Cynophobia, I Have It

The street I live on is quiet, only six houses on our block. Just beyond our street are the most pristine yards imaginable. Lawns are cut evenly, flower beds meticulously cultivated, burgeoning colors from these flowers and those. Decks are stained, patio furniture awaits the next party. As I walk to the bus stop, neighbors I don’t know are leaving for work, taking out trash, opening curtains.

Not my house, but it makes me happy.
Not my house, but it makes me happy.

It takes me eight minutes to walk to the bus stop from my house, but I give myself 10 because the quiet is so calming, so pleasant. There is honeysuckle in the air and despite there being no one around to make me smile, I smile. But I’m also paying attention, because I’m about to pass the one house I dread, the house with the white dog.

Two years ago, as I jogged for the bus (a different bus route on a different street), I heard the dog before I saw it. Immediately it was upon me and I was running, it was barking, chasing me around and around someone’s Jeep. It was still dark, the owner had no control, no leash. Admittedly, I’d been running for the bus because I was late. Maybe I startled the dog. Regardless, it wasn’t listening to its owner’s calls to stop. We’d been around the truck six times before the owner was able to tackle the dog (seriously, he jumped on the dog’s back and held him down).
I know it is irrational, this fear I have of virtually every dog I happen upon. I know that every dog doesn’t want to eat me like that one clearly did, every dog doesn’t deserve being called Cujo. But more often, I’m coming across people who don’t respect my fear, dog owners who know their dog’s temperament and assume that I should too. What I assume is if you allow your dog in your yard unattended, you think the dog won’t jump the fence and attack me. What I assume is if you allow your dog in your yard and you are also in the yard, you will be able to control your dog if it tries to attack me. What I assume is you won’t walk down the street before the sun is up, with an unleashed dog. At the end of my street there’s a dog that the owner constantly says no one should be afraid of. He said this to a jogger one day after she saw the dog, too late, and it was lunging for her. “Oh, don’t be scared,” he said. “He doesn’t bite.” “Does he have teeth?” asked the jogger.

I know every dog isn’t vicious. It doesn’t make it easier to walk past the white dog’s house.

A few days ago as I walked, I noticed movement in a yard across the street. I glanced over and there was the white dog. I’d never seen it before, after a month of walking the four blocks to and from the bus each day. I quickly assessed the height of the gate, how fast he might move if he was so inclined, how fast I could move with two bags and a purse. I kept walking but so did he, along the gate, his head turned to me. And then he put his paws on the gate as if to say, keep walking. I dare you.

That dog was talking to me with his eyes. So, I listened. And I backpedaled, detoured myself down a street I hadn’t been down before, that may have had more strange dogs. Even though I know that was likely, I couldn’t bring myself to walk past a dog I knew was there. Later that evening, the white dog was still there, lounging in its yard. I got about two houses down before it noticed me, stood on its hind legs and again dared me with its eyes, a penetrating I Wish You Would stare. I turned around to use that morning’s detour street, but as I got to the corner, there was another dog, huge, barking. I stood on the corner and felt my heart thump as though it too wanted out of that situation. I called my husband. “Come get me, please.”

“Where are you?”

Whispering: “On the corner.”

Since that day I’ve altered my route. Some days I go the opposite direction, using a different bus, which is inconvenient, but if I get spooked, I can’t help it. Mind you, everything spooks me. I can unknowingly step on a leaf and jump at the sound. There can be squirrels or birds rustling in a bush and I will be poised to run. I know it’s ridiculous. And yet, I am convinced that a dog is going to lunge at me out of nowhere. I have imagined the searing pain of it biting into my thigh (it’s always my thigh). The past few weeks I’ve had nightmares about dogs, always big dogs, chasing me. Most of the dreams end with me just making it to my destination, then being unable to enter. I wake up before I find out if I’m lunch.

I noticed today that my anxiety level, the tension in my shoulders, dramatically increases on the block with the white dog’s house. Just thinking about it now has me looking around as if a dog is going magically show up in this office and attack me. I’m embarrassed to admit that – that I think a dog is going to show up in the most idiotic places: my office, my bedroom, when I open the closet door, IN THE BATHROOM WHILE I’M IN THE SHOWER. Why do I feel so tense? Oh, it’s because I think I heard a growl and there might be a dog outside the shower curtain.

A friend sent me a link to a retractable stick to carry when I walk. My husband suggested mace. Or, you know, that I should realize which dogs pose a threat (admittedly, the white dog is a bit old. But! He put his paws on the fence not in a come pet me kind of way, but in an I LIKE THIGH MEAT or PROTECT YOUR NECK way).

