This morning I was scrolling through Instagram and realised that this photo was taken a whole year ago!
So I took a little comparison.
I realised I wasn’t always this comfortable around dogs, especially big ones, and I decided that I would share with you some of my story, but it’s a pretty long story so I’ll keep it pretty brief!
THE BACK DROP
When I was born my parents had a Labrador called Jake who was very similar to Marley (from Marley and Me): completely bonkers and impossible not to love.
After Jake we had a Cocker Springer Spaniel called Stracken and after him we got Jim, our border terrier who is now eleven. Just to spice Jim’s life up a bit when he turned ten we bought a Goldendoodle puppy called Amber, who is now one.
So that’s the back drop. I have always had dogs and I would confidently call myself a crazy dog lady (somehow it just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘crazy cat lady’!).
The first attack happened between Stracken and Jim, when I was aged eight or nine. Jim wasn’t just a huge part of our family but he had a significant role to play in building my confidence back up around dogs. My parents made sure that I went to the puppy classes and that Jim was the best trained dog possible- and he is.
WHAT I MEAN BY ‘SCARED’ OF DOGS FOLLOWING THE INITIAL INCIDENT
- When a dog would approach I would gravitate towards my Dad, I would cling onto his arms (and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that dogs can sense fear, so this was something I needed to work on)
- I was particularly anxious around bigger dogs.
- I wouldn’t walk out on my own ‘just in case’ which made a big difference when my friends were all out at the park.
Getting Jim made a huge difference to how I felt going for walks- I actually started enjoying it again.
THE FIRST TIME I TOOK JIM FOR A WALK AROUND THE BLOCK
It was a big deal for me and I was excited. We have a little walk, about 5 minutes, around the block and I decided that I wanted to do this walk while my Dad cleaned the cars. So off I went, and I got just out of sight of my house when I saw a brown Labrador stood at the other end of the path, alone. I’d always known Labradors to be nothing but lovely, and when a dog is off of the lead you can usually be pretty confident it’s good off of the lead. This dog started walking slowly towards us and was low to the ground. I remember trying not to panic, but then it started sprinting towards us and snarling. It was undeniably aggressive and Jim tried to protect me.
I remember my Dad saying that for my own safety, and the dogs, it’s best to let go of the lead. The Labrador actually had my dog in its mouth, he had Jim by the head and was shaking him. So I did what my Dad said, and I started screaming… but my Dad was hoovering the car, so couldn’t hear me. Jim managed to get out of the Labradors mouth and ran across a road into some bushes. I ran back to my Dad, who sprinted right after them and I went inside.
Just to clarify, this dog’s owner was nowhere to be seen. My Dad found Jim hiding and brought him home. He then saw the owner, with the dog still off of the lead and told him what the dog had done and that the dog should most definitely be kept on the lead. The owner refused to accept it.
Sooo that freaked me out.
THE NEWSPAPER INCIDENT
Then a few weeks later I decided to go and get a newspaper from the local shop down the road… which also ended badly.
I called out good-bye, shut the front door, turned around and there was a Weimaraner stood there snarling at me and getting closer… and I’d just locked myself out. This time I absolutely freaked. I started screaming with my back up against the front door and knocking as loud as I could. It kept getting closer and luckily my Dad opened the front door, I fell in, we shut it and called the RSPCA.
It turned out a dog down the road had got out.
Over the years I have got over my fear of Labradors, but Weimaraners- nope. They still give me the freaks.
I have had several run ins with dogs, but these two were just super unfortunate.
HOW I OVERCAME MY FEARS
- I faced them. My family didn’t allow my fears to grow any more, I went to puppy classes with our next dog and met lots of different breeds and interacted with good owners and good dogs. I was also taught how to walk Jim properly, how not to pass my fear onto him and what to do in difficult situations.
- My Grandparents got a Golden Retriever, Jade (who sadly passed away recently). She was probably one of the biggest reasons I got over my fear. She was big like the ones that had attacked me, but full of love and soft. I spent a lot of time with her and realised that the nasty dogs were the exception rather than the rule. Spending time with good dogs really does boost your confidence. Nasty dogs really are the exception rather than the rule.
- I kept going for dog walks with other people until I was confident enough to do it alone… in all honesty I was only really comfortable walking Jim on my own from fourteen onwards.
- I didn’t rush anything. When you’ve developed a fear of something the worst thing to do is force yourself continually into situations you know you will struggle with. Baby steps are key.