Scared stiff

American-Staffordshire-Terrier-2We were about to race from the edge of the woods back to the grandparents’ house when no.2 son paused to tie his shoe laces. A characteristic time wasting trick of a footballer, but unlike him to want to either delay a race or address his untied trainers without being instructed. He stayed crouched down until he could see a man with two dogs move out of sight to the left of some houses at the foot of the field we were going to run down. Unnerved by the dogs’ presence, even in the distance, no.2 son asked not to race.

We walked down the field, with his hand holding mine, until we reached the track that ran around the cluster of houses, with our destination at the end. We headed to the right and no.2 son sped ahead. Suddenly, from a gap between two properties the dogs reappeared and bounded, barking towards the boy. He squealed and froze, trapped for an instant by two large dogs against a hawthorn hedge. The owner called the dogs away leaving no.2 son unharmed, but shaken.

“I’m scared stiff,” he offered in unnecessary explanation.

No.2 son is the boldest, most physically forward of my children. In football, he’ll tackle adults many times his size. He relishes thrills at funfairs that his older brother shrinks from. He rough-houses with more vigour than his siblings. On our adventure holiday, he was the one stepping forward to try the new challenge.

But dogs are different. So total is his aversion to them that they influence his attitude to any trip from the house. Despite his size, strength and the number of balls that disappear over the fence, he only wants to play football in the garden. On the occasions that I have lured him to the park, he’s on edge. When he spots a dog, he veers away from it, stops playing and nags to go home. The initial source of this phobia is not clear; nor is the cure.

When we pass dogs in the park, or the street and he turns rigid with anxiety, I make a point of demonstrating that the dog’s not interested in him. Any chase or toothy attention is focused on a squirrel, its owner’s tennis ball, or another dog’s bottom. Over time, I have hoped that the sheer number of dogs that come close but ultimately ignore, and certainly don’t harm him, would erode the fear. But he’s not listening to me. He turns his head to keep an eye on the dog, making sure it doesn’t approach him from behind.  And my tactic was dealt a blow this summer.

His older brother was making his senior cricket debut and the two younger children and I turned up to catch some of this occasion. No.2 son and I were kicking a ball about on the boundary when there was the sound of a doggy altercation on the road behind the pavilion. A few minutes later, a bull terrier ran though the gate and onto the ground. It ran in a wide arc across the playing area and back towards the players and spectators in front of the pavilion. I helped catch it and bundle it out of the gate.

No.2 son had retreated to join the small crowd and was still there when the dog reappeared, pushing itself under the gate. Again it bothered the players before zooming in on the knot of people by the pavilion. No.2 son backed away from the speeding dog but somehow collided with it. For a second time I grabbed it by the collar and dragged it out of the gate. The dog wanted to stay, but wasn’t aggressive as I pulled it off the ground. An owner, had one been in sight, would probably have apologised: “He just wants to play.”

In front of the pavilion, no.2 son was being consoled. I explained to those concerned that I thought he was just shaken because of his fear of dogs. Inside the pavilion, the lad complained his knee hurt. There was no bite mark, not even a scratch or a bruise.

He limped about for the rest of the day and again the next. When a second full day went by without him even asking to play football, Mother in the Middle took him to the GP. The injury – a tendon strain – was relatively minor, but the incident has firmly cemented in his brain the conviction that dogs are out to harm him.

Postscript: when telling this story at a family gathering, I was told that a professional goalkeeper’s career had been ended when a stray dog ran onto the pitch, clattered into him and shattered his knee. Click here for the video of the incident.

I had viewed no.2 son’s experience as a freak – such extreme bad fortune that a dog running around the wide expanse of a cricket field should collide with the leg of the child with the most engrained fear of the animal. Perhaps, though, what is worthy of note is no.2 son’s good fortune not to have been more seriously injured.



Filed under young shoulders

29 responses to “Scared stiff

  1. I am so sorry that your No.2 son has this phobia, and that all your efforts to help him have been set back in such a way. I can offer no solutions, perhaps only ideas to help.
    Can your son say what exactly it is that he is afraid of? ie being knocked over, bitten, etc. if he is able to identify that, then you may be able to work on that. However, the reality is you may never and he may never be able to move on even a little bit. I do hope so, for his quality of life.

  2. You know the answer to this don’t you? Get a dog! My middle daughter was terrified of dogs, until we got our own and she realised that (on the whole) they are harmless creatures who just want to play. She loves dogs now! I know that’s an extreme measure but just a thought….

    • As a less extreme measure perhaps you could periodically visit some friends that have a particularly placid dog. Preferably an older dog with little interest in running around.

      • Suzanne – I get the logic. Mother in the Middle is allergic to pet hair so that rules out that solution. We’re very compatible as I’m also not a fan of dogs.
        Andrew – funnily enough, his best friend’s family have just acquired a puppy. He spent an hour with it yesterday and said it doesn’t scare him. It is very tiny and apparently won’t get much bigger, so is a good place to start.
        Thank you, both, for reading and your kindness in suggesting solutions.

