Running Scared . . . . of Dogs

Photo from article: Things People Afraid of Dogs Can Relate To

I'm afraid of dogs. I know, it's not cool to be afraid of dogs, but I can't help it. I have been afraid of them since my first encounter with a dog when I was quite young. Regularly I am told that I need to "just get over it." Or, "If you spent time with my dog, that would change." But mostly, people just get really upset with me because I don't react positively towards their dog. I do my best to hide my fear, but sometimes it's impossible. As you may surmise, being a runner who is afraid of dogs definitely presents regular challenges. I frequently encounter dogs along my runs, sometimes without incident, while other times I am left shaking with fear. Since it seems very few people understand how it is possible to be afraid of a dog, let me explain to you how it feels.

Imagine you are out for a run by yourself. You haven’t seen anyone else out on the running path for quite awhile, when suddenly out of nowhere a man comes running straight at you. You panic, realizing that you have no where to go and no one else is around to hear you yell for help. You stand there frozen and helpless as this man comes at you. He is smiling and shouting words that you can’t understand. Suddenly he begins hugging you while still speaking in a foreign language. You are fully freaked out by this time and telling this man to stop and pushing him away is not working. While you are in the midst of a panic-stricken struggle to get away from this man, his friend meanders up to you laughing and telling you, “Johnny is friendly. He would never hurt anyone.” Despite the fact that the friend should be able to tell that you are freaking out, he does nothing to help. When you are finally able to convince him that you need his help, he takes his time and half-heartedly tells Johnny to leave you alone. After what seems like hours, Johnny’s friend finally decides that he will peel Johnny off of you. As you continues to laugh at you, he repeatedly tells you that Johnny just loves other people and he would never hurt you. Despite those assurances, you are left shaking with adrenaline pumping through you when Johnny and friend finally leave.

That is how I feel when approached by a dog while I’m out running. I don’t know anything about the dog, and I truly cannot tell if the dog approaching me is friendly or not. But, my first instinct is always one of fear and self-preservation. I assume the worst. While the owner sees their dog as friendly, I do not. A dog coming at me immediately evokes fear. I have no idea what might happen. What I do know is that dogs do not listen to me. I have tried to follow the example of my friends who are great with dogs, but I have yet to be effective. Therefore, I feel out of control and powerless. I have had incidents that have left me almost in tears while the owner of the dog is mad at me for not being friendly to their dog. My experience with dogs and their owners over the years has gotten worse. Dog owners used to feel badly if they noticed I was afraid. Now, more and more, I find that the dog owners are angry at me or extremely offended that I do not appear to like their dog. Often dog owners laugh at me for being fearful of their dog. The reaction of dog owners to my fear has actually increased my level of fear, as I realize that there are dog owners out there that may not help me out if their dog attacks me in friendliness or otherwise. Because of this, I am sharing my fear. I know I am not the only one out there with cynophobia – the fear of dogs.

Dog lovers, please understand that there are those of us who are afraid of dogs regardless of how friendly they are. Here’s how you can help us out.

  • Keep your dog on a leash when out walking or running in designated leash areas. When I see that a dog is on a leash and the owner is attentive, I am not afraid.
  • If you notice that your dog is approaching someone who doesn’t appear to be interested in your dog, call your dog to you immediately.
  • If someone asks you to call your dog or tells you they are afraid of dogs, telling them your dog is friendly does not help. Call your dog to you and leash them until the scared individual is gone.
  • Don’t be angry at someone who doesn’t want to pet your dog or doesn’t want your dog touching them. It is not personal. People who are afraid of dogs do not know the difference between your dog and any other dog. All dogs are the same to someone like me.
  • Don’t try to fix someone with a fear of dogs. Your dog is not the key to unlocking their fears.
  • When running or walking with dogs put your body between an approaching person and your dog, those of us who are afraid will feel much more at ease.

Remember it’s not about you or your dog. It’s about a phobia. Fear can be irrational at times, but that doesn’t make it any less real.


About Annette Vaughan (493 Articles)
Annette Vaughan is a runner and personal trainer in Canby, Oregon. She began running at the age of 30 and became hooked after her first race (even though she is a self-proclaimed slow runner.) She enjoys small local races from 5Ks to half-marathons, with a 30K on the books as her longest run ever. She has also become a huge fan of obstacle course races and just can't get enough of them. Annette is a certified personal trainer, who believes in promoting movement since our bodies were designed to move. The more we move, the better we move and function in everyday life.

2 Comments on Running Scared . . . . of Dogs

  1. exactly. My answer to those who yell “My dog is friendly” as it runs to me barking is, “I am not” that usually takes them by surprise.

  2. I am also afraid of dogs, even though we have a dog, someone else’s dog causes me anxiety! You at least go out running! It is this fear that keeps me on a treadmill! You are understood and heard! Thank you!

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