I hate dogs.

Cynophobia: An abnormal and persistent fear of dogs.
Sufferers from cynophobia experience anxiety
even though they realize that most dogs pose no threat.
To avoid dogs, they may barricade yards
or refuse to travel except in an enclosed vehicle.

"Cynophobia" is derived from the Greek "kyon" (dog) and "phobos" (fear). 1

If people can be divided between those who like dogs, and those who like cats, I am definitely a cat person. My family has a cat – variously known as "buttons" (my mother's choice), "hellspawn" (my brother's) or simply "the cat" (myself, and my mother's husband – unusually agreeing on something). He is not particularly friendly, not particularly bright; after we had a pond dug, he fell in it three times, then stood on the edge looking at the water as if the ground had somehow betrayed him. He is also quite lazy and can be quite greedy. Nevertheless, he can also be extremely affectionate; he seems to understand when we are ill or stressed... I could bore you for hours with stories about him. But my fondness for felines is not what this writeup is about. This writeup is about dogs.

A 1992 research of fear of dogs among children and adults reported
that actual dog attacks do not make any difference for a person to be fearful of dogs.
On the other hand, early harmless exposure to dogs
seems to hamper the conditioning which can lead to cynophobia.

I have, as far as I remember, always been slightly afraid of dogs. My immediate family never had one, and I have never actually been bitten, so I suspect my fear is derived from my grandfather's dog Pola. She was a beautiful and loyal Alsatian, as familiar around the fishing town he lived in as my grandfather himself was – very few of the fishermen on the quayside and the old soldiers in the British Legion did not know him, he was one of those people, and, until she died, when I was about five, he was almost always accompanied by Pola. Nevertheless, lovely though she was, as a toddler, I was scared of Pola. I distinctly remember her admitting a low growl once when I came downstairs for a glass of water. This may seem timid, but do not forget, she was considerably larger than I was then. She never harmed me, nor as far as I am aware was any more than slightly wary around me as an unfamiliar visitor. Nevertheless, she left me with a lingering fear of dogs.

A boisterous dog of adequate size can knock down a person and possibly cause
serious injury despite there being no malicious intent on the part of the animal.
A single large dog, or a group of medium-sized dogs,
is capable of seriously injuring or killing an adult human.

A fear of dogs is no reason to hate them though. I have been scared by a lot of things, but never actually come to hate them. What causes me to hate them, for the most part, is not the dogs themselves, but the attitudes of their owners. This may seem unfair, but I know some dog owners who are otherwise charming people, and hating them would be extremely difficult.

For example, next door to my mother's house live a family who keep a pair of large and energetic boxers. They are not, presumably, dangerous (though there is a "beware of the dog" sign on the gate). Quite often the neighbours take them for walks on a large grassy hill behind the houses. At the end of these walks, the dogs come bounding enthusiastically down the hill. If anyone happens to be nearby they will run up to the person and leap at them – according the owner – playfully, wanting to wrestle as they do with the older children of their household. As you will understand, to me, this is absolutely terrifying. My pulse quickens, I break out in a cold sweat and it is all I can do not to scream like a six year old girl. Irrational – probably – but not something I can help. The owner is usually ambling slowly down the hill some hundreds of yards away. So I'm stranded, unable to move for two barking, jumping dogs. All I can do is try and bear it until the owner calls them off and informs me reproachfully that they are only playing – as if somehow I have done something wrong.

This attitude of dog-owners strikes me as deeply unsympathetic, and borders on irresponsible. Just because "Fluffy," "Jasper" "Butch" or "Spike" is their little baby and has never ever bitten anyone, it does not mean that I am not going to be nervous around him. The mere fact that "Molly," "Tracy," "Cuddles," or "Lucretia" is "only playing" when she jumps up at me and barks in my face, does not mean I am not going to be fighting the urge to run like hell. The words "his bark is worse than his bite" fill me with hate – I am already bloody scared of his bite and you're telling me his bark is worse?! It is not so bad of course if I know the dog; I am still anxious, but at least I can rationally tell myself I have nothing to fear. If the dog is one I have never seen before, especially if I am somewhere enclosed such as the canal path on my route to work, it can be absolutely horrible. My feelings are then compounded by a slightly embarrassed, but unsympathetic owner who despite apparently knowing their dog jumps up at people (how else could they be so certain it is unthreatening behaviour?), does not keep it on a leash.

