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Helping Children Overcome Fear of Dogs

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Yesterday we talked about some of the best dog breeds for children and today we’re discussing a similar topic: children with a fear of dogs.

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. Sure, most of us are frightened by a snarling guard dog, but those with a true fear of dogs are terrified of a canine as harmless as a fluffy puppy and 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 the parent anxious or worried around dogs – the child may think if the parent is concerned, there is a real reason to be afraid.

If a child is afraid of dogs, it can cause difficulties in day to day life. Dogs are everywhere and it won’t be possible to avoid them forever. It’s well worth the time and effort working with your child to overcome this fear.

A commonly recommended method of getting over any phobia is with a slow, gradual and highly controlled exposure to the source of that fear. 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 show them some baby puppies that are under 6 weeks of age. At this age, the pups aren’t jumpy or yappy, so shouldn’t cause any anxiety. Your child may then be willing to touch or hold a pup, but be sure to do this away from the the puppy’s mother, as she may be protective of her babies.

If all is going smoothly, take your child to where they can see adult dogs, but at this stage be sure the dogs don’t have access to him or her. Your child can become accustomed to watching 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 or dog show. The dogs are all well trained and under control, so you’re not likely to have a dog rush at you.

The final step is to have your child interact with a quiet adult dog. Choose a calm breed such as a cocker spaniel, and allow your child to stroke the dog when they feel ready to do so.

One important tip: 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 quickly and your child becomes fearful, you can 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.

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About Paris Permenter

Paris Permenter is the founder and co-publisher of LT Media Group LLC. Along with her husband, John Bigley, she edits DogTipper.com, CatTipper.com, and has authored over 30 books on pets and travel.