What To Do If You’re Scared of Dogs
January 23, 2014 33 Comments
I don’t know about you, but it’s fairly common for me to come across someone who’s not exactly a huge fan of dogs while I’m on a walk with Moses and Alma.
The sentiment ranges from dislike to fear, and comes in variances from cautious, to anxious, to outright frantic.
I’ve actually been crossing a pedestrian bridge with Moses – a fairly wide one, and he was heeling on my right-hand side, away from on-coming traffic – when an approaching woman saw him, immediately went into hysterics, clutched the other side of the bridge, and froze. Well, was frozen except for her voice box. It was quite the scene, despite Moses not so much as looking at her, and her always being a few feet safely away from him. We just shuffled by quickly to put an end to her terror.
But even if there isn’t a dramatic freak-out, some people will cross the street, some will squeal in surprise, others will stare wide-eyed, and others will show cautious curiosity – maybe interested to see and talk about the Newfs, but not interact with them.
It’s kind of like how I am around babies.
And I get it. They’re big dogs and not everyone’s a fan. Even some small dog owners see them and think “well, that’s a little excessive.”
Okay, so maybe I don’t actually GET it. But I try to be understanding.
But the frustrating part is that most people who are afraid of dogs, upon seeing one, proceed to behave exactly in a way that would be interesting or exciting to a dog. It doesn’t help anyone; it doesn’t help them keep dogs away and it doesn’t help dogs learn to ignore some people.
So I have an easy way for people to determine what to do if they encounter a dog they don’t want to interact with: pretend you’re on public transit.
Pretend the dog is some scary or strange or smelly person on the bus or train. Applying transit etiquette will solve all of your problems.
Allow me to elaborate:
1. Avoid eye contact. This is public transit rule #1. People have books and headphones to avoid unwanted socialization, but even those without follow this rule. Transit is the social experiment of cramming as many people into one tight space as possible, yet not one person is looking at anyone else. It’s basically art. To make eye contact is to invite interaction. It’s welcoming and friendly. Therefore, you don’t do it.
Such is the case with animals. People scared of Moses or Alma have the tendency to stare them down, but the dogs interpret this eye contact as an invitation to say hello. “Oh, that person is interested in me –okay!” Or worse, being animals, some dogs could interpret eye contact as a challenge – which it often is for people and in the animal kingdom. Ever read a Dealing with Bears pamphlet? Don’t stare!
2. Move away from them calmly. That person next to you on the train has terrible noise pollution coming from their headphones? Insufferable body odour? Muttering to themselves about the End of Days? Standard practice is to turn or move away. But you don’t run – no need to create a scene or attract attention. Besides, the rush hour train is too full for running. But you sure can move yourself away inconspicuously without flailing about. Besides, you don’t want to catch the crazy person’s attention and have them strike up a conversation.
The same goes for dogs you don’t want to greet, or who you have greeted, but now you want them to leave you alone. Just turn around and walk away – they can take the hint, especially if you combine it with point #1. Don’t run, though. Running might be too tempting for herding breeds and other dogs might just think you’re trying to play a game of chase.
3. Don’t reach towards or touch them or fail around in a panic. OBVIOUSLY you don’t touch strangers on public transit. And unless you’re doing some drastic reinforcement of your personal space, you’re probably keeping your hands to yourself. Doing otherwise kind of makes you the crazy person everyone avoids.
For dogs, if you fall into the cautiously-curious category, just keep your hands to yourself. Touching a dog will just illicit more attention from them. For example, you safely pet Moses’ shoulder and he’ll turn around to look at you and sniff you – as you would expect. Or if you put your hand out to pet but are painfully slow and awkward, he’ll sniff your hand. If this scares you because his nose is right above his giant mouth (with teeth AND drool in it), maybe keep your hands in your pockets.
4. Don’t hover over them. Super rude transit behaviour. The worst is when the douchebag standing next to your seat turns around so his backpack hits you in the face every time the train starts and stops. Just aim for a little bit of personal space and common courtesy, people. Geez.
Dogs, on the other hand, find posture of bent over or crouched down people inviting. Many people practice greetings with their dogs by having people kneel or squat down so they’re less intimidating. If you don’t want to encourage a greeting, do the opposite. Stay standing up and invoke the other points made here.
5. Don’t talk to them. Like eye contact, talking is rare during the morning commute. Perhaps it’s the early hours and lack of caffeine, but unless people are already acquainted, they’re not going to strike up a conversation on the train. It’s for the best. Small talk is the worst. I prefer to ignore and be ignored.
Tempted to squeal or screech when you see a terrifying dog approach? Suppress that reflex! Noisy things are interesting to dogs! Why do you think we buy them toys that squeak? You really want to imitate their toys? No, not if you want them to leave you alone. Even talking to them should be avoided if you don’t want them to approach you – especially considering you’re probably talking to them and looking at them at the same time.
Really, the whole approach – both for trains and dogs – can be summed up in two words: calmly ignore.
Sure, some dogs may be interested in every passerby, but if you do your part, the responsible owners will do theirs and keep their dogs close and those leashes to a reasonable length.
You get a near-unheard-of three (3!) posts this week because I wanted to participate in the inaugural Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.