Why are some children afraid of dogs? And what can be done about it?
Sometimes, it’s simple. The parents are afraid of dogs. That one is easy. But other times, it’s not so clear. Some kids seem to have an innate fear that can’t be traced to mom’s anxiety or dad’s overprotectiveness. What can be done to ease these fears?
Many small children don’t experience dogs in the flesh. They see them in books and on television and these dogs are usually very well behaved…sometimes to the point where they talk.
Then reality strikes. Unless properly trained, most dogs will greet a child as they greet other dogs, through facial interaction and intense sniffing. Wait! This isn’t what Scooby does! This kind of highly personal greeting often startles children and adults alike. Hands are waved. Voices are raised. Things deteriorate.
It’s important that parents and dog owners prepare for a peaceful encounter with children.
If you have a dog, instill calmness and respect in the presence of children. Teach the directions down and stay or, at the very least, learn how to brace your dog into a steady sit position. Do this by kneeling, clipping your thumb over his collar (with your thumb pointed to the floor) and holding your hand across his waist. Leave the area if your dog is too excited, fearful or aggressive.
Prepare kids for meeting dogs. Keep initial meetings short and controlled. Let the meeting progress at your child’s pace.
If your child is still afraid, talk it out. Ask questions. “Can you talk to me about your fear? Are you afraid of big dogs, small dogs, black dogs, white dogs…?” See if you can narrow it down. Be respectful, sympathetic and supportive.
Let you child know you’re okay with their fear… and that you will protect them. Don’t belittle the fear or try to cajole your child out of it. If a dog is making them afraid, ask the owner to get the dog away. It doesn’t matter how nice the dog is. If your child is afraid, that’s the priority.
If the fear is a full-fledged phobia, accompanied by hyperventilation and mind-numbing panic, discover your child’s red zone: the distance from the animal he or she must keep in order to feel safe. Five feet… ten… twenty? Find a well mannered dog that you can visit together and work to lessen that distance.
Plan a family adventure to an enclosed dog park or show. Let your child know that working through the fear is a team effort and that you’ll watch the dogs from a comfortable distance. Lift your child onto your shoulders to give her a sense of height and power. Keep communication flowing and your sympathies high.