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.
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.