I Am Afraid of Dogs

Honey the Golden Retriever is not a dog I am afraid of.

Throw that ball! This is what I’ve been waiting for all day.

BlogPaws is heaven for a dog lover.

I saw dogs in elevators, dogs at dinner, dogs in strollers, dogs in seminars, and even a dog groomed to look like a lion running through the lobby dragging his leash.

But I didn’t meet a single dog without saying to myself, “This dog could bite me. And it would hurt.”

I’m a Dog Lover Afraid of Dogs

Most dog lovers aren’t like me.

They see a new dog and they walk right up to him, put their face in his, and run their hands all over his body. It happens all the time with Honey.

If they have a passing thought a dog could bite them, I see no outward signs of it.

I envy their confidence that the world is a safe and nurturing place. But deep down I wouldn’t want to be them. Fearing dogs has a positive side—at least for the dogs.

The “Up” Side of Fearing Dogs

When I feel that twinge of fear and hear the little voice in my head (“remember, she could bite”) in the presence of a strange dog, I do two things:

  • observe the dog’s body language
  • wait for her to approach me.
I am not afraid of these dogs.

Lucky me. Dewi is always up for some lovies.

If the dog seems stressed or if she’s simply uninterested in me, I don’t approach her at all. Even if I really, really, really want a fuzzy fix.

And in a stressful environment like BlogPaws, I like to think the dog appreciates a few moments with one less stimulus to deal with.

I don’t believe that every dog lover who fearlessly approaches a strange dog is brainless and insensitive. Some people are faster at reading a dog’s mood than I am. And that’s what I really envy, more than the absence of fear.

But until my I can read a dog as quickly as I can read War and Peace, I’ll have to be happy petting the relaxed happy dogs who want to say hello to me.

Your Turn: Are you or have you ever been afraid of dogs? Do you see it as a positive or a negative?

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  1. Never been afraid of dogs. Been an animal nut from the time I could crawl (probably before that but I truly can’t remember 😀 ). However, you are right to always look at the dogs body language. I teach kids about how to read dog body language and, even those who love animals and have grown up with very friendly ones, I make sure they understand to wait before approaching someone else’s. You never know what that dog has been exposed to or might even be feeling at the time. The friendliest of all dogs can have their “moments” if they are feeling ill or injured. If everyone displayed caution, there’d be far fewer bites – always a good thing to keep animals out of trouble.

  2. Sounds very sensible to me. You don’t push things and you are respectful of the dogs. Smart. I was never afraid of dogs, when I was a kid I remember going up to a dog, sticking my hand out and saying “Shake,” to which the dog promptly bit my hand. What is best is something in between fear and stupid. lol. Now, I am cautious of dogs when we are out on walks because Kelly can be reactive to some.

  3. Sue at The Golden Life says:

    I’ve never been afraid of any animal, at least not that I can remember. My Mom was an animal lover, and brought me up the same way. We just preferred dogs over any other. (Mom said cats were too independent; and she didn’t want any animal in her house that would kill the birds she so enjoyed watching for hours on end.)
    Anyway, until a few years ago — when I was watching “The Dog Whisperer”, I was one of those crazy people who would walk right up to a dog and fawn over it. Then I started being a little more cautious. Now that I have one of those dogs who stress out around strangers, I find myself being much more respectful of a dog’s need for space and just let them be. I try to read the body language, and I keep my hands low and avoid direct eye contact. Fear isn’t bad, as long as it doesn’t make you panic.

  4. You are absolutely right to hesitate achieving a full body hug with a strange dog. It’s a matter of respect for an animals personal space, an acknowledgement that they have and are entitled to their own complex emotions, an understanding of their dogness, which, while compatible with our humanness is different from it. No dog would run up to another dog willy nilly without knowing him or sensing through smell, posture and the surrounding environment his mood and likelihood of accepting overtures, unless he wanted to attack. Does that give you some idea of what we look like to dogs when we run up to them, arms open, shrieking hellos or staring at them, and then reach out to…what? The dog doesn’t necessarily know what you intend to do. Because they have lived with us so long and know how impulsive, socially backwards and clueless we can be, less biting happens than probably should. I have a great respect for dog’s inherent good sense. I also respect their God given nature.

  5. I admit I’m one of those crazy people who deserves to be bitten, but until it happens, I will probably continue to be fearless around animals. Maybe subconsciously I know when to back off, but the idea of being afraid of an animal is foreign to my nature.

