Dog lovers may not understand how some people can be afraid of dogs, but for many adults and children, it’s a very real and distressing problem.
Most of us would agree that we can be frightened by a snarling guard dog, but those with a true fear of dogs are terrified of even a small fluffy pup. Even the sound of a bark can cause anxiety and distress.
As with most fears and phobias, fear of dogs usually starts in childhood. It may stem from being bitten by a dog, or even just being knocked down by an exuberant puppy. Sometimes a child will become frightened of dogs if they see their parent is anxious or worried around dogs – they may think if their parent is concerned, there is a real reason to be afraid.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why a child becomes afraid of dogs. One child may still love dogs after being bitten, yet another may become very fearful if a little dog jumps on them.
If a child is afraid of dogs, it can cause difficulties in their day to day lives. Dogs are everywhere and it won’t be possible to avoid them forever. It’s worth working with your child to overcome their fear.
A commonly recommended method of getting over any phobia is with a slow, gradual and highly controlled exposure to what the person is fearful of. Some children are just too frightened to be within sight of a dog. In this case, you can start with watching a television show or movie that shows friendly happy dogs. The old Lassie movies would be ideal for this.
When your child is happy and relaxed while watching a dog movie, the next step is to take your child to where they can see real dogs, but at this stage be sure the dogs don’t have access to them. They can then get used to seeing dogs running and jumping, and can hear their noise without having to actually be too close to them. A great venue for this sort of exposure is a dog obedience competition. The dogs are all well trained and under control, so you’re not likely to have a dog rush at you. Or just walking around your neighborhood could do it, specially if you have scoped it out before.
The final step is to have your child interact with a quiet adult dog. Choose a calm breed such as a whippet or a cocker spaniel, and allow your child to stroke the dog when they feel ready to do so.
One warning – don’t be tempted to rush through any of these steps, or be in a hurry to solve this problem. If you do go too fast, and your child becomes fearful, you may set your progress back significantly.
Although the fear of dogs can be frustrating and may be persistent, in most cases you can overcome it with a slow and careful exposure to dogs.