Yes. I know. That’s a tiger. A big cat, not even related to dogs in any way. But when I come face to face to a dog that’s not on a lead, and without an owner in sight it may as well be a tiger judging by the way I react physically and emotionally. I’m a mess. But I’ve been wanting to overcome my fear of dogs, and so have been dealing with it head on.
I learnt the other day that the technical term for a fear of dogs, is cynophobia. This was new knowledge, and led me to look into it more. I found it really interesting over all, and looked to see if I could find useful information to help me conquer this fear.
My symptoms have ranged from freezing and not being to move, or tensing up and getting away as fast as I can; my heart starts beating ridiculously fast, my rational thoughts completely disappearing to be replaced by an internal voice screaming “OH MY GOD IT’S LOOKING AT ME! IT CAN SMELL FEAR! IT CAN SMELL FEAR! AAAAAAAA IT’S GOING TO GET ME!”. I have had to take a crazy long way home to avoid the dog on the road stood there, watching me walk towards it. I have cried at times. It’s pretty crap, I’m not going to lie.
I’ve been a lot better at handling it since having the kids. Growing up scared of dogs really affected me. And I don’t want my kids to go through it as well. I teach them how to respect dogs and their owners, and to always ask an owner’s permission before petting their dog. They learnt to avoid eye contact and not move, with their arms crossed, by their school should a dog come running towards them.
But I want to take it a step further and really get to the bottom of it. Also, as crazy as it might sound in light of the above, I’ve always thought I’d love a pet dog… So I’m determined to work on my fear, so that we can ultimately get a puppy.
Towards the end of last year, I had an initial consultation with a Solution Focused Clinical Hypnotherapist.
She explained how the process works and how the brain works in relation to the work she carries out. It was fascinating (but then the brain simply is incredible isn’t it!), but it also brought up other areas of my life which I wasn’t necessarily expecting.
I realised while talking that the way I respond to dogs, is completely different to how I deal with day to day life issues. In life, I am very much a glass half full person, seeing the positive and good in things and in people. I often feel that everything will be ok in the end, even if the journey getting there is not direct.
But when it comes to dogs, I’m completely the opposite. I go all-in with a “glass half-empty” approach, imagining the worst scenarios and what could potentially happen should we encounter a dog on a walk on our holiday six months away from now… My brain goes into full-on flee mode!
It’s a fear I manage to hide fairly well. A lot of my friends are surprised when they find out, as I would happily go round to their house even when their dogs are about. On these occasions, my fear pops up if the dog is the driveway as I get out the car, or if they start barking at me or jumping around growling whilst playing. When this happens, I freeze and have to say them I am in fact quite scared of dogs so may need a little reassurance. The flower school I trained at had a gorgeous little Daschund. Yet he would see me walk up towards the classroom, stare at me and sometimes bark. I then froze until someone would pop up next to the dog and reassure me to walk past… I joked that I must have made him feel like a lion!
The worst is when we’re out and about, and we come across a dog without his owner nearby. This happens mostly in France, where dogs seem to have a lot more freedom. Growing up in a countryside village, there were a lot of farm dogs, as well as dogs trained to be guard dogs. They therefore always came across as intimating and scary, especially to a little girl who was afraid of most animals (seagulls, chickens, pigs you name it!). Even though I don’t recall anything ever happening, the fear was well and truly there.
I initially met the hypnotherapist at a networking event I attended in Bristol, last year. I remember finding her work really interesting. It’s not until our decision to move to France, that I wondered if perhaps, I might actually be able to do something about this fear. Apparently, I can!
Essentially, from what I understand, it’s a little like rebooting my brain and instead of going into an absolute panic when I see a dog, my brain can simply go “oh look! A dog! 😊 “.
I’ve been given a track to listen to at night before falling asleep, which helps me relax and empty my brain at the end of the day (my friend laughed when I told her this saying it made her think of Chandler in friends… so if I start saying weird things let me know!). I have really enjoyed listening to this, although I am yet to get to the end without falling asleep! (Siena has similar relaxation tracks from Relax Me Happy).
Going on Walks
We’ve had a few sessions already, so I decided to then put it to the test and asked my friend if I could tag along with her and her Collie on their walks.
So far, we’ve been on two walks. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I did notice that overall, I remained calm throughout, even when we encountered other dogs. And this in itself is a huge improvement. I’m able to carry on with our conversatio and the same walking pace, without freezing or my heart racing. My friend is also great at telling me more about dogs and her own experience.
Having a sister who loves the brain and works in psychology is also a great asset. She told me to write a fear hierarchy followed by an exposure ladder. Essentially making myself rate how anxious each scenario makes me from least to most. Then I can work out my safety behaviours and my avoidance behaviours. By looking at it in more detail, I should come to realise that in most of these scenarios, there is no danger from the dog, as opposed to sensing fear everytime I see one. (Is that right Chloe?)
Whilst it’s definitely a work in progress, I have been feeling a lot calmer around dogs and whilst out and about, so I’m hopeful I’m on the right track. All in all, I’ve been told that if my body is calm, my mind will be calmer too. So it’s a lot about relaxation and mindfulness, which I love anyway. So i’m always happy to explore this further.
I’ll keep you posted on how I get on (and when we get the puppy!).
Do you have a fear of dogs? Have you tried any of the above to help you address it?
Or do you love / own dogs? In which case, what advice can you give me to help understand dogs better?