How to help someone who’s scared of dogs
I’ve been bitten by dogs before, just as anyone who works with dogs may be bitten sooner or later.
This is usually no big deal, and it’s usually my own fault.
But last year I was attacked by a 100-pound leashed dog in a doorway and bitten three times in the leg and hip before I could get back out the door.
This was scary for me and also the first time I received medical attention for a bite.
I came home and cried due to the stress of the situation.
Since then, I’ve been slightly fearful of large, unfamiliar dogs.
I know my fear is unfair. I recognize it. I acknowledge it, and I do all I can to prevent it from influencing my decisions.
Yet, fear is fear. It’s a real emotion, and I’m now able to imagine why some people are afraid of certain types of dogs. (The dog that attacked me was a purebred dog typically not affected by breed bans, by the way.)
If an average person has a bad experience with a certain type of dog, I can understand why she might have a fear of all dogs that look the same way.
Since I am a professional who works with dogs every day, I know it’s not fair to judge a dog by her appearance. I know to judge a dog by her actual behavior. But the average person may not know this.
So what can we do to help?
The people who read this blog have a good understanding about dogs in general, and dog behavior. And most of you probably don’t have any fear of dogs whatsoever.
So how can we educate the general population? How can we help people learn they don’t have to be afraid of most dogs?
I don’t have the answers, but I do have a few ideas:
1. We can give people space while walking our dogs.
I have a 70-pound black Lab mix. Most people smile when they see him, but every now and then I notice someone eyeing him tentatively and moving away.
I am not offended by this, and I try to give all people a little space when I’m walking my dog. I do the same when I’m walking any type of dog through my dog walking business. We are all aware that certain dogs are in need of space. Well, some people are also in need of space!
Some people don’t like dogs, and some people are afraid of dogs. Because of this, I reward my dog for paying attention to me vs. sticking his head out to lick or sniff someone.
2. We can help our dogs be well behaved.
If someone is afraid of certain types of dogs, perhaps the most important factor for that person is to have more and more positive experiences with a variety of dogs.
No matter what types of dogs we have, we can set a good example for all dogs by:
- Taking our dogs out in public and rewarding calm behavior
- Preventing our dogs from lunging, barking and jumping (and that goes for small dogs, too!)
- Keeping our dogs near us vs. at the end of a maxed-out Flexi leash
- Acknowledging that some people don’t like dogs and that’s OK
- Using appropriate training collars to give us the most control
- Knowing our dogs’ limits and removing them from stressful situations
3. We can dress our dogs in cute collars and outfits.
We’re not all into dressing our dogs up in cute outfits, and that’s fine. But, I do think it can make a difference if you ever need your dog to give off a “friendlier” vibe.
For example, I think my dog looks “tough” when he’s wearing just a choke chain collar and nothing else (see the very top photo of this post). And some people also seem to think his Gentle Leader is a muzzle.
However, Ace looks pretty darn sweet if he’s wearing his wide, polka-dot collar. Or if he’s wearing a colorful bandanna.
Shelters and rescue groups know to dress their dogs up at adoption events, and it’s something the rest of us can do with our own dogs when taking them out and about.
4. Educate people about dog behavior.
Of course, the most important thing we can do is educate others a little at a time. Fear is a real emotion, and we can’t force people to get over their fear of dogs or of certain types of dogs. We can only take small steps to hopefully decrease that fear over time.
It’s hard to even know where to begin with that, but one of the most important messages is that all dogs are individuals. Even within a certain breed, you’re going to find dogs with all sorts of personalities, energy levels and temperaments.
“One of the most important messages is that all dogs are individuals.”
Beyond that, we can teach people to watch for signs that a dog might be stressed and to give those dogs space and respect. Some of those signs could include heavy panting when it’s not hot, physically moving away from people, tense posture and avoiding eye contact.
We should also teach people to approach dogs from the side vs. head on, and to avoid reaching over the dog’s head or putting their face right up to the dog. I guess we just have a natural tendency to do the wrong thing!
So, what would you add to this list?
Do you know anyone who is scared of dogs? How have you helped that person?
Get That Mutt’s newsletter in your inbox: