Pet Parenting: Child is scared of dogs

Dear Denise,

My 6-year-old was bitten by a dog on the leg when she was younger. Now she’s really scared of dogs. It’s hard to convince her that not all dogs bite. What can I do?

Dear Mama:

This is really a ‘human behavior’ question not a dog one, but I’ll do my best. I’d start by getting your daughter to read/look at books about dogs, or watch a movie about dogs. There are LOTS of children’s books about dogs. As for movies, I’m pretty partial to Because of Winn-Dixie. Most movies are about boys and their dogs, that one is about a girl.

Hopefully, watching movies and reading books about nice dogs will help her see that dogs can be okay. From there, I’d maybe take her to an obedience or agility class somewhere, just to watch. Make sure she understands that she doesn’t have to pet or even get close to a dog unless she chooses to do so, and let her know that you can leave whenever she wants to go. Don’t stress her out.

At some point, she may begin to show a preference for some sort of dog. If she does, try to find someone who has THAT kind of dog, or something havanese puppy white backgroundsimilar, and make sure it’s a nice, calm dog. The first time you actually introduce her to a dog, it’s important that the dog be completely neutral and very calm. You don’t want a dog that’s going to be over-zealous with a greeting, maybe even a slightly shy dog would be good. Don’t try to force an interaction. Let your daughter choose. You can encourage her, but don’t make her do anything she isn’t comfortable doing.

I’ve actually done this before with a few people. You can get there, it just takes some patience. If you need some nice, neutral dogs, seek out therapy dogs. These dogs go to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc and are usually pretty calm, laid back and well-behaved animals. 

Denise Holmes is a pet behavior counselor with over 25 years of experience. She focuses on family pet training and animal-assisted therapy. She has consulted with Arkansas Children’s Hospital, helped set up a variety of local programs and produced a CD to help expecting parents introduce the family pet to a newborn,