Saturday, 5 December 2009

Who Let the Dogs Out?

I have an on-line acquaintance whose kindergarten aged daughter has a mordant fear of dogs. As her mother describes it, it is a phobic fear and the poor kidlet panics whenever she is in the presence of a dog. She is too young to have this intensity of fear addressed by a psychologist and therefore her mother cannot take her anywhere that the child might encounter dogs closely. No jaunts in the park, no trips to the market, no place where people might bring their pets. Of course, she will grow up and reach a cognitive level where this fear can be addressed, but in the meantime her mother has a lot of problems. She tried to take Miss M to see the Olympic torch run, but people had their dogs there and she had to leave. When the 'Leave Your Dog at Home' site went up, the mother was afraid that the little girl would not be able to tolerate going to the Santa Claus parade.

In my mind, dogs don't get a lot out of Santa Claus and it would not spoil a treat for them if they were left at home. Miss M, on the other hand, is at a perfect Santa Parade age.

When my husband was a little boy he was horribly afraid of dogs. He remembers walking home from somewhere with his sister and hiding behind her because of a dog. He clearly remembers the terror. When he was old enough, his parents got a puppy and he learned to overcome his fear. But even as an adult he still feels very uncomfortable around strange large dogs.

When my daughter was a toddler, she too began to evince fear of dogs. We got a puppy and she bonded with him enough that she now does not remember the fear. I remember the hassle, oh yes, I do. I had a two and a half year old toddler, a year old baby and a puppy and not enough arms to cope with all three of them at once. I clearly recall having the two kids in a pull sleigh that winter and the dog on a leash and hitting a patch of ice as I walked. Sleigh went one way, dog the other and I did a perfect cartoon rendition of feet going faster and faster and going no where. Thud! Not to mention the time the little ones let him escape one spring evening a few years later and he became a father. But all of the trouble and mess was worthwhile to prevent my little girl developing serious dog phobia.

I know that for some people, their dogs are their companions and support. That if you live alone, a pet is a lifeline. I have a daughter who has a dog that she has named 'Friend' in Shona. She takes her dog a lot of places with her and loves her very dearly. It would probably never occur to her that her shy, sweet-faced, mostly well-behaved pet could evoke terror in a child just by running into the same park with her. But I remember her sister's terror and I have seen the evidence of a similar long-ago terror in my husband.

There was a big hassle about dogs running loose in parks reported on the radio not long ago. And a pet owner was interviewed saying that it was inhumane not to allow dogs to run sometimes. That dogs need to run and play. And I think she was right. But there are a fair number of kids out there, like Miss M and my husband, for whom the dog's freedom creates terror. And that's not humane either.

There's no easy answer to this one, for me. Do we have enough parks to split them so that some are for dogs and some for children? Even children who love dogs should not be playing on ground that dogs have shit on, however carefully the owner scooped the poop. In Barcelona, Spain, they have dog runs set aside -- children are not forbidden, but the dogs come first. In all my exploration of the place I did not find one play area for children where dogs were forbidden and as I was minding my three year old granddaughter, I was most persistently looking for children's play areas. I was in a big shopping mall in France some years ago where dogs were allowed and left deposits on the sidewalks, unchallenged. I question the priority setting, I really do.

Both children and dogs can be pestiferous little monsters and people like me, accompanied by neither, can be heartily sick of both. My rule would be to keep a leash on the whole whining, blundering lot of them, frankly. Kids need company manners. And dogs do not belong at a Santa Claus parade.


  1. Since I have no fear of dogs, I have never thought about this. I do think that more communities are or will soon be setting aside room for bark parks. And you having two little ones and a pup is almost heroic.

  2. Let me say at the outset that I am not a "dog person." I don't dislike dogs, though. And I do recognize that bad behavior in dogs is usually the fault of the owner and not the dog. I am noticing, however, an increase in the "love me, love my dog" sentiment among dog owners.
    Of course, doting moms with strollers are a force all their own as well...!

  3. Both children and dogs can be pestiferous little monsters and people like me, accompanied by neither, can be heartily sick of both.

    You and me both.

  4. I don't buy that a kid who is terrified of dogs at the age of five can't be treated for the phobia. I think that if your kid is terrified of something that is commonly encountered, you have a better chance of getting the kid help than controlling the entire world. What if my kid were terrified of the colour orange? Should I demand that no one wear orange?

    This is a bit of a thing for me. I have, as you know, a very big, mellow dog. I used to take him to pick up the kids from school. He would be swarmed by other kids. There was one little girl, age 4, who was afraid of him and I saw her hide behind her mother, so I got Jasper to lie down and showed her, from a distance, that he was on a leash and couldn't get near her. Over time, she got braver and would ask me to have him lie down and get closer and closer. She touched his tail and worked her way up to actually requesting to touch his teeth! Kiss that fear good-bye. There was another girl who screamed and climbed her mother the first time she saw him, and was so distressed that I did offer to not bring him, but mom said that she had to learn to get over it and now was as good a time as any. She never got to the point of wanting to touch him, but calmly ignores him (and he her) now.

    It is all in the past, though, because the mother of a kid in kindergarten this year asked that dogs be banned from the school yard at pick-up because her kid is afraid. So all those dozens of kids who love Jasper and the ones who learned not to fear at least big, calm dogs, don't get to see him any more. And I'm sure the kid is still afraid of dogs. Lose/lose.

  5. I have to say that I am with 'justmakingitup' - I can empathisize with the parent that wants to protect their kid, but there are all sorts of scary things out there that the kid will eventually have to get over. And do we always have to organize our society to the lowest common denominator? I get the 'keep nuts out of school' campaign - kids are unsupervised when they eat their lunch. But a dog in the company of a responsible adult is a different kettle of fish. And kids are never too young to be exposed to different experiences, even those that are scary.

    But I do agree completely that kids, pets, adults - what have you - should be taught early to behave in company and in public, and this behaviour should be enforced. (And I am doing my best to train my puppy!)

  6. I'm not a dog fan but I'll put up with them if they are friendly enough. One of my sons though is very upset over unleashed dogs.

  7. I have seen kids on leashes :)

    I would agree--always room for manners to be improved

  8. Interesting food for thought, Mary.

    When we had a dog, I confess we never thought about how he might potentially scare people with phobias. Of course, we didn't really bring him places, either. It wouldn't have occurred to us to bring him to, say, a parade.

  9. Intriguing.

    I'm probably the person dog phobics hate. I have a big, friendly galloping Lab. We run the park during Dog Hours and I do truly appreciate Park Dog Hours. it tells me and other doggie lovers when to be there (and more fun for us with all the human and dog socializing) and others when to avoid. We even have a Dog Park nearby. Love that too.

    We enjoy taking our dog places, and have even identified a few doggie friendly restaurants (outdoor seating). He's a member of my family, not just a companion.

    That said, keeping our dog under command is our top priority.

    I'd never take him to a parade in a crowd (although he *has* been in a parade) (by invitation).

    I think the most important thing is to Use Our Words. Kindly. It's hard to call where one "right" trumps another, but in discussion we can usually find a solution.

    I think justmakingitup has a point.

    My dog used to be a therapy dog -- he worked with children in a daycare!