People will fear your dog so deal with it
How Musophobia made me respond differently to Cynophobia
Somebody is scared of your dog, and there’s nothing you should do about it besides keep the two separate. That’s a hard lesson I had to learn when it came to small dogs. When I walked my German Shepherd, whose head could touch my waist, I was ready for people to dart to the other side of the street. When I walked my wildly energetic Labrador Retriever, I knew people were going to tumble over themselves in confusion. But I just could not understand the fright over small dogs. I called them “bark bark dogs” for years and considered them pretty much toys.
But not everyone else considers these small dogs an unreasonable threat. Last week, I was walking a Maltese — a dog that usually weighs no more than 7 pounds and is around 9 inches tall. Of course I laughed when I walked in the owner’s entrance and saw the dog hoodie he was wearing: “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” For this dog, that message is 100 percent fitting. But it’s still on the back of a Maltese.
In humans, an unwarranted, persistent fear of a certain situation or object, known as specific phobia, can cause overwhelming distress and interfere with daily life. Common subtypes include fear of small animals, insects, flying, enclosed spaces, blood and needles.
— Scientific American
I usually walk near wherever there’s grass or dirt, especially with dogs who feel the need to mark their territory every 20 steps — and this Maltese (who I’ve walked so many times I lost count) is one of those dogs. A lady who had to at least be half a block down started darting back and forth to her left and then her right. I didn’t pay much attention to her until she darted to her left (my right) again and screamed, “Will you control your dog?” Initially I was confused and thought she was talking to someone else. He was no more than three feet away from me and sniffing grass — not barking, not jumping, not running, just sniffing and looking at trees.
I calmly asked her, “Are you going into the building right here?” and pointed directly to an entrance on my right side. She nodded. I made a motion with my arm for her to go. And she zigzagged again, complaining about tightening the leash on this Maltese— who still wasn’t paying attention to her nor even looking in her direction.
Finally I had enough and told her, “Why don’t you calm down? I always keep a tight leash when my dog walks past anyone. You were halfway down the street. Why would I hold the dog tight to me? Just go in the damn door. It’s not that serious.”
She huffed and blurted out, “Yes it is!” I rolled my eyes. Finally the Maltese looked up at us and chose to use this opportunity to maneuver his head through a gate in the opposite direction. After moving Mr. Nosy Head out of the gate, we walked on while she still stood outside of the door just gawking at us. By that time, I was pissed at this lady for making a scene. She’d temporarily ruined my peaceful walk around the park.
Acknowledging my own phobias
But when I got home, I looked at one of my bedroom closets and re-evaluated my reaction to this lady. Inside of that closet used to be cloth bags full of comforters, sheets, pillowcases and blankets. They were on my closet floor for about a year. And then one day I was in my bedroom, and a mouse ran underneath the closed door and into that closet. I screamed, jumped on my bed and sat in the middle of that bed for at least 24 hours until my father could come over.
A mouse is no more than 3.4 inches (if that), and house mice weigh no more than 0.68 oz. But there is nothing that will ruin my plans quite like finding out a mouse has gotten inside. During the few months I was an Uber and Lyft driver, I only worked the night shift less than a handful of times. But another mouse (one year before) made me grab my keys, a pair of shoes and run out of my door. I worked a night shift until no more requests came in and I was forced to go home. Even then, I went to Walmart — a store I cannot stand but was the only one that was open — to buy mouse poison, and I still didn’t go to sleep.
Understanding irrational fears
According to Scientific American, “In humans, an unwarranted, persistent fear of a certain situation or object, known as specific phobia, can cause overwhelming distress and interfere with daily life…Common subtypes include fear of small animals, insects, flying, enclosed spaces, blood and needles.”
I have stepped over a raccoon. I’ve walked next to a rat, even when it stopped at my back door entrance. I’ve walked past possums and just thought they were more ugly than scary. I’ve smashed many spiders with my bare hand. I’ve been within a few feet of at least four skunks who didn’t bother me nor did I bother them. I was a Girl Scout for five years and encountered pretty much all the wildlife one can imagine, including a wolf that was hiding in the trees. I don’t fear easily, but mice ruin my entire day. I can’t stand the thought of even looking at one long enough to post it on this page, so I won’t.
But there are many life-threatening incidents that don’t phase me at all. I’ve been in a handful of car accidents and still jumped in a rental the next day. I’ve been in fistfights and still went on about my week, even if I knew the person I fought was going to be in my vicinity again. I can’t count the number of times I’ve dealt with turbulence during a plane flight, but I still love the speed when a plane takes off. But a mouse has done absolutely nothing to me, and I would be perfectly fine if they were all wiped off the planet tomorrow.
By the time my father came over to look through and shake out all of my cloth bags full of comforters, it was clear that the mouse was nowhere around. But I punched every single comforter and bag just to make sure. I even stomped on them while I stood on my bed. I’m sure I looked like an idiot, but my father just curiously stared at me and withheld his laughter. You cannot make someone with an irrational fear suddenly make sense.
But I love all dog-related topics. Meanwhile Cynophobia (fear of dogs) is as much a phobia as Musophobia (fear of rodents). And I wish I’d have treated the woman who was darting back and forth the same way as my father treated me with the cloth comforter bags. Instead of shouting “It’s not that serious” and rolling my eyes at her zigzagging around the sidewalk, I wish I’d have taken a page from his book. I could’ve held the leash perfectly still and waited for her to reach the building door entrance.
While I certainly didn’t scream and yell when my father opened the closet door, I definitely would have if a mouse came scurrying underneath the door again. Instead I just stood completely up to full height on top of my bed and trembled when he opened the door. So I can only imagine what it’s like for that woman to walk in a neighborhood that is filled with dog owners. She can’t control people walking their dogs anymore than I can control mice trying to find food and shelter. But the least I can do is not argue with her about her irrational fear in the first place.