How I learned to stop worrying and love the dog
May 3, 2012 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Tell me your experiences getting over fear or discomfort with dogs. My wonderful brother, bless him, loves me, but fears dogs. But now I'm getting a second one (German Shepherd puppy), the breed of his nightmares, and he is struggling. He's told me himself he wants to get over it, and I'm sure exposure and puppies will help, but I'd love to hear your own experiences and anecdotes getting past this.

He doesn't have a paralysing fear, and spends time around both me and my dog, doing his best to tolerate things. We havn't spent so much time together these past few years (unrelatedly), but that's all about to change. He'll be seeing a lot more of me, my dog, and my new German Shepherd puppy of his nightmares. His kids love dogs and he wants to love my dogs (and does, in his own way), and wants to work through this. I believe he can, because my Dad was just the same, and it just took enough exposure, of which there was a lot more with my Dad.

At the same time I accept he might not. I don't expect everyone to just 'get over it' and like dogs, or like my dogs. It's not anything I'm pressuring him with and really the ball is in his court. He really wants this.

So I'm not after advice on the best approach for all of this, rather,I'd love to hear from people who've been through the kind of process my brother is. I want your anecdotes, I want your stories, of how you went from fearing, to loving a dog, or dogs, or all dogs. I want to hear the ups and downs, what helped and what didn't, what allowed that stinky ball of fur to somehow worm its way into your heart. I want to show my brother these stories and let him see he's not alone, and let him see things from both sides. Many thanks.

(Oh and oblig photo of GSD puppy of his future nightmares - )
posted by Elfasi to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
That, right there, is the face of a killer.

Seriously though. Will he be able to meet the puppy when you get it? How much time will he be interacting with the dogs?
posted by onhazier at 6:30 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was terrified of dogs, like mild panic attack, racing heart just walking by one on a leash in the park. Then I moved in with a man who LOVED dogs, in fact LOVED GSDs. So, he brought home a puppy and I fell in love with her. Actually being around dog gave me the chance to see their "rationale" so to speak, I quickly got accustomed to their little physical and vocal cues. Then we got two more over the years.

I quickly went from being frozen in fear of dogs to the kind of person who would stick my hand right in a GSDs maw when she attempted to gobble up something she shouldn't.

(Note for readers in case it isn't obvious, this is my dog that I raised and knew her temperment, I wouldn't do that to any ol dog.)
posted by stormygrey at 6:33 AM on May 3, 2012

Response by poster: He'll get lots and lots of time with the puppy (and my present dog), soon after I get her, and as she grows up. Maybe as much as 1 weekend in 5, on average. As opposed to the previous record of maybe 1 weekend every 6 months. He'll have a lot of time around her before she's even nearly fully grown, which I figure is a pretty good opportunity. But ultimately my hope is he gets more used to both puppy and adult dog, and so I'd love to hear your experiences of all kinds.
posted by Elfasi at 6:40 AM on May 3, 2012

Will your dogs get obedience training to make them easier for your brother to get used to?
posted by Carol Anne at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was afraid of dogs as a child and got over it around age 11, so I don't know how well my experience would translate to an adult getting over that fear, since I suspect realizing that I was substantially larger than the dogs played a part.

But yes, exposure really does help--especially if you can start with really calm dogs. As a cynophobe, the statement "Don't worry, he's really friendly," is not terribly comforting, as a dog-lover's idea of friendly can encompass quite a bit of jumping and licking! (Which your new puppy will doubtless do!)

I was lucky to know a woman who had trained therapy dogs, which are pretty much an ideal beginning exposure. If there are any programs in your community that would allow your brother to be with or volunteer with them, that might be something to look into. I was ultimately able to progress to loving even the friskiest of dogs, but I don't know if I could have started with them!
posted by beryllium at 6:56 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: Could you take the puppy to puppy obedience classes and have him attend with you? German shepherds are smart and they learn quickly -- perhaps if he was involved in the training and the pup responded to his commands, he would feel more comfortable.

