Fear of dogs: My child is frightened of animals – 7 tips to help

Fear of dogs in kids: 7 Tips to helpIf a child doesn’t have too much exposure to animals – it can mean that they get frightened of them early on in their lives. The fear of dogs, and even cats isn’t that uncommon.

They may even have had a bad experience when they were younger and its meant that they are really worried around a particular animal.

With both my children, dogs were a problem, but with friends its cats, and it could even be something innocuous to us, little a rabbit, that can upset a child.

My experience was particularly worrying; I had to be so careful near roads if my little boy saw a dog. There was clear danger that if I didn’t hold on to him, the fear of the dog would mean he would have run into the road. When this first happened, I had to grab hold of him hard to stop him from doing so, right in front of a car….

Owners who just let their dogs roam, and actually run towards children – the bain of my life! Sometimes people don’t understand that no matter how gentle they know their dog is, the child who is afraid of them doesn’t understand. Many a time I had to shout to owners to get their dogs away because Stuntboy was screaming blue murder…

“He won’t hurt him.”

You know that. I sort of know it, but he DOESN’T and all he sees is a dog running towards him…

Adults can be worried by things they don’t understand or haven’t had experiences of before so why not a child?

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Put yourself in their shoes. The animal is something they don’t understand, so that’s why they are worried. With larger animals, a toddler is pretty small compared to a big dog – so is there any wonder they are a little scared?
  2. Don’t use emotive language. Try to use word like “what a nice dog” and not “what a big dog.” When they are younger they may only understand some of the words so keeping them neutral means they won’t pick up the words that you don’t want them to associate with the animal, such as big, or scary. Fluffy and cuddly might be better!
  3. Keep your tones light. When you meet an animal, try to act natural, or be as relaxed as you can. Sometimes its hard to do so when your child is crying hard of course ;-)
  4. Show understanding. It’s important to empathise with your child. Explaining you understand how they feel. Again, try not to say that you understand why they are scared. Just how they feel. If they only have limited understanding the danger is they only hear the word scared and see the dog, for example, and the association may be re-inforced
  5. Give them time. My boy was scared from day one pretty much, of dogs. But now he is six, he wants one. He was frightened of cats too, and we have two beautiful ones of our own which he adores. It may take a few years, but as they get bigger, and so the animals get smaller, the fear will diminish
  6. Get yourself a pet. It’s probably a bit mad to get the pet which your child is really scared of, but getting another animal, can help show your toddler that they aren’t all scary. My little boy started to become happy with cats, so we got two. We even have a reward chart behaviour to choose for looking after your pets to encourage your children with them as well
  7. Encouraging them to be respectful not scared is fine. It’s always important to check the temperament of an animal first with the owner if its an animal you don’t know. It’s better to keep your distance, and then ask questions. If you do this, then your children will pick up this habit from you. They do, after all, copy a lot, don’t they?!

Patience, as with all things kiddie, is the watchword here.

I never thought my little guy would ever be comfortable with dogs. Stuntboy is now quite happy to walk past them at the park, and even strokes them when the owner lets him.

Result!

How are your children with animals? Does it bother you? Do you have any tips you would like to share?

47 Comments

  • Well in my views one can overcome any kind of phobia or fear but they have to give it a go sincerely. Most of the time we are more scared to face the situation than the thing itself that we fear.

  • Amazing tips!! I am a father of of two children and they both frightened from dogs ,now i can tackle this problem give some tips to my chidren that how to face a dog !

  • amazing tips !!it helps me alot..now i get the point that how to behave in front of dogs ..thanks for write such fine tips..

  • A very fine post with very nice and useful tips that greatly helps parents to overcome their kids fear for dogs and other animals. A very big thanks to you Helen. You did a wonderful job. Very practical and useful tips i have ever read. Hope to see more informative and helping blogs from your side. Quite interested to read more.

  • well researched and finely written article full of useful info. Fear of children for dogs is a common problem that make many parents concerned but this post covers this issue very well and give amazing and fab tips. Quite helping. Well-done Helen, its a great job done by you. Hope you pop over with more useful blogs. Thumps up. Many thanks for sharing this.

  • Hello Helen,

    My younger brother gets nervous while he see’s our dog. Inspite he’s very nice and friendly, but
    Childs are more afraid of animals.
    I have seen dogs too like to play or becomes curious when they see a child around.

    These tips are really great to add up on.

    Thanks for sharing this among us.

