It's official: I'm afraid of dogs.

I’ve always been a target for strange dogs. I’ve been bitten several times, at least twice by dogs who have never bitten before.

Last night, I when to get the mail and take the trash to the street. As I was checking through the mail to recycle the political flyers, a man and his two *BIG dogs came along the street.

I stepped up the driveway a little, when they came abreast. The dogs started snarling and lunging on their leads. I was frozen to the ground! It was the same feeling I’ve had in nightmares.

The man looked at me like it was may fault his dogs were misbehaving. I stood there until they were nearly a block away, still barking and trying to break free to eat me.

When I got into the house I couldn’t breathe. I have asthma, but rarely have to use a rescue inhaler. Two puffs did almost nothing. An hour and 6 puffs later, I was able to finish a sentence.

I had nightmares all night.

  • They were the size of bears. There may have been just one dog with two heads. I know Cerberus had three, but it might have been a hybrid.

picunurse, my SO is like you, and it’s quite painful to see her around dogs. She becomes absolutely petrified and is unable to control her reaction to them.

One day, we were out riding our bikes around the neighborhood, and she saw a collie approaching at a nice clip. If she would have pedalled just a little harder she would have easily outrun it, but she panicked, dropped the bike and ran, inexplicably, perpendicular to the direction the dog was coming from. She just wasn’t thinking clearly. The dog stopped when its owner called it back, but my SO was a mess by that time, inconsolably blubbering. It broke my heart.

Needless to say, we are very aware of dogs where ever we go.

Onomatopoeia, my husband was on his way home at the time. When I called him, hysterical, he offered to *run them over on the way home. :smiley:

*To those humorless, few, this was a joke.

I used to be somewhat afraid of dogs. Not petrified, but not comfortable. Then we got a puppy, and now I’m fine. I think a lot of it has to do with not being to interpret dog language, thus being scared, and thus sending really bad signals.

When a dog in a public area barks and runs up to you, he is very likely just saying hello and asking for attention. In the old days this would have made me terrified, now I hold my ground, say “hi sweetie” and the dog always stops so I can put out my hand for him to sniff.

I realize that this is a lot of faith to have when a monster dog is coming, so try to find some nice little furball, who will be yipping just as much or more, but who isn’t threatening. You’ll get the hang of it eventually.

I’m sorry dogs have been so scary to you. That must suck :frowning:

I have a few friends who are afraid of dogs. All of them have been nice enough to at least give my dog a try. She’s really big so I know it was hard for them, because the bigger the dog the scarier they are.

One friend is really fond of Dolly now. I think it’s because she is just so super sweet, it was easy for him to like her once he figured out she was harmless. He did wig out the other day when I was “play fighting” with her. Understandable - she makes her not-so-sweet face and it’s scary if you’re not her mommy.

The other friend gave it her best shot but she ended up just preferring to not be near my dog. That’s fine, too. I think it works out that when this friend is over there’s always other people over and Dolly is happy to ignore her and see what the others are up to. No one’s feelings are hurt!

I don’t know if you really should force yourself to try to be around dogs. I mean, it can happen but you’re still going to be scared. And you might make the dogs nervous which will make them seem scarier.

I do hope, though, that if you have any friends or relatives with dogs that they are understanding when you are around, and don’t try to force you to love their dogs. And that they try to get their dogs to act as respectfully as possible. A big dog who just wants to kiss you doesn’t seem as such if you’re afraid of dogs!

As a dog owner I have become attuned to those who are afraid of dogs and I try to keep my dog on leash around others just in case.

I have seen adults literally step into traffic to avoid my dog on a leash on the sidewalk.

It’s bizarre because she usually doesn’t bark or growl, but every once in a while someone brings out the wolf in her. (She’s an absolute sweetheart otherwise.)

Unfortunately, my boss lives in my neighborhood and he is one of those she barks and growls at.

I have another neighbor who was noticeably terrified from half a block away when she saw us coming. She started carrying dog treats and soon my dog was wagging her tail and tugging at the leash when she saw her coming. She said it really helped her fear of dogs although there were some she still couldn’t handle.

