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How To Help Your Child Conquer Their Fear of Dogs

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How To Help Your Child Conquer Their Fear of Dogs

 Guest post by Karen Jensen, my sister and co-author of our book Living a Rich Life as a Stay-at-Home Mom: How to Build a Successful Financial Foundation for You and Your Children.

My son was terrified of dogs. I mean the blood curdling scream kind of terrified, when a dog the size of a cat would come running up, hoping for a pat on the head. There was no reason for his phobia; at least if there was, it wasn’t apparent to us. He seemed to just be born with it.

My husband and I are avid dog lovers. We both grew up with dogs and when we got married we always had a dog until we had kids. However, once my daughter was born our little red heeler found a new home with Grandpa on the ranch for the simple reason that I was pretty overwhelmed with my newborn and Grandpa liked having him around.

Fast forward a few years and my four year old son had never had a dog of his own. Even frequent visits to Grandpa’s house weren’t enough to cure him of his K9 phobia. He would make us carry him into Grandpa’s house so the dog couldn’t jump up on him. If we refused he would run as fast as he could, screaming the whole way. It was enough to drive a parent crazy. I tried lots of different things to hopefully calm his fears but nothing seemed to work. That is when I knew it was time for us to get a dog.

I knew enough about dogs that I knew we didn’t want to get a puppy that would be so hyper he would jump all over the kids. I have a soft spot in my heart for labs and I know what great family dogs they are, especially when they get a little older. So we were blessed to find a six year old yellow lab who had been around kids his whole life. His owners had to move and couldn’t take him so we inherited Bo. Bo is not a small dog by any means. When my son first saw him he wouldn’t go near him. My youngest son, who was only a year old, was braver around Bo than my 4 year old. But it was only a matter of time.

We tied Bo up for the first few weeks he was here so he wouldn’t wander off and also so my son still felt safe in the yard, as long as he was out of Bo’s reach. But I made it my son’s job to feed and water Bo every morning. He would get just close enough to reach the bowl of food out to Bo and then run away.

When he got more comfortable I made it his job to take Bo off his rope every morning so Bo could get some exercise. That was really hard. I remember him coming in crying a few times, saying Bo wouldn’t let him get his rope off. I would just encourage him to keep trying and assure him that Bo wouldn’t hurt him. I can still picture it in my mind…this one morning when my son was so frustrated with trying to get the rope off without getting too close to Bo. He finally just straddled Bo like a horse and grabbed the hook and unhooked it. I was so proud of him. He was finally conquering his phobia.

Now Bo is never tied up. Every morning before breakfast my son feeds Bo and takes him for a run. He loves Bo. But the most interesting thing is that he’s not afraid of any dogs anymore. The other day we were out for a bike ride with Bo running behind us as usual and a big black dog came running out of his yard barking at Bo. I hurried to catch up to my son because the dog was making me a little nervous, My son didn’t even flinch. He just kept on riding and talking about whether we could stop up at the water tank. That’s when I knew that his fear of dogs was officially history!

There are lots of great reasons to have a dog. Whether it’s for companionship, teaching responsibility, or helping kids overcome fears, dogs can be a wonderful addition to any family.

-Karen

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Julie

Thursday 2nd of October 2014

My 11 year old is still terrified of dogs. I don't really know why. We have a husky that he stays VERY FAR away from and when the dog is around, it's all my son can do not to have a full blown panic attack. He was excited when we got the dog, but once we brought him home, he freaked out. We've had the dog for almost 2 years and it's really time I help him get past the "avoid or run away screaming." Any suggestions?

Anita Fowler

Friday 3rd of October 2014

I would suggest having your son participate in some parental controlled contact with the dog if your dog is completely safe and will not jump up on him. Possibly just a little at a time but your son needs to have the experience of actually being in contact with the dog and not having any negative effects. Also, have you tried assigning your son chores that have to do with the dog such as feeding him or watering him? My son would stay far away from our dog as well until I made feeding him a chore he had to do. Then he had to at least take the food close enough to the dog so the dog could reach it from his rope. Also, people tend to love those they serve - even if it happens to be a pet. Perhaps there is some underlying reason for the fear that you could try to explore. I just think repetitive positive interactions are necessary in order for him to realize the dog is not going to hurt him and there is no need to be afraid.

Carissa Joslyn

Monday 17th of March 2014

This is really good! My kids have grown up around dogs since they were born, but I, myself have been attacked by a neighbors dog when i was in high school while waiting for the bus.

TAMARA TERNI

Sunday 16th of March 2014

LOVED THIS I WAS ATTACKED AS WELL AS MY SISTER WHEN WE WERE CHILDREN. IT TOOK YEARS FOR BOTH OF US TO TRUST AGAIN. NOW WE BOTH HAVE DOGS WE LOVE

Anita Fowler

Monday 17th of March 2014

Tamara- I'm so sorry to hear you were attacked. I was too. You can read about it here. I now carry a TigerLight incase aggressive dogs come running at me. I also have a dog now and love them. I'm glad you do too. Thanks for the comment.

Stacy Harrington Calhoun

Friday 14th of March 2014

I have been very lucky that my kids have had no fear of dogs. In fact they want to pet every dog that comes by the house in the neighborhood. When my daughter was about 6, she got bit in the face by a german shepard. It was not a bad bite, barely broke skin but still freaked me out more than it freaked her out. Her response was the dog did what some dogs can do, and it would not scare her away from other dogs. She was a little hesistant of German shepards for a lil while. but quickly got over that and still loves all dogs. Her goal is to open a rescue to work with dogs that have been abused or have behavior issues.

Alex

Thursday 6th of March 2014

Great article! Dogs are awesome.