This blog has MOVED!

Please visit for the most updated content. All these posts and more can be found over at the new URL.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fear - Part 3

Even though I've mostly beat my horse demons to submission, I would like to explain why I never ever minimize anyone else's fear regarding horses, or push them past where they feel comfortable.  Because you see, I have a fear that will not go away:
I am afraid of dogs.  Deathly afraid of dogs.  Big dogs, little dogs, and mostly - barking dogs. 
Do you know what doesn't help when someone like me is dealing with a fear like this one?  To minimize it by saying that it's irraitonal, or that it will be OK.  Because it's NOT OK.  I'm dealing with feelings that most people only have to deal with when facing down a Lion in the African Jungle.  The fear is real, and it's big, and it's disabling.  There are beautiful country roads that I won't run down because of the risk of a loose dog coming off a property for me. Getting out of the truck at a family members house and going past their unsecured dogs to the door is a chore in self control. 
I am 100% OK with exactly one dog - Toby, a dog I grew up with that lives at my parents house.  Who is the sweetest, most perfect dog there ever was. 
What's sad is a LIKE dogs.  I like having them around, I like them on trail rides, I like the companionship.  It's just my first, uncontrollable, reaction to any dog running towards me is pure fear. 
There was no big, tramatic event in my child hood.  I grew up with and around dogs.  Before I started working for a vetrinary clinic in college, I never got bit, and during my work at the clinic, none of the bites broke skin. 
Similarly to conquering my horse fears, I've analyzed it, I've mentally prepared for it, and I've tried to conquer it.
It some ways - it's better.  As a child I would scream and cry and get hysterical, no matter what size of dog.  When going to relatives' houses, I would sit in the truck and pretend to fiddle with stuff until they came out of the house to greet me.  Now, I'm forthright on the phone when going to a house of unknown dog factors.  "Do you have a dog"  "Is he nice" "will be locked up" - so I can prepare myself. 
I step out of the vehicle.  I ignore the dog.  I do not look at the dog.  I do not acknowlege the dog is there.  I cross my arms on my chest if I'm really nervous, but other wise I hold them at my sides.  I take deep breathes and I clear my mind.  I walk straight.  It doesn't take much to cause an adrenaline surge that has me bolting back to the comfort of my vehicle.
Sometimes, depending on how well I know the dog and breed, I'm overly friendly to the dog, talking to it in that high pitched baby voice and putting on a smile.
I lay some of the blame on the owners - a well behaved dog at its owners' side makes me smile.  A happy, bounding dog that is ignoring it's owners shouts, as it approaches me is what sends me into hysterics. 
I once thought that my fear of dogs was going to prevent me from becoming a vet.  I worked for 2 years at a small animal facility, and although I wasn't truly comfortable, I could be professional and get the job done.  I'm going to be a commercial food vet so I won't have to deal with strange dogs on a daily basis.
I have a young cousin who is acting the same way I did around dogs at her age.  Many family members are saying the same things they did when I was young.  "it's irrational", "it will be OK" "it's because she isn't around dogs enough".  I took a different approach. 
We talked about how real the fear is.
We talked about different coping strategies - how to breathe, where to put our hands. 
I acknowleged her fear as real, and acknowleged it was a big deal.
This same cousin is horse crazy, even though she isn't around horses and her family doesn't have a "horse connection" - just like me. 
So that's why when someone tells me that they are afraid of their horse, or they don't want to trot or canter on the trail because they are mentally dealing with that fear, I never ever minimize that fear and we do whatever trail ride they are capable of - even if it's a walk.  Because fear can be a big deal and it's REAL.


  1. Some human mental characteristics are related. OCD is connected with being a very good planner, and being a safe person by virtue of the ability to anticipate dangerous situations. It's a well-documented fact that incidents which occur in connection with the chemicals accompanying intense emotion--and pain--are better remembered. This characteristic has contributed to the survival of the human species. You and I are the ones everyone should want to sit by the campfire at night as a lookout!
    Sharlene, the aunt who fell--the first fall since kindergarten that didn't hurt.

  2. I just read all three parts. You are a brave woman. Really, I admire your courage in working through your fears and not letting them stop you from doing something you love!

  3. for the first time in my life, i feel a little more confident around strange dogs. What happened? Total immersion in all the seasons of Cesar Milan's The Dog Whisperer. I understand dog psycology better now. I know more things to do that might make the dog believe I am the leader.

  4. I've been thinking about this for a couple of days. I don't want to be all "there there, it's ok", even inadvertently. But I do hope I can help, and I think it's in the same vein as your mom's comment.

    Do you think it would help if you better understood dog psychology / body language? If you read some dog books, or even watched Animal Planet, and got a really firm knowledge that a dog does this when he's happy and that when he's scared... It might help. Hopefully that didn't piss you off :)

    Thankfully, all my fears are completely rational. Giant spiders, psycho killers hiding in the bathtub, and ripping a foot off on the arena fence. It must be terrible to have a truly silly fear like dogs! :P

  5. Cheekymare - thank you for the compliment, although I do not consider myself brave at all. I'm ALWAYS the one that has a perfectly good reason why I can't do something LOL. And most of that is based on the fear of being out of control or the unknown. We'll call it caution OK?

    funder - you aren't insulting me at all! I am MUCH better now than I was. I think reading about dog behavior and working at the vet clinic for 2 years with dogs every day (I was in charge of the kennel so I literally handled dogs 20-40x a day) was VERY helpful. I know that the more I read and understand and the more I'm aroud strange dogs, the better I'll be. it's gotten to the point where with certain breeds (labs and boxers for example) it doesn't even bother me when they run up to me because my experience with these breeds has been almost 100% positive.

    I also must admit that when the chips are down and something bad DOES happen, I'm OK - for exactly I was on a run on a deserted road and a german shepherd ran out into the road and ran at me tail down growling. Without thinking, I lunged TOWARDS the dog and yelled "NO" in a very stern loud voice - like I did at the vet's when they were barking in the kennel LOL - and the dog looked a bit suprised and then turned and ran back to it's yard. I was scared silly, but my body did the right thing.

    I'm a very dominant person so that tends to come out when I get in a stressful situation - the problem is when my mind can't decide that whether the situation has progressed to the point where it's appropriate to be that aggressive, or if I'm sitll in that "neutral" territory.

    But you are definatley right Funder - the better I can read dogs, the more comfy I'll be. It's something I will continue to work on.

    My main point of this post was to reassure people that yes, I may have done a good job with my horse fears, but I UNDERSTAND if their fear seems too great to work through.

  6. Wow, I think more people need to accept their own, and other peoples fears as you have.

    For me, when I have a fear (my horse balking on the trail) I experience the fear its self, but also the added fear of other peoples judgement. When my horse misbehaves, i have two trains of thought at once. First, this is dangerous, there is traffic, fences, etc, and we could both be injured. We are far from home and I could get hurt and stranded. My horse could run to a road and get hit. Second train of thought is, If I were a better rider, if he was a better trained horse- this wouldn't happen.

    When I get in a tough spot with others around, I immediately assume that people judge me for my horses lack of training and my lack of ability. It doesn't help my initial fear to have a secondary fear added on.

    I suppose I need to take heart in your stance and hope that there are more sympathetic people out there!

    Thank you for this series, well written!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.