You’re not too fond of spiders, especially the big, hairy ones!   Not to the point of phobia or panic, but they make you uncomfortable, and you do not want to see them in your house. And yet there it is, on your bedroom wall.  What do you do next?

A typical reaction is paradoxical from what we would logically expect.   A high percentage of people will slowly creep in… studying that spider from different angles…just a little closer…whew; that’s a big one! Very black and hairy too! You go around to the other side and take a better look at it. Yep, it’s a spider. Which you knew all along.

And as you creep closer, what might happen if it suddenly scurried across the wall?

Odds are pretty good you would leap back and scream! Which begs the question, why did you put yourself in that situation in the first place, getting closer to the critter that upsets and frightens you?

Dogs do exactly the same thing.

Dogs who have fear issues often get closer as if inexplicably drawn in.  So what happens when the human responds by looking directly at the dog, approaches, and says a cheerful hello?

The dog hysterically backpedals, WOOWOOWOO’ing the whole way.  The spider just scurried across the wall!

And people are taken off guard every single time.

My best guess as to why people and dogs do this to ourselves is that we want to gather information about things that frighten us. We want to be absolutely certain about what we are seeing. There may be more to it, but that’s my guess.

However, for the purposes of this blog? The important thing is not so much why we approach or look at things that upset us as to understand that we do indeed do this, as do our dogs.

Never assume that a dog approaching something or someone means that they are comfortable with it. Indeed, it can be quite the reverse and if the person responds, that is exactly what could cause the dog to panic. Most dogs run away when they panic, but some, especially if they feel trapped, may lunge or bite.  I mean, when the spider jumps AT you rather than scurrying across the wall?  Well, you may well fight back!  Same with your dog – when a hand reaches out or a person approaches enthusiastically, panic could cause a range of possible reactions, including a bite.  Don’t put yourself, or your dog, in that situation!

If a dog approaches you directly, staring right up in your face? Avert your gaze, shift your posture to less frontal, and see what happens next.  And if the dog approaches you but appears to be going backwards and forwards, sort of creeping in, as if ready to escape? Same thing! Don’t coax them closer. Ignore the dog. Let the natural process of acclimating to new people help the dog make the decision about whether you are, indeed, safe for interaction.

The most commonly missed question on my recent quiz about fear asked if fearful dogs approach things they are afraid of. One in three people believed that no, a fearful dog would not approach something they were afraid of. Hence, this blog!  If you’d like to take the quiz you can find it here and test your own knowledge about fearful dogs:

The important point is that dogs will absolutely approach things they are afraid of. How you read and respond to that dog, whether your own or someone else’s, could make an enormous difference in that dog’s well being,

So now you know.  Sometimes behavior is more than a little confusing.