If it helps, remember humans have almost total power over dogs. We have altered their very body types and personalities almost at will. We control almost every aspect of their lives, food, reproduction, even their defecation.

They will wait for hours, even days, for a human to come give them the slightest attention. Even the fiercest of them can be routinely killed by a human’s bare hands (reference: Michael Vick, et. al.). As a generalization, they are all but helpless compared to humans.

Most of the time, you are probably misinterpreting their signals to you, probably just through unfamiliarity. That can lead to both your fearing dogs who are trying to greet you too enthusiastically and to dogs biting you because they misunderstand your “communication” and respond with fear aggression.

One thing I should mention is that a LOT of animals, not just dogs, are killed because humans fear them. Human fears are a big problem for animals from reptiles to insects to dogs. I don’t want you (or anyone) to have to live with fear, but please remember that if you make a big enough deal out of it, the animal may suffer disproportionately (such as being smacked by his human, locked in the basement, inhumanely debarked, or even put down because “he scares the neighbors.”)

It is possible to learn and to change, perhaps even a phobia. Good luck.

So, this brings up the theory that dogx can sense fear, and are more prone to attack anybody fearful of them.

I have never read whether this is really true or not. If it is, that accounts for you poor people who have problems with dogs.

I am the opposite (I think I may be half dog), as I love dogs and they all seem to love me. Whenever I encounter a leashed dog coming toward me, I just say a few words while looking at it, but without making eye contact. If the owner stops, I put out my hand to be sniffed (palm down) and almost always after snuffig my paw, I can pat it or skritch it’s ears.

I’ve had dogs most of my life (can’t now where I live) and met thousands (well, maybe hundreds). When I was a distance runner for 20 years, I encountered a number of barking dogs. I would always stop, then slowly walk to the other side of the street/road. i have never, ever been bitten. Yet.

Something in our genes that makes dogs either like or hate us? :smiley:

I have a coworker who is terrified of dogs. Everyone seems to think it’s funny. I don’t, even though I don’t understand his fear. He’s tried therapy, hypnosis, all kinds of things - he just can’t get over it.

One day someone brought in a couple of tiny, chihuahua-sized Mexican hairless puppies. I mean, they were all of 6 inches high, clumsy, cheerful little naked things. My coworker left the office for the duration of the visit.

We all have our irrational fears. I feel sorry for those who fear dogs - they are missing out on some wonderful companionship, and are usually confronted by the object of their fear far, far too often.

If I am out walking a neighborhood with my daughter, dogs (behind fences) completely ignore her, but when they know I’m there, they start barking their heads off. If I acknowledge them, “Hello, I see you!” then they get quiet. I guess they just want to say hi. Interestingly, my daughter doesn’t much care for dogs, she’s more of a cat person.

I used to be a bit afraid of dogs, too. When I was young, our neighbor had a German Shepherd that had a big bark which scared me. But when I actually went in the house, he was fine and I wasn’t scared. Go figure.

I have learned, too, not to look a strange dog right in the eye, to look at them from the side. Don’t know if that would help or not. And yeah, I’ve always heard they can sense fear, so it is possible they’re barking at that.


Staring at a dog in the eye is seen as a sign of aggression. If a person in their ‘pack’ does it, they’ll normally show submissive behavior. Someone outside of their pack does it, and they’ll often show aggression.

That guy in the OP sounds like a real jerk. I’m not afraid of dogs, but I’m definitely nervous around those with clearly shitty owners.

Something I’ve always wanted to know – if you’re afraid of dogs, do you also fear young puppies? Does something like this video ping your cute-o-meter, leave you indifferent, make you wary?

Sorry to hear this. I might give off that vibe, or at least, I could see how I someone could infer that’s what I was thinking:

I have two dogs - about 40-45 lbs each. They’re active, energetic and curious animals. They get a little embarrassing when we see a cat or a squirrel, but they love people, and will tug a little to meet someone new.