Police have warned of a growing street culture of owning dangerous dogs
and their increasing use as weapons in crime.

I could still, just about, merely dislike dogs. Perhaps with a degree of intensity usually only reserved for FOX News, Monday mornings, stab wounds, and anything else that might slightly worsen my day. The reason for this is that ultimately, dogs are usually pets, and psychotic killer beasts are not usually considered to be ideal animals to have around the house. But times change...

A new phenomenon has emerged however in which thugs, muggers,, and other such ASBO'd types have begun buying dangerously violent dogs and training them to respond to commands such as "kill". I can imagine few things as terrifying as a snarling dog that will, on the command of its owner, seriously injure me unless I give up my property – something that in the circumstances I would readily do, presumably funding yet more of these dogs. Even more worrying is the fact that since "gangsta" types have started using them for petty theft, dangerous dogs have acquired status as this year's coolest fashion accessory! Not only that, but I know from somewhat painful experience that these are the sort of people who would be most unsympathetic if their dog attacked me, in fact they would probably be amused. It is this knowledge, ultimately, that causes me to hate dogs.

I cannot even find solace in the canines controlled by the right side of the law. Even customs sniffer-dogs at airports make me nervous (something which the officers may well notice, and believing I may be nervous because I am carrying some contraband, bring the dogs closer). I know the dogs are only performing a function, and quite an important one at that, but they still worry me in a way I can barely describe. It is not even as if those in charge of working dogs are always responsible. If I was ever put in the position of some of the poor inmates of Abu Ghraib, who were psychologically tortured by soldiers with barking snarling dogs, straining on their leashes, I am convinced I would be unable to cope. Of course in that situation, intimidation and fear was the intention.

Michelle Beattie of the Blue Cross Animal Hospital said that the most vicious small dogs
- cocker spaniels, chihuahuas and yorkshire terriers -
bite because they are poorly trained.
She said the main problem is that people who choose a small dog over a big one
often do so because they see such ownership as less responsibility.

Even when the dog is safe, I will still be scared. Yes, this does include small harmless-looking dogs. How exactly my subconscious mind manages to forge the link between Spike the Pit-bull and Fluffy the Pekingese, I have no idea, but it has. Certain celebrities have not helped me here. For some unknown reason they have popularised the idea that it is acceptable, even cute, to carry around a small yapping dog in a handbag. These people have almost never trained their "little hunny-bunny" to do anything more than leave their presence when defecating, and are universally critical of anyone who is filled with anything other than sparkly pink love for the creature. They even take their high-pitched pets on trains with them! It is quite possible I hate these people more than I hate dogs.

If a person has already developed a cynophobia,
this may be treated by various methods common for many specific phobias

Perhaps I am being over dramatic. There are some dogs I get on fine with. They tend to be dogs owned by people I trust, or dogs that know me well enough to know that jumping up at me is a bad idea. I am not so bad a cynophobe that I cannot be in the same room as a dog, and it does not put me off going to other people's houses or anything like that. Nevertheless, unknown dogs met randomly in the street, or enthusiastic hounds that jump up at me should I near them, any dog that growls at me, any dog that bares its teeth, large or small... I really hate them.

HateQuest 2007


1 http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12201
3http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_attack 4http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6350127.stm
6Wikipedia op. cit. n.2

Cynophobia, the fear of dogs, is as crippling as any other phobia. I am not subject to the phobia as I have been around dogs all my life, but members of my family experience the fear.

