Dogs are big, dogs jump up and knock children over, some dogs growl and others even bite.
Dogs also are friendly, tail-wagging, wriggling happy to see a smiling child. Ready to lick a sticky face, play “tag” from one end of the lawn to the other, and curl up next to a sleepy kid when the day is done.
For many families, having a dog is not an option or a desire, but for others, the idea of a family dog is a happy one. And yet, countless children — and adults — are afraid of dogs and there probably are as many reasons why as there are breeds registered with the American Kennel Club.
Without question, dogs are everywhere in our society. It's tough for someone who is wary of them to lead a dog-free life. It's up to parents to help their youngsters overcome their dread. Your child may never be a dog lover, but at least she will be able to tolerate dogs in everyday situations.
Most experts agree that a slow, steady, and patient approach is the best way to insure your little one will learn to deal with his fear of dogs.
Begin by talking casually about dogs. Point them out from a very safe distance when you and your child are out. “Oh, look, there’s a cute dog.”
Watch movies and read books about happy, gentle, even heroic dogs. Find a few cute or silly videos on YouTube that show kids and dogs interacting. Talk about the dogs without making a fuss over them. The point is to introduce the idea of good dogs to your kids calmly and gradually.
Once you feel your child is ready, arrange for him to be close to real live dogs. If you live near a reputable pet store, admire the adorable puppies in the window. Visit a dog park and look at the dogs with the reassurance of a fence between the canines and your child. Sit on a park bench and watch the dog walkers stroll by.
Finally, find a neighbor or relative with a gentle, calm dog. Encourage your little one to pet the dog’s back, rather than the head. The head, with its teeth-filled mouth and slobbering tongue, can be scary for tentative children.
Look for a small-to-medium sized dog for this real-life introduction. While large dogs tend to be placid, their size alone is enough to disarm a kid who might be smaller than the dog. Avoid puppies (dogs under a year old), which tend to be overly active and even mouthy.
If at any time your child regresses and her fear seems to return, go back a step or two. Watch the movies again; point out dogs on the street from the safety of the car. Avoid up-close-and-personal dog encounters for a while.
Everyday Doggy Encounters
When your child has progressed so that he does not cower or whimper when a leashed dog approaches on the sidewalk, let him pet these random dogs. Don’t force it but be encouraging. Let him call the shots.
Explain to your child that he should always ask the dog owner first: “May I pet your dog?” Most dog owners are happy to oblige but in the beginning it’s a good idea to explain that your youngster is a little afraid of dogs, “but we’re working on it.”
Try not to give your offspring conflicting signals. For example, don’t say: “Susie, be careful of his teeth. You don’t want to get bitten!" Instead, talk about how nice the dog is, how soft his coat, how brown his eyes.
Don’t linger for too long with a single dog. There are lots of kind, quiet dogs out there waiting to meet your kid!