We were watching a show called My Extreme Animal Phobia about people who are deathly afraid of creatures such as spiders, snakes, cockroaches, lizards, pitbull dogs, and even butterflies and moths. The show provided a therapist to work with the fearful people to confront their fears and hopefully get over their fears.
In the episode about the man who was afraid of pitbull dogs, part of his therapy was exposure to friendly pitbulls. The dogs involved were obviously happy, friendly pitbulls who wanted nothing more than to lick you, play with you and love on you. The dogs showed no sign of aggression whatsoever.
Anyone who knows dogs would take one look at the dogs on the episode and wonder how anyone could be afraid of such friendly dogs. I had an answer for that. Once upon a time I was very afraid of dogs. I thought every dog was out to bite me and in those days, they were.
One of my earliest childhood memories of a dog was my grandmother’s dog, Crackers, who was a small, black and white terrier-type dog. We were visiting grandma’s for a holiday and I went into the bathroom to pee. I hadn’t closed the door all the way and when I pulled down my pants, Crackers ran into the bathroom and bit me in the bare butt. I must have hollered because the next thing I knew, the bathroom was full of adults all studying my behind. I was utterly mortified. The episode was totally embarrassing and it was Chalkmark 1 toward my fear of dogs. The adults laughing at my predicament did not help the matter any.
Chalkmark 2 came at my aunt’s house. Us kids were out in the backyard playing and their little poodle came tearing after me. I barely made it up a very small tree with the poodle doing its utmost best to get at me. The dog never got a full hold of me to bite me but it sure did try. I was hanging onto that tree for dear life hollering like a banshee with the dog trying to jump up and get at me. He had me treed and by golly, he had blood in his eye with the booty so close, hanging just barely above his reach.
Again, laughter from the adults. None of them seemed to “get” the concept that they should have been training their dogs better and lacking that, putting their dogs away for company.
The third Chalkmark came again as a child. All three of these incidents happened before I was ten years old so they definitely scarred my young psyche regarding dogs. The next door neighbor’s dog, I believe it was an Irish Setter, bit me in the face and almost took my eye out. His tooth went underneath my lower eyelid. That’s how close the dog bite was to my eye. I was extremely lucky not to have suffered serious damage or blindness, but the incident sealed my fear of dogs.
As a child I did not have happy, friendly dog encounters. They always involved a dog biting me or attempting to bite me, and adults who did not take it seriously. For some reason I was a magnet for dog teeth or dog aggression and the end result was a deep fear of dogs. As my mother wasn’t particularly fond of pets, we did not adopt any dogs of our own.
My teen years were virtually dog-free with no particular problems, but in my early twenties it happened again. I was riding my bike with shorts on when a pack of dogs started chasing me. There were four dogs in the dog pack and they were running along both sides of me as I peddled. I didn’t know what to do except to peddle faster, which spurred them on and escalated the encounter. One dog took a lunge and bit me in the thigh and the dog bite was so severe that I could not sit for almost a week, or lay on my back, or be in any position where any part of that leg touched something. The dog owner claimed that the dog had never bitten anyone before.
Nobody ever believes that their dog is capable of biting someone until it happens, and even then the dog owners go into a state of denial believing that the dog bite was a fluke. There are many reasons for the leash laws and one of those reasons is to protect innocent people like a girl riding a bicycle from being attacked by dogs running loose. People should be able to ride bikes, take walks, stroll with their babies, and let their kids play outdoors without the fear of dogs running loose. Many dog owners, however, simply don’t care enough about their neighbors or passersby to obey the leash laws.
These dog bites and aggressive dogs created such a fear of dogs in me that the fear hormones kicked into high gear anytime I was near a dog. It didn’t matter if someone told me that the dog was friendly. The dogs who had bitten me in the past were supposed to be friendly and they bit me anyway.
Having heard that dogs can smell fear, and not being able to stop the fear, pretty much sealed my fate. It was like a self-feeding cycle. I’d see a dog, become afraid, assume that the dog could smell my fear and would become aggressive, so I became more fearful, expecting to be bitten because the dog smelled my fear. It takes a lot to break such a fear cycle.