  • This is one topic that has not may writers… and not tackled. I have encountered kids who are indeed terrified of coming in close contact with animals and it’s just sad that these kids were not exposed to them. i love your article. its realy amazing . thanks for amazing post.

  • Building your kids self-confidence is a tough task and most of us are proved to be a loser as we never think so deeply why it happened!

    Being a father I know how important it is! after reading this valuable content I am sure that if the given idea is applied in our real life then result would be quite positive.

    Thankss a lot for writing such beautiful lines!!

  • You should introduce your pets to child so they will get familiar with the pet and consider your pet as a family pet, else you should visit smart family pets for once to get proper help to train your pet

  • Hey Friend
    Thanks for sharing this informative blog with everyone. And, I really appreciate your hard-work because now I know that why my daughter usually get scare of dogs.

    This requires a lot of patience and understanding but I will make sure that I will follow these tips and get success.

    Thanks dear
    God Bless You :-)

  • I agree with this article. You really can not blame children because that is what they think at, at that age. I guess if you get a child a puppy, he wont be so frightened as he would be with a grown dog. If even though the dog just wants to play.

  • Such great tips, and definitely a brilliant result! I think that teaching kids to understand animals, particularly dogs, and their body language is so important. Just as dog owners have a responsibility not to let their pets run towards kids, the reverse applies too. I have a very sociable, loving and gentle dog, but to him children are really unpredictable and a sudden joyous shout, scream or laugh could really frighten him. The amount of times parents have let their toddler run towards my large dog is really shocking – they have no idea how friendly my dog is. I think it’s so important that like you say, dog owners don’t let their dog near kids they don’t know (it’s appauling that anyone would do that!), and just as important that parents dont let their kids go running towards dogs too. Great post!

  • Great tips. I agree and feel that fear is sometimes deep routed and we should do anything in our power to show kids that dogs are loving companions.

  • Just got custody of my 6 year old stepdaughter. She has never had a bed experience with dogs, but is terrified of them…problem is, my husband and I have 3 dogs (big dogs). My stepdaughter won’t walk into the same room as any of the dogs and if they come into the room she is in, she screams and wants picked up…she has even climbed on top of the dining room table (not much help since one of our dogs is taller than the table)…what should I do to help her get over this fear?

    • Hi there. I think this is likely to be a gradual process for you, and her. You need to re-assure her that they are OK, use neutral language with her, and try to stay patient. She perhaps has a lot of change going on in her life and this is maybe just a part of that. May be worth speaking to a health visitor, or school nurse too for further advice. Good luck.

  • My daughter is almost 5 and we continue to hear she will grow out of her “fear” of animals. I think it is important to realize that many of these children (to include my own) are dealing with a phobia. It goes far beyond what we know as fear. I am just happy to know that we are not alone in this and I would love to know if there are any “pet therapies” out there or if getting our own dog or pet would be the answer. My daughter seems to be getting worse instead of better with age and I was raised on a farm and I take the kids to see animals in pet places. My child took off running when a fish was caught by a grandparent and she was half way around the pond. It includes birds, bugs, dogs, fish, and especially cats…pretty much anything that lives that is not a person. I would love to know some other ideas as to how to help this situation. I thank you for your suggestions and to know that there is a support of others going through the same experience.

    • Hi there, Amanda. Thanks so much for your comment on the blog. I do have a couple of contacts for parenting coaches who might be able to help or point you in the right direction? Feel free to email us if you want at [email protected] and we can see if we can help. I totally appreciate how difficult it is – my little boy was so frightened of dogs he would run away from them without a thought. Patience and understanding was what worked the most for us, as well as gradually introducing him to different animals that were smaller, and he didn’t feel threatened by. We also talked about his fear and why he was afraid a lot too, sometimes it helps to understand what is the root cause of these phobias as well I am sure. Perhaps there is a particular incident, or your daughter is worried about something specific happening? Drop me a line and we can see if we can help.

  • Thanks for these really useful, succinct tips. My niece and nephew have struggled with dogs for years, as they aren’t used to them, but these tips I’m sure will go some way to meeting their fear

  • Pingback: Help! My child is scared of dogs
  • Thank you so much for the tips. My daughter afraid of dog, cat even chicken. I try to have chicken and cat at home and get her involve to feed the cat and chicken to decrease her fear. Need a lot of patience and time allocation to give them explanation and guidance

  • Thank you for sharing useful tips on how to handle fear from dogs and other animals. Really helpful and applicable, also I read about hypnotherapy and its one of the alternative ways to cure fears and phobias. Nice post!