  6. As you might have guessed by watching me at BlogPaws, I am not afraid of dogs. I do feel, however, that I have honed my skill at reading them over many years.

    I was joking that I was measuring my success at BlogPaws by how many doggy kisses I could get. That said, I always asked the owner before petting a dog. And then, even when given permission, I knelt down sideways to the dog, slowly stretched my hand out from a low position palm down and let the dog decide if they wanted to meet. (I never did even get to pat Daisy’s head – she wasn’t interested and I respected that.)

    I think I run with the assumption that people at places like BlogPaws wouldn’t normally bring vicious dogs to an event but I am also keenly aware that dogs can find the stress of those situations exhausting and behave differently than usual. I like to think I can read their body language well enough to know the stress signals even if their owners are missing them.

    • You do such great dog greetings you should make an instructional video. Really! You are the queen of appropriate dog hellos. :)

      • LOL – awww, you’re just saying that. 😉

        Dogs were in my home before I was and my love for them, as a result, is unbridled. Honey is an absolute doll and I wish I had more time with her.

        It was also such a pleasure to meet you. And I love Mike even more now that I’ve met him than I did just from his occasional comments here. Geeks are welcome here. 😉

        Still, I think I’ve found myself loving on Honey and other pups in at least a couple/few BlogPaws posts, pics and videos. So maybe next time I need to pay as much attention to the people attached to the dog as the dogs themselves. Notes for next time, I suppose. Oh who am I kidding – my motto will always be: life is short, play with dogs. :}

  7. I am sure each and everyone of us has a fear of some animal. Mine was horses after a bad fall. Took all my guts to start riding again. But eventually as they say get back in the saddle. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  8. I have never had a fearful experience with a dog, so i love them. I do give them space, especially if they seem like they need it.

  9. I was bitten by a afghan hound when I was 15 – I was at a friends, petting him nicely and apparently he did not like something that I did and he lunged and bit me on the behind (I turned away as he was lunging). I was scared of big dogs for a long time after that. As much as I would love to pet every dog that I meet, I try to always ask if it’s okay and allow the dog to come to me – I would never hug a dog that I didn’t know well. When I was doing pet photography in South Carolina I would always ask “is your dog friendly?” before I would approach and they would ALWAYS say “Yes” and I was nipped on several occasions! I think I was asking the wrong question :)

    I think it’s completely normal to have a little fear around dogs you don’t know.

  10. I’ve never really been afraid of dogs, probably because my grandfather raised collies so was around them all the time. There was one unleashed german shepherd in our neighborhood that used to scare me because he would charge us when we were on our bikes. But since I’ve been an adult and had my own dogs, like you, I’ve had a healthy regard for a dogs personal space. Having a reactive dogs certainly helps you realize how many people ‘think’ they know dogs, but really don’t!

  11. Having a nervous dog teaches you this stuff fast. I always treat every dog like I wish people would treat Silas–letting the dog do all of the greeting work, aside from a slowly extended hand. Owners of other anxious dogs tend to thank me.

    On the other hand, I’m always happy for him to meet people who are really happy to see him, no matter what they do. That kind of dog lover usually laughs it off if they try too much and he barks and backs up.

  12. I didn’t grow up with dogs, and I was a bit afraid of them in the past. Then when I finally fell in love with them, that all changed. My desire now is to go in and love up on any dog I meet, but I don’t do that. I try to respect their space, and wait for the dog to approach me or indicate that it wants attention. I learned that from my little beagle who is shy, so I know what it is like for her…she doesn’t like everyone getting in her space, but if they hold back she will go up to them on her own if she chooses.

  13. I loved all the dogs at BlogPaws! this was my first year so everything (well almost everything) was a nice surprise for me. I have cats and not a dog because I am not very good at figuring them out. I am lucky I have never been bit because I never even think of it. The dogs were so well behaved. I love how the little guys bark at the big guys – they have moxie. Humans could learn from that, for sure. But, when their handler asked them to quit, they did so in a pretty timely manner. I wish cats were more social like dogs and everyone got along. I will never change hoping and believing that could happen. I have cats and I would love to take them everywhere. Truth is, most cats don’t want to go everywhere. Silly cats. They miss out on a lot.
    My favorite dog experience was a dog, sitting on his Mom’s lap at one of the classes. He started kind of mumbling to himself, and then got louder – he sounded just life Chewbacca from Star Wars. The attendees were all giggling and he finally calmed down and we got back to business. He was adorable!