(Plus, puppy obedience class usually starts with puppy playtime and that is the cutest thing ever!)
posted by Ostara at 6:58 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not sure how helpful my story will be but here goes. My family only had cats growing up, I was never around dogs to any degree. Neighbors had dogs, but often poorly trained ones that I just tried to avoid when possible. So I grew up with a very deep understanding of cats and an appreciation of their charms. However, I found dogs smelly, unpredictable, and I didn't trust them at all. I had no way of know what they would do next, or why, and I usually felt unsettled and suspicious around other peoples' dogs.

Then last year, at the age of 42, dogs unexpectedly came into my life. My 18 year old cat passed away and one Saturday, on the way to the shelter to look at kittens, my husband and I spotted a matted brown dog, wobbling along the side of a busy road. We were afraid she'd been hit by a car, so we stopped and coaxed her into our back seat and took her to an emergency vet. She was some kind of chow mix, matted beyond belief, covered in warts, starved, and apparently deaf, almost blind and mute. The emergency vet told us it was hard to tell her age, but they suspected she was 12 to 15. We could choose to not pay the bill and leave her there, they would take her to the county pound, where it was unstated but everyone understood she would be euthanized. Or we could pay the bill and take her home. No hesitation - she became our dog.

The situation of this ancient dog, obviously someone's pet for many years, who had now been severely neglected and dumped alongside the road broke our hearts. We had her shaved and tended all her sores, had her teeth cleaned and the warts removed. She was strange, and a little difficult to interact with, but we watched her personality open up as her suffering was relieved and she began to enjoy a full stomach. The amount of compassion and love that I felt for her, and the joy I felt at caring for her changed me permanently.

She passed away after being with us for about three months, and my husband and I held out for two weeks before admitting the house was far too empty without a dog. We purposely searched for an elderly rescue with health problems, knowing these dogs are hard to place but that we had the love and resources to care for one. So last May, we adopted old man Shaggy and then a younger dog, Pilar, last September. In this year and a half, I've put myself through a crash course on dogs - researching everything I can about them, and taking them to classes where I've learned as much as them. I still like my dogs best, but I'm no longer suspicious and unsettled by the species.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:02 AM on May 3, 2012 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: Not wanting to thread-sit, but wanted to re-iterate I'm after stories and anecdotes rather than specific advice. New dog will be going through a heck of a lot of obedience training, as did my present dog, who is very calm and well behaved. I'll do everything I can to make things easier for him, and I am aware dog temperament and obedience can make a big difference. But I want to hear from people who've been through the process, from phobia or fear or intolerance, to comfort or liking or loving a dog. Thanks for the stories so far, please keep them coming! (And Squeak Attack, that's an incredibly touching story and two beautiful dogs, thank you! )
posted by Elfasi at 7:08 AM on May 3, 2012

I think you'll be fine since he will have a lot of exposure to the dog growing up. He will get to know her temperament and little quirky behaviors. The other important thing is that the dog will get to know him.

As a kid I was afraid of big dogs - one dog in particular because whenever I tried to leave my neighbor's house it was like the dog had a sixth sense and ran and jumped on me while barking and growling. I think it was a game to him and the dad kept trying to tell me I shouldn't be afraid of the dog, that he wasn't going to bite, but that just made me more wary of it. It was growling ffs! The dog was also almost as tall as me when he jumped up.

I was mostly afraid of big dogs (had small terriers growing up) and after meeting a friend's really sweet, well-trained pit bull it made me want to get one for myself even though that breed used to be firmly in the "scary" class of dogs for me.
posted by fromageball at 7:16 AM on May 3, 2012