  3. I can relate to this so much. Buba has never had an accident involving dogs but he is SCARED more than STIFF of dogs. to the point if one gets too close he pees his pants. I don’t know what to do to teach him they are just lovely playful dogs. I have no idea why he has become so frightened and has been his whole life since a baby. He screams if he sees one anywhere near him and living in a community where there are families walking their dogs allt he time it is frustrating and sad he is always trying to climb up on me at 3 years old to get away. i have no idea how to fix him especially cause he is allergic and can’t pet them. Makes it hard for me to say pet him he is nice. Glad your little one wasn’t more hurt, I have been at baseball games with dogs on the run. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

    • Jenny, that’s really tough. Buba’s allergy rules out the solution suggested by Andrew in the previous comment. One observation I would make is that aged 2-4, children are smaller than most dogs and it surprises me that more aren’t similarly scared. Perhaps as your son grows, they won’t seem such frightening beasts. There are a lot of things that frighten children aged 3, that they take no notice of when a little older and bigger.

      Thanks for sharing with me on #sharewithme.

      • I really hope you are right and it’s just a phase. It’s something that really upsets him so it upsets me and I wish I could make it easier for him especially while we are out and about. I hate seeing him panic.

  4. A close friend of mine had the same problem with their 3 year old son who was fine with dogs until one yawned next to him. After seeing a face full of teeth he was petrified for the next few years – until he started getting taller than the dogs and being introduced to puppies and small dogs in people’s homes where he was already feeling safe and comfortable. He’s 7 now and will quite happy tell you that “I used to be scared of dogs but now I’m OK!” #PoCoLo

  5. StephsTwoGirls

    I’m sure you’ve tried lots of reading matter but I posted something recently about anxiety that may be worth trying. Our eldest girl was very scared of all dogs and cats, despite loving them as a toddler, and we don’t know what started her fear either. However we since decided that we would try having our own cats to see if that helped, and our two kittens certainly seem to have done the trick 🙂 she’s still not keen on dogs but doesn’t have the same fear. Good luck with helping him #PoCoLo

  6. I’m sure it’s just a phase. He is still young after all. Hope he gets over this fear soon:) #FridayFamilyFun

  7. Aww bless him. He’s not alone in being scared stiff, it’s a fear shared by so many youngsters – and of course many adults too. Hopefully it’ll pass in time 🙂 Thanks for linking up to #MyKidSaid!

  8. I too get anxious around dogs, I think they’ll knock me over. If you think your son needs some help look up EMDR, my husband works in a children’s hospital & uses this. Let me know if you want any info x

  9. I hope you manage to find a way for him to become less scared of dogs in the future. As for the accident, I think you’d be hard pushed to find many incidents of such horrible injuries caused by a dog running into legs, not that that eases any fears, of course! Thanks for linking up again #FamilyFriday

  10. It’s a shame that your sons fear is impacting on his life. I’d suggest if having a dog is out of the question that you spend some time with some gentle dogs and gradually build it up to help assure him.

  11. Sorry that he has this fear. I get so anxious around unknown dogs, especially those not on a lead. But I was bitten by one, once, so I think it stems from there. #familyfriday

  12. Pingback: Little big boy, big little boy | Touchline Dad & Mother in the Middle

  13. I hope your son gets to spend a lot of time with his friends puppy and gives him courage to meet more dogs. I couldn’t imagine life without them.

  14. My daughter was rather nervous around strange dogs when she was little – even though we had a dog (who was rather old already when they were little) – but she’s grown to love dogs now as she’s spent more time with friends who have very lovely dogs.

  15. I think everyone else has given the advice I would have added and I wish you loads of luck getting him over his fear. I might just add that if you do take him to pet a super friendly dog that you know reassure him that you would never allow him knowingly put him into a situation that would put him in danger.
    Many thanks for adding this post to #AnimalTales and I do hope that at sometime soon I can read a “son cuddles dog” post.

  16. So sorry you have one who is scares, my eldest is too, he was knocked flat by an over friendly dog at the beach age 2 and has never liked them since. I hope you son overcomes his fears.

  17. The GL Gang say – We’re really sorry to hear that No.2 Son has this fear. Maybe you could check out from VetSTREET. This is a Q&Q dedicated to how children with huge dog phobias can be helped. We hope it helps – let us know how No.2 gets on and if we can ever help, we’d only be too happy to 🙂 #animaltales

  18. I nannied for a lady who was terrified of dogs, no matter their size or breed, or temperament. It’s hard, because dogs are about everywhere. We have been very lucky that my childminder and best friend both have very easy going dogs so my children are happy to be around them, but I have still taught them to not approach dogs they don’t know and to respect dogs boundaries. Popped over from Animal Tales!

  19. Pingback: Bold fearful boy | Touchline Dad & Mother in the Middle

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