Child's Fear of Animals
Berkeley Parents Network >
Advice about Pets >
Child's Fear of Animals
A few months ago our wonderful neighbors went abroad and
rented out their home to a couple with two large
herding-type dogs. Before the renters moved in, they fully
fenced the backyard to accommodate the dogs.
I have a wonderful 20 month old boy who loves dogs when he
sees them while we're out. However, lately whenever we sit
down to dinner the dogs next door invariably start barking
(our dining room window is right by the neighbor's fence).
When he hears them he starts saying ''doggy'' over and over
and demands to be picked up from his chair. He clings
tightly to me and asks to go look out all the windows --- he
can't see the dogs and doesn't seem to know where they are
and it makes him very anxious. He's a typical picky toddler,
so this is usually the end of mealtime.
How can I minimize this disruption? The renters are friendly
enough in passing but keep to themselves. The dogs aren't
doing anything wrong. But they're presence is really
starting to bug me. We are considering replacing the old
single-glaze windows on this side of the house with
double-glaze to see if that helps minimize the noise, but
that seems drastic. Is there anything else I can do?
Tired of woof
Two thoughts come to mind: One, talk to the neighbors and
see if they can bring the dogs in during mealtime. Explain
that this is stressing out your kid and you need him to fill
up on healthy food before bed, etc.
Second, at a time that's more conducive to your schedule,
find some times to expose him more to dogs in general:
barking dogs, running dogs, licking dogs, puppies, etc. This
will be a more long-term project, but may help him in the end.
I have been surprised at how long it took my daughter to get
over some over her ''phobias,'' such as the smoke detector,
falling off the changing table, etc. Good luck!
Mama of Two Tots
First of all let me say I am a dog owner. I think your
answer is two fold. First thing is how you react to the
dogs barking. You should tell your child, yes the dogs are
barking, and maybe you can talk about what they could be
barking at (a cat on the other side of the fence perhaps, or
just the wind, are they barking because they know that you
are eating dinner maybe? Just talk to him, but don't be
distressed) Kids take ques from you.
Also I think you should approach these neighbors or write
them a note. There is probably some reason the dogs are
barking right at dinner time? You should be non-combative
in the note or conversation. Is that a time of day when
other people are walking by with their dogs? Could the
people put the dogs inside during that time? Maybe this
will go no where, but it is certainly worth addressing.
If that doesn't solve the problem, there is a device you can
buy (I don't know if it works or not, that is suppose to
curb barking. Some sort of silent sound when the dog barks.)
There are also citranella collars that spray a little
citranella every time the dog barks to distract them. If
you live in Berkeley there are products the city will let
people barrow to mitagate neighbor issues over dogs barking.
It is on the city website. You can also buy these same
products, but the collar must be worn, so that is in the
owners court. But I think you should let them know. Don't
even mention it worries your son, just say the dogs bark
every time you sit down to dinner, is there anything we can
do about this?
love my dogs, but not when they bark
We have had to deal with a barking dog in the yard nest to
our home, so our children could not play quietly in our
garden without being barked at !
You're lucky because its a TENANT'S dogs that are
''disturbing the peace'' of your home.
Video your child's reaction to the barking dogs.
Tell the tenants about the problem their barking dogs are
causing, right away.
If the dogs do not stop barking and the ''disturbing the
peace'' continues, write to the tenants with a copy of the
letter sent to the property owner. SEND YOUR LETTERS USPS
CERTIFIED OR HAVE YOUR LETTERS DELIVERED BY UPS.
Case law in California makes the property owner responsible
for maintaining tenant-occupied properties in a way that
does not ''disturb the peace'' of other householders.
For the sake of your child, please start now !
No child deserves to live with what you've described !
My nearly five-year-old has always been fearful of animals,
but recently his fear of dogs has become a real safety
issue. Twice in the past month he has tried to run into the
street to avoid a dog (one on a leash, the other about 15
feet away and completely uninterested in him). This has
happened on very busy streets and if I hadn't been right
there to grab him he could easily have been hit by a car. In
fact one time he darted straight toward an oncoming bus.
Past advice on BPN doesn't seem particularly useful. I don't
want him to experience this level of fright (he is clearly
very, very afraid), but more than that, I want him to be
able to safely walk or bike down the street.
We have impressed upon him that dogs are unlikely to hurt
him but that he could be very hurt or even die if he were
hit by a car. We've told him that we will pick him up and
hold him if he ever sees a dog and feels afraid. But I'm not
sure that in the moment that's going to be enough.
