I have been scared of dogs for as long as I can remember, although I’ve been told there was a time when I had no fear at all, and positively enjoyed having dogs race around me.
I’m not sure precisely when I developed a fear of dogs, but I do recall being on holiday in Devon, when I was very small, and passing a house where a white terrier yapped at me. My mum was also very nervous by nature, and often on our country walks she would turn round when a frisky dog approached, while my dad remained nonchalantly unruffled. Alas, I took after my mum in the disposition stakes, and my dad’s lack of fear failed to offset my nerves.
My phobia worsened with age, despite the fact that I had a very loving relationship with my own adorable Welsh collie/Welsh spaniel cross, Jessie, who was part of my life until I was 15 years old. I loved Jessie with all my heart, and spent hours talking to her about my day as if she were another person. I particularly liked to burrow my nose into her soft, sweetly scented cheeks, because the smell was heavenly. I was often on the floor with Jessie, tickling her tummy and feeling her warmth.
People are sometimes surprised that I am so scared of other peoples’ dogs when I grew up with one. But this touches on a key aspect of my phobia: the unknown. I am scared of stranger’s dogs because they are unpredictable, I don’t know their nature, and they might invade my space or, worse still, touch me. Conversely, ”Jessie baby”, as I affectionately called her, was as much a part of the furniture at home as my mum, dad and younger brother were. I knew her nature, she was predictable, and I had bonded with her as she was in my world from the cradle onward.
Another misconception about my phobia is the idea that I don’t like dogs. In fact, I am quite interested in the canine species, and can admire the beauty of certain breeds of dog from a distance. I can form bonds with individual dogs that I have been introduced to over time, and even lose my phobia. Unfortunately, however, this does not generalise to other dogs, because they are still ”the unknown”.
Some people can be very unsympathetic toward people with dog phobias. They assume that because their dog is friendly, the person should not be scared. But this attitude fails to understand the nature of phobias. For example, a person who is scared of spiders (one of the most common phobias of all), will be scared regardless of knowing rationally that in the UK, most spiders are not poisonous or at least are very unlikely to bite. Likewise, I can be scared of a dog even if it’s owner has reassured me that it’s friendly or, even worse, that it’s ”just a dog”, as one very uncaring man told me about his staffie. A friendly dog might still be unpredictable in its behaviour, it might still touch me, and the fear is of an irrational nature that is immune to rational analysis and knowledge. Phobias cannot be reasoned with, but understanding goes a long way, and can even help the person build trust and slowly become less fearful around dogs. For example, a lovely lady in Arundel, at a cafe, was very understanding when I told her that I had a dog phobia, and would she please not sit too close to me with her terrier . She took the dog to one side, but also explained that her dog was very friendly. This was far more helpful than saying, ”oh, he’s very friendly, he won’t hurt you”, while simultaneously letting the dog run amok around me. By keeping the dog at a safe distance while telling me about the dog’s gentle nature, I felt I could trust both the owner and the dog, and I even stood quite close to the dog (which was very cute) as I thanked the owner for being so understanding. The ladies’ responsible acknowledgement of my fear actually helped me become less phobic, if only towards her own dog. I wish that other dog owners would also be this responsible, instead of assuming that anyone who is scared of their dog is somehow not worthy of any respect. My question to them is, what are you scared of? Most humans are very afraid of at least one thing, and would they like it if I showed them no respect in the face of their own fear?