Why are you scared?

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(See, she’s harmless)

As the proud new owner of a puppy (she’s about a year, so technically still a puppy, but almost full grown) in New York City, I’ve become quite good at reading people and instantly identifying dog people and non-dog people. Dog people generally look down at her as we approach them with a smile or at least a happy expression. Some of them can’t help themselves from bending over and petting her as she jumps up and down with excitement. I am pleasantly surprised at just how many dog people there are and love running into them as I walk her. But as much as I’m surprised by the dog people, I’m even more surprised at how many non-dog people there are. The non-dog people are easy to spot. They notice her from a good distance, and usually fold their arms close to their chest, stare at her with a glaze of fear in their eyes, and make their way quickly to the very edge of the sidewalk as if they are skimming by a werewolf on a leash. Most of them just seem absolutely terrified to even be on the same block much less same chunk of sidewalk as her. I really have to wonder: Why? Why are they so afraid of her (and dogs in general)? Were they bitten in the past? Did their friend have a mean dog that would chase them as a kid? Were their parents afraid of dogs, and they learned from watching them? Why were they so afraid of this sweet, loving, absolutely harmless and friendly animal (referring to my dog)?

I’m fascinated with the human mind/body at work here. Obviously this fear is an individual thing because not everyone is afraid of dogs, and not everyone loves them, but what separates the two? What happened in the past to create a fearful non-dog person? Ok, perhaps they were bitten by one in their distant past, and there I could understand why they were afraid of THAT dog, but why all dogs? It makes me wonder about how our mind works. Perhaps in the process of analyzing and storing so much information, our brain takes an awful lot of shortcuts. It knows that at some point in the past being around a dog brought pain, and avoiding pain is generally a necessity for survival, so it quickly calculates that dogs = pain, and to stay away from them. But we all know that not ALL dogs are evil and mean, and therefore assuming they all will bring pain is false, so why then do some still avoid them at all costs? I think because it’s a wired pattern in the brain…dogs=pain, avoid at all costs. I am not afraid of dogs, but I am sure afraid of other things. Do I act the same towards those?

I have to wonder: What are some things I learned in the past that could bring pain, and now have almost an instinctual reaction to avoid? I believe one of my “dogs,” has to do with acceptance of others. I learned sometime ago that sticking out too much, going against the grain of others too much publicly could bring a lot of ridicule, and ridicule was painful. Looking back on my early years, I can recall quite a few instances in school where I stuck my neck out and was quickly brought down by those around me. That was my “dog bite,” incident and now I have a reaction whenever I feel I’m in a similar situation I pull my arms to my chest and rush to the edge of the sidewalk. Deep down I feel that most circumstances I expose my strongest thoughts and beliefs in are dangerous. I never really thought about it before because I didn’t have to. My body reacted for me, working quickly to secure me from the potentially dangerous situation. But that doesn’t serve me anymore. I’m not a 3rd grader trying to fit in with my peers, I’m just trying to be all me in this world…and I don’t care what everyone thinks. After all, I KNOW 97% of “dogs” won’t bite. It’s time to stop avoiding them.

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