For me it took a local burglar to break me of my fear of dogs and turn me into a dog lady. I was in my thirties when my neighborhood erupted into a hotbed of burglaries. Every house on my block had been burgled except mine so I was the next target. One day I came home from work to find the screen off of one of my windows. The burglar had attempted to break in but an unexpected type of lock that I had installed had stopped him that day.
I figured he’d be back to try again and I was NOT on board with this particular plan, so I did what any self-respecting girl who lived alone would do, I went to the dog pound and adopted a great big scary looking dog. My fear of being burgled was greater than my fear of dogs, as I’d been burgled before in previous neighborhoods and did not want to repeat the experience.
In the car on the way home from the dog pound, my new dog sat in the passenger seat of my car, loose. She was smiling at me with those GREAT BIG TEETH. I realized how easy it would be for her to lunge across the car and take a hunk out of me. I wondered what was stopping her. I didn’t have a clue and I realized that the whole idea of me with a dog was totally daft. We got home and I wondered what on earth I was supposed to do with her besides feed her and potty her. I genuinely did not know, but I learned.
Me, with my intense fear of dogs, did a complete turnaround that day. I set out on a mission to learn everything I could about dogs because I knew that I did not want a badly behaved dog. I didn’t want a dog who woke me up at 5 a.m. like an alarm clock. I didn’t want a dog who pottied in the house. I didn’t want a destructive dog. And I sure as hell didn’t want a dog who’d bite me.
She and I became best friends. I was her saviour from being put down at the dog pound and she was my teacher. She, and several very knowledgeable dog people, taught me how to be the type of dog owner who raises a good dog.
Today, I have no fear of my own dogs, who are NOT allowed to growl at me or nip at me for any reason whatsoever, though I’m pretty certain they’d take a hunk out of a burglar. I can take food straight out of their mouths without anything more than a “Hey! Whadja do that for?” from them. By the same token that I’ve learned how to raise a dog, they’ve learned that they can totally trust me to be generous and fair. I’m not going to take something away without giving something else in return.
As for other people’s dogs, I do still harbor a bit of fear of big dogs running loose, but I have also faced off with big dogs running at me and stopped them in their tracks. Now if I encounter a strange dog coming at me, I get mad and let ‘em have it verbally rather than cowering in fear and getting bit. So far, it has worked and I haven’t been bitten in decades. I even scared a big dog who took off running when this madwoman started waving an umbrella around one rainy day when charged by a dog defending his unfenced yard.
It is possible to overcome your fear of dogs no matter how old you are. I was in my thirties when I decided to face my fear of dogs and adopt one. Now I am a big time dog lady. That first dog has long since passed away and I currently have two dogs, both being good-sized dogs of 55 and 65 pounds respectively. Neither of them are from dainty breeds. Both dogs are from breeds which are considered taboo for most dog owners, being very challenging to raise and train, and both are complete success stories.
Not only did I overcome my fear of dogs, I learned what makes them tick. If you can distinguish between a dog who wants to lick you from a dog who wants to take a piece out of you, then you are halfway to winning the battle. I learned techniques and tips for training a dog, and for handling myself around strange dogs.
I got over my fear of dogs, and I trained my dogs to have manners for when people come to visit me. I would never put someone in a position to be afraid as I was put into by so many thoughtless dog owners. If someone comes to my home who is afraid of dogs, my dogs get put up in such a way that the person does not have to be afraid. Ditto for visitors who simply do not like dogs. Only for visitors who are receptive to dogs are my dogs allowed the freedom to interact with the visitors.
The really cool thing is that I’ve done such a good job training the dogs that people who normally prefer not to be around dogs, do not mind being around my dogs. THAT is an accomplishment that I wish more dog owners would try to achieve. If more dogs were properly trained, we wouldn’t have to deal with the fear of dogs unless we were burglars or bad people trespassing where we didn’t belong.
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Category: Dog Tails of Adventure