I became aware of this when I was dating my current wife. We started a relationship in the winter of 1990, going about discovering each others foibles and characteristics. We didn't discuss dogs, being busy discussing almost everything else. My romantic interest had 2 children from a previous marriage, both girls, aged 6 and 1. I don't remember when it was or what breed of dog was involved, all I remember was how the eldest child turned to stone in the presence of a dog that had decided to come around and check us out. When I encounter dogs I usually have no expectations one way or the other so don't transmit the fear vibe that they can sense. I could see my future wife tense up also. That paled into insignificance compared to the reaction of the baby. She screamed bloody murder as if she expected to be devoured there on the spot. I was stunned, totally unprepared for this display of raw terror. I'm sure I mumbled useless platitudes, said things which made no sense whatever to these people who were lost in their own personal terrorland. I held my hand down to the dog, let him have my scent as a means of becoming acquainted, then rubbed him on the head, showing them he was ok, a new friend. We disengaged from him and went on our merry way, having expressed ourselves.

I started to explore the reasons for the fear shown by my companions. I came to the conclusion that they had become infected with this fear by exposure. Not exposure to some ravening beast in their past, oh no, but by exposure to the fear of my lady's parents to dogs. Her parents weren't dog people, having never owned any dogs. Her father displayed distrust and fear around dogs and his wife reflected the same attitude. My lady had simply absorbed their attitude about dogs the same as she had learned to love garden tomatoes from them. Her kids had simply continued the family tradition. The eldest girl wouldn't go off the deep end around dogs but she wasn't comfortable either. She and dogs weren't sympatico. My lady had the same reaction, one of distrust and simply not wanting to have to deal with the four-footed being. The youngest was the one in whom all the fear had achieved its greatest expression. She would simply lock up and scream, unable to move except to visibly quake as she was exposed to a dog. I would always demonstrate that the dog was ok, wasn't going to hurt anyone by letting the dog contact me, sniff me, get familiar with me. I knew better than to force her (or the others) into unwanted physical contact with a dog. My parents had 2 dogs, which of course my new gang were exposed to when we'd visit. All this to say that while I wasn't thrilled by their reactions I could certainly understand and it wasn't a big deal to me. I was interested in helping them overcome their fear, but it wasn't a mission to me. Best let sleeping dogs lie, right? All this worked fine until we eventually married and behold, she was found with child. Things have their own pace, their own flow, their own way of getting from point A to point B. My son was born in the spring of 1992 and as he grew I could see the seeds of cynophobia being sown. I was determined to short curcuit it if at all possible. I started dropping hints to my wife that every boy needed a dog, that there were lessons to be learned by having a pet, etc. I operate on the principle that if you drop enough seeds one eventually will take root.

I was working for a company as a truckdriver when my son turned age 4. One of the dispatchers had quit, had met someone on the internet and decided to go off into a cyber sunset with her new flame. That left her husband (also a truckdriver) to deal with their 2 dogs. He couldn't care for them as he was gone all week and it simply wasn't in the cards to have 2 dogs in the truck with him. One was a very pretty black medium size dog with a front leg missing, victim of an accident. The other was a tan hound/golden retriever mix named China. I know an opportunity when I'm hit over the head with it.

My son and I went to pick up China (the tan mix) on a cold March Saturday morning. She was young, full of energy and determined to burn some of it. She wiggled and romped my son all the way home. When we got there, we went into the back yard to play with her. She promptly started circling us, got up a head of steam and bowled him over. She didn't knock this 4 year old down, she pancaked him. He looked like a rug she knocked him so flat. I wondered at my wisdom when I saw him shaking. Turns out the kid was laughing so hard he couldn't make the volume controls of his voice work. He loved it and he loved her. That started my family's rehabilitation from cynophobia.

China had been badly abused. She was fine until you raised your voice, at which point she hit the deck, cowering in her own terror. She would do the same if you picked up a broom. That dog had been beaten badly, had the spirit crushed in her by some cruel former owner. Everyone has their fear to deal with. We helped her and she helped us. My wife made friends with her, and then the oldest girl. It took some time to accomplish, baby steps toward familiarity. The youngest girl was the slowest, having been in the deepest fear before we got China. She too eventually warmed to that tan mixed breed dog, a Heinz 57 mutt with a loving heart. In showing that dog that her fear of being abused again was a groundless one, the kids and my wife also learned that fears aren't always rational.