    • One of my favorite things about BlogPaws are the traveling cats. I know many cats would prefer not to travel. But I suspect that people would be surprised at how many could travel comfortably if they got practice at an early age.

      I loved seeing the tiny kitten on a leash. She (he?) is getting great socialization and will probably grow up to be quite fearless.

      And, even if someone doesn’t want to take their cat to BlogPaws, wouldn’t it be great if more cats could find those needed trips to the vet more comfortable?

  14. I was chased by plenty of dogs growing up, so I have a healthy respect for loose dogs. I guess I tend to watch the owner and listen to their cues.

    It was great meeting you at BlogPaws. I fell madly in love with those two Cardis. :)

  15. I think I was definitely guilty of this this weekend, though I tried to catch myself. One thing about a blogging conference like this is I think I was far MORE confident greeting the dogs than I might have been in real life. Perhaps the fact that we “know” these dogs lulls us into a possibly false sense of security.

    • You make a good point.

      I do think the dogs of BlogPaws were better behaved that a random grouping of dogs at another event. But not all of them were ready for prime time.

      In one workshop, a woman trying to get a cup of water woke up two sleeping dogs and get a pretty strong reaction. I don’t think those dogs were ready for the challenge.

  16. I’ve only ever been afraid of a dog twice in my life. Once at about age 7, the neighbor’s Cocker spaniel got out and charged me while I was sitting in my own front yard, not even aware of the dog until he got close. I got bitten on the ankle; he drew blood; I never liked that dog after that. And once about 2 years ago I walked out of my yard towards a large male pitbull that was roaming loose – he growled at me, and for the first time as an adult I felt the fear that a dog might bite me. (It’s worth noting that within 15 minutes I had this dog inside my yard, eating out of my hand, and kissing my face – but he did scare me.)

    That said, I don’t dive in for kisses with strange dogs. I always try to speak to the owner first, then offer my hand to the dog, and only if that’s well received do I get into the hugs and back-scratches and face kisses. To me it’s not fear-based, as I never think of the dog biting me, and I do read dogs quite well at a glance. It’s just polite. I mean, I like dogs, but that doesn’t mean I want everyone’s dog leaping in my lap and kissing my face within the first ten seconds of meeting, so why should I assume they want that from me even if they do like people?

    • It sounds like your initial fear was guiding you in your interactions with that loose dog. Your body sensed the dog’s uncertainty and it helped you figure out how to help him.

      Good for you!

      And yes, why do we assume every dog wants our fawning and attention? People don’t.

      • If you’ll forgive the long reply, I find this story interesting. Part of the deal with the loose pittie was that it was dark, and I was facing him head-on – I saw as I walked through my yard that he was standing very still and just looked ‘off’ but I thought he was lost. When I first approached him and he growled, man, my hair stood on end!

        I carefully backed away and went back inside my fenced yard, and he was still standing there, so I walked up again – now I really understand why even shy dogs will bark from inside a fence. It’s very nice to have several feet of chain link between you and something scary! Anyway, the second time I approached him, he did growl again, but I saw him tuck his tail that time. So I knew then that he was reacting out of fear and uncertainty.

        I went in, got a bowl of kibble, and sat down with my back to the gate chucking kibble over it until he approached. Then I rolled kibble under the gate until he was right behind me, and then I started feeding him with my hand under the gate. Once we got to that point, I opened half the gate, kept my back to him and my eyes aimed away, and started chucking kibble up my driveway.

        It didn’t even occur to me at the time that this was an animal that had growled at me not even 10 minutes ago, and I was sitting on the ground with my back to him. He was perfectly physically capable of taking a chunk out of my back or my face at that point. But once I got a ‘read’ on him by seeing his whole body the second time I walked up, I wasn’t scared at all. Only later on, telling the story, did people ask if I was afraid. It didn’t feel like a risk.

