The story of how i conquered my fear of dogs

One of my friends asked me “how to get rid of the fear of dogs and is this fear inherited?”. She had read the article on fear I linked to in one of my recent FTOTW posts.

That question sent me scurrying into my own long term memory. As far back as I can remember I have been afraid of dogs and on May 21, 2004 I conquered my fear of dogs and I now I feel affection when I see dogs except for the most ferocious ones, of course.  How did this fear come about? Given that such  fears coded into the Amygdala are tough to get rid of, how did this transformation occur?

Fear getting Imprinted

As a child, especially in the community I hail from, I encountered  a general anti-dog rhetoric – people saying that you will lead a dog’s life if you do bad things, people treating stray dogs generally badly etc. Added to this, one of my friends had a Alsatian dog and it would bark fiercely whenever I visited his place. Everytime it would seem like it would bite me if my friend didn’t restrain it.  Eventhough, I had visited some friends who had friendlier dogs like Pomeranians, this fierce dog image got etched into my memory. To further reinforce this, one day one of my cousins got bitten badly by a dog and he had to be given the dreaded rabies injections on his stomach. At this point my fear of dogs was firmly in place, enough to make me stay as far away from dogs as possible.

The day I conquered my fear

Years later, on May 21, 1991, I was in Mumbai at a company guest house. The reason I remember that day is because Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated that day.  All kinds of rumors were floating and I heard that a Tamil had killed Rajiv Gandhi. All restaurants, shops were closed and the entire day I was trying to find food (no kitchen in the guest house) to no avail and it was late in the evening. .By now,  as a tamil, I was afraid that i may be targeted by rioters  –

In this background of fear, I was walking back to my guest house starving and my worst nightmare unfolded – a bunch of stray dogs started chasing me. I started running as fast as I could but  one of them was really fierce and it had caught up with me. It came so close to my ankle and it was about to bite and my heart was racing, fear was in full throttle. 

I don’t know what got into me, but I turned around and let out a full-throated (I have a loud voice) bark back at the dog. It was such a loud bark that I was myself surprised. It must have shocked the dog and it turned right back and ran away and all its compatriots followed suit. After that day I never felt the  fear of dogs except when I see some really scary ones. 

Fear turns into affection

Later I went to live in the USA in 1996 and spent 10 years there. I mostly encountered very friendly dogs. The general cultural rhetoric about dogs was one of fondness – friends would rave about their dogs, we would bump into them at our friends’s houses or in the neighborhood. Additionally, my wife, Priya Raju is a big animal lover and she would get very close to the dogs and pet them. The dogs would show their affection right back. Over that 10 year period, I slowly became a dog lover and I am now able to pet dogs when I get a chance. The transformation is complete.

What about you readers? Is any of you afraid of dogs? What did you do? From my experience I think its not hereditary but more likely learnt. What do you think?