As the summertime approaches, with the clocks officially going forward in only a couple of weeks’ time, it is inevitable that as a family you will spend a lot more time enjoying the sunshine and taking advantage of rain-free Britain (hopefully). But, it’s not all fun and games, roaming around the parks, and enjoying a picnic or two if you have children. In a recent survey conducted by the Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest and most prominent welfare charity, it has been revealed that whilst wasps, bees and spiders remain one of the biggest phobias for children, apparently more than a third (37%) of UK parents think their children are scared of our pet dogs. Statistics estimate that 33% of 2-14 year old come into contact with a dog, at least once a day, making British summertime a slight problem for parents looking to take their kids out for the day.
To other children unafraid of dogs, synonyms that come to mind are fuzzy, cute, friendly, high-spirited and cuddly at the best of times. But to children who claim to have a real fear of dogs find them ferocious, smelly, too lively and frightening. However what is striking, is that parents often don’t encourage their children to interact with dogs, and therefore have little exposure to dogs. However, sometimes the fear is a lot clearer and not derived from the parents. Renee Payne, CPDT-KA, a certified pet dog trainer claims that ‘a lot of parents teach their kids to avoid dogs. I see parents teaching kids that dogs are scary.’
So in a bid to help parents with children who suffer from a phobia of dogs, here are five key ways to help your children in any situation they may feel threatened by dogs.
Talk positively – Children pick up the habits of their parents, so if you speak negatively about dogs or any other animal, your children are more than likely to have the same feelings as you portray. So always make sure you’re speaking positively and enthusiastically as you can about dogs. Perhaps, buy a children’s book about dogs, and watch films such as Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians and Lassie to ensure they grow up enjoying the company of dogs.
Get them out and about – There are a million and one reasons to get your child out of the house. For starters, it’s good for their health – exercising on a regular basis will keep your child active, healthy, enthusiastic about sport and comfortable to venture the great outdoors. But when out and about, you’re more than likely to bump into dogs and their owners, taking a regular walk in the park. There is no better place to meet and great dogs than in their own environment, where they can be themselves. Ensure you are with your child the entire time when saying hello to any dogs you meet, to ease the pressure. Once your child comes across a number of dogs, they will understand how to naturally engage with them, stroking their back and playing with a ball, if they should have one. Once they see the dogs aren’t out to get them, they will feel more at home with these cuddly pets.
Reason with your child – You can understand where a child’s fear of dogs stems from; they aren’t humans, they do not talk, and they to some degree can’t interact/understand everything you are saying. For children, this can be incredibly difficult if they cannot get across their thoughts and feelings. So explain to your child that like humans, not all dogs are the same. Some may be mean, lazy and unresponsive to play, but others can be the entire opposite. Remember to tell your child that sometimes running away from a dog can signal play-time, so ensure your child understands that their fear is not always recognised.
Discussion is key – There is no easier way than facing your child’s fear, than by discussing it with them. No matter the age, a child will be able to convey their emotions towards dogs or any other pets quite easily and so begin the process by discussing why your child is afraid and what they are most worried about. It may be worth taking them to see a doctor or psychologist, should the phobia be too difficult.
Buy a dog – Sometimes the best remedy for a fear or phobia of dogs is to buy a dog. This can have an immediate effect on your child, and can go one of two ways. In the hope that your child reacts well to a dog in their home, this can signal a positive attitude change to a dog, as both the child and the dog will learn to co-exist and understand each other’s territory. By having your own dog, you realise very quickly how non-threatening a dog can be and help when meeting other new dogs that aren’t your own.
Mickaela Freeman commented: ”It became really bad as I wouldn’t go to my friends birthday day party as I was so scared of their dog. I also had to go to a surprise birthday day party for a close family friends of ours when I was 13 and I burst out crying like a baby because I was so scared of their dog and so it got to the point where I had to face my fear. At first when we got our dog Ozzie I was a bit scared but we grew up together and that way we bonded. So now I’m perfectly fine with dogs but I still get a bit cautious of very big dogs!’