helping a child that is affraid of dogs

It’s wonderful to see children and dogs grow up together and the benefits for both can be huge.  However it can be challenging at times trying to manage a puppy and very young children, so we have some advice to help ensure that everyone is kept happy during this exciting time!

Some children are afraid of dogs. They may not have had a lot of positive experiences with dogs or perhaps had an incident which has made them fearful.  Being anxious around dogs is quite normal for children that don’t have much experience. This is a protective behavior but one that you can help your child overcome.

Helping children manage and overcome their fears related to dogs can sometimes be challenging. You may need to have some patience as your child learns to understand dogs and feel comfortable with a dog or puppy.

Here are a 6 parenting tips to help a child overcome a fear or anxiety of dogs:

1. Accept the fear: Sometimes to us parents a dog is clearly friendly or cuddly puppy is waiting to be played with. Our life experience tells us we don’t need to be afraid so we may say things that inadvertently upset our child. “This dog is nice, pet it already”, “don’t be silly, it’s just a dog” or “it’s just a tiny puppy don’t be afraid”.

It’s more helpful to a fearful child if we first acknowledge their fear.  So, when you see your child acting fearful, tearful or anxious about a dog try asking  “Do you need to step away for a minute?” or “Should we continue on our walk?”

It’s really helpful to this process to be a supportive presence and avoid putting pressure on your child.   Another great question is “how do you feel about meeting the dog?” To this a child may answer “scared” or “afraid” opening the door for discussing feelings and expectations.

2. Offer your child some reassurance: Once your child’s fear is acknowledged, move onto being supportive. This next step can go a long way. “I understand you are afraid of the dog. I will stay right by you. I know you can do this!”

3. Notice what messages you are sending about dogs:  When meeting a new dog for example, instead of asking “Does your dog bite?” or “Is it safe to pet your dog?” try using more neutral questions like “May we pet your dog?” or “Can we meet your dog?” and “Is your dog friendly?”

4. Model how to pet and interact safely with a dog:  Showing children how to meet and greet a pet for the first time is really important.  Tell your child that  dogs like to sniff, lick and observe and that some dogs are more wiggly than others too.  If your child is comfortable enough to be near the dog, let them watch you interact in a gentle and respectful way first. Showing some commands like “sit” and “stay” so the child can see the dog can listen can be reassuring too.  For some children, they may want to be in one room while watching you in another, separated by a gate for example. Also keep in mind, the more well trained the dog is, the smoother the experience will be for your child. 

5. Treats & Toys:  A great way for children to ease into the process of being around dogs is by having a chance to offer a friendly and familiar dog a treat or a toy. Depending on the dog and the child, you can try this while separated by a safety gate or while the dog is securely held by a leash.

6. Don’t rush it: Sometimes it’s best for children just to have a chance to see a dog, or be close to a dog, there is no need to rush into petting, cuddling and getting doggy kisses. As much as these are wonderful experiences, let children take that step when they are ready.