How to Help Kids Overcome Fear of Dogs

dogs.jpgToday, Jennifer shares six tips to help kids overcome fear of dogs:

My son Liam is intensely afraid of dogs, despite never having had a bad experience with a dog. And of course it seems as if dogs are everywhere we go! My husband believes that Liam will eventually outgrow this fear in time, and while I've been trying to patiently wait this out (we are going on six and a half years now!), I've been collecting ideas on what we can do to help him overcome his fear. Here are six strategies we've been working on:
1. Watch your words. How you talk to your kids about their behavior around dogs is important. For example, saying something like, "Acting like that will get the dog upset and they may try to bite!" may reinforce the child's fear. Good to know since I'm guilty of having used this line!

2. Take it slow. My first thought when it comes to tackling fears is immersion. However, I now realize that taking it slow is best. Don't push it! And don't get a dog for your family to help your child overcome this fear or put a timetable on overcoming the fear. There's plenty of time to work on this issue.

3. Connect with dogs from afar. Spend time reading books and/or watching shows such as Clifford and Martha Speaks! with your child. Spend some time observing dogs from afar in a park or a pet store.

4. Spend time with an adult dog. When your child feels ready to move on to the next step of meeting a dog, it's important to find a calm adult dog and not a puppy. Why? Puppies are playful and unpredictable and are more likely to lick and nip, which could easily set your child into a tailspin. If you don't have family or friends with an adult dog, check with your local library to see if they have therapy dog reading programs. And don't force your child to interact with the dog; having them sit in the same room or near the dog is progress! And did you know that children are less fearful of dogs who are dressed up?

5. Avoid the head, at first. When your child feels ready to pet a dog, have them pet the body and not the head to start. It's also a good idea for you to keep the dog occupied so it's not looking at the child since kids often find the face scary. Also, prepare your child for the fact that dogs will sniff and possibly give a "kiss" so your kid is not caught off guard.

6. Encourage gentle behavior. Teach your child to be gentle with dogs. No pulling tails or teasing! And instruct them to always ask first before they go up to a dog that is unfamiliar to them.

Try the tips, and above all be patient! And if you have other tips to share, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!

Image credit: Duralee Best of Show Greystone at