However, there will be the ocassional person who they don’t like. They’re not going to attack them, but they may bark. The people that tend to get barked at appear to be generally afraid of dogs. It’s not your fault, and I’m not mad at you - but I do want you to make an effort to leave (if you were going somewhere). I’ll keep moving, but I’m not going to move towards you to frighten you any more than you are. But if I’m glaring, I’m glaring because you’re not doing anything to get yourself out of the situation.

Again - totally not your fault. And if you’re petrified to the point of not being able to move - that’s fine, we’ll get out of there.

Also, something you might want to know - dogs on a leash can be trying to appear more aggressive than when they’re off leash. They’re trying to be defensive of their human. Talk to the person on the other end of the leash - let the dogs know you’re on HIS level, not THEIRS. Ask if they like strangers, are good at home, etc.

Thanks for all the support and advice.
Maybe I misled. I’ve been tolerant of dogs in the past. I’ve even gone into the off-leash park with a friend and her nice dogs. I’ll pet a dog that I’ve been introduced to, who doesn’t react badly to me.

The incident last night was different.
The dogs weren’t saying “Hi!” they were saying “DIE!” They really were snarling, not just barking. They continued to bark once they were several feet away, without the snarl. I’m sure my reaction was part of the problem.

I didn’t look directly at the dogs at all. I kept my eyes on the man, to be sure he was holding tight.

Maybe the owner was shitty, maybe not. If his dogs are normally really well behaved, have done obedience trainning and then suddenly they are acting qiute uncharacteristically like assholes, the owner may just have been wondering “WTF is wrong with them?”

We have a nieghbor who quite innocently has really bad doggy karma. No one in the neighborhood knows why. He’s a genuinely nice guy and likes animals But all the dogs in the hood hate him. The sweetest, nicest pooch on the planet who would rescue your grandma from a burning house, and is so gentle she could carry handful of baby mice in her mouth and deposit them on a bed of rose petals… turns into a rabid, demon Cujo from the depths of Hades at the sight of the guy!

Best we can figure is that somehow he’s giving off some kind of body language that the mutts are interpreting as hostile, but so far no one has figured it out. The OP may be giving off some kind of serious fear vibe thta the dogs were finding alarming, so they were acting out, and if they don’t normally behave that way, the owner might wonder why the hell his dogs have suddenly gone nsane.

My husband takes our pooch to work with him. NajaHund sleeps curled up in a ball under NajaHusband’s desk, and is always leashed to the desk to prevent him from wandering off and bothering anyone. He’s generally very mannerly and loves people, so whenever anyone comes by, he’ll come out from under the desk and wag his butt and ask for scritchles… but he can’t go any further than about five feet from the desk. If anyone doesn’t want to interact with him it’s very easy to avoid seeing him or being within leash range.

There’s a guy who works in another lab who is afraid of dogs, but sometimes comes over to NajaHusband’s area to bounce ideas around or ask questions. NajaHund would come out wagging his tail, and the guy’s response (every single time, and this has been going on for years) is to squeal like a little girl, wave his arms and legs around almost cartoonishly, and leap back and forth. Now, all the guy has to do is stay on the other side of the bench if he doesn’t want to see the dog or doesn’t want the dog to see him. Instead, he pretty much guarantees through his actions that NajaHund gets excited and wags around in utter joy whenever scared guy shows up and puts on his “I’m terrified of dogs” display… which, coincidentally, looks a whole lot like other friends’ “Hooray!!! I love dogs and want to wrestle with this one” display.

We’ve tried explaining to him repeatedly that if he just acts normally and pays zero attention to the dog, the dog will ignore him and stay put sleeping under the desk–the dog knows the people who want to see and pat him, and the people who have no interest in him, and he reacts to them accordingly–but that by jumping around, waving his limbs and shrieking, he gets the dog all amped up. Doesn’t seem to make any difference.

