Getting over your fear of dogs
‘Ready to Love’: Why Darin letting his Labs run loose wasn’t a bad idea
On last night’s episode of OWN’s “Ready to Love” Season 2, Darin and Ashima were butting heads again over Darin’s dogs. And while Twitter is debating about why it’s not a good idea to let your dogs loose on someone who is afraid of these four-legged animals, I’m on the fence. I went from being a child who was completely uninterested and terrified of dogs to someone who pays her bills dogsitting and dogwalking. Talk about a 180-degree turn! But I also understand where Darin was right and wrong.
So what happened to pit viewers against each other in last night’s episode? Ashima, who had already expressed her fear of dogs, came to Darin’s home with the goal of meeting his ex-girlfriend. While several “Ready to Love” cast members were either interrogated by the exes (or vice versa), Ashima was more distracted by the two ginormous Black Labs who greeted her at the door to really be able to focus on Darin’s relationship reputation. And as a dog lover, I think Darin and Ashima could’ve handled this situation better. Here’s how.
What made me get over my fear of dogs?
When my mother decided she wanted a dog, she never asked her 9-year-old (me) about the idea. When we arrived at my godmother’s house, my goal was just to hang out with two of my godsisters. I was informed that my godmother’s Labrador Retriever had puppies, but that meant nothing to me. Then my mother came out with this golden and black dog in her arms. I ignored the dog, who had a chewed-up tail, and went back to chatting with my godmother and godsisters.
But I knew something was off the minute my mother’s facial expression went from excitement to sadness. The Labrador Retriever had been biting off the tail of that golden dog. Why? Because the dog looked totally different than all the other Black Lab puppies. The father was a German Shepherd who’d gone about his business, and the mother just wasn’t feeling the fact that this dog looked like the dad. So, she was basically trying to kill it. When we got ready to leave, my mother still had that dog in her arms and I was wondering when she was going to put that thing back in the yard where it was before. She got in the car with it, and I moved as far away from it as possible.
If you know the person you’re dating is a dog lover from the very beginning, don’t expect this person to magically not be into dogs later on.
No matter how many sob stories she told me about saving this golden dog’s life and showing me a half-eaten tail, I didn’t care. That dog needed to go to someone else’s home. Clearly, I lost that battle. She named the dog “Shep” — as in German Shepherd — to spite the mother of the dog. Shep ended up on our back porch. Meanwhile, my (sneaky) mother knew the days that I was assigned to wash dishes and clean the kitchen. As much as I tried to hide from the back porch — and refused to open the door to put things in the garbage can — she knew I eventually had to come to the kitchen to clean up. And every single time I did so, she’d conveniently open the back door and that little lemon-smelling golden dog with the chewed-up tail would come tip-tapping out. And it always wanted to be near me.
Give the person who is scared of dogs an opportunity to observe the dog(s) and see that they do not intend to harm her.
Initially, the joke was on my mother because I climbed onto the kitchen counter and washed dishes sideways. Of course I had to get down, and she knew I had to get down. And lemon-smelling Shep (my mother apparently liked that kind of dog shampoo) knew it, too. So I’d hop off the counter and Flo-Jo run to my room. I knew my mother was not going to stop opening that door every single time I cleaned the kitchen, so I went from being scared of Shep to tolerating the dog. And although I’m not sure what the timeframe was, at some point, I was opening the door myself.*
I understood where Ashima was coming from. If I couldn’t even deal with a puppy small enough to hold in two arms (who probably weighed less than 10 pounds), two full-grown Labrador Retrievers had to have been a pretty big deal. I’ve cleared 335 walks on Wag, and I still open the door very slowly when I interact with any new dog — whether it’s in a crate or running loose. You just never know what that dog will do, even if his/her owner swears this dog “won’t bite” or “loves people.”
Should dog owners date someone who doesn’t like dogs?
The only way to get more comfortable around a dog is to actually be around. While Shep spent the majority of his time in the basement and in the backyard, my parents’ second dog (a full-breed German Shepherd this time) Faith was more of a house dog. Still though, when guests came over, there was a 99 percent chance that Faith went to the basement or outside. So I get it. I understand why Ashima wanted the dogs to go in another room of his five-bedroom home. Still though, for someone who loves dogs and wants those dogs to be around, asking this person to put those dogs in another room makes about as much sense as someone asking a parent to put her crying baby somewhere else.
Again, I cringe at the term “fur baby” and do not say I have “children” when I’m referring to pets. But dogs (specifically puppies) and babies do have a lot in common when it comes to dependency and needing to be around other people. They’re pack animals like wolves. Putting them in closed-door rooms for long periods of time is simply not a good idea. There’s a reason junkyard dogs run off the minute they get away from the leash. Camaraderie is their thing. Do they need to be on the bed or other furniture, too? Absolutely not. For my full 22 years as a dog owner, I never had a dog sleep on my bed. But requiring someone who enjoys being around their dogs to put them up is never going to work out. That person will more than likely grow to dread your visits or end up cutting them short.
If you know the person you’re dating is a dog lover from the very beginning, don’t expect this person to magically not be into dogs later on. While one can get over a fear of dogs, the odds of them suddenly being uninterested in dogs after the fear is over are slim to none.
Meeting a middle ground on fear of dogs and dating
The one area where Darin went completely wrong was just letting the dogs barge to the door. For someone who is scared of dogs, you cannot just force dogs on them. Give them the opportunity to be around the dogs in small doses, similar to my counter dish-washing stunts. Give the person who is scared of dogs an opportunity to observe the dog(s) and see that they do not intend to harm her. That dog will also want to check this stranger out. Smelling someone new is a given. At some point, that dog will put his nose on the houseguest to sniff her out.
But the more the dog-fearing person and the dog are around each other, the less this particular dog (or dogs, in Darin’s case) becomes such a problem. It may take a few visits. It may take many visits. It can indeed work. But two extremes in which one person requests that the dogs always be confined will make the dog(s) affiliate the guest with having to be locked up. In turn, that person becomes an unwanted guest by default, and that dog will bark his head off whenever she comes around, for that reason alone. And the other extreme happens when one person is in full fear the entire visit, which is just unfair to that person. Take “puppy” steps — a little bit of dog time, a lot of people time. And eventually the dog and the dog-fearing person may grow to love each other.
* I had to stop writing this post because I started crying thinking about Shep. There is just something about a dog’s love that will never be forgotten, even 16 years later. I came back to write the rest about 30 minutes later.