*This is a guest post by Doug from HerePup.com. He is sharing his story of helping his daughters overcome their fear of dogs. Recently my own daughter was bitten by a dog. We still have a love for animals though, and we have our own giant puppy, Rex. Dogs can be great companions and I hope these tips will help your children overcome a fear of dogs. – Tina
During a summer canoe trip, our family unloaded on a small island in the middle of the river to play. Another canoe pulled up next to ours, and their pit bull, Cujo came barreling over to greet us. Two of my children, both of whom have been bitten by dogs, instantly glued themselves to my side. Other family members shooed the dog away, but the damage was done. My children were scared and refused to leave the canoe.
If your child is afraid of dogs, it can be debilitating (for them) and exhausting (for you). What can you do to help your child conquer their fear?
Acknowledge their fear.
No one likes to see their child afraid, and it can be tempting to dismiss their fear as irrational or unfounded. A parent’s perspective may see a dog that simply wants to play, but a child sees a dog that wants to knock them over. Acknowledging your child’s fear shows that you recognize their distress and that you are willing to help. Simply asking, “Do you need to walk away for a minute?” or “Do you need me to help you?” allows the child to take ownership of the situation.
Teach safe dog-handling.
Children who are not taught safe dog-handling techniques are often injured when a dog ‘unexpectedly’ bites them after being poked in the eye with a stick. Teaching your children safe, appropriate ways to interact with dogs will prevent a number of injuries. In addition, it is a confidence booster for a child who knows the best ways to handle a dog. Using the ‘tree’ method, allowing a dog to sniff your hand before petting them, and not interfering with an eating dog are two excellent pointers to share with your child.
Be a buffer zone.
Cujo’s owners were determined to convince me (and my children) what a great dog he was. They continued to explain how he was “Super-Friendly!” and “Just a big cuddly bear!” while calling him over to allow my children to pet him. When my girls’ terrified stares and mute expressions failed to convey how they felt about meeting Cujo, I had to step in. Kujo’s owners were shocked that I refused to allow them to bring the dog any closer to the children. Sometimes, you have to override well-meaning people for your children’s benefit and protection.
Provide opportunities to interact with dogs.
Learning about dogs is a great way to help overcome anxiety. Studying types of dogs, famous dogs, what dogs can and can’t eat, and how to take care of dogs can be part of a concerted effort to make peace with dogs. Another important step in overcoming the fear of dogs is spending time with dogs. Visit a rescue shelter for the opportunity to pet and get to know dogs. Walk through a park and look for calm dogs. Invite a friend who has a peaceful dog over for dinner – with the dog. Put your child in a position where they have the chance to meet and greet nice dogs.
It can take years to overcome a fear of dogs. Telling a child to ‘get over it’ does nothing but cause more tension and stress, and could compound the problem for many more years. It may take longer than you expect, but that’s perfectly alright.
Follow their lead.
Allow your child to decide how and when they want to interact with dogs. They may feel more comfortable with some dogs more quickly than others. There’s no magic time-frame. Your child will know when they have conquered their fear. My girls have learned to master their fear of dogs; earlier this year we visited an animal shelter and adopted a giant fur-ball of our own. His demeanor and temperament are perfect for a couple of girls who still freeze when a strange dog comes down the sidewalk. Now if I could just get them to conquer their fear of cleaning up after him!
Author Bio: Doug loves dogs. He has as a great, mild-mannered Border Collie named Brodie. Brodie is a therapy dog and is very good at letting children pet him. Your family can learn more about dogs at HerePup.com