In our column documenting the ups and downs of family life, local mum Harassed Harriet tackles her daughter’s dog phobia
When our eldest flunks her grade one piano exam, my husband declares, "We need professional help!” It’s not her musical prowess that is the problem, but the fact that an encounter with a jumpy dog left her too shaken to perform. Our daughter's canine fear has been getting worse and we consciously avoid doggy situations.
David, the therapist, has a soothing manner and asks how the anxiety began. My daughter recalls a beach trip when we set up camp in the dog zone where, not surprisingly, four legged friends were running amok. She also recounts how I called an owner an 'old bag' for not keeping her pet under control.
"I don't normally do that," I laugh nervously, recalling how the owner retorted that I was a ‘silly old bag’. David laughs too, but I see his face change as he makes a note. Later we head to the park to observe dogs from a distance. At intervals, David asks my daughter how she feels. She shrugs or says, "I dunno".
The following week we try a picnic. We are hoping to attract a few sniffing dogs and, sure enough, a couple of canines in designer jackets appear. David approaches the dog walkers and we watch as he chats and pats their pets.
"Right, Mum's turn now," says David. I spot a lady approaching with a tiny chihuahua and I start clucking and making ridiculous cooing noises as they get closer. "Isn't your dog gorgeous?” I lie. “Do you mind if I have a stroke?"
Our next session is cancelled as David has a virus - my daughter thinks he has picked up something from a dog. But, a few days later, our planned bike ride takes place. There are no doggy dramas as we cycle along with David shouting encouraging and reassuring words from behind. Afterwards he buys my daughter a flapjack and asks how she is feeling.
"Scared," she manages to articulate between mouthfuls.
But David thinks she is making excellent progress and will only require one more session. "We need one last challenge, something that will prove how far she has come," he says.
So, if anyone has a pit bull that will happily lie on the piano pedals while a nervous ten year bangs out a tune and a therapist and a silly old bag look on, let me know.