The official term is Cynophobia. It is a condition that affects many people and is I guess the opposite of Cynophilist – a person who loves dogs. Or more commonly a “dog lover”. Yep thats probably me, and possibly you.
Symptoms of being a dog phobic can include debilitating symptoms such as feeling anxious and panicky around dogs, constantly checking for dogs when out in public, avoiding places with dogs, and feeling like that fear interferes with normal life. All of the children I have worked with have experienced these symptoms, and this fear has definitely interfered with every day, normal life. This is stressful for both the child and the parents/carers, and wider family.
My aim when I am asked to go out is definately NOT to turn the child into a dog lover! I do not care if they do not like dogs at the end of it, this is not the aim of the work.
It is often a relief to parents when you say this as they are likely anticipating a dog crazy person trying to persuade them, and their children, that all dogs are lovely. (Of course I think they are, but that is not why I am there).
Curiously on more than one occasion the children have ended up wanting a dog, and on several occasions the families have ended up with a dog of their own. Which is all good, but not the aim.
The aim is to give children accurate information about dogs; to acknowledge that some dogs can be scary and some dog owners are not good responsible owners; to provide a range of tools and techniques that the child can use, for themselves, with support and back up from parents, which will help with their anxiety; to change some negatively formed neural pathways concerning dogs into more neutral ones; and. most importantly to give opportunity to practice with a range of different dogs and in different settings .
Things you wont hear me say
- Its alright s/he wont hurt you
- s/he’s lovely
- s/he just wants to play
- come and be brave and stroke her/him
- s/he has never bitten anyone
- s/he’s safe s/he loves people
- they can smell your fear
- if you just stroke her/him it will be ok
Things you may hear me say – although each time is different and unique to each child/person/circumstance
- you tell me when it feels ok
- you let me know when you feel comfortable
- its ok to take a step backwards if you feel like it
- learn to be boring
- do not look at the dog
- you do not have to walk closer
- you do not have to touch the dog (but you can if you want to)
- you tell me when the dog is too close
- are you red/amber/green ?
- lets play a game (if the child is young)
- tell me what you are seeing/feeling/ thinking
Each time I follow a slightly different process , depending on the child/ persons age, level of understanding, the scale of their fear, how long it has been in place. I can usually tell pretty quickly if it is really a reflection of the parents fear or dislike of dogs, if the child deep down wants to like dogs, and if I can eventually persuade them to get a dog ( no I didnt really say that it was a joke!)