I don’t even know how to end this besides saying I’m still walking to the bus stop. That’s good, right? I haven’t seen the dog since last week but I have no idea what I’ll do if I do, since now I know there’s an even bigger dog on the detour street.

Why can’t they range between Pluto, Beethoven, Clifford, Deputy Dawg, or Benji?

What is it, Lassie? Arnebya’s stuck on the corner?


  1. says

    Maybe you could walk down there with Carlos and see how the dog reacts to him, and see if maybe the dog is nice and the two of you could come to an understanding that you won’t go into his yard, but he needs to let you walk on the sidewalk. Maybe. And yes, it totally sucks to have an irrational fear or a fear of any kind that you can’t control.

    • says

      Maybe, once he stops laughing at me. Once he pointed out that the dog looked pretty old, I had to laugh too (and at the fact that I was picked up from the corner) but whenever I remember his paws on the fence — old or no, he wanted to taste me.

  2. says

    I like Jennifer’s idea!
    ps I had an intense fear of dogs while I was growing up.

    Now? I have an intense fear of flying on planes. And vomiting. And throat cultures and tongue depressors.

    Feel better now?


  3. says

    “But more often, I’m coming across people who don’t respect my fear, dog owners who know their dog’s temperament and assume that I should too.” I totally get this, because I have a friendly dog. I’ve had to remind myself that not everyone knows he is friendly, and not everyone loves dogs, and we have to be respectful of the fact that some people are are afraid of them. We often have him off leash, and when he squirms through the gap in the door when I’m talking to someone on the porch, even a stranger, I don’t even think about him harming anyone. This came back to bite me once when I was walking him off leash, and a jogger approached. Sammy ran up to him, growling, the hair on his back standing up. He NEVER does that. And I started to wonder if he thought that I was in danger, or maybe – and this is crazy – that he sensed that I was pregnant, even though I was only like 10 or 12 weeks.

    • says

      Not crazy. It could have been the combo of fear for you and the pregnancy. You never know. I hate to admit this, but for me, it’s also breed. If your cocker spaniel is off leash I’m not going to be as afraid as I’d be if it was your doberman. OMG there’s a guy who walks a doberman early mornings, like before 7, on a leash. He stops when he sees me and makes the dog sit.

  4. says

    The same way you describe expecting dogs in impossible places I expect snakes. I’ve only had one or two mildly upsetting encounters with snakes as a kid but it stuck with me. That fear is my stress barometer. When my anxiety over anything begins to rise the snake dreams or the snake fears in my own home rise. I totally get how you feel.

    I’m going to suggest something and feel free to say it’s not for you. Before I do let me tell you why, because there are 2 reasons. 1. I don’t want you to live like I live with this unpredictable, constant fear that you don’t totally respect but have to bend to. Just have to. 2. I love dogs and I’m a dog trainer so I have a possible solution. Again, it may not be for you, I’m just tossing it out there.

    Do you think you would feel safer if you learned a little bit about dog body language so you could have a strong body of knowledge in your court and determine which dogs were likely interested in you because you might give them part of your sandwich and which dogs were likely interested in you because they wanted to make an Arnebya sandwich? As I’ve been studying to become a trainer I’ve learned how often we humans misinterpret their body language just because we don’t know. It goes for people who say, “She’s friendly!” as much as for people who are terrified (maybe more!). If you’re interested I can give you links to a couple of great short videos to start you off with the basics and I’d love to talk to you more about it.

    If you’re not interested then I’m also totally here for you to talk about coping with fears we can’t control. I’ve had this stupid snake thing since I was about 4 years old. I can relate and it helps to talk to someone who understands. A lot of folks don’t.

    • says

      Kizz, my list of irrational fears goes like this: dogs, rats/mice, snakes, flesh eating bacteria (what?). I am afraid at times that a snake will be in my toilet or that a rat will run across my floor or that a flesh eating bacteria is already inside me, gnawing at my brain, having entered through my shoeless feet. I do think I could be calmed if I knew a dog’s body language. Does it change much per breed? The white dog is a pit bull, albeit old (and I’ve met the nicest pits so yeah, I know they get a bad rap. Wrap? Rap. Wrap doesn’t make sense. Don’t wrap your dogs!).

  5. Diana says

    I am deathly afraid of trains. So much so I used to faint. I’ve actually jumped from a moving truck when the driver refused to stop driving towards a railroad crossing. Irrational fears are exactly that. Irrational. :(

    • says

      Oh boy, Diana. So, where you live, what do you do if there’s a train crossing and you need to go that way? Are you ABLE to do it, but it’s just so stressful you avoid it? (I’ve since been going an entirely different, and longer, way to the bus).