When I was a kid I loved animals - all animals. My family was a cat family, but I would run up to dogs at the park or wherever. As I was a teenager I stopped interacting with them as much, and college was a big no-pets void. As a young adult, I discovered I really didn't like dogs. Not exactly terrified of them, but not exactly comfortable around them. Among other things, they're just big, and loud, and smelly, and drooly, and have no concept of personal space, and you can't even have a positive interaction with one without coming away with slime and/or dogsmell on your hands, so I tended to avoid them. And of course any time you avoid interacting with a dog-owner's dog, they treat you like you must be afraid, and no, the dog's really friendly, just pat him it'll be fine - but no, I had no desire to pat the stupid dog or let it lick my jeans where I wiped my hands after lunch because I didn't have a napkin. And yes, I would like to be able to sit on the sofa without the dog deciding to share the space with me. Over the last 5 years or so, I've mellowed out, and accepted that yes, this kind of interaction is just the way dogs are, and I'll just have to wash my hands a lot. I still tend to kind of freak out and backpedal from very large or unknown dogs, or when I'm just not in the mood. Just because I know Mr Drooly just wants to say hello by putting his mouth on my hand, and would never in a billion years bite me, does not mean I want my hand anywhere near Mr. Drooly's mouth, unless I'm in a really tolerant mood.

So, if he wants to like your dog, you're probably in good shape. But if, for whatever reason, he doesn't end up loving your dog, be okay with that. Maybe he'll get over his fear, but that won't necessarily mean he will want to snuggle with the pup, or be as comfortable around it as you are.
posted by aimedwander at 7:30 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I am not a dog person (see my comment here). It's not a fear, just an extreme discomfort (pretty much like what sperose and Squeak Attack and aimedwanter, upon preview, said).

My biggest irritation is that the dogs never seem to acknowledge what their owners are saying to them. Just last night, I had this happen - I was at an acquaintance's house for the first time, sitting on her sofa, when her dog comes up and jumps on me and the papers I had in my lap, sniffing at my face.

ACQUAINTANCE:Sparkles, down!
(Sparkles continues to get up in my face and my papers. I am craning my head away from the dog's face.)
(Sparkles is now starting to claw at my chest. I have my hands up.)
ACQUAINTANCE: (good-naturedly exasperatedly) Sparkles....stop being a beagle!

I'm not close enough to this person to say it out loud, or familiar enough with the dog to shove it off me, so nothing happens until the dog decides it's done with me and goes to someone else.

So if your puppy (who looks very cute, by the way) gets too jumpy and in your brother's space and your calling to the dog does nothing, go over there and remove the dog yourself. Not only will it teach the dog, it'll show your brother that you realize that dogs are not everyone's cup of tea and that you are cognizant of his feelings.
posted by Lucinda at 7:40 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kudos to your brother wanting to overcome his fear of dogs. I think it would be helpful to him to perhaps make a list of the things that scare him about dogs, however silly he might think they are. No fear is irrational with something as tenuous as this. He should write them down so they can be addressed specifically by your obedience trainer so that he can become more comfortable with your dogs.

I think that he will probably be ok with your dogs, but there is a strong likelihood that he won't be ok with all dogs. Good luck to you and your brother!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:00 AM on May 3, 2012

Like Squeak Attack, I grew up with cats and had virtually no exposure to dogs. A few years ago a puppy came into my life and led to the doggie crash course, encompassing everything from obedience to agility to bikejoring.

I turned a corner with dogs when I began to understand their body language. I could take one look at a cat's face and tell you with high confidence about its emotional state but had no parallel skill for dogs. Ears back: happy, compliant. Mouth relaxed & face crinkly? That dog is smiling. Tail down and legs stiff? High alert.

Dogs are much less unpredictable if you can read their minds! There are lots of good resources on the web (ASPCA, Lili Chin) and I suggest this book by Patricia McConnell for helping a dog noob with the communication.
posted by workerant at 8:01 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When my brother was a kid of 8 or so he was seriously attacked by a neighbours dog. I don't just mean a bite or 2 I mean I saw the dog rip the side of his face off and his eyeball was hanging out , you could see into his mouth from the side that sort of thing (I still have nightmares about how he looked 30 years later). I pulled the dog off of him and rushed him home.

Luckily we has a great hospital super close and my Dad had him there in minutes and he got great treatment and ended up physically fine after some surgeries and physical therapy, an at the time, world class micro surgeon was at the hospital teaching new techniques to Australian doctors when my brother came in and the man volunteered to work on him so as he grew up he has barely noticable scars that look like only one or 2 acne scars it's amazing the work he did . .but I digress.

