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

I think the point most dog owners are trying to make is that unortunately, dogs are much more sensitive to subtle signals and cues coming from humans than the humans realise. People who are afraid of dogs, unfortunatly give off a lot more of these cues, and without realising it, end up setting off a response in some dogs.

It’s obviously not the fault of the person with the fear, but by learning a little more about dogs, it *may *be possible to avoid these situations in future. Sometimes it isn’t (as was probably the case in your OP), and you have to rely on the dog owner being responsible, and having full control of their dogs.

It’s also worth pointing out that dogs on a leash often act more agressively than they would off leash, as they themselves feel more threatened. When dogs bark at you, they are sending a clear signal (to you) to avoid them. Barking is communication, and most dogs will try to avoid getting into a physical confrontation by telling you what they want you to do. Again, humans often interpret the barking as much more agressive than it is (although ths is completely understandable).

I have had occasions when my normally sweet natured retriever-cross has taken a dislike to someone we have met and started barking at them (this has happened a handful of times in the last 14 years - it is not a common occurence). I am pretty sure that in every one of these meetings, the person has been doing something that has signaled to my dog that they are not ‘right’, and she has become nervous. Sometimes I have agreed with her, as I could see their behaviour was strange. Other times, I wasn’t picking up on anything.

Apologies, I think that this is just a long winded way of trying to say that people and dogs speak a different language, and sometimes there are communication problems. And yes, sometimes the dogs are the problem, as they haven’t been properly socialised.

I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad experience recently, and hope that it is a one-off occurence.

Couple of comments.
Many people who didn’t grow up with any dogs in their neighborhood, except guard dogs, have a natural fear of them (for very good reason!)
Those same people have learned to fear dogs, and dogs pick up on the fact and sense a form of fear/hatred - thus they react to the fear/perceived anger in your eyes and body language.

You can, however, get over it and by simply approaching a few “friendly” dogs, getting lower and petting them, you will start to feel less panic when other dogs approach you.

Even though we only had one dog as kids (for a short period), there were lots of dogs in the neighborhood and I never feared any of them. In one scary scenario, neighbors bought a new Doberman Pincher that was, to say the least, one scary dog - plus it had been trained to be a guard dog. Not knowing they had bought it, I walked over when they were not at home and was in the back yard, alone with that dog. It stood there, ready to attack - I looked it in the eyes and walked directly towards it and put my hand on it and scratched its neck. We became fast friends…and the neighbors were shocked! Even they were slightly intimidated by that dog, but me - as a 10 year old - had made a connection.

I also lived in a house where the owner bought a German Shepard that had been mistreated. Another scary creature - but when I first met it, it looked me directly in the eyes and came straight to me and we bonded almost immediately.

The only dogs I occasionally have a problem with are those little hysterical yip yips - tiny high-strung rats with fur.

I agree with everything you said in your post, especially about paying zero attention to the dog.

I would like to reiterate what I posted earlier about the woman in my neighborhood who started carrying dog treats. There were some dogs that she still wasn’t comfortable with.

She developed a good rapport with my dog and even gave her treats right out of her hand!

This was a person who would walk in the road rather walk on the same sidewalk when my dog was on a leash and not barking or growling or even paying any special attention to her.

I have a dog; but a big, barking, growling, obviously strong dog that’s focusing on me and restrained only by a strip of nylon trips my [del]fight or[/del] flight response too.

I agree that paying zero attention to the dog is the best response. Though I don’t doubt that it is hard to do. Especially if you have been bitten picunurse.

Most dogs are natural guards and are territorial. In the case where a dog is showing aggression towards you while you are on your own property, I would say that the problem is with the owner of the dogs. And the way they have been trained and treated. Not that that’s any consolation to you.

I’m glad to see that you have gone to a dog park. It’s really interesting to me to see the different personalities that dogs have while they interact with other dogs and their owners.

Rozee and me send our best

Our household was never without a dog. I wasn’t afraid of anything as a child. The first dog I remember had 13 puppies. She was a german shepard. I remember riding her. She died when I was 6. Then we got a border collie mix. He was hit by a car when I was 10 or 11. The we got a mutt, who died a month after I left for the Air Force. He stopped eating and sat at the end of the driveway, waiting for me.

