I have a longstanding fear of dogs.
It isn’t just big, aggressive, barking dogs clinging face-first to my flesh that I fear, but all dogs. Growing up we lived next door to Peekaboo, a small black terrier who might have weighed 10 lbs. He lived into his late teens — perhaps even his early twenties — and toward the end went grey and lost most of his teeth.
If I saw Peekaboo, my anxiety level would go up.
If he barked (yipped?), I would walk faster.
I would walk faster even if his yip came from behind a 6′ high fence.
I should probably mention that I have never been attacked by a dog. I was chased once by a mid-sized golden retriever, and when I briefly looked over my shoulder to see if it was gaining on me, I noticed a tennis ball in its mouth.
I kept running anyway.
I always wondered about my fear of dogs, because, based on anecdotes, it doesn’t seem to have existed in my early years. This past Christmas the topic came up in a conversation with my mom and gramma and I found out that when I was about 7 years old some people came to my school to give a presentation on rabies. Apparently they took such an alarmist tact that both me and my brother came home suddenly afraid of all dogs. My brother, who was older than me, got over it. I never did. Eventually I forgot what brought on the fear, but the fear itself remained.
Being afraid of dogs makes me feel ridiculous. Large, aggressive dogs are one thing, but toy poodles? You should never be afraid of anything you can punt.
I’ve been actively trying to get over my fear of dogs via the “face your fears” method. This past winter I went skating a few times with one of my roommates. The rink is in the middle of a park which is dog-friendly and has several walking trails. Every time we’d go we’d pass a dozen or more dogs being walked. Most of them ignored me, but if any seemed friendly I would force myself to interact. I’d let them sniff me, give them a scratch, and throw a ball if they dropped it at my feet (or held it in their mouths in a “want it? Can’t have it” sort of way. Pfft. Challenge accepted).
My neighbor has a dog who often plays in our building’s shared patio. If I see her I’ll usually go out, give her a scratch, and throw her toys around.
When I walk through my neighborhood I’ll often pass dogs being walked, or who are tied up in front of shops, and if they look my way I’ll give them a pat.
This past weekend I realized when passing a dog that I didn’t have any anxiety. I don’t remember “getting over it”, but it would seem that I’ve managed all the same. That said, there are exceptions. If a dog barks at me I’ll still jump a little, and if it growls I’ll take a step back. Even though I know a dog’s behavior has more to do with its owner than its breed, I still get a hint of anxiety around dobermans and more muscular pit bulls, but I think that has more to do with how I’ve been socialized than my general fear.
The trouble with setting a goal of getting over a fear is that it can be hard to pin down when you’re well and truly “over it”. I can check off “get an iPhone” when it’s paid for and in my hand. I can check off “go to Newfoundland” when the plane lands. Pinning down an emotional shift is more difficult, but I think — with as much certainty as one can have in such cases — I’ve pulled it off.
I used to be afraid of dogs.by