        Anyway, to wrap up the tale, he had a prong collar on, twisted so the prongs faced out – and so the collar couldn’t loosen up. Once I had him in my yard and closed the gate, I was able to approach him and pet him and hand feed him, and then he let me get the collar off. Once he didn’t have uncomfortable metal squeezing on him, he turned into a big wiggly face-kissing puppy. XD

  17. I’d never been afraid of dogs till about 2 years ago when I was visiting family. They had two American Bulldog/Border Collie puppies, 8 months old and very big. The boy jumped up on me and came down with his teeth in my arm. We chalked it up to puppy exhuberance, but it still required 6 stitches. Now whenever anyone comes over to their house they have to lock the dogs up in the bedroom. The dogs are very devoted to and protective of the family and hate everybody else. I think they are a disaster waiting to happen. I see nothing border collie about them. Are border collies known to be agressive to non-family members? I’m going to visit them again soon and I’m very wary lest the dogs escape the bedroom. Never been afraid before!

  18. I grew up with dogs and cats, later had horses, and don’t feel afraid – am careful, but not afraid. The only bones I’ve broken is when a horse tossed me (did NOT fall off – big difference :) ). Only bitten once by a dog going for another dog with my hand in the way BUT had a very human/canine aggressive HOUND, who almost bit me twice and then led another dog to kill my favorite, gorgeous Penney. Lost 3 lives that day – have never recovered. Am very careful about pack dynamics and who I bring in. Very good post.

    • I always wonder about how you manage so many dogs. I find it really helpful when you write about it.

      And yes, bad dog interactions can ruin a lot of lives.

      I think my fear dates back to my first dog. He was extremely aggressive with other animals and people but gentle as a lamb with me as a child. One day, after being told not to approach him, a family friend tried to pet him while he was chained to his dog house (yes, I’m that old). He was badly bitten.

      Luckily for my dog, the man bitten was appeased when my parents gave him to a store looking for a security dog. But I’ve never forgotten the lesson that any dog can be dangerous. And that the price for a bite can be very, very high.

  19. I like to think that I’m one of those people who can read a dog quickly. Some dogs I never approach while others I go right up to and say hi. And with some dogs, I just take my time. I have been around dogs my entire life so I’ve never been afraid of them. While I don’t think to myself, “that dog could bite me,” I always try to be respectfully cautious.

    • I do believe that some people have fast instincts for reading dog behavior. I just happen to be very slow (at everything but talking). :)

  20. goldenrescue says:

    I tend to be a reserved person, and I don’t like to go where I’m not welcome. Dogs or people! I observe, not just a quick glance, but a long enough look so that I see the context of a situation for a dog. You’re right, some dogs just don’t need another person reaching out to them. Some dogs, in some situations, welcome it. Being bitten seldom comes to mind, although I’m sure a certain body language from the dog would suggest that. But if it looks as though the dog won’t enjoy it, I don’t introduce myself.

  21. I have, in some situations, been afraid of dogs – mainly off-leash dogs in an environment where they shouldn’t be off-leash.

    I was bit in the face by my aunt’s dog when I was little, but amazingly it didn’t make me afraid of dogs. (Which is probably weird.) So, no scars, physical or mental.

    But I’ve been charged at by a vicious-looking barking dog while out running, and I’ve had scary encounters with loose dogs while out with my own dog(s). I guess I tend to be a bit too quick to walk up and commence loving on a dog who is with it’s owner – although I do always ask first if it’s okay to say hello – I guess I’m assuming they would say something before I got too close if there was a problem. But you know what they say about assuming… Best to be cautious!

    • As Julie said in a comment above, she has been bitten by dogs whose people said they were friendly.

      People are in such denial. If I were you, I’d trust your dog sense before I trusted a random dog owner. :)

  22. I wouldn’t really use the word “afraid” but I am cautious about dogs I don’t know, and always ask before petting one, and I certainly don’t “mush” a strange dog the way I torture my own. 😉

    I’m always stunned by how people just walk up to my dogs and pet them without asking, especially Leah. I mean she’s 90 lbs of black and tan, you’d think that would put people off, but it doesn’t always. I have to be the spokesperson for her and Meadow’s. (Toby wants EVERYONE to pet him, even people that are “afraid” of dogs.)

  23. It has literally never occurred to me to be afraid of dogs. That doesn’t mean I’m entirely cavalier about my behavior or their own, but using good sense and being afraid are, in my eyes, two different things. Since getting Elka, there are two dogs I regularly encounter who I consciously use calming signals (yawning, head turns, etc) with as a matter of course, because they are just SO stressed and their owners don’t seem to get it.

