Saya punya takut anjing!
September 1, 2006 2:08 PM   Subscribe

My previously relatively benign aversion to dogs has become cripplingly intense in the last few months, to the point that I can't make it to my house's front door without being accompanied. I'm living in Indonesia, and don't know enough of the language to express my absolute, mortal terror or where to find English-language psychological help. I really need some help here: how can I go home at night?

I live on the outskirts of a large city, so there are lots of agricultural plots, rice paddies, and rough patches of land mixed in with the houses - it's not the most comfortable place to walk at night for someone afraid of dogs. My "street" is about the width of an American sidewalk, too steep to ride down as a passenger on a motorbike, and is entirely unlit by the time I get off work. I've lived in the same place for 6 months.

My house is near the bottom of a hill, and while I always leave my porch light on, I've got to navigate a bridge over an irrigation channel, and it's the 20-pace radius around this bridge that's the biggest problem.

At least once a week, I'm the only person I can see when I get to this area, and inevitably I hear a dog begin to bark nearby as soon as I turn onto the path, which makes me tense up, and then when I see the dog, it sees me tensed, probably assumes I'm up to no good, and further tries to intimidate me. There's little chance that this dog is owned by anyone, has had its shots, or is free of other diseases/issues that would explain a more confused/violent reaction to new stimuli. (I really have no idea what the dog is sensing/thinking when it sees me. Other ideas?)

I feel totally cornered, and I've taken to avoiding going out at night - or staying out all night - to avoid contact with the dogs. I was nearly attacked once and slowly, slowly backed up the hill to a neighbor's house, who gave me a hug, picked up a huge stick, and shooed the very agitated, barking dog away. I've had to do end-run manuevers around barking dogs angrily apporaching me a great many other times. Aside from the inconvenience, I feel like a prisoner in my own house at night, and it's depressing to hear the locals chatting or a roving satay vendor walking by and I don't feel safe enough to open the door to go out there.

The dogs don't bother the neighbors, and while there's a certain understanding about my aversion to the animals, I think the common perception is that I can just procure a giant stick or something and keep the dogs at bay on my own, which I don't think I can do yet.

Oh yeah - I can't move because of restrictions on my visa and the fact that one pays a year's rent up-front here, which is unaffordable right now.

So then - what can I do to feel safer when I walk home at night? Any books/websites you recommend? How did you beat your fear of dogs?

Terima kasih!
posted by mdonley to Health & Fitness (27 answers total)
Get a walking stick/cane and a flashlight.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:14 PM on September 1, 2006

Pepper/bear spray? Hopefully you'll never have to use it, but it might give you the confidence you need, knowing that if attacked, you'll be able to properly defend yourself. Walk up to the bridge holding the canister in your hand ready to go, if need be.

The big stick couldn't hurt, either. The dogs won't see the pepper spray in your hand, but they will see the stick.
posted by cgg at 2:26 PM on September 1, 2006

Get yourself a flashlight, whistle, cane/stick, if all else fails you can use dog/bear repellent. (I would strongly discourage you from using the last, it's basically ramped up pepper spray and you know, kinda cruel.)

Your best bet is working to get over your fears. Dogs react to that sort of thing and if you can convey confidence around them, they will probably leave you alone.
posted by quin at 2:30 PM on September 1, 2006

Absolutely no chance to try to befriend them? Make them your allies and protectors? What if you carried some sort of nice treats in your pockets, tried to approach them in the daylight, when other people are around?

What if you psyched yourself into saying "hey there, nice doggy!" in a friendly voice?

Sorry if this is impractical for your context, I personally have rarely failed to get a dog onto my team, given enough time.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:55 PM on September 1, 2006

Response by poster: A little more context: these dogs aren't really approachable by anyone. They don't hassle the locals, but no one pets them or lets their kids get too close. They're either lounging around alone or barking like mad at unfamiliar things.

There are all sorts of other animals around: chickens, frogs, rats, birds, etc. It's an urban village, basically.