I'm interested in the experiences of people who've tried to
desensitize their kids, or have otherwise tackled serious
fears. Would a therapist be able to help with this? We don't
have any pets and don't want any. We do know a few people
with dogs, but they're not particularly mellow. We could
seek out more, if it seemed like that would help, but I'd
like to do it thoughtfully. I realize that he's likely to
grow out of this, but I don't feel like we can wait for that.
Hi, Our daughter was terrified of dogs and would scream hysterically and
literally climb up my body every time she saw one. It got to the point that I
thought she might actually get bitten because of her over reaction to them. I
decided that the best thing to do was to get her a dog. I found an
appropriate older dog for our family after several months of looking but I
didn't tell her we were getting a dog until the morning we went to the shelter
so she didn't have time to get worked up about it. When we got there we
looked at the dog through the glass, took her for a brief walk, and filled out
the paperwork. Then I handed my daughter the leash and she just took it.
We have had this dog for 3 years now and my daughter adores her. My
daughter can now go to the dog park and hang out with all the other dogs
quite comfortably. I realize that getting a dog might not be possible for you
but if you can maybe that is your solution. Also we have used our dog to
help several of our friend's kids be less fearful. Maybe you have a friend with
a gentle, mellow dog. I think it is just a matter of getting used to them and
needing to spend time with a dog that is not hyper, jumpy or licky. From a
child's perspective dogs can be really scary so I would sympathize with your
child's feelings too. Best of luck!
We had a child come to our house once that had a fear of dogs, and we
have 2 overly friendly, excitable labs. They came during a party we were
hosting, and his parents asked to come again when there wasn't a party
and just work with the boy and our dogs. We agreed. I wanted to just
share with you our strategy, which may or may not work for you but might
We first kept the dogs in the crate. We ordered pizza and everybody ate
while the dogs were in the crates (at the end of the kitchen so far enough
from the table but in plain sight) and we reminded him that the dogs are in
crates and can't get out. We started by working on his comfort zone with
being near the dogs.
After pizza, his father walked him near the dogs so he could see them in
their crate. He resisted and the father kept talking to him softly and it
wasn't a battle but just talking about the dogs, repeating that they are in
their houses, etc. And it took a long time but gradually the boy got ok with
being closer to them.
Eventually, we asked if he'd be ok if t he dogs could leave their house to
get some water. He wasn't ok at first but eventually - in his own time - he
nodded and allowed the dogs to run around the house.
By the end of the evening, he even let the dogs pass with about 6 inches
from his body. He never pet them. We explained that if a dog licks you, it
is a kiss and means he likes you. A wagging tail is also a happy dog. Our
dogs will not bite - they are trained (going through basic commands like
sit, come, shake shows the training).
Now he knows us as the couple with the dogs . And I think he had a
good experience. The most important thing is to pay attention to where the
child is at, don't force anything and keep him away from a dog that would
bite or make the fear worse.
We had a similar situation where my son went from being
mildly afraid of dogs at ages 2 through 4, to being
absolutely terrified at 4 years old due to an incident
with an overzealous jack russell terrier.
The way we overcame his fear was by attending a ''read to a
dog'' event at a local libray when he was about 5. This was
before we lived in Northern California, but you should be
able to find one somewhere in the Bay area.
It took a few sessions, but the eventual transformation in
my son's attitude towards dogs was absolutely miraculous.
These animals and their volunteer owners are so kind...
And the dogs are incredibly mellow. My son was just
starting to read so he and the dog's owner read the books
together. Eventually it morphed into more of a dog visit
with some books.
- I had my son pick some of his favorite books to share
with the dog.
- we went on a day when there were only a few other people
- my son was very reluctant to even go near the dog at
first so we went early and spent time just observing other
kids interacting with the dog
I am a life-long dog lover and had a wonderful mutt when I
was a little kid. In addition to the safety issues, it
used to break my heart to see my son so afraid of dogs. He
is now 7 and does very well with most dogs.
I hope you are able to find a low-key event at a library
or similar situation that will help your son get more
comfortable with canines.
- Mom whose kid now likes dogs
Hi, in addition to the danger of your child running into the
street there is also a danger that if your child runs the
dog's instinct to chase may be triggered. Hopefully, you
can have your child practice a different behavior so that
your child automatically knows what to do when he sees a
dog. Explain that dogs feel an urge to chase when they see
someone/something run. Teach your child safety procedures to
keep him safe around dogs, be frank and honest so that you
can provide steps, similar to ''stop, drop and roll'' that is
taught to children about fire. Your child should stop, look
away and take your hand, for instance. Dogs take looking
into the eyes as an aggressive behavior. Explain that you
are teaching about dog behavior to keep him safe. It might
help him to know he can do something proactive to keep
himself more safe. ask him if he'd like to know what to do
to keep himself more safe around dogs and then if he says
yes, teach him the new behaviors or steps to employ.