Fast forward
That was 11 years ago. China is old now and almost all the bounce has left her gait. When its cold out and I worry about her arthritic old joints and how she's going to survive she surprises me by being almost frisky again. Her beautiful brown eyes are still bright and she gives me that doggy grin when I come in from the road, always glad to renew our friendship. That simple old dog has innoculated my entire family with a vaccine of love. She has won over my inlaws too. We live about a quarter mile from my wife's parents and China will walk over to their place, slowly padding her way along. When she gets there my father-in-law usually has a hot dog to give her. He buys her packs of hot dogs on their weekly grocery run.

Rewind 35 years
It reminds me of when I was a kid. My uncle Richard was a confirmed alcoholic but he didn't have a mean bone in his body. We always called him 'RB', (his initials), and Uncle RB knew a few things about kids and dogs. When I was born it wasn't too long until he came up with the notion that every boy needs a dog, so he gave one to me. He was a collie/hound mix named Brownie. I remember hearing the stories told of when I was trying to learn to walk, of how I'd grab a handful of Brownie's hair and pull myself aloft to stand beside him. That old tan dog never gave a growl, letting himself be used to teach a poor hillbilly kid how to stand on his own. The wheels keep turning in this old life, wheels within wheels, like Ezekiel's chariot.

In my teen years I read a lot of books, mainly science fiction. One of the things I read was Frank Herbert's classic novel Dune. One of the characters within the novel was the Lady Jessica, mother of Paul Atreides. She was a member of a political/social/religious sect known as the Bene Gesserit. One of the teachings of the sect goes like this:

I will not fear
fear is the mind-killer,
fear is the little death
that brings total Oblivion
I will permit my fear to pass
over me and through me
And where it has gone
I will turn the inner eye
Nothing will be there
Only I will remain.

For me that was an eye opening concept, that the fear itself is the enemy, and realizing that fact is the beginning of freedom from it. Fear is dangerous in that it paralyzes the one experiencing it. It makes us ineffectual, unable to act, makes us victims of our own selves. I spent 2 years in the law enforcement profession as a uniformed officer. Part of that experience is learning to deal with fear. Fear of being killed,of being removed forcibly from life, of being seriously messed up by some unknown miscreant. Anyone who tells you that they don't have fear in that environment is either a fool or a damned liar. Fear is a fact whether it is a rational fear or an irrational one. I learned that bravery is not the absence of fear but rather the continuing on with the mission in spite of the fear. Overcoming fear is an exercise of the will. It doesn't make the fear totally disappear but simply removes it from command.
I hate fear.

Quote from Dune by Frank Herbert obtained from:

I used to be absolutely terrified of dogs. Not just nervous, petrified. Far from breaking into a cold sweat and wishing I could squeal like a girl and run away, I habitually did squeal like a girl and run away, much to the amusement of unsympathetic bystanders and the mortification of friends behind whom I would leap in an eat-them-not-me kind of maneuvre. Walking down a suburban street and hearing a dog bark from some unseen backyard, I would tense up and hurry away, with the back of my neck on fire and the backs of my calves tingling in anticipation of a set of snarling canines clamping on to the fleshy bits just under my sweating knees. Going to visit friends who owned dogs was an absolute no-no - even my aunt and uncle's delightfully well behaved, gentle and eldelry bitch had to be locked away in a bedroom before I would consent to come through the front door.

I hated dog people with the passion of a hundred burning suns. Their smug assurances that the dog is more scared of me than I am of it, their condescending attempts to teach me that they can smell fear, their sickening delusion that their best friend can understand every word that they're mouthing to it, their very arrogance in thinking that they can "own" another living being - I loathed it all. I developed quite a line in scathing remarks about how if God had wanted dogs to live in houses he'd have tought them to lay brick, and how people who claim to have deep emotional relationships with their dogs were sociopaths who cannot sustain a meaningful relationship with a partner that talks back.