There isn’t a whole lot of point to this story, except to say that if you’re scared of dogs and want to avoid drawing their attention to you, what you should definitely not do is to shriek and jump around and wave your arms at them. :wink:

Have you seen the guy with the big dogs before? As** Swallowed My Cellphone** said, it could be that the guy was looking at you funny because his normally well-behaved dogs started acting unusually, and you stood there staring at the guy. If something like that happens again, it might be helpful to say something to the dogs’ owner, even if it’s just “why are your dogs snarling at me, are they not good with strangers?” On the other hand, maybe he was just a jerk with jerk dogs and it wouldn’t have mattered what you did before, during, or after the encounter.

If you really want to cultivate friendships with your canine neighbors, carry around a couple milk-bones or bits of jerky in your pocket. Ask the owner first, but if they say it’s okay, greet the dog and toss them a treat from whatever distance you feel comfy with. In very short order, you’ll stop being “random, suspicious stranger” and you’ll become the beloved neighborhood cookie dispenser :smiley:

I’m sorry you’ve had so many bad experiences. It’s awful to experience such fear.

Therapy will be useful, to work through why your fear is so overwhelming and to come up with coping strategies you can implement.

If you are less afraid, you are less likely to do things like freeze in place and stare, or shout and jump around, which dogs consider very suspicious and threatening behavior… and you will have fewer problems with dogs acting this way toward you.

I’ve been bitten a ton of times but it’s never put me off, I have three dogs (I finally developed a healthy caution for approaching, touching, or staring at unfamiliar dogs, though!). I did not have a good grasp of dog body language when I was young.

My largest dog is a meek and mild fellow at heart who has never bitten anyone and is usually very submissive with all people. Nevertheless he has twice lunged and roared at people who were acting the same way - holding their bodies very still, and staring intently at us in a way that was not normal at all. Both were men I got a bad vibe from, and I think he made the right decision in both cases. I do not think dogs necessarily sense fear and become aggressive, it’s just that a human’s expression of fear is often very similar to a dog’s expression of direct aggression (standing over them, direct eye contact, sudden movements, loud noises).

My street is an alternate route for the Burke-Gillman Trail. People, who don’t want to tackle the steep hill to get to and from the trail, use our street. There’s foot and bike traffic 24 hours a day. There are dog walkers all the time. I usually don’t react.
There aren’t many dogs in our immediate neighborhood. I’ve never seen these dogs before.
rhubarbarin, as I said before, (see post #14) I’ve been ok before yesterday. Yes, I’ve been tentative with strange dogs. No, I’d rather not touch them if I can help it, but if a dog wags and bumps my hand I’ll pet it. I didn’t stare at the dog, nor did I jump around. I looked at the owner,not the dogs.
I was at least 8 feet away.
It sounds like, in the cases with your dog, your fear may have triggered your dog to be protective. I don’t believe I appeared to be a threat to the dogs or the man.

I may talk to my friends who work in psych, if the nightmares continue.

This is still pretty close and still sounds like behavior that may seem threatening to a dog.
I think that fear signals may frequently be interpreted as threat signals. Holding your body (and face) unnaturally still and staring at the dogs’ owner may have caused the dogs to feel as though you presented a direct threat. If you were standing with your weight forward on your toes in subconscious fight-or-flight mode, that too may have been perceived as “threatening”. Widening eyes, dilating pupils, quickened breathing and pumping adrenaline are also fear signals that look and smell pretty much exactly like excitement and developing aggression.

Adopting a physically relaxed posture, turning your body so that your shoulders are perpendicular to the dogs, and talking in a casual voice to the owner may help diffuse a fearful or protective dog’s perception of “threat”.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m doing a “blaming the victim” thing here–just trying to help!

I had an armful of junk mail and I was leaning back. Maybe the same thing as you say. I didn’t (couldn’t) speak, maybe I should have.

I do feel a bit like all the dog owners are trying to tell me I have to change my behavior, rather than the dog handler controling his animals. I was on my own property and tried to move out of range. He could have crossed the street.

All in all, I do appreciate the advice. I don’t know that I can now do anything rational in the face of the snarling. Even though I’ve been bitten, I’ve never before encountered such a drooling threat. It’s changed my outlook. In the past, I’ve seen fear in the dog before he bites. This was different.