So you can imagine the absolute fear and terror of dogs this little boy had when he came home from hospital. He hated our Irish Setter, possibly the kindest and dumbest dog in the world. Screamed when he saw dogs in the street or if one surprised him he'd freak out. My father decided to help him the only way he knew how, he took my brother for walks where he knew dogs would be. He very slowly and carefully, walked my brother closer and closer to the dogs, this took weeks if not months, then convinced my brother to let the dogs sniff him. He took my brother and our goofy dog for long walks and got him to playwith the dog so he could see dogs as fun. He never pushed my brother, he just found ways for him to interact with dogs that were fun and didn't trigger his fear response. It was one of the few times my Dad actually stepped up to the plate parent wise but in the end my brother reacted to dogs like he used to. As something to good and that were fun to be around.

Cutting to the chase, my brother currently owns 3 dogs, he's owned everything from a Maltese terrier to a pitbull and he's loved them all. The only way you'd suspect anything horrible happened to him when he was younger is he insists on training his dogs to be very obedient no matter what the breed.

As another story, this one will be way shorter I promise. My FIL hated dogs, he's not mean to them but can't see the point of them. When we go to visit we take our dogs because my MIL loves them like Grandchildren, he is not mean to them but ignored them. Until the day he realised our Silky Terrier loved playing fetch and would follow him around with a ball all but begging him to throw it and so the 2 of them if not best friends are ball throwing buddies. My FIL thinks its hilarious how seriously the dog chases it and brings it back and my dog gets the ball thrown and thinks my FIL is awesome. He has even started occasionally patting the dogs if he thinks no one is looking. Strangely the dogs aren't put off at all by his not being a dog lover and respect his boundaries and think he is great and greet him like crazy when they see him, which I think he secretly loves.
posted by wwax at 8:23 AM on May 3, 2012

So is he traumatized/terrorized, like is there an incident in the past he'd be drawing from? Or is he just unfamiliar with them?

My wife was scared of dogs and didn't much like them because in her house as a kid, they were considered livestock like goats or horses or whatnot, like they were disgusting and Good Upstanding Folk didn't have anything to do with them. (I know goats and horses and whatnot are also cool, but for the sake of the story..). Total cat people.

So when we went to visit my mother and my sister had an enormous black lab, my wife spent a good day or so pressed against the wall terrified of the Great Slobbering Beast. I mean, he was a big boy, but he was still in that puppy stage where his legs and body had outgrown his brain, so he'd occasionally get excited and start running only to wind up flailing and falling over because he hadn't quite mastered how everything went together. I thought it was hilarious but all the wife saw was an enormous drooling black monster that couldn't even get his limbs working.

So I wore her down. I fed the dog lots of treats and got him to behave so she could pet him, showed her the various dog body language, and eventually she figured out that--a lot like me--all they want is food and attention. And once she figured out she was A Goddess That Walks The Earth when she had a ball in hand, at least as long as she'd throw it, she was fine. I also (completely coincidentally, I'm sure) wound up watching a handful of cool dog documentaries like Dogs Decoded so she could see how they evolved to work with people, how they can read faces, and all that sort of good stuff. Now she's fine with them, so long as she doesn't have to clean up dog poop.

The things you need to watch out for will be: Keep said puppy as clean as possible, because people who don't like dogs especially don't like when a dirty dog gets them all hairy and dirty. Teach them not to jump (and I don't mean yelling "DON'T JUMP!" fruitlessly while the dog jumps all over them), because people that don't like dogs really don't like a dog all in their face or getting up on them. I mean, that's good pet owner manners anyway, but especially for someone who doesn't like dogs.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:44 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: An anecdote of sorts from my current life - we've added a dog to our household and at four months (obligatory 10 weeks, at 3 months, 4 months no I'm not obsessed, what?) he's a delight... and a bundle of puppy energy and still learning proper boundaries. My wife has less puppy experience than I do and is coming to grips with his tendency to barrel into us and lack of awareness of how much mouthing/biting is acceptable.

