a relativeís 4-year-old son, Evan, came to a family
party at Susan Willettís home in Bridgewater, N.J., he
was too afraid of her three dogs to leave his mother.
Still, he was intrigued with Willettís terrier,
Tucker, and the dogís insatiable appetite for
Willett asked the boy to throw Tuckerís ball. Tucker
waited obediently, away from the boy, until he threw it
again. And again.
the end of the picnic, Tucker was tired and (the boy)
was no longer afraid," Willett said.
helped the child overcome his fear by putting him in
charge of the game, said Pia Salk, a psychologist in
Irvington, N.Y., and a spokeswoman for Adopt-a-Pet.com.
"People are afraid when they donít feel in
is hardly alone. A great many people of all ages are
afraid of dogs and cats, and itís a hard fear to
avoid. The percentage of households with at least one
pet (usually a cat or dog) rose to 62.4 percent in 2011
(the last year tallied), reports the American Veterinary
creates logistical problems for the pet-wary as well as
pet owners who love their pooch or kitty. Salk and other
experts as well as pet owners offered some advice on
handling the situation:
that your guestís fears "are not necessarily
rational," Salk said. "It could be that he
just associates the animal with a scary place in his
past. Or he may have been raised by parents who also
were afraid of pets."
guests arrive at your home, walk your dog or give him a
play date with his buddies, suggested Mychelle Blake,
CEO of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
"Just like people, dogs are more relaxed after they
exercise," Blake said. "Then heíll be happy
to take a nap while you enjoy time with your
Watt takes her Labrador, Po, to off-leash parks near her
St. Louis home, where he expends excess energy. When
guests arrive, Watt uses a baby gate to corral Po, but
it still allows the dog to see and hear everyone, she
said. By the time she lets him out, heís more likely
to cuddle with than jump on visitors.
for cats, find a comfortable room with access to water
and a litter box while your nervous guests are visiting.
guests, too, that dogs will reflect their own level of
activity, said Patricia McConnell, certified animal
behaviorist and zoology professor at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. "Ramp up the excitement, and the
dogs will get excited," she said. "Settle
down, and theyíll settle down."
your cat-averse friends to "look at the cat, then
slowly shut your eyes while turning your head
away," McConnell said. "Heíll come to you if
he wants to play, but some cats are slow to make
dogs a few basic commands, such as "sit" and
"down," will also help them make friends
easier, Blake said. And donít be shy about telling
strangers or new guests ó whether theyíre afraid or
not ó to refrain from petting your dog or cat if
either tends to be skittish.
on kidsí natural empathy with animals. Be sure to
relay positive information ó such as things your dog
likes, such as being scratched on his back or fetching
toys. "Kids are sick of being told what they should
not do," McConnell said. "Tell them what they
should do, and theyíll listen. Kids, especially,
understand when you explain that when pets bite, itís
usually because theyíre afraid."
the pet owner youíre visiting halfway. First,
understand that your host probably considers his dog or
cat part of the family. But donít hesitate to speak up
if the pet scares you. "Most people will put the
cat away or the dog on a leash until everyone is
settled," Blake said.
understand that your fears may be putting friends and
neighbors in an awkward position. "Love me, love my
pet" may be the unwritten rule at their households.
You may want to discuss the situation prior to your
it time to overcome your fears? If it is affecting your
ability or your childís to function in social
situations, or if youíre worried about passing on your
fear to your kids, the experts suggested looking for
places that may offer an age-appropriate introduction to
animals. Animal shelters, Scout troops, 4-H and zoos are
a few of the organizations you might investigate.
animal behavior may help you feel in control. Two places
to start include an ASPCA guide to canine behavior on
its website (aspca.org) and a HumaneSociety.org article
on interpreting cat language.
on the extent of your fear, you may also want to
consider professional help.
you do, donít try to dispel your fear by adopting a
pet before youíre ready, Salk said. Itís a choice
that can backfire on everyone. "Adopting a pet is a
wonderful thing if youíre giving him a forever
home," she said. "But relinquishing him (when
it doesnít work out) is not honoring the lifelong
commitment you made to him."
the end, it pays when pet-people and non-pet-people work
year after Willettís family picnic, Evan returned,
much less afraid of her dogs, Willett reported.
didnít hurt that Willett sent Evan a framed picture of
him playing with Tucker with a note "from
Tucker" saying he looked forward to seeing him
again. "His mom said he talked about Tucker all
year," Willett said.