Firstly, let me be clear, this is not an attack on dog owners. I’m sure most are careful, considerate and nice. The people I’ve encountered seem nice and I’m sure nothing they have done is deliberate or intentional, merely a lack of awareness or understanding.
J is terrified of dogs. Not just a little bit afraid or unsure – extremely terrified. He can cope with them at a distance; on tv, on the opposite pavement and miles down the road. Any time they come even remotely close to him he starts flapping, tiptoe jumping, whining and trying to climb up people’s legs whilst also trying to run away or hide behind them. The terror is written all over his face and it’s very obvious that he’s scared. He has no reason to be scared. He has never been attacked by a dog or even growled at, but he’s scared nonetheless. This can be problematic when we go out for walks. If we go to the local park, loch, nature walk or even just round the streets near our home he can go into major meltdown if a dog gets too near.
Recently my boys were at the park with my mum for a walk. It was raining and they had been stuck in all day, so it was a welcome release. While they were walking round and watching the trains pass some people passed by with their dog. J got upset and clung to my mum. The people smiled, said the dog wouldn’t hurt him and called it back over. J resumed his walking/trainspotting until the next dog arrived. This time the dog ran over and then ran round him in circles. He wasn’t able to get to my mum straight away and this made the situation worse. The owners also didn’t take the dog away very quickly. They laughed, called the dog a few times, said that it was harmless and just trying to be friendly; but they didn’t get it away from him. He was whimpering, crying and jumping up and down at this point.
My mum went over and pulled him away and put him behind her. The dog attempted to follow and still the owners didn’t intervene. My mum glared at them and it seemed to send the message that what they were allowing to happen was not OK. Why it took a glare to communicate this I have no idea. Surely J’s distress should have been signal enough. It took him a long time to calm down and he whimpered/whined the rest of the way round the park. He was still quite upset when they hot home. This is also not the first time something like this has happened.
I’m not looking for, nor do I expect, dogs to be kept on a lead at all times. I know many people and children like dogs and would love them to run over for them to pet. Not everyone does though. What I am asking is for people to be aware, to show understanding and compassion. If you can see that someone is clearly very distressed by your dog running up to them, please don’t just laugh it off and allow your dog to keep running around them. Don’t assume they are overreacting and just need to get used to the dog being around them.
My son has no way to know that he can trust your dog, no way of understanding it’s intentions and no way of reasoning out that he’s not in danger. He just sees something he’s unsure of, invading his space and not retreating despite his protests. I’m sure if you were in his shoes for even one of these encounters, you would feel differently about allowing it to happen again. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to feel that extreme sense of terror and lack of ability to control the situation. I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate someone merely laughing it off, smiling or saying that the dog is friendly and won’t hurt you. I’m sure you would just want your ordeal to be over and to never have it happen again.
Please, next time you are out with a dog, consider that not everyone is as keen for the dog to play with them and greet them, the way you are. Not everyone experiences or processes encounters with dogs in the same way you do. So, I’m not asking you to keep your dog on the lead, but I am asking you to move it away and not to allow it to terrify my child in the vain hope that he will get used to it.