I have written a few times in this column about my daughter Joan’s fear of dogs. I can’t quite pinpoint when it began but it is something that has been with her for as long as I can remember.
There have also been dozens of times we are walking about on a beach or in a park and a pretty innocent-looking dog comes up to greet us and Joan gets so noticeably agitated that the owners apologises so deeply I find myself getting embarrassed.
But I shouldn’t. It is a legitimate fear (all fears are) that thousands of people have. It is hard if you don’t fear a particular thing to put yourself in the shoes of someone who does. This meant too often I would get impatient with Joan which wasn’t helping either of us.
I did take her to two therapy sessions to help her get a hold of this and to try and equip her with the tools to overcome the fear herself. We even had a session with a gorgeous therapy dog which seemed to work but only for a short while afterwards.
The issue with Joan’s fear that made it so hard to address is it was s a very unpredictable fear. There are times when she is totally fine and goes over to pet dogs we cross paths within parks. Then there are times when she practically jumps out of her skin to get away from one. The tiniest dog in the world would have her climbing up me yet once she walked straight over and pet a Burmese Mountain dog!
Getting to this realisation helped a bit in talking to Joan about different types of dog body language and how most behaviours are not to be feared. But we still had a way to go in order to make it a non-issue for her.
One of our biggest setbacks came in the name Poppy, a Newfoundland Collie cross pup who my sister-in-law adopted almost two years ago.
In all of our eyes, we had added the most adorable, stunning, playful, energetic pup to the family. But in Joan’s eyes we added an obstacle. A large, excitable obstacle, Which meant for over a year visiting them it was difficult on everyone, including Poppy who had to stay outside while we all sat around inside.
No matter how much Joan saw me pet or play with Poppy or how much we reassured her the dog wasn’t going to hurt her, it didn’t work. We had the perfect storm of a very large dog who was also full of energy and very curious about the little girl who wouldn’t pet her.
But all of this changed last week. Restrictions had lifted we could finally meet family outside, including Poppy. Joan as usual was anxious that Poppy was going to be there and when we met we quickly asked Joan to just pet her and she did. Poppy was just excited to see everyone and wants to check everyone out and once you have greeted her she calms down. But because Joan never had before, Poppy basically wanted to win her over.
And this time she did. There was a total light switch moment for Joan and all day she walked Poppy, sat beside her, pet her, and even gave her a hug. The relief from all of us was palpable, Joan even turned to me at one stage and said “How was I ever afraid of her?”
I was so proud of Joan, she overcame what I hope was her last big obstacle. A gorgeous, sweet, cuddly obstacle, who just wanted to be Joan’s friend all along.