What To Do If You’re Scared of Dogs

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.

Moses & Alma intimidating? Is it the drool?

Moses & Alma intimidating? Is it the drool?

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.

Alma & Moses

Alma & Moses

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.

That’s all.

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.

Alma riding the ctrain

Alma riding the ctrain

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.


About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

33 Responses to What To Do If You’re Scared of Dogs

  1. Abby says:

    Good points! With 2 German shepherds, we often get similar reactions. “Do they bite?” being one of the most common questions asked of us. I always want to say, “Yes, they can bite, because they are DOGS, but no, they are not going to bite you.” Ugh. I was one walking my boss’s 4-lb. pomeranian puppy, and a woman FLIPPED out when it tried to come near her for a greeting. I wanted to ask her, “OK. Are you also scared of stuffed animals??” But I guess you can’t reason with phobias. And that’s why people behave like crazies sometimes.

    • ThatJenK says:

      I’m just always a smart-ass – when people ask me if Moses or Alma bite, I just reply “all dogs can bite given the right circumstances” and wait for a reply.

  2. slimdoggy says:

    What excellent suggestions. I wish people would follow those rules. We don’t get frightened squeals – Jack’s not intimidating looking like Moses, but he’s a big doofy yellow lab so everyone thinks he’s fair game…he’s not, he has discerning taste in strangers. Oh well…all we can do is educate them.

  3. raisingdaisy says:

    This is great information – it should be in a pamphlet and at the top of Google search. I do have to say that I laughed out loud at the image of that terrorized woman hanging on to the rail for dear life when your sweet dog was nowhere near her! 🙂

  4. Jodi says:

    Thanks for supporting the new blog hop, we’re excited to have you join!

    Great advice here, I can’t tell you how many times I’m struggling to get my dogs past someone (Sampson is a social butterfly) and they talk to him, which just encourages him more.

    I would also suggest if you have a walking stick, don’t swing it at the dog (I’ve seen someone do this.)

    Despite me telling my grandchildren how to behave around my dogs, one day my five-year old grandson went running through the house squealing and Delilah thinking he was playing went after him, which terrified him and confused her.

    It’s common sense for us because we have dogs and have taken the time to learn how to interact but for some people, common sense isn’t common. 🙂

    • ThatJenK says:

      Wow – are walking sticks a big problem? I don’t see them often unless hiking in the mountains, but I’ve heard some stories lately! I imagine someone swings a stick at Moses and he’s going to try to take it and chew on it.

  5. I think that’s perfect!! I actually have the opposite problem. I can’t go anywhere without people fawning all over Torrey and Roxy. Torrey is so striking that everyone has to comment on how beautiful she is, she of course eats this up.

    • ThatJenK says:

      That’s a whole other problem! We get that, too – basically the two ends of the spectrum where people are either afraid or I’m asking them not to pet my dogs without permission. No middle-of-the-road responses.

  6. This is a great analogy!

  7. Dogs N Pawz says:

    Great post! I love, love, love that last picture of Moses! Your dogs are beauties!

  8. Kuruk says:

    Sometimes humans are scared of me and Nalle because we are big and look like wolfies. But we are very very sweet! Woooooowooooooooo!

  9. lexy3587 says:

    Great way of explaining dog-behaviour in a non-dog-people understandable way. The squealing/running thing is why I really dislike it when people bring children to the dog park. Especially the people who think that there is a good time for kiddo and pooch to have a good romp around. your dog might be good with your kid, but the other dogs will be very interested in joining in on the chase if your kid starts running around. and when he gets alarmed, and starts yelling… yeah… recipe for disaster.

  10. Hawk aka BrownDog says:

    Hi Y’all!

    Oh what good information! Now, if you’d just publish it and have it put in all the schools in the U.S. I doubt anyone reads our blogs unless they are already dog people. As for behavior, it is probably too late for the adults, but maybe the kids could help their parents if they learn these actions in school.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  11. As someone who formerly wasn’t fond of dogs, I sympathize but freaking out over the sight of my dog who is walking on leash five feet away from you and minding his own business seems a little extreme. He was not barking, lunging, growling or even looking in the woman’s direction, and she’s like “don’t bite me, don’t bite me!” And Mr. N is the least intimdating looking dog ever.

