Afraid? Of Dogs?

Charli Saltzman

I had an interesting experience walking with Joba to the mailroom. It was a very warm day, the warmest it had been that month. As Joba and I neared the room, a small child began to scream. I didn’t know if she was right in front of the mail room or beside it, but all of the sudden, her mother began asking me to “get away” because her daughter was afraid of my dog. She kept saying: “Get away! Get away!” Unsure of what to do, I stepped aside into the grass to try and get out of their way. I had no desire to cause some sort of scene, so I waited there a few seconds. When it seemed like mother and daughter were gone, I went into the mail room.

The fear of dogs is not uncommon. Many children and even adults fear dogs. So, as a blind individual who uses a guide dog on a daily basis, what can I do to prevent terrifying those with dog phobias? I mean, I can’t just avoid walking. I have a right to be out and about just as much as they do, but what can I do. First of all, if possible, I can educate them. Unfortunately for this mother and little girl, I couldn’t stop her to talk to her about how friendly and gentle Joba is. The thought of someone being afraid of such a sweet and affectionate teddy bear is shocking. And, if I would have had the opportunity, I would have taken his harness off and let both mother and daughter pet him. Of course, I’m not a psychologist that knows how to handle phobias. I only have minimal information on the topic and only a small amount of behavioral knowledge. And, with the mother freaking out at me, there wasn’t much I could do but step aside. If someone with a fear of dogs is able and willing to listen, I would be happy to talk to them about guide dogs. However, what I do know is that people with an intense fear of dogs will most likely want to run in the other direction. So, if I get the chance, I will educate them about guide dogs. If not, I will understand where they are coming from.

Okay, let’s be honest. I don’t understand why anyone would be afraid of a dog, but that’s only because I adore dogs. However, after taking an intercultural communication class, I have a better understanding for those from other countries who despise dogs. First of all, in countries such as Burma, Africa, and Iraq, dogs are wild, known as feral canines. These dogs are not domesticated and will bark at people or even attack. This is one reason why we shouldn’t go around saying that everyone from the Middle East hates dogs. But, it makes sense for those who live in Iraq to be disgusted by them because those wild dogs are probably mangy mutts that are not friendly. Of course, fearing dogs does not only have to do with culture.

When I see someone who is afraid of dogs, I always ask myself, were they attacked by a dog? Some adults who fear dogs today were attacked or bitten by dogs as a child. Considering this possibility helps me see things from a different point of view. I’ve been bitten by a dog before, and let me tell you, it hurts. I’ve also been scratched in the eye by an overly hyper dog that never stopped spinning around in circles. Didn’t feel good either. Because I had established my love of dogs before that, those incidents didn’t really traumatize me. However, for someone whose first experience with a dog was a bad one, then yes, it makes sense for them to be afraid. While many are afraid of dogs, some of these people who have been afraid of dogs actually become very good guide dog owners.

Yes, it’s true. There are guide dog owners who were terrified of dogs. Why they decided to get a dog at that point, I don’t quite understand. Maybe they felt they needed it. Either way, it did take some work to get these people used to their new dogs. Instructors told us about people who would panic because the dog licked them or even breathed on them. But with training, these folks were able to bond with their new dogs. This shows that the fear of dogs can be overcome. I’d love to be a part in helping someone overcome their fear of dogs and realize the companionship and unconditional love a well-adjusted and well-behaved dog can bring to a person and a family.




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