-Douche and the Lawn Mower Bicycle? Here’s the link.