Dog lover, child advocate
To assist a child with overcoming a fear of dogs, you could
do as we have: give the child time with several dogs, under
your supervision. We dog sit, even fostered a dog for a
year, so as to help our child grow to know dogs. Once old
enough, your child could volunteer hours at the SPCA. Just
as you do with humans, be a role model for good
relationships between human and dogs.
Dog lover, not owner
I'm sure you'll get better advise than what I offer, but
here is my experience. My son, when he was a very young
child, was afraid of dogs because one day my neighbor let
her huge Rhodesian Ridgeback go bounding across the street
and she knocked over my son. ''Cessondra'', the dog, was not
a bad dog, but she was huge, and my son was terrified from
that day on of ALL dogs. So, when he was about 8 years
old, and not getting any better, I just got an adorable
puppy, from the pound. That did the trick. He loved that
dog for all of the years that we had him, and the dog was
like a brother to my son. He is no longer afraid of dogs;
in fact he loves them. Good luck to you, in whatever you
My now 9 year old daughter has always been really afraid of dogs thanks to a
neighbor''s Golden that would knock her over whenever the dog saw her. I
had to resort to smacking the dog across the nose to keep it away from us.
The neighbor lets it run loose all day (''we don't know how she gets out, ha
ha) until I started calling Animal Services and it cost them $250 each time to
retrieve it. Anyway, it really helped when my daughter met and interacted
with a relative's geriatric Labrador. This dog is so old it barely lifts its head
when you walk into a room and when you pet it, it doesn't move. She decided
she likes ''old dogs''. Although she is afraid, it is getting slightly better now
that she is taller and the dogs do not tower over her. She saw all dogs as
fierce because she was so short a larger dog would tower over her. We
discussed a few concepts that help her. I explained that dogs used to be
hunters - so if you run, they will chase you. She understands she must never
run, she must freeze. She often screams if it approaches her, which alerts the
owner she is afraid, even if inelegant. And no matter how much a dog owner
says ''my dog is friendly'' we don't approach any dog unless my daughter
initiates an approach. She is starting to be OK with small fluffy dogs, too, but
it is taking a long time. Anyway, your child is not alone, in our case it took
time and my daughter getting taller and bigger. I feel your pain and hope it
I'm glad that you understand that your child's reaction is
serious and potentially dangerous. Not only is bolting into
a street obviously not a great idea, but children who make a
big show and run away from dogs are often the ones who end
up getting chased (kids squealing and running looks like a
pretty fun game for a dog).
I have a few dogs and a baby. One of these dogs is the most
mellow, easygoing dog I have ever met in my life.
If you need the world's calmest dog to help your son
understand his fears, I'd be willing to help out with her.
She is the kind of dog that will lay down while children
read to her, and she's just super gentle when she initiates
contact (which isn't always).
I have another dog that will happily ignore your son
entirely until he engages, but he's sort of bouncy after
that so I think the first dog is the best.
Anyway, feel free to contact me if you'd like to try.
There are programs where kids read to dogs in library
settings. This would allow your child a chance to stay as
far away from the dog as he wants, but still see a dog in a
very non-threatening position.
You might also try to figure out whether any of this is a
histrionic way to get attention. Is he overly dramatic in
general? Or is it just this one thing?
I do think that he needs to have some positive, mellow
canine interaction. Maybe you could foster a Guide Dog -
they start as pups, and then he'd have a job helping to
train the dog.
Don't ''desensitize'' him. A fear of dogs is reasonable. Try
to lead him toward rational responses. First thing I'd do
(which is what I did for my daughter, who was terrified of
dogs), is to always stand between him and a dog. When you
see a dog coming, pick up your son, or ask him if he's
afraid, then make sure he gets it that YOU will protect
him, and he won't have to take matters into his own hands
by running into the street. Take his hand. Ask the
leash=less dog owners to leash their dog around your son
(they'll likely take some offense at this, as clueless dog
owners believe that you should see their dog as they do,
and if they don't have a leash, ask if they can hold it.).