I think mace/pepper spray would be either illegal here or at least difficult to find. I've also never carried a weapon for any purpose.

And when people say "work to get over my fears," i have to ask: how? Techniques, strategies, mantras I can mumble as I walk into the Valley of the Shadow of Death (sadly without Coolio by my side)?
posted by mdonley at 3:11 PM on September 1, 2006

I would think a big stick would help you look intimidating to a dog.
posted by konolia at 3:15 PM on September 1, 2006

When I was in the third world in roughly the same position, the approved method was "throw a rock at them", or for the squeamish, pretend to throw a rock. Enough people will have thrown rocks at them in their lives for them to recognise the gesture.

As for "how to overcome your fears" the approved method is "slowly". You don't start trying to overcome your fear of facing big scary barking dogs in the dark, all alone, you first spend time with a small friendly dog in a brightly lit room with reassuring people around you -- or even a toy dog. You start there, and when you're cool with that, you move up a notch. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:31 PM on September 1, 2006

posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:32 PM on September 1, 2006

I don't know if you have the time to do this, but the best way to get over a fear of dogs AND be confident in dealing with them is to spend a lot of time with dogs. Volunteering at an animal shelter (if they have such things where you live) would be ideal. Or maybe making friends with a neighbor's dog, with the neighbor there.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:35 PM on September 1, 2006

My husband is an avid cyclist, and is sometimes accosted by running, snarling, slobbering dogs when out on the trail. He uses a fog-horn on know the little hand-held kind that people like to use at games, parades and the like. That loud obnoxious noise is especially loathsome to sensitive dog ears, and he claims they always back down with just one honk. Plus, it seems more humane to me than the pepper spray option. However, I imagine that you could DIY your own pepper spray by soaking some dried red chilies in water and loading that stuff in a squirt bottle. Heck, maybe even just a squirt bottle with something unpleasant in it like vinegar might get the mongrels to cut a wide swath around you.
posted by omphale27 at 3:36 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No animal shelters here as far as I know. Good ideas so far - AmbroseChapel, I'm not afraid of nice dogs who I pretty much know aren't going to attack me. I can't pet or make friends with thse dogs though - they seem to not want to be around me, so are trying to shoo me away, I guess.
posted by mdonley at 3:40 PM on September 1, 2006

Response by poster: *these
posted by mdonley at 3:41 PM on September 1, 2006

I'm not really sure if handing out treats is the ideal solution in this situation; I doubt if you want to start attracting dogs to you.

I think the cure for this is going to be familiarity, both for you and for the neighbourhood dogs. Take every chance you can to work around your village with people who aren't afraid of the dogs, or in daylight by yourself, if you can manage that without getting panicky. Eventually, the dogs will get used to seeing you and they'll quit bothering you.
posted by timeistight at 3:42 PM on September 1, 2006

Just a guess, squirt bottle with some kind of chili sauce mixture... less intense than pepper spray but probably not to a dog...
posted by Deep Dish at 3:43 PM on September 1, 2006

posted by timeistight at 3:44 PM on September 1, 2006

How bout one of those little air horns? Dogs are much more sensitive to noise, and will move away from loud noises. If that's not plausible due to neighbors, simply telling them to leave in a strong commanding voice never hurts. You can learn to fake it even if you're terrified. Train yourself to relax. While safe at home, think of things that really terrify you, then train yourself to have the complete control that will allow your body to be relaxed even if you're terrified inside. Then practice doing the commanding voice thing in the mirror.

Personally, I'm not much afraid of dogs, but these sound like feral/wild dogs. I wouldn't try to befriend any sort of wild animal, especially those I'm scared of. I wouldn't attempt treats, as they could come to associate you with food, and be even more attracted to you. Get the big stick, try to keep moving, and if they approach too closely swing it at them while saying something in a commanding voice ("no", "bad", "go home", anything like that. They don't understand the words, but the tone.)

