“I hate dogs!”

Many families have dogs as family pets. Many families don’t. To a child, a dog may be a best friend, or an unpredictable creature which inspires fear and anxiety. My own children drifted through periods of absolute fear of dogs to enjoyment of them. I’d have to carry my son when we encountered dogs on the path in the forest, or shield my daughter from them on the beach. Eventually, we’d visit friends, and, after a half an hour the tension would ease, and they’d be playing with their friend’s family pets as if the fear had never existed.

Dealing with puppy paranoia

A fear of dogs may come from a child having been bitten, knocked over by a playful pup or even from seeing his parents afraid (yes, adults may also fear dogs).

If your child is afraid of dogs, here are some tips for getting him used to being around these (usually) friendly animals:

•    Watch a movie or TV show which portrays friendly good-natured dogs, or get a book about dog breeds.
•    You could make a trip to the pet store or petting zoo, and get her used to seeing animals and petting them.
•    If you are afraid of dogs, don’t transfer that fear by teaching your kids that dogs are scary. Fears are irrational, but should still be acknowledged as real.
•    Introduce your child to an old, docile and friendly dog. Puppies are less predictable, and may accidentally nip your child.
•    Don’t force your child to confront her fear- rather say that you understand her fear, and offer to hold her hand or carry her when you walk past a dog, particularly a stray or unpredictable dog which is not on a leash.
•    Allow your child to overcome the fear at their own pace. Children discover that they can overcome their own boundaries, and this is an important lesson for them to learn. Often, exposure to dogs over time causes the fear to vanish.
•    Talk “dog” to your child: Explain dog behaviour and body language- for example, what a dog means by sniffing and licking, and what friendly behaviour looks like as opposed to aggressive behaviour. You could do this by watching a DVD on dogs, and pointing out how they behave, and what they’re doing.
•    Gauge whether or not your child is ready to meet a dog- Kids of different ages and personalities may respond differently to dogs of different ages, sizes and personalities, and vice versa.
•    Once your child is ready, introduce him to a dog by allowing him to pat or stroke it. Make sure it’s a friendly dog, and that the dog is preoccupied with something else. Patting the body (rather than the dog’s face or head) is safer to start with.

Dogs have feelings, too!

Don’t punish a dog if he is afraid of children. Sometimes dogs have been hurt (or abused) by contact with humans, and may need to be slowly reintroduced to contact with them.  Encourage a nervous dog with treats and positive words as they get used to people. Part of your job is teaching your child how to treat dogs, too. Dog-owners will become upset if they are forced to lock up their dogs in a room or a small yard whenever you and your kids visit, so work on helping your kids overcome their fears.

Read more about fear-proofing your kids from dogs at:



Want more? Follow Parent24 on Twitter!

Are your kids scared of dogs?
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24