By Priyasha Mohanty*
Sadly, not everyone is a dog lover. There is always a bunch that is scared of dogs. I was one of them until I warmed up to Aspen, my best friend’s dog, an adorable black Labrador.
I was one of those people who had pet parents lock their pets in a different room when I came for a visit. Visiting a pet owner’s house was nothing short of fright for me. This went on for years and this group of people is not always addressed. These are people who are afraid of dogs but also love them so dearly. They are caught up in that reflex action and general fear that needs to be overcome with love and patience.
Not everyone scared of dogs hates them. Actually, it is quite the other way around for most people. I witnessed Aspen grow up from a baby to an adult dog. I would pat him frequently and look at him in complete awe from a distance.
Once he was playing with my jacket. When he stopped, I gave it to him again, watching him take all the lint out of my favourite jacket but it made me so happy because I had a bonding moment with him. It was until much later that I started playing with him on a three-day sleepover at my best friend’s house. I don’t remember the exact moment when it happened but I allowed myself to relax for a bit and it just naturally clicked in. I made a friend I love so dearly who also happens to be a fellow Sagittarius. Now, I buy him presents and write him cards for his birthday. He will not understand it but it makes me really happy. This experience was followed by me making another dog friend, Simba, who made me feel at home. He passed away last year and for the time that he was here, I loved the dog so much and would spend hours at my friend’s place playing with him. He was the friendliest and the most well-mannered dog I have ever seen.
I also held two cats on my lap. I was even more scared of cats. It tends to work as a domino effect, and once you get out of that initial fright, it really does get better. Here are some of the things I have learned from that experience and I wish to pass it on to people who are in that uncomfortable place and let pet parents know that there are possible ways to deal with friends terrified of dogs. Here’s what you need to know:
I understand as a pet parent, you must feel sad and helpless since you want your friend to love your furry pet just as much as you do. In most cases, they do and it is best to respect their boundaries with this fear and not take it personally. They do not have anything against your dog, they have an overarching fear and it is on them to overcome them. Be patient and accommodating with them without compromising the needs of your furry animal. Some friends might warm up to them, which is incredible, some might not be able to do it and that is okay too.
I love dogs now and cannot imagine it to be any different. However, it does not go from zero to a solid 100. For some people it does, but for most people it does not work that way. Even for me, I take some time to warm up to the pets and once I do, I feel very comfortable. So as pet parents, remember to let them find their soft spot first and take their time with it. At the same time, it is completely okay if you cannot withhold your excitement as pet parents.
It might seem reasonable to put your friends in a situation where they have to face their fear. However, this might not be the best option and may aggravate their fear when faced with a situation like this. I can say that from personal experience, it is always on the individual to act on it and seeing it as a challenge does not help. It further reinforces the idea that it is a difficult “task”. I started playing with Aspen because I knew how much I loved his presence, not because I had to. This can happen by subtly encouraging your friend, showing them cues that your pet is absolutely harmless, and making them a part of the wholesome experiences from a distance. My friend Katha always made me feel like a part of the dog-loving group at her place, sending his pictures, and sharing his stories, and I was in wonderment with some of the moments that I witnessed. It always happens with love, not fear. Give it time. My friend made me believe I was his friend without me coming near him for the longest time. Funny enough, I used to be scared of the baby version of him and play around with the grown version.
To all those scared, it takes time and it is okay if you do not want to work this through. However, if you want to, there is always a possibility and you can get to the other side of it, dancing around with a furry friend. Break it down and take baby steps. It gets better. I have grown in admiration for Aspen over the years. I knew I found the coolest furry friend when he was sleeping on my lap, trying to wipe my tears when I was crying. He is the cutest dog with so much affection and love to offer to anyone he meets. He welcomes everyone with open arms, extremely high jumps, and a presence that makes you feel like home. To anyone who is scared of their friend’s pet, I hope you find your Aspen as well.
* Priyasha Mohanty is an Author, Poet, and a Storyteller through and through who has recently joined the dog fan club!