    • ThatJenK says:

      Yeah, I totally understand not everyone will or has to like my dogs – other people have pets that I just don’t ‘get’, too. BUT, I would be smart about my actions and maybe keep the spectacles to a minimum.

  12. Jessica says:

    Bravo! I don’t get too many bad reactions to Silas, probably because he’s small. Also, as soon as we see anyone I really try my best to get him out of the way–more because people will try to pet him which is NOT allowed, but I think it reassures people, too.

  13. 2browndawgs says:

    Thanks so much for participating in Barks and Bytes. I really appreciate the support. This is absolutely brilliant and I am sharing it. Nothing more to say. 🙂

  14. Kristine says:

    Yes, yes, yes!!

    Shiva has never gotten that over the top reaction you described – at least, not BEFORE she has barked and lunged like a beast – but so many people who are afraid will stare her down while walking right towards her. Others will try to run by her or otherwise behave erratically. Some people will actually stop to talk to us, staring at her the whole time. I’ll never forget one younger man who stood in front of us and leaned over Shiva’s head saying “I’m actually really scared of dogs.” If I was in a Japanese anime, I would have fallen over with a giant sweatdrop on my head.

    Thank you for writing this and saying it so well. If you are afraid of dogs, leave them alone. It is usually that simple.

  15. Carol Bryant says:

    Such a good post. Thanks for calling attention to this. There are people who are genuinely fearful of dogs for one reason of another, no matter their size. In any case, this is very helpful and I am glad to be in Barks and Bytes hop!

  16. FireBonnet says:

    “how I am with babies” hilarious! 😀 Excellent (and easy to remember) advice for people nervous around dogs. But when I see your two all I want to do is snuggle up! (drool and all)

  17. All terrific rules to live by although I find humans much scarier than dogs! I have seen people go completely hysterical when confronted with a dogs. Duh…they are in so much trouble if they ever meet something dangerous like a bear! Hahaha!

  18. FleaByte says:

    Oooo! You’re brilliant! I can’t imagine backing away from your beauties, but your train advice is spot on!

  19. harrispen says:

    We find this reaction if you stroll over to the cat side of a pet store. Seams that not all cat owners are crazy about meeting a couple of dogs. As for me I would love to meet Moses and Alma…drool and all.


  20. Great tips for people who are afraid. It is funny that you pointed out that the fearful behaviors are exactly what might make the dogs more interested in the person. It reminds me of how the cats always jump on the guest who is afraid of cats, usually because that person is NOT calling them and trying to pet them. (Cats, of course, want to make friends on THEIR terms).

    And this…”It’s kind of like how I am around babies.”…I TOTALLY get. LOL!

  21. Great post and I hope lots of people read it! I’d also agree with the walking stick comment from Jodi! I’ve also had people take a peremptory strike at my dog (!) when she was doing NOTHING so keep her “at bay”. Oy.

    (I agree about the babies.) 🙂

  22. Great post Jen! I hope this post gets the attention it deserves because it’s such an important topic! Hope Moses and Alma are doing good! How is Moses tooth?

  23. KB says:

    I love your post! But, I must say that my fearful dog, Shyla, loves the people who follow all the rules that you laid out. She wants to make friends with people who ignore her… and she runs away from anyone who pays attention to her. Go figure…

  24. The owner wanted my name in case his dog had broken ribs. I agreed that an exchange of information was a great idea, so I would have all the information I needed when I called the police to report the incident. The guy just shook his head and said “I don’t get it, he’s so good with the kids”, and he walked away without either of us getting any info at all.

  25. Honestly speaking, I guess human fear can be just as irrational as dog fear and no amount of rationalising will convince either. 😛 So I just move away from freaking out humans quick as I can.

    On a separate note, I happen to be wondering if it is true that socialised dogs will meet other dogs by heading for the rear-end, rather than the face first?

  26. Clowie says:

    That’s some great advice. Our experiences are similar to yours. Some people find me scary but fascinating. Sometimes a hand shoots towards me and touches me very briefly and is snatched away again – which would be very disconcerting to a dog that is less relaxed.

  27. Pingback: Mindful Interneting: Sunday Night Reading | Rescued Insanity

  28. THat’s true! Good thought about pretending to be on public transit. That’s how everyone avoids everyone at its best!

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