  • Mine as well, every time we go to visit my friends house, I can’t bring her, I guess its like having a phobia but we never seen that some dogs attack her or where it cause that she’s being like that. now I’m worried about it because me and my husband planning to get some dogs because they can help to guard the house and the kids they are good on that.

  • Another great tip is to find someone who has a really well behaved or trained dog that is great with kids. Kids seeing a well trained dog lose their fear and watch in amazement, or a dog that can do tricks. Making them feel another emotion rather than fear will distract them and perhaps lower their guard to want to meet dogs.

  • Only certain breeds of dogs will treat running away as a sign of something to react to – especially hunting dogs or racing dogs like greyhounds or lurchers.

    Unfortunately the behaviour of any dog is a direct reflection on the owner.

    Any time I meet a curious young child who tries to pet any of my dogs I always ask the parents permission first and then hold the dog still while the child pets them – but only because I trust my dogs 10000% to never snap, growl or do anything to scare children.

    Oddly enough I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum by being bitten by a Jack Russell when I was younger (the owners had him trained to attacked people) but now the pup asleep beside me after her walk is a Jack Russell too :-)

  • I am grateful for your taking the time to write an amazingly effective article that confronts an all too real phobia. I have been fortunate to never have been bitten or seriously threatened by a dog. Anyone who has, however, would be well within reason to be fearful. They are amazing creatures, but we often humanize them to an extent that belies their potential to cause injury. However, as you have aptly described anyone can raise and/or maintain a dog with due diligence and patience.

  • You have pointed out some really good tips to use if your child is afraid of dogs and cats. I myself have been afraid of dogs by the way they bark. Like for instants, a bulldog they have that kind of bark that makes chills go up your spine.

  • I have a pom,and a german spitz.Kids where I live were afraid of dogs,until I asked them to kneel down by my dogs.I told the kids my dogs want to kiss their noses.There is no reason to fear dogs,if you know that dog.you can bet that if a big dog runs at me,that I don’t know,I will stop ,and let it sniff me out.Dogs are agressive,when someone runs from them.

  • Gosh this post reminds me of the time my nephew ran away from a cat. OK, so not as scary as a dog, but in his tiny mind it was. I definitely think it’s a plus to introduce kids to animals from a young age. Not only does it help to alleviate their concerns, but it teaches them about compassion and caring.

  • This is one topic that has not may writers… and not tackled. I have encountered kids who are indeed terrified of coming in close contact with animals and it’s just sad that these kids were not exposed to them.

  • Brilliant post hun! I hope this helps a lot of parents. Cameron has always been around dogs, so he isn’t so bad. But now I have to remind him that not all dogs are friendly. Owners that let their dogs come bounding over also annoy the hell out of me. :-)

    Thank you for linking up with The Weekend Blog Hop

    Hope to see you again this weekend

    Laura x x x

    • Thanks my dear – it something that would definitely go in my Room101…is that a blog post I feel coming on ;-) Was great to join in, and I may very well be doing so again if I can this week too xx

  • A the moment T varies between being obsessed with the MiL’s cat and the terrified of her but last week he declared he’d rather have a kitten than a baby so he’s obviously not too traumatised!

  • popped over from the weekend blog hop and so glad I clicked onto here my little girl is 2 and a half and terrified of everything! even birds, butterflies and ants! playing in the garden is a nightmare she screams if she sees anything moving out there. will have to try taking her to a farm or somewhere similar to watch other kids with animals

  • My eldest daughter was knocked over by my friends excitable dog when she was just a toddler. She goes into panic mode near any dog now. Only this weekend we were at a friends and we told her not to squeal as the dog thinks she is playing and jumps even more. Her response “I will hold my breath to stop me squealing” …… thankfully the dog responded well to being ignored and she could breathe again!!!

    • Bless you, Donna. I think that’s why my little boy was scared too. He is now 6, and has gotten over it – but its so hard for you and them…patience and understanding and she will get there. Hugs xx

  • All your tips sound very sensible. A farm holiday like ours is also a great way to overcome fears. Seeing other children handling animals with no fear always inspires confidence,

    • A great point, Fiona – and something that certainly helped my little boy – taking him to farm’s…none as gorgeous as Coombe Mill of course! :-D

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