When I am scared of dogs
It’s confession time: I am scared of dogs. Well not ALL dogs, obviously; I adore mine! Truthfully, I am not really scared of ‘dogs’; I am scared of some of their behaviours. It has taken me a lifetime to realise this. I have spent my life around dogs, so I understand their behaviour and communication. To me, it is obvious when a dog is scared or upset and that can be a scary thing, because dogs have big, sharp teeth and strong jaws.
German Shepherds are my downfall; they are big dogs that are bred to guard their owners. I have met many GSDs in my life and of course some of them are lovely, but in my experience and humble opinion, they can be nervous and wary. This makes them ideal guard dogs, because unlike a Labrador for example, who will lick you death, they understand who is a stranger. They are incredibly protective of what is theirs and are perfectly designed to do the job they are bred for, to guard.
Guard dogs guard – it’s their job
When I was in my late teens my mum went to visit a friend whose German Shepherd had had pups and she took me along with her. She went into the stable where they were and sat down to get close to the pups. I tentatively came in behind her. The bitch got up and moved slowly and stiffly towards me. I burst into tears and ran away. She knew I was nervous and I knew she knew.
Justifying it to myself, I think it is OK to be scared of dogs in certain situations. I would never harass a person, child or adult, into approaching or stroking a dog.
Interactions must be on your own terms and that goes for the dog as well as the person.
Say hello nicely
I’m old enough to be from a generation that was taught that it was polite for children to go up to adults and give them a kiss, if they were an elderly relative or a family friend. Yuk! There was nothing more awkward, nor more disgusting than having to approach and make contact with a stranger, especially if they had old, wrinkly skin and thick makeup. Fortunately nowadays we don’t make children do that. So why would we do it to our dogs?
Visiting a friend recently, I was standing at the front door, when their young, nervous German Shepherd was ‘brought out to meet me’. She was barking, being held by the collar and thrust forward towards me. Needless to say I was NOT going to hold out my hand to stroke the dog! I backed off and asked that the dog be taken away.
How to introduce a dog to a visitor
When someone comes into my house I always, always shut my dogs away. I then bring people into the house and ‘settle them in’. I’m lucky that I have a glass wall, so people can see my dogs and they can see the person. I can then gauge reactions and assess the way forward. You can use a stairgate, so that the dog can see you with your visitors, from a safe distance.
When my visitor is relaxed and sitting down with a drink, I ask if I can bring some or all the dogs in. Sometimes people come in and never meet my dogs – that’s fine. If the person is OK, then I let them out. I would expect my dogs to come over and want to say hello to people and visiting dogs. However, if they didn’t want to, that would be completely fine. I wouldn’t ever force the issue. When a visit is nervous, I suggest they offer the dog a treat to encourage them forward. However, I would never force it until the dog is ready. When dogs know that the person visiting is a friend of yours, they are more likely to relax.
I do have dog phobic people in the house and I would always wait until they are comfortable and talk through what was going to happen. When Busy (my therapy dog) meets people she simply goes near them and leans against their legs. I would always expect my dogs to move away if they felt uncomfortable. If a child chases round after your dog, don’t be surprised if they turn round and snap in their face. Well you wouldn’t like someone doing that to you, would you?
Keep visiting dogs apart from your dogs until they are settled and have had a sniff around house and garden. I let the dogs into the garden, so they have the space to move away if they want to. When my dogs are out on a walk I expect them to ignore other dogs completely – I train them to do this. If another dog bounces up to them to say hello I expect them to snap at them to say ‘go away’ and I expect the other dog to respect that. If we are walking with other dogs they will wander around each other and be completely fine.
Basically, it’s about allowing the dog to manage the interaction on its own terms. I think that is especially true when managing dogs on walks, but that is worthy of another post..
Ask for help?
You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice. I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues. Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.
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