With our currently 15lb and unlikely to surpass 25lb dog that's not too hard to cope with, but a larger breed can have some periods where that learning curve could be really scary for someone with issues. Casey will turn his head while you're petting him and clamp down on your wrist. He's not trying to harm anyone and it doesn't hurt more often than not. But I'd suggest you be very aware of how these harmless puppy behaviors that seem cute to use might set back your brother's acclimation.
posted by phearlez at 9:04 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: For many years, I was afraid of dogs, thanks to being playfully chased and tackled by a neighbor's overenthusiastic Lab when I was a toddler, which to an adult is sort of like being playfully chased and tackled by a lion. You don't care how friendly it is, it's still terrifying. Growing up, I was skeptical of other people's dogs because many people insisted their dogs were "friendly," but "friendly" to a dog lover and "friendly" to a non-dog person are two very, very different things. I've had dog lovers reassure me that "No, no he's SUCH a sweetheart! By the way, he likes to gnaw on your arm to say hello. But he doesn't break the skin or anything." Yeah, that's not gonna fly. Ditto "Peaches LOVES you! Oh, down girl! Down! Haha, she likes to jump on new friends!" I believe that your dog isn't aggressive, but I'm still guarded when I see Scooby using every ounce of his energy straining at the leash trying to shove his nose up my rear. "He just wants to smell who you are!" No. This does not make me want to be around Scooby.

It's because of this that many non-dog people are suspicious when a dog lover claims their dog is soooooo friendly, because that could easily mean the dog loves to jump on you and lick your face and "gnaw on your arm to say hello." We've been burned before.

I started to get over my fear after being introduced to individual dogs who were extremely well trained: an elderly, sweet lab, my aunt's obedient Yorkie, a neighbor's gigantic, chilled out Great Pyrenees. I began to like dogs on a case-by-case basis and that's remained my default state. I've learned how to communicate "I am boring and not fun" to a dog- avoid eye contact, turn my body away, don't react to it- and that's helped me cope with poorly trained, hyperactive dogs. I can now tolerate those dogs, but I can't relax and I don't like being around them longer than is necessary. I love puppies when they're small but if they grow up into hyper, jumpy dogs, I'm back to reluctantly tolerating them.

What makes me tense up around your dog: Seeing the dog ignore your commands. Dogs that jump on me. Dogs that shove their face into very private areas. Dogs that respond to a hesitant pat with a flurry of barking and licking and jumping. Dogs that insist on shoving their head into my space when I'm sitting down on the couch, panting doggy breath into my face. Dogs that strain at the leash, pulling their owners along.

What helps me relax around your dog: hearing you command your dog with a firm voice that the dog obeys. Not a "haha, down Scooby! Haha, get off of her!" but a "SCOOBY. DOWN." and seeing the dog listen to you, immediately.

What makes me LIKE your dog: when it is so well trained it doesn't even need a DOWN command to stop jumping; it already knows not to jump on anybody. When your dog has been recently bathed and doesn't have an all-encompassing "doggy" smell. When your dog has a calm and mellow temperament and is OK with just hanging out. Once I know your dog won't respond to a tentative pat with hyperactive, overenthusiastic jumping, I'm more than happy to play with it, scratch its ears, take it for a walk, watch it for you while you're on vacation.
posted by castlebravo at 9:29 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was meh on dogs growing up, then got along okay with a dog at my workplace until it attacked me (spaniel rage) and had to be put down. I find dogs challenging because their psychology doesn't mesh with mine, and also because many people are crappy trainers. Predictability is key in me relaxing around dogs.

I would:
be serious about training. German Shepherds can be bitey and food aggressive, and they get big.

help your brother engage with training the puppy - make it clear that he can reprimand and stick a knee out if it tries to jump up on him. Teach him commands the puppy is learning. Help him see patterns of behavior.

go on walks with your brother and the dogs. Fenced in dog parks might also be good, with him standing outside the fence if he needs to. Dogs are so happy when they're sniffing and running, and that makes them more loveable to me.

avoid leaving your brother alone with the dogs.

not have your brother feed the dogs unless there's a very hardwired, calm feeding routine.
posted by momus_window at 10:29 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I was absolutely 100% terrified of dogs growing up, mainly because I had very little exposure to them and my parents were both afraid. I am still pretty uncomfortable around them, but I don't go into a full-on panic attack when I see or hear one, and there is one specific dog that got me over it.