Talk to him about how it's good to be wary of dogs, and
model good behavior around dogs. Tell him what you'll do
next time you see a dog, and check in with him to see if
he's ok with it. Tell him you'll show him how to greet a
dog properly and safely. With your son well-protected but
within view and earshot, ask the owner if their dog is
friendly. Put your hand out for sniffing. Pet the dog. Ask
him if he wants to pet the dog, but let him know it's ok
if he doesn't. Remember that your poor kid has probably
been knocked over and/or snarled at by a dog. Even the
friendly ones knock kids over, and that's pretty
terrifying. I should tell you too that when I was 5 I
wandered around the corner from my house, and a
neighborhood dog ran after me, knocked me down and bit me.
No reason. I was terrified of dogs for a long time too.
You don't need therapy for this. You need good dogs, small
dogs, friendly neighbors' dogs that can be enjoyed at a
distance, AND the knowledge of how to protect yourself
from an unreasonable dog. THat's hard for a 5-yr-old.
Sometimes it just takes time, too. My daughter is no
longer afraid of dogs, and she has a better ability to
pick out the friendly ones.
I don't have a lot of advice, but a story and an offer.
The story: My husband was deathly afraid of dogs as a
child. He was terrified when he went to visit his father,
who had two little (and friendly) Dachshunds. When he was
22, and decided he had to befriend my German Shepherd to
woo me, he got over his fear of dogs. He became the #1
guy to the Shepherd (and me). We have had big dogs
together for 30+ years now, and they all have adored him
(and vice versa). So time will take care of the problem.
That is little comfort, though, when your son would sooner
run into the street than go near a dog.
Hence the offer: I have two very mellow dogs -- a
Labrador Retriever who flunked out of guide dog school and
a very sweet and soft Golden Retriever. They are both
very big, but older (the Lab is really old), VERY calm,
and great with kids. They will lie down on command and
not move. Several kids have conquered their fears with
these guys. One friend's daughter, who is legally blind
and terrified of dogs, made great progress with them, and
actually sat and petted the Golden. I am happy to bring
one of the dogs to a park some weekend to meet your son,
if that would help. Contact me if you want to try it.
My heart goes out to you and your son. My daughter was in a
similar situation with fears and anxiety permeating her
daily life and taking a toll on her self-esteem. I saw both
a friend's very anxious child and our daughter come out of
painful anxiety and thrive with the help of Dr. Lester
Isenstadt, a therapist who has worked with children with
anxiety for 30 or 40 years. He is both very experienced and
well-versed on the current medical knowledge about brain
functioning. Further, he is a Psychiatrist who does all his
own counseling with kids so he stays on top of how they are
doing on a weekly basis as well as having the ability to
prescribe meds if warranted. We also like that he is
conservative regarding the use of medications. I believe he
works with kids for a few months then may consider
medication if needed to lower their anxiety, depression, or
whatever long enough to teach them effective self-management
and coping strategies. He also has a big heart. His number,
if you like, is 510-848-2170.
Wishing you the best
We recently went for a playdate at friend's house who has a cat.
My daughter was frozen with fear when she saw the cat and
started crying hysterically. Eventually we had to remove the cat
from the room before she would calm down. When she was a little
younger she also had a similar response when she saw dogs and
cats as we visited various family members who had pets. Is this
something she will eventually grow out of or are there things we
can do to help her get over her fear?
Wise kid. She's really too young to socialize closely with most
animals, and of course never unsupervised both for her sake and
The trick is to not let her get too much mileage out of it. just
as a little one will fall, then look for your reaction to decide
whether they're really hurt before they cry, they'll take your
cue whether it's worth bothering to be scared of a given animal
or situation. Comfort and reassurance are of course essential,
but if you give TOO much sympathy (oh my poor baby are you
scared? that big ol' mean dog won't bite you...), they realize it
gives them power. WHee! And they're off and whining.
Try a visit to the pet store on cat adoption day and let her just
look at the kitties. Don't be strident, just say happily, ''oh,
look, a cat, that one's sleeping. That one's playing. Do you like
to play?'', and immediately move on to something else she likes,
maybe birds or fish; she sees it, isn't near it, it's not a
threat, and there's no pressure. You'll know it's working when
she wants to go back for a second look. As for dogs, unless it's
a pretty small or extremely calm dog, think of it from a kid's
eye view: what big teeth they have! So again, stay calm and
relaxed, keep the visit very short, keep her up above the dog so
she feels safe, and just show how much you like the dog without
asking her to. It's a trick of getting close to what scares her,
then overcoming her fear to develop confidence up to the next
level of contact. Later on you can teach her how to pet a docile
animal with just one or two fingers.
By the time she's four she'll be ready to train lions.
signed, Canis Major
I didn't see your original post but read a response.
