Having dogs at home has multiple benefits for our children, both emotional and psychological. Improving their self-esteem, making them happier, helping them to be more responsible… are just some of the countless benefits of our children and dogs living together at home.
But what to do when your child is afraid of them? It is important to differentiate whether the situation is a fear or a phobia.
What differentiates fear of dogs from dog phobia?
The term cynophobia refers to the abnormal and excessive fear of dogs. In most cases this phobia is preceded by a traumatic situation generated by a dog, and these episodes usually occur in childhood. It is estimated that around 8% of the population suffers from this phobia.
Phobias manifest themselves through disproportionate reactions of children, with anxiety symptoms that should be treated by a child psychologist.
Conversely, if the child is only afraid, he or she will become nervous and upset when in the presence of a dog, but will return to normal when the dog moves away. The following advice will be applicable to these situations of fear, since for phobias we always recommend that a specialized doctor studies it.
What may be causing fear of dogs in my children ?
The causes can be very varied, but here are the 3 most repeated in all these cases :
- Bad experiences lived by children: It often happens that your child, overnight, is afraid of dogs. The most serious case for this to happen is if your child has been attacked by a dog, but it can also happen after being frightened by an unexpected reaction of the dog or by watching a movie where a situation involving dogs creates a feeling of fear in the child.
- That people around him/her are afraid of dogs: This has been repeated many times: if you are afraid of your dogs, your child will be too. Fortunately, this situation can be changed over time. Children tend to imitate adult behaviors, so if they observe that the person they are imitating is afraid of such animals, the child will imitate that behavior.
- Fear of the unknown: If your child has spent his whole life growing up with a dog, he will think of him as one of the family. But there are cases in which we decide to have a puppy accompany us when our child is no longer a baby. In these cases the children will be faced with a new member of the household that they do not know and do not know how they will act or react to their presence.
5 tips to overcome fear of dogs
The first thing to emphasize is that this process must be gradual and will not be achieved magically in a couple of days. To overcome the fear of dogs, we can take into account the following tips to overcome it.
- Don’t force him to approach if he doesn’t want to: Don’t force your child to pet a dog if he is reluctant to do so. What you should also not do is to condition the rest of your actions to this. That is, avoid behaviors such as changing sidewalks if you see a dog walking on the same sidewalk or do not stop petting a dog if you go with your child. Little by little, he will get used to this type of behavior and, one day, he will end up petting you in turn.
- Don’t mock their fear: Ridiculing their fear with phrases such as “it’s silly” can only make the problem worse.
- Explain dog behavior to them: Children should know the possible reactions of a dog, so that they understand them and are not frightened by reactions such as barking or growling.s.
- Teach them how to approach a dog: Bad experiences of children with dogs can come from an unwise approach by a child to a canine. For example, if we overwhelm the dog by pulling its tail or suddenly rushing at it, the dog is likely to get scared and react in a negative way, creating a bad experience for the little ones. To avoid this, we have to educate them on how to behave in front of a dog the first time they see it. It is important that the child is calm and approaches the dog from the front, slowly showing his hands so that the dog sniffs them first. Once the dog has done so, the child can stroke the dog’s back or head in a gentle manner.
- Approach dogs in a progressive way: This advice would be one of the last to apply once the child is taking steps to overcome his fear. Count on friends or relatives who have friendly dogs so that they can progressively get closer to them. A good plan can be to accompany them to the park, so that the children can play with them and reward them with a delicious snack, for example from MAIKAI Pets.
With patience and respect, we will get our children to overcome their fear of dogs and we will all be able to enjoy them as a family. Have you ever found yourself in this situation? What tips have worked best for you?