When I was in college I spent my summers as a nanny for a family that decided to get a jack russell puppy while I was staying with them. The dog was very cute and non-threatening as a puppy, and I spent time with the trainer that they brought in to help. It was tremendously helpful to see how the dog responded to the trainer and it was great to be able to participate a little. That definitely brought my anxiety level down a lot. By the end of the first summer with the dog, she was sitting under the table licking my feet and I was totally ok with it. I would have previously completely freaked out that she was going to eat my feet.

If you have any level of training planned with your dog, bring your brother along to participate. It will help him fell a little more in control of the situation when he is around the dog.
posted by elvissa at 11:31 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I was terrified of dogs when I was a kid, to the point that I would walk several blocks out of my way to take a different route home if there was a strange dog in my path on the normal route. I would risk the wrath of breaking curfew before I would walk past a dog I didn't know in the street. My parents are both nervous around dogs (and cats! my kid is the fourth generation of my father's family to grow up with no pets) so my fear came from a combination of unfamiliarity, following their cues and a general disposition towards anxiety.

Then when I was in my late teens a friend got a German Shepherd/Huskie puppy who was tiny and adorable and I played with her nearly every day after school. For a while I was her default dog walker while my friend was busy in the evenings. I liked that dog very much.

The following year I lived with a family who had a full grown Turkish shepherd. I was extremely nervous about living with a dog, and the dog was not enthused about my joining the household. She growled when I came close, not just to her, but to anyone in the family, and once jumped and snapped at my face when I got between her and her food dish, which was about ten feet away. I was terrified and worried because I knew that if we couldn't live together, it wasn't the dog who was going to go.

The solution the mom of the family offered was to have me, and only me, feed the dog. I was stiff with terror the first couple times I had to do it, but over time--not long, maybe a week?--she mellowed around me since I was her sole source of sustenance. Over a longer time, I came to appreciate her, she became affectionate with me. I became her primary walker, and I'd bring her with me when I went running in the evenings.

So, those two experiences changed me enough that I actually considered owning a dog myself in my twenties, until I decided it was more work than I was up to. Now, twenty years later, however, I'm fairly indifferent towards them. I think my enjoyment of dogs was very specific to the two dogs I got to know well, although sometimes I will meet a particularly well-behaved and/or cute dog and warm up to them. When my daughter was a toddler, I regained some of my childhood terror (just in time to pass it on to her!) but now that she's older, I'm fine.

My case is similar to your brother's I think: I just had to get over my fear of a couple of specific dogs and the way I did it was to interact with them daily in meaningful ways over a stretch of time. That might not be realistic in your case, but maybe you can find something that only he does with them? I don't know enough about dogs to know whether seeing someone only once a month who does some special thing is enough for them to get attached, but maybe?

As for dogs in general, I am very much like castlebravo and love those tips. I have a very very low tolerance for sharing space with people and their ill-disciplined dogs.
posted by looli at 12:01 PM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: Although I grew up with dogs, I was uncomfortable around them for a number of reasons though I loved puppies (of course). One, my dad preferred Rottweilers and GSDs, and I was cornered by a large male Rottie when I was 6. Two, there wasn't a pet culture where I grew up. Dogs were kept as guard dogs for security reasons, so their owners didn't really socialize them. The other kind of dogs I saw were feral strays roaming the streets. Three, my mother tolerated but disliked my dad's dogs because she thought they were dirty and smelly. They were kept outdoors in kennels, which reinforced the notion.

But I now have a dog of my own, and I love it. What really changed things for me was that I began visiting the US fairly often (was in a long-distance relationship), and I saw how dogs were much better behaved here. In fact, larger breeds like pitbulls and GSDs were frequently less aggressive than tiny toy terrier-types. A combination of Cesar Millan videos, books about dog behaviour and very fastidious, responsible dog-owner friends changed my perception of dogs and dog ownership. I used to find dog licks gross. Now that I know that it could be a submissive gesture, and that dog saliva is no dirtier than human saliva, I don't mind the licking at all though my face is (mostly) off limits. I deal with the "dirtiness" by washing my hands more often, and wiping down my dog every time she comes in from being outside, although since she's an apartment dog, her outdoor activities are always supervised by us.