Try to behave as if you belong there, and they shouldn't even question it. Dogs are sensitive to this sort of thing. If you give off "This is my place", they'll think this is your place, for the most part. Any others just use the verbal commands. I'm sure that once they don't appear threatening to you your fear will ease down to prior levels. I suspect your new level of fear may well be because of the dogs not being domesticated. The fear of predators is built into us. (Well, ~most~ of us.)
posted by Meep! Eek! at 3:51 PM on September 1, 2006

It sounds a lot like you have a pretty deep fear of all dogs, not just the evil hellhounds that stalk your neighborhood. Spend some quality time with a friends smaller, cleaner dog. Get used to giving it commands in a clear authorative voice. Watch how it reacts to different postures, then use this knowledge when dealing with the scary outdoor dogs. One will definitely translate to the other.

You may seriously want to look into getting a whistle. The loud noise might scare the dog off, and if not and you really are in trouble, it might bring you aid.

Seriously though. Spend some time with the pooches and you'll come to discover that there is nothing to fear.
posted by quin at 3:51 PM on September 1, 2006

Damn. omphale27 beat me to it, with the little horns.

Nice to hear that someone else has had positive experience with using this form of deterrent, though.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 3:53 PM on September 1, 2006

I'm so sorry about your situation. IANAD (but a psych nursing student). You could look into cognitive therapy with a therapist or with books. You could also try different relaxation techniques to combat the stressors that trigger your anxiety when you're in this situation. Many people do a combination of both. I haven't read it myself but have heard good things about this Phobia Workbook. I don't know if it's specific to dog phobia, but might have some applicable information. Is there an english bookstore or library you can browse for similar books?

I wouldn't try to befriend these dogs. They are feral. I've spent a lot of time in rough rural areas of Southern Louisiana where homeless dogs can be quite scary. I'm a dog owner and I hate that feeling of the very real possibility of getting charged. A friend of mine was walking her rotweiler and was charged by a homeless gang of dogs. Her dog, tough in his own right, promptly got behind her legs. She's a tiny woman, barely 5'1. She says she doesn't know where it came from but she held both her arms up, planted her feet in a strong stance and hollered a very loud and long NOOOO at the group of dogs. The dogs all stopped in their tracks, startled. She says they then sort of looked at her for a moment, she hollered again, and they all turned and went on their way.

Having a plan of action helps me feel some power in fears like this. I think if I'm ever in that situation I'll try something similar: making myself look bigger, crazier, tougher, and meaner. Not running but finding some way to slower get out of the situation. If the dog is not charging me but barking, I'm not going to make any eye contact but keep their location in my peripheral. Educate yourself with what has worked for others and feral dogs. Especially in your community there.

Good luck with your situation.
posted by dog food sugar at 3:58 PM on September 1, 2006

Dogs are extremely attuned to human's body language. Tiny, imperceptible things, like hanging your torso forward instead of backward, walking hesitantly, holding your breath, widening of the eyes are all signals dogs actually get information from.
I think this is one of the reasons dogs really freak out when I have my motorcycle helmet on ( or any other hat )

So keep in mind the manner you comport yourself in has a pretty big effect on a scary dog that is sizing you up: are you projecting tension, fear, and uncertainty? Try mentally gussing yourself to feel confident - pretend you're an intrepid jungle explorer, with a necklace of fangs of crocodiles you've personally bested in combat or something, and would laugh at a little mangy mutt who thinks he's bigger than he is. Breathe easily and deeply and walk slowly but surely across. Think relaxed and confident thoughts, don't stare at the dog but keep them in your field of vision, and just pass by.

That's what I'd do, anyways. If you don't have confidence, fake it hard until you do.

Read Gladwell's article for more information.

Some relevant quotes:
The anthropologist Brian Hare has done experiments with dogs, for example, where he puts a piece of food under one of two cups, placed several feet apart. The dog knows that there is food to be had, but has no idea which of the cups holds the prize. Then Hare points at the right cup, taps on it, looks directly at it. What happens? The dog goes to the right cup virtually every time. Yet when Hare did the same experiment with chimpanzees—an animal that shares 98.6 per cent of our genes—the chimps couldn't get it right. A dog will look at you for help, and a chimp won't.