I’m really not unfamiliar with dogs. And as I’ve said several times, I wasn’t that fearful until these monsters the othernight. They did not bark at me, they snarled. Their teeth clicked. The owner didn’t move them away. I got scared becausew had they gotten loose, they would have hurt me. Many dogs don’t like me, but I don’t panic around them. I was paniced that night.
Yes, it might very well be my fault. I don’t want a dog to live with. My neighbors don’t have dogs, so there are none I need to adapt to.

Seems to me you’re afraid of those dogs. You’re not afraid of all dogs. Its possible you are less adept at reading dog body language than others, but from what you’ve said, when a dog is obviously friendly and obedient (and properly restrained), you aren’t panicked around them, right?

Oh no, I definitely didn’t mean to do a “blame the victim” thing. The number one Big Deal is that the guy had his dogs on leash–they were restrained, even if they were acting like jerks, so there is that. What he should have done in this situation was put his dogs into an obedience routine… if they’re heeling, sitting, downing, and busy being reminded that they are not the bosses here then they can’t be snarling at random strangers.
However, you can’t change other people’s behavior, and he’s not here for us to give him advice on how to properly handle his dogs. There will likely always be jerk people who don’t demand their jerk dogs exhibit good manners. What I was mostly trying to say (though less eloquently) was this:

I think of it a little like moving to a country where there’s a sector of the population that speaks a totally different language. Sometimes, learning a little of the other guy’s language helps ease diplomacy :). If you can learn what body language it is that might be setting these dogs off, be aware and alter that body language, then maybe your fear of dogs may lessen over time as you begin to evoke different responses. We’re afraid of things we don’t understand or can’t control. It’s not hard to understand or control dogs, but it isn’t a natural skill for many people.

Think of my phobic friend–he’s terrified of dogs, yet everything he does is practically designed to attract their attention and get them to jump all over him, which increases his fear even more. He thinks he’s some kind of attack magnet, but he is creating that reality for himself. To my knowledge, he’s never been bitten or attacked, he just doesn’t understand why every time there’s a dog around him it wants to jump all over him… and he can’t tell the difference between a wagging, friendly jump and a snarling, maul-pending jump. It’s a little like someone saying “I’m afraid of guns because every time I pick one up and swing it around wildly and use it like a hammer to pound in a nail, it mysteriously goes off and bullets fly around.”

Now your situation is different from my friend–it doesn’t sound like your actions are anything like his. I’m not trying to draw a direct parallel. I said in another thread that dogs’ reactions are nearly always predictable, instinctual, and circumstance-driven. If you can learn how to “speak dog” you may find that your fear lessens over time as you begin to understand and be able to control dogs’ behavior by how you interact with them. If my friend could learn to be physically quiet and not look at the dog, he would, over time, develop for himself a different experience with dogs in the world.

I definitely do extend my sympathies, and I hope like anything there’s a positive resolution. I hate the idea of anyone living in fear of dogs.
And… on preview, with your last post and Hello Again’s response, it seems like we’re having two different conversations.

Are you telling us that as per the title, you’re officially afraid of [all] dogs, or that you just wanted to talk about a scary, one-time situation?

I’ve been hesitant, not truly fearful, around strange dogs for some time.
This incident pushed me over the edge. I am NOW officially afraid of strange dogs. I don’t feel I did anthing overt to set the dogs off.
I must be much more dog illiterate than I thought. Now, I’m to a point I’m afraid even friendly dogs will frighten me.
Since there are no familiar dogs in my life, I guess that translates into fear of all dogs.

Keep in mind that dogs sense fear and weakness, and that’s probably why you’ve been bitten as much as you have… I know it’s an unfortunate cycle that continues to reinforce your fear in dogs, but strangely enough, not being afraid of them would probably result in less of them going after you. The last thing you want to do when confronted with an unknown dog is to back away. It only lets the animal know you’re being submissive to it.

In my county, at the animal shelter they let people come and take sheltered dogs for a walk.

Is this any kind of an option for you? It may be a great way for you to learn the doggie language.

I think it’s the “overt” part that we’re differing on. What I’m trying to say is that, sometimes, people use body language that says “threat” to a dog without knowing that’s what they’re doing, and that sometimes those unconscious signals are the trigger behind fearful or aggressive reactions by the dog.

