Positive Parenting Tips for Helping A Child that Is Afraid of Dogs

6 Tips to Help a Child that is Afraid of Dogs

Find out how you can use positive parenting tips to help your child overcome fear or anxiety related to dogs. 

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.

Here is an example of helping a child overcome fear of dogs

My sons friend used to come to our house for play-dates and he was afraid of our two dogs. Each time he came we invited him to toss a treat over the gate. Over time, he got closer to the gate and eventually asked to pet the dog. After about ten visits he asked if he could play with the dogs  so we moved onto a game of fetch in the yard where I could be close by monitoring the play.  This turned out to be great fun and after that having the dogs around was no problem at all. A gradual approach helped this little boy feel at ease with the dogs without extra worries and pressure.

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.

Peace & Be Well,


Originally posted as part of the AP Blog Carnival.

APBC - Positive Parenting Connection and Authentic ParentingVisit The Positive Parenting Connection and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • A Pet’s Role in the Home School — If a house isn’t a home without a pet, how can you imagine homeschooling without one? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses the many benefits of home schooling with pets. .
  • Toddlers and Whiskers, Co-existing as One — Mama Duck at Quacks and Waddles explains how to introduce new pets to toddlers and babies
  • Children and the Death of a Pet — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama offers suggestions on how to help children work through the loss of a pet. She includes a variety of books to support both parents and children during this tender time.
  • 10 Reasons to Be a Foster Family for a Pet in Need — Christy from Adventures in Mommyhood: Mommy Outnumbered gives her top 10 reasons to consider fostering a pet until a forever home can be found.
  • Preparing Dogs for New Baby — Jennifer from Mother of the Pack gives advice to new parents for preparing their dog(s) for a baby
  • Children, Pets and Death — Lauren at Hobo Mama has walked with her son through the untimely death of their cat, a fascinating and troubling journey.
  • The Health Benefits of Having Pets — Laura from Authentic Parenting tells us exactly why having pets is beneficial to your child’s health.
  • Romeo, My Healing Dog —  Bianca at the Pierogie Mama writes about her loveable old dog, Romeo, who at one point she had to give away but a few years later he was placed back in her life when she least expected it.
  • 6 Tips to Help a Child That  is Afraid of Dogs – Ariadne at Positive Parenting Connection is sharing helpful tips and using play to help children overcome a fear of dogs.
  • The Value of Pets – Caroline from Stone Age Parenting writes about how pets have brought so much more than happiness to her life and how she has learned to appreciate and respond to the needs of animals and of humans.
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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

15 Responses to 6 Tips to Help a Child that is Afraid of Dogs

  1. […] an article posted in positiveparentingconnection.net can help us on helping our children overcome the fear of […]

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    • My grandaughter is five,and one year she has become terrified of dos. It is so bad she almost mak s herself sick from crying and screaming. Her parents don’t help they coddle her and tell people she has been mauled by dogs in front of her. And she never has. It is very stressful because her aunt has two dogs and they are mellow

  2. Thanks for these really useful, succinct tips. My niece and nephew have struggled with dogs for years, as they aren’t used to them, but these tips I’m sure will go some way to meeting their fear.

  3. As a parent who is afraid of dogs, I see these tips being valuable for those parents who aren’t afraid of dogs. I know that I’m transferring my fears to my daughter but I sincerely don’t know how to be calm around dogs. Any tips for parents who are afraid with children who are nervous around dogs? I would have my husband do it, but he doesn’t like being around dogs either.

    • Becky, interesting point! I was actually really afraid of dogs for a long time (childhood thing, was chased by a stray and it scared me for years!) anyways, it took being friends with someone that was not afraid, and basically following the same steps for children, a slow but fun process of getting used to being around them. Do you have any friends with friendly calm dogs? That would be a great place to start just slowly sitting with them, eventually feeding them, brushing them and so on. Another idea, visit a shelter and play with the puppies if it’s allowed! hth a bit.

  4. A big tip is to keep your kids around friendly dogs only and not let them be near rough or jumpy dogs. My two brothers got a fear of dogs for years after a friend’s dog jumped right into the car where they were strapped into their carseats. Of course they thought all dogs might do that and demanded “up” anytime there was the tiniest or gentlest dog anywhere around. Better to meet the gentle dogs first so you know that some are!

  5. I have a younger sister who is afraid of dogs. Depending on the dog I may be a little frightened. We have to walk home and some times people leave there dogs of there leash. She will cry and scream and I don’t know how to handle it. Pls help me!!!

    • It may be best if you can find an adult that is able to walk your route home with you a few times so you can become used to passing by the dogs. It can also help if you just talk to your sister at home and let her tell you what frightens her. Then you can make a plan so you can remember to for example hold hands and walk by as calmly but quickly as possible. If this is a really big problem, do ask your mom or dad to help your sister become used to dogs. You can do this by borrowing a friends dog, going to an animal shelter etc…your younger sister sure is lucky that you care so much. best wishes!

  6. It is appropriate for children to be cautious around dogs. Some dogs don’t interact well with people outside their immediate circle because of health issues (impaired sight; arthritis) or because of breed. As a dog owner it concerns me when children and adults assume they can be friendly with my dog.

  7. my 9 yr old grand daughter is terrified of all big dogs, what can I tell her to stop this fear?

    • Hi there,
      It’s usually helpful for children to have their fears validated and supported. When we tell children there is “nothing” to be afraid of, they get two conflicting messages. The conflicting messages will make the fear and anxiety worse. So, best is to listen to the fears and some good questions to ask are “what is the worst you think could happen around a big dog?” and ” what is the best that could happen around a big dog?” and “what about a big dog that worries you? that interests you?” and as you have the dialogue, you can validate and reflect her feelings. Then try to introduce her to a big dog that is known to be friendly and takea gradual approach. Getting over fears is a process, the more you can listen, with the intent to help (not shelter or diminish the fear) the better. hope that helps!

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