  6. says

    A dog chased me once when I was a teenager. The bugger was actually quite little but he scared the shit out of me. I understand your fear. I am cautious around stranger dogs, as one should be.

    Try Jennifer’s idea (she really has the best advice). May your dreams be filled with fluffy clouds and cupcakes!

    • says

      Lately I’ve been dreaming more of dogs, unfortunately, always attacking. But I think the Samsung refrigerator is about to edge those dreams out.

  7. says

    When I was a teenager, and a new dog owner, I was out walking a dog and came across a little girl who was very shy of my sweet, little dog. “It is okay.” I said, trying to help her understand that my dog was nice and wouldn’t hurt her. But what my parents later explained was that it was my responsibility to keep my dog away from people who were scared and who don’t like dogs – it isn’t my responsibility to tell people how to feel.

    I don’t think many dog owners understand this.

    My sweet 2 year old LOVES dogs but is petrified of them. The other day we were walking to the car from daycare and a family had two small dogs in their yard that we were walking beside. Gavin was happily saying “Look! Dog! Woof!” until the dog RAN towards him and Gavin screamed the loudest, scariest, screechiest, i-am-being-murderediest scream.

    When we got out of the car yesterday, our neighbour (a vet) had her two small dogs outside with her and one of them barked at us as we drove into our driveway. I could tell Gavin was scared. He went inside, closed the door, AND THEN happily watched the dogs from the safety of the window.

    • says

      I’m glad you know that. My FIL gets upset with people who don’t walk their dog on the inside (approaching a person with a dog, the dog should be on the right, always opposite of the person approaching). When I left work one day last week I heard a dog barking and absolutely prepared myself to run if need be. I know you aren’t supposed to run, but my mind doesn’t believe me.

  8. says

    I call my dog asshole for a reason…
    …and that reason is mostly because he eats socks and destroys kitchen floors.
    While I know how he interacts with people, which is really well, I never know. No one does. My husband’s aunt had her nose ripped off by a family pet a month ago. She was just petting it.
    Pet owners need to be responsible. Even the most docile pet can cut a ho if the mood is right. They’re animals that shit in our yard…or in my neighbors case, shit in my yard.

    • says

      I’m glad to get so much understanding from such a rambly post. A coworker just returned to work after having surgery to repair her calf where the dog she was keeping for friend bit into her like my bone! She’s known the dog for years. That dog must have hated her for years and finally got her all to himself.

  9. says

    This is really hard, but if you’re approached by a strange dog or see a roaming dog, don’t look at it. Drop your head down. You can glance, but do it side-eye and DO NOT STARE. DO NOT RUN. Loosen all your limbs and keep your arms down at your sides, floppy. Stay as relaxed as you can and just give the dog wide berth – 30 feet or more as you amble away. You’re speaking dog language to say “I’m not a threat, I don’t want anything to do with you, I’m just going about my business.” This will work in pretty much every instance.

    • says

      Oh, but Suebob, the “pretty much every instance” exception is what scares and worries me. I definitely don’t stare. I force myself not to run (but what if it runs AT me?). What if the dog in question is like Stephanie Bingham from elementary school who just would not be nice to me? So I guess that’s a whole new thing I’d like to know: what makes one dog recognize I’m not a threat and one say don’t care, gonna eat you anyway?

  10. says

    This is exactly the reason why we never have our dogs off-leash. Ever. And they are LABRADORS for heaven’s sake. Sweet as can be. But still. Dogs.

    The comfort of every single human being we might encounter is more important to me than my dog’s being off their leashes when we are in public. Yep. Even in our front yard. They are always leashed.

    We have a house and a fenced backyard for them to roam freely.
    That’s just the way it is.

    I would never expect you to have to adjust your walk, your heart, your life.
    But I do hope you can find away to not be afraid anymore.

  11. says

    You know what? Fuck dog owners.


    Dogs that “don’t ever bite” sometimes do bite. I do not want to be the one who proves to be the exception to the rule. And the dog owner should not be the one who gets to play fast and loose with other people’s bodies. Fuckers.

    God. I really, really fucking hate them. The dog owners.

    Although I’m also not crazy about dogs. THEY EAT THEIR OWN AND OTHERS’ POOP. Gross.

  12. says

    I can’t stand dog owners. I don’t like your dog, people. Stop allowing it to come at me, or sniff me, or rub its filthy fur on my leg. And if it’s big enough to rest his paws on my shoulders when I come into your house, it’s too big.

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