Prejudices and fears can be overcome with education and a willingness to change, so I think you and your brother are on the right track! I used to fear and hate cats way more than dogs (They slink everywhere! They have claws! They don't go to obedience classes! Toxoplasmosis! They poop indoors?!), until I met this amazing American ragdoll. Different animals have different sets of behaviours, and given that there's bound to be a cat or dog wherever I visit, I think it behooves me to learn how to deal with uncaged pets for their sake as much as mine.
posted by peripathetic at 12:05 PM on May 3, 2012

My mother was deathly afraid of dogs. Big ones, small ones, docile ones, quiet ones, it didn't matter, she would scream if they came near. My dad really wanted to get a dog, though, because I was leaving for college soon, and he was already feeling lonely (aw...). So my mother decided to get over her fear. She would go down to the Humane Society once a week or more, and hang out with the dogs. The volunteers were really nice to her, and they would hold their calmest dogs while she tentatively pet them. Her friends with dogs also helped her out by inviting her over when their dogs were at their quietest (our neighbor's dog would get sleepy after eating, so my mom would go over after meal time and sit in the same room with him). Slowly, after a couple months, she was able to pet even a more wiggly, active dog, and eventually, she picked out a dog of our own from the Humane Society. She is still startled by big dogs she doesn't know that bark a lot, but she no longer screams, and she is so loving and friendly towards all of her friends' pets. She is now a Dog Person.
posted by bluefly at 12:17 PM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I think the best you can hope for is that he isn't afraid of *your* dog.

I have a healthy fear of the beasts. However, it's not because I think dogs are evil or smelly or whatnot. I think people here are projecting a bit when they say that. It's because dogs are inherently dangerous animals (a medium+ sized dog can easily do you serious harm if it wanted to) and they are unpredictable unless trained, and they are hardly ever trained. I fear dogs because of what I know about people... most people aren't up to the responsibility.. most people shouldn't own a motor vehicle... much less an animal that could bite a small child's face off.

But as a corollary to that, I have no problem with dogs that I've been able to observe over a longer period with responsible owners and are not aggressive or badly trained. So, you have hope with your brother.

Possibly the only thing I will *never* respond positively to is barking -- that brings on full on panic. If your dog turns out barky, then don't expect much from your brother.
posted by smidgen at 12:49 PM on May 3, 2012

I don't have an anecdote. The only thing that got me from fear to tolerance of dogs was time and getting older.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:55 PM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I did a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy systematic desensitization program. I was bitten by a dog in my childhood and had tremendous fear of dogs and then was working with a service organization for blind and visually impaired people, which meant a lot of being around service dogs and clearly I was the person who needed to change.

It sounds like bluefly's mother did a self-guided desensitization program on her own, which is super cool. That is pretty similar to the formal program my therapist did. This seems like a pretty good guide to creating your own desensitization program.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:01 PM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: It might help for him to go through some of the training exercises or classes with you. It really is about learning dog psychology and learning how to be the alpha. If you are the alpha, dogs calm right down.

But the basic rule is that dogs freak the fuck out when they sense fear. It is a synthesis of "wait, he's bigger than me AND he is afraid? where is the giant terrifying thing that is going to eat both of us?" and "if you are afraid of me, I am going to act all dominant because maybe this is my chance to be king of the house" and also "if the big terrifying thing that we are terrified of sees me dominating this person, maybe it will leave me alone".

The other rule is that bad dogs are perpetual 2 year olds, good dogs are 3 year olds, and really good dogs are 4 year olds. With ADHD.

Story- my mom got a rescue dog, and I met it once. Then, about a month later, I had to go to the house when only the dog was home. The dog was naturally not happy about this, and all I did was stand there and talk to her for about 5 minutes. After this, the dog either remembered me, or decided I wasn't worth the bother. I then went to the treat cabinet, gave her a treat and we've been best pals ever since.
posted by gjc at 4:57 PM on May 3, 2012

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