Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dogs & Children Part 4: 6 ways to help a child with a fear of dogs

I have met a few children that love the IDEA of a dog or puppy, but when they meet the reality is quite different, ranging from shying away and hiding behind a parent, to downright screaming and running away. Even from me, a cute spangle! So we thought we would put together a few pointers to help a child get over their fear, and learn to (safely) enjoy dogs.

Don't dismiss their fear
No matter how irrational you find their fear, to the child it is very real. Don't dismiss it by telling them how silly they're being or try and force them to stroke a dog, instead ask them how they are feeling and accept it if they answer "I'm scared" or "Afraid".

Be supportive
Again, if the child sees a dog and exhibits fear, be supportive of them. Understand and reassure them - "I know you're scared, but I'm right next to you." and "We can walk past the dog together"

Mind what you say
In an earlier post I went through how a child should learn to treat a dog kindly and with respect. But when teaching them, make sure you don't emphasise the wrong words, such as "bite" and "being safe" and "the dog won't hurt you", as that will give the impression that dogs are unsafe and scary things, that are likely to bite. Instead, when teaching them or demonstrating how to approach dogs, keep things neutral - "Ask if you may pet / say hello to the dog" rather than "Is your dog safe?"

Show them
Using a friendly dog, with the child at a distance if necessary, show them how you interact with a dog by holding out your hand, letting him sniff it and then doing some basic commands such as "Sit" and "Down". My Hoomans best friends oldest two children are scared of all dogs including me (it is a work in progress), but her eldest learnt she could make me bark by saying "Speak!" and although she jumped every time, it also made her giggle. Explain to them that dogs can be wriggly - sometimes the fear can be down to the unexpected and sudden ways that dogs can move - the child can't predict how the dog is going to move and that can be unnerving, Show them also how dogs love treats and toys - when they are ready to, you can give them a treat or toy to give - even throw to start with - to the dog.

Use playtime and stories
Read stories about friendly dogs to your child, and also use their imagination - get them to act out dog scenarios with puppets or dolls as it can help them feel in control, plus explain and demonstrate what they are fearful will happen

Take your time
Be patient - you might be desperate for your child to be happy to be playing with and loving dogs, but don't rush things. If you handle things in a calm, unhurried way, in time hopefully your child will learn to tolerate and even love dogs. Before you know it, you'll hear "Mum, can we get a puppy?!!"

We hope you've enjoyed this series on Dogs & Children - check out the other posts in the series below!


  1. Great advice, Lottie! :)

  2. Excellent advice, Lottie! Little do toddlers know but I"m scared to death of them!

    Love ya lots♥

  3. Great tips. My niece and nephews were afraid of dogs because they had no experience with them. It took a long time, but slowly they learned how to treat an animal and read their body language.

  4. This is an EXCELLENT post. As someone with a social work/psychology background/training, I don't think there's anything I could add. These are such great tips for helping children overcome their fears. Just go at their pace to make sure they feel like they are in control, taking baby steps to work up to loving dogs. :)

  5. Great advice. I always felt that with patience and time, kids can get over their fear of dogs. And what a gift that is, so they can learn to love and be loved by a dog.

    --Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats