Some children (and adults) have a fear of dogs that can stem from a few different circumstances. Perhaps they've been chased or threatened by a dog, or maybe they've encountered an exuberant, friendly dog that meant no harm but was just overwhelming and jumpy. They may have been knocked over or even bitten by a dog. Some children notice a parent's nervousness around dogs and feel the same way. Whatever the reason, it's important that steps be taken to alleviate this fear because it's not easy to avoid dogs completely. Their friends or family may have dogs, which can lead to stress when they visit. A stroll to the local store can induce anxiety because there may be a dog on their route.
There are things that can be done to help children overcome this fear. Parents can follow a desensitizing program that is not unlike those used to treat other fears such as arachnophobia (the fear of spiders).
The first step is to reduce any fear associated with dogs in general. Many books and movies feature friendly pups who are best friends with their young master or mistress. Tales of how dogs care for children in frightening situations can make dogs look safe rather than scary. A puppy-shaped soft toy can help generate warm feelings towards dogs in very young children.
When your child is more relaxed about dogs, it's time to expose them carefully to the real thing in a very controlled manner. The best way to do this is let them meet some young puppies that are small, playful, and not at all threatening. Puppies of this size are also easy to control and move away from your child should they become anxious. If you don't have access to puppies, then perhaps you have a kennel club nearby and can take your child to a dog show. This will be noisy with dogs of all shapes and sizes, but they're usually well behaved.
The next step is to get hands-on with a dog. This shouldn't be forced; be guided by your child's comfort level. Visit a friend with a quiet, well-mannered pup that isn't likely to bark or jump up, and let your little one approach the dog when they're ready. Again, there's no rush for this. You may find on the first visit that your child is happy just to be in the same room as the dog. Over a few sessions, they may then become comfortable enough to pat the dog.
Always supervise your child when around dogs because you can then make sure all their interactions are positive and friendly. It can take just one incident where they get a fright and their progress will be set back. Many children who go through this process become confident enough to welcome a dog into their own family.
Fear of dogs is not uncommon and it makes life stressful because dogs are everywhere in our communities. With time and patience, this fear can be overcome and it's possible that an affected person will then be able to enjoy the companionship of a canine best friend.