  24. What a very interesting post. It’s funny, I was thinking about this last week. There was a beautiful golden retriever, tied up to a pole outside a cafe, no owner in sight. Of course, being obsessed with goldies, I wanted to run up to it and pat it straight away. But something in her eyes just made me hesitate. My husband went up to her and started patting her, but her tail wasn’t wagging and her body language was stiff. I quietly told him to move away from her.

    I love dogs but I have a level of weariness around strange dogs. Even that ‘cuddly’ golden retriever is perfectly capable of giving a good bite. I feel a bit guilty for having this slight fear of unknown dogs, but I think ultimately it’s healthy. I would hate for a bad experience to reduce my love for dogs or make me fearful around them.

  25. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I am not really afraid of dogs in general, and often have the urge to just rush up and snuggle them within an inch of their lives. However, my parents raised me to be very respectful of dogs, and I’ve always been the type to ask first before trying to approach a new dog.

    There were some dogs in our neighborhood (that being a very loose term, as it was the middle of nowhere) that intimidated me growing up. My neighbor’s sons were badly bitten by one of the loose dogs in the neighborhood, in fact. It could have been worse but my family’s (also loose… it was the 90s) dog’s protective instinct kicked in. She intervened and the other dog backed off.

    (I think you’ve just inspired me to write about that story. I had pushed it to the back of my mind!)

    I do sometimes find that I have a twinge of fear when walking through my current neighborhood and hear a dog barking nearby, especially when I’m by myself or walking Tavish when no one else is around.

  26. I know exactly what you’re saying. You’re respectful. And that’s smart! :) Believe me, the dogs — no matter how friendly — appreciate it!

  27. I am respectful of dogs, never afraid, and I have been bitten before (totally my fault) The was only one time when I was afraid to leave my house. A Pit bull I didn’t recognize, with scars on it’s neck and face, was roaming loose in my neighbourhood. I had to park my car on the street and it wasn’t a quick walk so I stayed inside. The dog was lollygagging around for about 10 minutes until it’s owner came and got it. Considering pit bulls are illegal in Ontario, you’d think that owner would have kept a closer eye on his dog…..

  28. I was bitten on the face by a neighbour’s dog when I was about 5. Totally my fault as it was eating at the time. That incident didn’t stop me loving dogs, nor did the incident when I had my hand ‘held’ by a female Rottie with blank eyes who had decided I was too close to the child in her house! Over the years I’ve realised that not every dog wants to be patted by a stranger or be smooched to and loved on and now I’m very respectful of dogs and let them make all the approaches.

  29. My bipeds like to make a fuss of dogs, but they only approach if the dog seems relaxed about it – they usually leave it to the dog to come forward. They’d never put their face next to a dog they don’t know.

  30. Reading this late. I have free wifi today! And an hour to spare before the day starts! Thank you for commenting on my posts from the road. Of course it’s lovely to hear from people but I just feel so bad because I can’t reciprocate :)

    Re: this post. I am exactly like you. Cautious with new dogs, dogs tied up on the street, and dogs that don’t look interested in saying hi to me. Cushion will pat and put his face in any dog’s which IMO is a recipe for disaster. But will he listen to me? No. He goes up to strange seals sun baking and says hello to them too. Nuts.

  31. OK, I think the coast is clear for me to comment, now. 😉

    I didn’t know you were afraid (and that is perfectly understandable)! I hope Dewi didn’t terrify you when he practically sat in your lap. :( I have, interestingly, become much more respectful of dogs since I started the blog. Before that, I had no concept that some dogs don’t relish getting lavished attention from over-zealous strangers (me). (This is a good thing, btw.)

    It was so nice getting to spend time with you, Mike and Honey!

    P.S. Who is that person with my dogs up there? She looks like she could be my sister (who’s always making weird faces in family photos). 😉

  32. Every day I go to homes of people I don’t know. Most of those people have dogs. I watch the dogs to tell me how they are responding to me. But I NEVER assume one wouldn’t hurt me. Especially if the human caretaker gets upset with me.

  33. It’s good to know there are other people who were bitten as a child but hold no grudges for all of dog-kind. I know it was my fault, at the age of 5, when my grandpa’s cattle dog bit me in the face. It gave me insight that not all dogs have the same tolerance level. Our dog at home had no problem with what I was doing; Buddy did.
    I am learning more and more about body language and I am much more careful than I once was.