How to Help a Child Overcome a Fear of Dogs

By Laurie Darroch

Some children have a fear of dogs. Whether the cause is a previous bad experience with a dog, lack of exposure to dogs, general anxiety around them or a true deep fear, there are techniques you can use to help your child overcome that fear.

Fear stemming from a lack of exposure to dogs will be easier to overcome than an actual deep seated fear of dogs, but whatever the cause, try these methods to help your child overcome their fear.

Start Small

If you are planning to have a dog in the family, starting with a small puppy may be less threatening to a fearful child. A puppy may be energetic, but it is also needy and affectionate, and may easier for a fearful child to bond with.

Another route to go is to choose a dog that is used to being around children and is already fully trained. A calmer dog is less likely to frighten a fearful child than a very energetic, excitable dog.

Get Them Involved

If a child is hesitant to be around the dog, include them in the daily care of the dog, even if it is indirect involvement in the beginning. Encourage the child to help keep the water bowl filled and put food out at meal times. If they develop a sense of responsibility for the dog, it is the beginning step to having a connection with that dog. Include the child on trips to the pet store and allow them to pick out a toy and some CANIDAE treats for your dog. Include your child in the dog training so they feel more in control.

Much like an older sibling learning to adjust to the addition of a new human sibling, involvement with the choices and decisions may help break down the fear or dislike of the new dog.

Desensitization

For a true fear or severe anxiety around dogs, use a step by step desensitization method to help the child overcome their fear of dogs. Don’t negate their fear. To them it is real and viable whether it makes sense to you or not. Work with the child to help them through their fear.

Break down the exposure to a dog into small steps that allows the child to accomplish small feats on the path to becoming comfortable around dogs. The fear is not as overwhelming if it is taken a step at a time.

In the beginning, just knowing the dog is in the same house may make the child anxious. Keep the dog out of sight at first. Allow the child distance from the dog.

If other children are around, show the fearful child that the dog plays and interacts well with them, but allow the child to watch from a distance. It takes a while for a truly fearful child to get used to the idea that the dog is not a threat to them. Seeing others interacting with the dog helps the child assimilate the idea that the new dog is not a danger and plays well with others. It will also allow the child to see successful methods others have of dealing with the dog.

Encourage the child to talk about their fears to help them work through them. Some of what may be making them fearful could be simple misunderstandings that you can help to clear up. Proof is in the interactions with the dog.

Safe Spot

Whether it is a safe chair or a whole room, allow the child to have a safe spot they can retreat to if their fear is overwhelming them. This needs to be a spot the dog is not allowed to go to until the child is able to interact with the dog.

Praise

Give your child praise for accomplishing even the smallest steps.  It might help to make a star chart or accomplishment chart to let them see their progress. When they overcome their fear, the companionship of the dog will be its own reward.

What may seem like a silly fear to others is real and overwhelming to a child. Work through it and your child will not only have an achievement they can be proud of by overcoming a fear, but they will have a new friend in the dog as well.

Top photo by Donnie Ray Jones
Middle photo by schnaars
Bottom photo by zolakoma

Read more articles by Laurie Darroch

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One thought on “How to Help a Child Overcome a Fear of Dogs

  1. I had a fear of dog when I was a little boy but I overcome that fear when my dad brought a puppy one day. I was the one who gave a daily bath to the pup. Having the pup around me everyday made me feel at ease with a dog.

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