And especially this :
A dog cares, deeply, which way your body is leaning. Forward or backward? Forward can be seen as aggressive; backward—even a quarter of an inch—means nonthreatening. It means you've relinquished what ethologists call an "intention movement" to proceed forward. Cock your head, even slightly, to the side, and a dog is disarmed. Look at him straight on and he'll read it like a red flag. Standing straight, with your shoulders squared, rather than slumped, can mean the difference between whether your dog obeys a command or ignores it. Breathing even and deeply—rather than holding your breath—can mean the difference between defusing a tense situation and igniting it.
posted by spatula at 4:54 PM on September 1, 2006

Traveling abroad I've found dogs retreat if I bend down as if picking up a rock to throw -- it's a well-recognized gesture. If you have a rock to throw, so much the better. And carry a thick, solid stick, which you can wield comfortably (ie not too long, not too short ...)

Spatula et al. have it right that it will be your attitude and how you project it that counts. It may be hard to convince yourself that you're going to dominate the dog, but that's what you need to do, and a big stick might help you feel better able to do it.
posted by anadem at 5:12 PM on September 1, 2006

Perhaps take to walking with a bicycle - it's a portable metal wall that you can keep between you and a dog.

Plus, you can then ride the bike when in less steep, less dog infested areas.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:31 PM on September 1, 2006

I'd start from your house and work outward. You may not be able to walk around with a big stick all the time, but you can leave your house well armed (stick and maybe a couple rocks in a jacket pocket) with the intention of running the dog off. If you can confront it near your house (so you have an easy retreat), you may be able to psych yourself up enough to run the dog off. Think about it this way: what's the difference between a horror movie and a war movie? People are getting killed in both, but only the horror movie inspires terror. When you are trying to (unsucessfully) sneak past the dog to make it home you're in a horror movie. Time for you to be in one of those crappy hunting videos they show on the redneck cable channels. Go out, womping stick in hand with th idea that you are going to give that dog an ass whipping for chasing you.
posted by 445supermag at 6:21 PM on September 1, 2006

This is probably from left-field, but dogs hate citrus smells/chemicals. If you can't get pepper spray, I wonder whether a sprayer/squirtgun full of, say, pure lemon juice would scare them off. I know this only because a friend of mine bought an anti-bark collar for her dog -- every time the dog barked, the collar would squirt some citrus-y scent. It worked very well.

Also, I agree with the posters that suggest carrying a big stick or throwing rocks -- the dogs might recongize this visual cue as representing a human to be feared. Otherwise, as far as body language goes, I'd say to make sure to keep your shoulders from drooping -- you want to project an air of calm confidence, even if you don't feel it.
posted by treepour at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2006

If you learned how to better understand canine body language, it would help you in two ways: you would be able to realistically assess the threat level that each dog poses to you, and it would enable you to communicate your way out of truly dangerous situations.

Turid Rugaas and Roger Abrantes have both written books that will be helpful to you.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:37 PM on September 1, 2006

Response by poster: Insanely late follow-up:

This got resolved! I de-scary-dog-ified my walk home in a few ways:

1) Because of Ramadan a month or so after this post, there were way more people out at night in the neighborhood after breaking the fast, so it became a lot easier to head down the hill as I could walk with other people.

2) I talked to the neighborhood patrol guys and they said they'd keep an eye out for me as I walked down the hill, which they did obligingly.

3) The rainy season kicked in and the dogs high-tailed it elsewhere! Even though by the time I got home most nights the rain had stopped, the dogs had high-tailed it outta there off to somewhere drier.

All in all, I guess it was a matter of using the available resources to make the best of it. I also talked to my boss, who gave me more morning classes so I wasn't coming home at 11:30 anymore.

Now, I'm still afraid of lots of dogs I don't know, but everyone here really helped out and it doesn't seem as hopeless as before. Maybe no one will see this, but I really appreciate everyone's help!
posted by mdonley at 2:42 AM on June 7, 2007

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