Are You Afraid of Dogs?

For people who are afraid of dogs, the Dog Trainer has simple tips to avoid problems and read dog behavior so you can tell what a dog is likely to do. Remember, almost no dogs want to hurt you!

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #216
Girl scared of dog

Credit for this installment goes to the two anonymous passersby last week who stepped off the sidewalk, in visible terror,  to avoid my dog – who was minding his own business as it related to a nearby lamppost and who is frankly, friendlier to human beings than I am. (Check out his happy, relaxed mug at right).

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It can’t be much fun being afraid of common household pets. So this week, I have tips tips for people who are scared of dogs. I hope I can help you manage your fear and maybe even diminish it. This doesn’t mean you ever have to interact with dogs! But it’ll make life easier to know when you have to worry – and when you really, truly don’t.


You’ve probably had people say to you a thousand times, “Oh, he won’t hurt you,” or “He’s friendly.” Then the dog rushes at you or barks at you, which doesn’t seem so friendly. Or you hear stories of people being bitten by dogs who were wagging their tails. Episodes like this can easily make dogs seem unpredictable or treacherous. As hard as it is to remain rational when you’re anxious, try to remember that most dogs really, truly, have no intention of hurting you.

Dogs Are Predictable – Honest!

Actually, dogs are pretty darn predictable, as long as you know how to read their body language. The catch is, of course, that most people don’t. Take that tail-wagging thing. A few years ago, I did a whole episode on what dogs communicate with their tails, and I did that because so many people, even dog owners, think all tail wags are the same. They’re not! A dog signals friendly intention with low tail wags that may be soft and fairly slow, or fast. Often the dog’s butt will wiggle, too. But a dog whose tail wags stiffly and slowly, high above his back, is telling you he’s super tense and may bite if you come closer.

Because dogs communicate mostly through body language, they watch our body language carefully as well. I’ve noticed that many people who are afraid of dogs or just uncomfortable with them inadvertently send signals back to the dogs. Unfortunately, those inadvertent signals may confuse and even alarm dogs.

Here are 4 things worried people do that wreck dogs’ nerves, and what to do instead:


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).

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