Cycling on Trans Dinarica: What about stray and shepherd dogs and wild animals?

This is another question that fills our e-mail boxes: Which animals might we meet while cycling in the Balkans and can they be dangerous? Put simply, there are a lot of wild animals on the Balkan Peninsula, including brown bears, wolves, foxes, deer, and wild boars. The Trans Dinarica runs most of its route through mountainous and less populated areas with exceptional biodiversity.

Two cyclists watch a herd of goats crossing the road in Albania's section of Trans Dinarica cycle route.

It is also true that many shepherds in these lands help protect their animals in an old-fashioned but effective way – with dogs. ‘Tornjaks’, ‘sharplanins’, and ‘Karst shepherds’ are wonderful, big, and brave animals, but in principle, they are not dangerous to humans. However, they are carrying out their mission – guarding their ‘family’ (and the shepherd) – so caution and common sense apply. They might not understand you well if you ride your bike at full speed among the sheep …

Bears, wolves? We haven’t met any … yet

What can we say from experience? On our research journey, we never once met a bear or a wolf, at most a roe deer (in Serbia), a rabbit (in Albania) and a deer (in Slovenia). But that doesn’t mean bears and wolves haven’t met (seen or at least smelled) us. Wolves are considered not to be dangerous to humans, but bears are dangerous if surprised or frightened, especially a female bear with cubs. If you meet a bear, do not run, or climb a tree (bears are better at running and climbing), but leave his territory as calmly as possible. In the case of camping in the wilderness, do not leave leftover food around the tent, the bear will smell it kilometers away.

You are much more likely to meet a shepherd with his sheepdogs (off-leash of course), this happened to us several times while exploring the Trans Dinarica, especially in Albania. Greet the shepherd nicely by raising your hands from a distance, get off your bike, and somehow agree if you can continue your journey in the direction (which may cross his flock). Do not try to pet the dogs, because these are not some spoiled city poodles, but beasts capable of warding off bears and wolves. In principle, these are calm, unobtrusive dogs. However, it is good to know that close encounters with aggressive dogs are possible. As a cyclist who experienced a less pleasant encounter with dogs wrote to us, it helps to place the bike between the dog and yourself, spray water from a water bottle, or throw a stone towards (not at!) the dog. If you are naturally afraid of dogs, we recommend traveling in company.

A shepherd dog lies in the middle of the road in Albania on the Trans Dinarica cycling route.

Feeding a stray dog can have consequences

Yes, it is also very likely that you will also meet a stray dog, especially in cities, but sometimes also somewhere in the middle of nowhere. From what we’ve seen, they’ll (terrified) move away on their own, or maybe at the most, they’ll come begging for their bite while you’re dining on your burek. But you can expect that if you give them food, they will follow you for kilometers (yes, it happened to us). In this case, expect a heartbreaking goodbye sooner or later.

So: enjoy cycling in the Balkans without fear and with common sense. You are far more likely to bring home a scratch from your own clumsiness than from an animal. And yes, first aid should be in the bag in any case. Good luck!

The furriest gallery of Trans Dinarica: