A reader who has a fear for dogs after a bad childhood experience asks Dr Platzhund on how to overcome the distress; her children are begging for a puppy.
Q: I have a fear of dogs. It goes back to my early childhood when I was attacked in the street and badly bitten in my leg. Now as a mother, my kids are begging me for a dog, and I don’t know how to deal with their request, as I’m trying to overcome this deep long-standing fear.
A: I know people who’ve suffered the same post-traumatic syndrome, having had no counselling after a dog attack incident, and have overcome the cynophobia (an irrational fear of dogs) with the help of experts. I suggest you contact a reputable canine behaviourist and obedience instructor, preferably a member of the Animal Behaviour Consultants of South Africa (Animal-behaviour.org.za). The process will involve gradually exposing you to the presence of canine companions, starting with you being an observer in the presence of puppies in their kindergarten classes. They’ll run around at a non-threatening and comfortable distance from you. Once you feel comfortable with the dogs at a distance, the next stage will involve being in close proximity with the puppies, where you might get the opportunity to handle them. These young dogs will help build your confidence for the next stage where the dog trainer will bring you in contact with an obedient adult dog. Once you’re relaxed and free of obvious angst, you’ll walk the dog on a leash until you’re ready to do this among other dogs at the training session. The final part of the counter-conditioning is for you to train your own puppy. Sometimes, your original fear may remain in your distant subconscious. It’s normal to hide natural self-protection characteristics; however, keep working at overcoming your fear. Once you learn the benefits of a good dog, you’ll understand and appreciate a whole new life philosophy.