May 282014

Not so scary after all.


Moments before arriving, a visiting friend reminded me that her small child was afraid of  dogs… especially BIG dogs. At the time, my family included a young,  intense German Shepherd Dog and a goofy, aging Lab.  Since neither could be described as ‘small,’ I promised my friend that I would kennel them for the afternoon so her daughter’s visit would not be ruined.

[Tweet “WHAT WOULD YOU DO: A friend reminded me her visiting child was afraid of dogs. “]

Meeting for lunch before driving out to the house, I had a chance to chat with the little girl.  I explained that the dogs would bark when we arrived, that it was part of “their job.”  I also let her know they couldn’t get near her and asked her to help with their training by ignoring their noise.

Upon arrival, the dogs stopped barking almost instantly. They were intrigued.  My 5-year-old guest and I spent less than 10 minutes looking around in the barn and picking berries before she became fixated on the dogs and the kennel.

Before long she asked me if it was OK to bring them inside.  So, wearing training collars and leashes to help them pay attention, they sat quietly beside me. The grown-ups continued to talk about  ‘dog language‘ and how it is differs from ‘people language’, the way dogs rely on their noses to learn, that jumping and squealing encourage chasing, that calm behavior brings a calm response…. and that paying attention to these things can help kids stay safe.

[Tweet “FACE FEAR: The grown-ups talked about ‘dog language’ v. ‘people language’… “]

My little friend asked if the dogs knew any tricks.  When I explained that to see one of them ‘perform’ the other would have to sit quietly beside her, the “formerly-frightened-of-big-dogs” child made my day.  She turned to her mother and said:

“Mom, these are not BIG dogs because I’m not afraid of them. I like them. These are MEDIUM dogs.”

Why is this such a favorite story?

  • Because it speaks to the power of support, data, exposure and engagement to overcome prejudice and fear.
  • It’s an example of trust opening a door and expanding a comfort zone.
  • It’s about the power of honest attraction over force and manipulation…
  • And because any one of us can replace a limiting thought with one that’s more useful.

Perhaps it’s an approach we can apply to other sources of fear.  Do you have any “dogs” that need shrinking?

[Tweet “FACE FEAR: “Mom, these are not BIG dogs because I’m not afraid of them.”…”]

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  8 Responses to “Big Dogs on the Brain?”

  1. Beautifully presented. I too had that fear of “big dogs” when I was a child, only after a medium dog bit me through a chain link fence. Of course, in the dog’s defence, it was his yard to patrol, and when this young seven-year-old hand reached between the chain to pet him, he was only doing his job.
    It wasn’t until an elementary school teacher brought her standard (VERY BIG) poodle to “show and tell” that I learned about the language of dogs.
    Truly, I think the way you taught this young girl could benefit every child and seriously needs to be implemented into school curriculum.
    Thanks for a sweet and picturesque story.
    Very nice place you’ve got here, by the way.

    • Thanks, Jan. So sorry you spent time being afraid of any dogs. I don’t want to add anything to our over-burdened teachers, but agree that I would like for kids to get this kind of information and maybe prevent those initial bites?

      Thanks for taking time to comment. I appreciate hearing from you.

  2. What a great reminder of how to treat both kids and dogs with respect, kindness and clarity 🙂 I love this story and I love the beautiful photo of your sheperd. I so appreciate your willingness to work with the curiosity of this child and to take her fears seriously!

    • Thanks, Minette. Part of what I like about this memory is the reminder to balance giving over pieces of control to the person challenged by the fear with making sure they stay safe.

  3. Oh Andrea, I love this story and yes it is a powerful story of how we can overcome our fears. I’ll be remembering this the next time I come upon a Big Dog in my life.

  4. This story is so beautifully written and encouraging so I know why you love it so much. Thank you for sharing support that all of us can use and implement in our daily lives. I can’t wait to try this with my clients who are afraid of my therapy dog Cammi. Blessings

    • Thanks, Debra. I’ve seen pictures of your Cammi — hard to imagine anyone being afraid of her, but, in my experience, there’s a lot of fear that can come from not knowing.

Care to share? Hearing from you makes my day!

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