And then what did you think I did? I went and married a farm boy. Not just any farm boy, but one whose family were dog breeders. One, in fact, whose very internet handle was, and is, you guessed it, Dog. How stupid was I, eh? Let me tell you, my flat refusal to work on any kind of coexistance with the community's large canine sub-clan did not go down well, and did not endear me to some future in-laws who were already dead set against me because I didn't ride horses, owned not a single pair of wellies and wasn't happy spending Christmas in a house with no central (or other) heating.

In hubby's credit, he put no pressure on me whatsoever, and was always very respectful of my need to be kept safe from bouncing, licking and barking. His mother and sister, however, and especially the former, totally took it as a personal insult that I wasn't prepared to coo over their ridiculous dogs, and were always lecturing me about how dog people are better than any other people, and dogs in general are just better, period. I wanted to strangle them, especially since the stupid things were always getting me into trouble. Either I would sit in their chair, or eat their buscuits, or want something at a time that was sacred to their walking... It never ended, and while with time and familiarity my visceral fear began to abate, my distrust and dislike of dogs in general only continued to grow.

Then the worst thing that could have happened, did. Stranded between jobs and houses, we had to move in to the farm for a period of at least some weeks, and I was going to have to share my living space with a dog full time, plus another, working dog in the yard. I was disheartened to say the least - bad as forced cohabitation with one's relatives can be, the presence of a toothy little monster who has exclusive rights to the ginger biscuits was going to make it all the more hellish; the fact that Rich and his sister were always at loggerheads about the best way to discipline the dogs in the first place was just icing on the cake of misery.

In an unprecendented departure from my lifelong adherence to self-pity as the solution to any problem, I decided to tackle that one head on. I asked for advice from Rich on which commands to use on the dog and how, and he gave me the best explanation of the dynamics of dog ownership I have ever heard: as far as the dog is concerned, the family is its pack. My job was to continually show it that it was lower in the pack hierarchy than I was. So all I had to do to get the dog to behave itself around me was be a bitch to it. Brilliant!

Well, it kind of started that way, but it didn't go on for long. The ridiculous, squat, silly, smelly and harebrained creature fell in love with me. She - for she quickly became a "she" to me - learned that I didn't like to be licked, and never ever licked me. She knew that I wasn't to be messed with - a "down!" or a "box!" from me meant business, and she was never tempted to try me by taking the piss. She figured out my moods, and learned to put her paws around my neck when I squatted sadly by her side and give me a proper hug. She was still a daft, spoiled, badly behaved brat who went and got herself run over to death a year later, but by then I loved her and there was no going back.

The second most important thing I learnt that summer, on top of the pack thing, is that dogs have personalities - and this I learned directly from Molly. Of course they're not as subtly developed, as complex or as emotionally developed as human personalities, but they do have them, and they also have moods, and body language. Once you learn to read doggy body language, it's much harder to be afraid, because now when you see a dog running towards you, you can't separate its wagging tail from its barking - in much the same way that if it were a person running towards you and smiling, you wouldn't be scared no matter how loudly they shouted at the same time.

By degrees, I became less frightened of other neighbourhood dogs, and then of strange dogs in general. I'm still not at the point of sticking my hands right in the mouth of any approaching Rottweiler like Rich does, but after some cautious posturing and sniffing on both sides, I'm usually more than comfortable making friends with even the biggest dogs. And what that's done is dull my fear - though not obliterated it - of a dog who's barking at me in earnest, to the point where I can just walk away from it, dignity intact.

Rich's philosophy is very much along the lines of "a house is not a home without a dog in it", and we are now planning to get a dog, as soon as we have a house and garden big enough for it to be comfortable. But even without this big development, it would have been worth it to get rid of my cynophobia, because everyday things like walks in the park or trips to the countryside have become much less stressful, and now offer the occasional joys of a really cute puppy to play with. So if you suffer from this stressful condition, by all means seek out a responsible dog owner you can trust, and enlist their help in at least easing it.

This article from Slate magazine offers an evolutionary analysis of the whole dog owning thang, if you're interested.

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