Overcoming my Fear of Dogs through Hiking

By Clare McLoughlin

I watched the final sunrise of 2017 from the top of Mt Toubkal in Morocco. I had climbed a total of 4,167m to get there over two days. For me, the most remarkable part was that two years prior I couldn’t even walk a mile without breaking into a sweat.

From Catching the Bus to Taking on my First Hike

It all began in the winter of 2015 when I was in a slightly tipsy state. My first thought was that a beginner’s hike through Windsor would be a good idea. At that stage, I got the bus every morning to work (2 miles away), I didn’t even own a waterproof jacket and I was painfully shy around people I didn’t know. To add to it, I had a phobia of dogs! Nontheless, a 9 mile hike through the English countryside seemed like a jolly good plan.

Facing my Fears: The First Hike

Eventually the Saturday morning arrived for me to make my way to Waterloo, I looked out of the window, it was grey and dreary with heavy rain forecasted, but I had paid £28 to go, and as a newly qualified physics teacher living in London, I wasn’t going to waste the money. So, I put on my old trainers and headed to Waterloo to spend the day with 25 strangers.

10 hours later I appeared at my front door to my flat pulling one leg in front of the other, a mane of hair so big and frizzy a lion would have been jealous and completely covered in mud. I just about managed to shower before collapsing on my bed. The following morning, muscles I didn’t even know I had hurt, but I felt completely refreshed and rejuvenated. It was the start of a new love of hiking that has stuck with me ever since.

Facing my Phobia

Over the following months I started to go on more and more hikes, I regularly had to come face to face with my biggest fear: dogs. Fear is actually an understatement. When confronted with a dog of any variety, I used to feel physically sick and my hands and knees would start shaking. If I saw a dog in London, I would immediately cross the road and, if it wasn’t safe to cross the road, I would turn around and walk the opposite way as quickly as I could.

By the time I started hiking, I hadn’t been in a public park for over four years out of fear of seeing dogs. It was a phobia that was starting to rule my life to the degree that I was unable to visit a very close auntie’s house due to my fear of her small dog. But slowly, as I encountered more and more animals on my hikes, my phobia gradually reduced to a mild fear.

Hiking the Tallest Mountain in North Africa

By January 2017 I was regularly doing hikes of 20 miles or more, not even feeling tired – the day hikes were becoming too easy! I needed a new challenge. So, I signed up for a 100km trek through the Sahara Desert, the soft dunes and scorching weather certainly provided a new challenge.

Returning from the Sahara we had to drive through the Atlas Mountains, the views were stunning, our tour guide told us the highest mountain, Mt Toubkal, was the highest in North Africa, and was a very difficult hike. I sensed another challenge.

Reflections from the Summit

So there I was, 2 years after my first hike, spending New Year’s Eve at the top of Mt Toubkal. Before I left for Morocco, I made a quick stop at my auntie’s house and even shared the sofa with her dog…


Clare at her auntie’s house.

About the Author: Clare McLoughlin is a Physics Teacher and Girl Guiding volunteer in Central London. She took up hiking just over two years ago and has since trekked through the Sahara Desert and up Mt. Toubkal. Also read about Clare’s top 3 Meetup hiking groups in London here.

All photos submitted by Clare McLoughlin.


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