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For some children, no matter how cute the dog is, or how "friendly" you say it is, they are just too scared to even approach let alone stroke it. For dog lovers, and owners who are used to animals around the place, this is just beyond belief and seems entirely unreasonable. But for children, being afraid of a dog whether in the park or at someone's home is a real problem.
Of course, if its a huge, drooling Alsatian, we can see why is is scary. It's probably taller that the child themselves. But how can they be scared of tiny, waggy tailed dogs too? And, some children are petrified even if the dog is 100 metres away in the park or even the sound of a dog barking!
Why are children afraid of dogs?
As with most phobias, the fear is learned. It could be because they witnessed a parent being afraid in front of a dog Even if nothing was said, or no warnings given, if a parent jumped, or scuttled away in the presence of their child, that fear can be "taught" to the child. If could be that they were once bitten or pushed over by a dog when they were very small even if you think they may not recall the incident. It also could be because they have seen a "scary" dog on television or someone on TV act scared in front of a dog. It only takes on incident to register dogs as dangerous and then the fear is in place.
How to overcome the fear of dogs?
Dogs are everywhere: in the street, in the parks and even walking to school or nursery you are likely to encounter a dog walker.
The best way to overcome the phobia is to gently expose your child to trusted, calm dogs in a very slow and gradual manner. Just being in the same room as a calm dog will assure them. Then gradually bring the child nearer to the dog over time and slowly try to encourage them stroking them or holding their lead etc.
Watch a dog film together that shows dogs as funny or friendly or saving the day. Try Just an excerpt of the film to start with. Lady And The Tramp has lots of positive scenes in and is a gentle film in most parts, or try a live action film such as 101 Dalmatians to show "real" dogs in a positive light... although look through the film first and choose the happy bits rather than any dog aggression!
Take your child to meet some puppies. Tiny new pups are cuddly and often calm. Choose your pups carefully and check with the owner they are not jumpy or snappy. Your child may even hold one. (Try to do this away from the mother as she may get possessive a growl or bark which would defeat the object entirely!).
If you know any local people with guide dogs, have a chat with them one day and see if, at a convenient time and with their approval, you can introduce your child to their dog. They are so well behaved that they are guaranteed to be a great example of how lovely dogs can be. Although do chat with the owner first as guide dogs are working dogs.
Don't force them to be close to dogs or tell them not to be silly etc. Fear of dogs is a genuine fear and needs to be handled carefully to avoid a long term problem.
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