I have to differ with BrandonR on the note of dogs being able to “sense fear and weakness”. When people say that it sounds like some mysterious thing, that if they smell fear on you they’ll suddenly turn all predator and take down the weak water buffalo. I don’t personally believe that’s what happens–my own view on the matter is that people who are afraid often send out signals different than they think they are sending out, or act in strange (to the dog) ways that triggers a reaction. It’s true that for a dominant-aggressive dog, acting submissive and letting them know they are in control is no bueno, but it’s not because they can mysteriously “sense” weakness, it’s because the fearful person is expressing submission to a dominant dog through their actions, whether they know it or not.
If you are truly interested in conquering this fear, maybe it would help to talk to a dog trainer or behaviorist–most of what they do is about training people instead of training dogs, really. They might be able to help you understand how to handle and interact with dogs in a way that evokes good responses, instead of bad. I don’t just mean neighborhood dogs that you might see routinely, but even understanding your body language and subconscious signaling to strange one-off meeting dogs would be helpful, I would think.

Yeah, that’s more or less what I was getting at. It’s not like dogs have this sixth sense and can literally “smell fear,” but rather fearful people generally project certain body signals that dogs do pick up on (whether they realize it or not). The eyes, the posture, the body stiffness, etc. And of course it is definitely dependent upon the dog’s behavior too. A truly happy-go-lucky mutt likely won’t care how scared you are, but dogs with underlying behavioral problems will likely let their instincts take over when encountering a weak individual. Again, it usually all boils down to how their owner lets them behave.

Agreed 100%, and well said… sorry–I misunderstood your comment!

Why does the OP have to get to know or like these dogs? They sound horrid to me. I say avoid them if at all possible and that their owner is less than charming to not have moved them away from her or shown them who’s boss etc.

I grew up with a horrid dog who bit 4 people. My mother insisted he was misunderstood and “the runt of a bad litter from a puppy mill.” So? Point is, the dog was a menace to friends, family and strangers. Such a dog shouldn’t be a pet.

I like most dogs. I am friendly with most that I meet and tolerant of doggy stuff, but there is a limit. The OP is right to have been afraid and has a right to get her mail w/o fear of bodily harm.

No matter how well trained a dog is, you never really know what a dog will do. I’ve heard one too many stories of “he was such a sweetheart, never so much as barked and then he just lashed out!”. Sure, people give out signals and all but it’s up to the dog’s owner to accommodate the other people, not the other people to accommodate the dog…

Who ever suggested the OP get to know or like the dogs? All I’m suggesting is learning what signals may provoke aggression, and to avoid giving off those signals. It seems to me that life with a phobia of any kind is unnecessary, and if getting somewhat more familiar with interacting with dogs relieves the OP of physical, emotional, and psychological discomfort, I’m not sure what the upside is to “just avoiding dogs” when living in a neighborhood with frequent dog traffic.

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that it’s fully up to the owners to ensure their dogs are mannerly and under complete control at all times… but like I said, you can’t control other people, and if the OP is going to encounter dogs, it’s useful to know how to interact with them safely. Your mom, no offense, sounds like an idiot in the realm of dog handling. No one is in here advocating for poorly-behaved and aggressive dogs as precious, misunderstood snowflakes.

I don’t have to interact with any dogs. There are none in the neighborhood. My friend with the dogs doesn’t bring them to the house because they try to eat my kitties.
The ones that walk by going to or from the trail, I will avoid.

eleanorigby, thank you for the support.

You are entirely welcome. I hope this new fear does not interfere with your life in any confining way. I look at it the same as I look at my dread fear of snakes: I am less than likely to come across snakes in my life and I plan to keep it that way. Dogs are more common than snakes, but I will defend your right to be afraid of them and to avoid them (if that is what you want; I’d be just as happy to support you in your trying to overcome your fears) as long as I am able. I am quite tired of the attitude “you must love dogs/cats/pets” to be a “good” person that is all too prevalent nowadays. Pets are great and I have had several that meant a great deal to me. But in the end, people come before pets. Other’s mileage may vary, of course. :slight_smile:

I think we all support picunurse’s right to be afraid of anything she wants, or to choose avoidance as her phobia coping mechanism.

picunurse, I’ll repeat what I said before and then drop the subject: I absolutely extend my sympathies, and if you should ever decide you want to overcome your fears, my job affords me great relationships with dog professionals all over the world. You are absolutely more than welcome to contact me any time and I will do anything in my power to help.

I wish you the very best and hope you never have to go through anything like your previous experience again.

You know, as a dog owner and lover, I kind of agree with you. Everyone here seems to be saying that picunurse is obligated to change herself in order to accommodate other people’s dogs. Granted, that might help the situation, but if she doesn’t want to put herself through that kind of a stressful situation, she shouldn’t have to.


Am I reading a completely different conversation, or what? Where has anyone said that?