We are not dog people, but I wanted to raise my child to have her own opinion about
dogs and in a wise and respectful manner. So we have 'dog rules,' and I think they
have served her well.
First, we can never approach a dog without it's mommy or daddy there. And we
must ASK for permission to pet the dog. Most of the time the dog owner gives some
indication of how friendly (or not) the dog is and any special info about approaching
the dog. Also, the dog isn't startled.
Second, we greet the dog by offering a closed hand for the dog to sniff. If the dog is
not interested, then the interaction is over. If the dog is friendly, sniffs, licks, comes
closer, then and only then do we....
Third, get to pet the dog.
kid isn't scared
One of my twins was like that, absolutely terrified and would
scream, cry and just panic especially if she saw the cat's eyes.
We had started going to a friend's house for play dates, where
there was a cat. I would comfort her, the cat would be removed,
but I think the key thing is not making a big deal out of it as
it's very easy to subtly reinforce the fear. What really did the
trick, when she was around 14 mos or so was when the cat would
come in the room we'd laugh and say things like ''look at that
silly cat'' or that cat is so funny jumping on the couch, ha ha
ha.Stuff like that. She'd start laughing too and it wasn't long
before she wasn't afraid, and she'd even go looking for the cat.
mom of a former cat hater
Our daughter who now is 4 is extremely afraid of dogs. It used
to be all dogs. Now she is finally okay with small dogs, (the
size of cats.) We are at a loss as to help her be more at ease
with friendly and safe dogs. She completely freaks out when we
near a dog, even on a leash. We hate seeing her so distressed
and it's also a frustrating experience for us. We talk to her
about dogs and point out dogs on leashes and slowly try to get
nearer to them. We also point out anytime she has walked by a
dog not realizing it and that she was safe. And at being at
our wits end, we've even used a ''tough-love'' method of just
making her walk passed a dog on a leash closer than she would
like. (Keep in mind with this last strategy, it has been with
a sitting dog on a short leash.)
If anyone has suggestions or has had their own experience with
this, we would love to know what has worked for you!
I think this is very common.
Is there any reason why she needs to be around dogs?
If not, I would just avoid dogs. My son was afraid of
dogs too, so we just avoided them. Eventually he got used to my sisters dog
when he was around 6, and by 8 he was ready to have his own dog!
Why do you want to make your child less afraid of dogs? If she's
scared you should respect that and not force the issue. Some
people don't like dogs. Maybe she'll grow out of it and maybe
not. In any case, it's probably better for HER to be afraid of
dogs than overly friendly towards them - dogs can bite,
particularly small children. Even nice, friendly, trained dogs
under their owners control. You should respect your child's
fears rather than try to fight them. If you were terrified of
heights would you want someone to take you out on the Golden Gate
Bridge for a walk to help you get over your irrational fear?
I know that kids often outgrow their fears, but is there anything
in particular that people have done to help their children? Our
daughter had a bad experience with a cat when she was 10 months.
Since then, she's been terrified of all animals. She seems to be
getting a little better as she gets older (she's 3) but she still
flips out when she sees an animal at someone's house. (She's even
scared of turtles.) Ironically we had a dog when she was a baby,
which she used to crawl-chase and she still calls it her dog. I
know my husband hopes we'll have another dog someday, so he's
been trying to teach her about animals and pushing her a little
to make friends with the ones she sees. She's made some progress,
but still has a long way to go. I'm wondering if we should
encourage her to overcome her fear or just let it go. I remember
being deathly afraid of dogs when I was little, and a lot of it
was just never being exposed to them in a friendly manner.
momma of zoophobe
My kids went through an extended phase of being afraid of animals, and
we had a dog when the oldest was a baby, too. I'm not sure what the
triggering incident was, if there was one, but my kids would squeal in
fear if a cat came out onto the sidewalk we were walking on. I grew up
in farm country with all manner of small and large animals, so I was
dismayed by what silly ''city kids'' I was raising!
So here's what we did. We adopted a cat. I didn't want to get a kitten
because they tend to bite and claw, so we adopted a young adult. We
specifically chose a cat that was super calm - you know the kind that
when you pick him up around the middle just drapes his body rather than
tensing up? That kind of cat.
My daughter took about half a day to begin to tolerate him and now she
is completely in love, calling him her ''baby,'' and constantly pointing
out cats that look ''just like ours, only different.'' (i.e. all cats.)
My son, who is younger, still calls the cat ''stupid,'' but is
definitely not afraid of him at all. We've had the cat since around
They are no longer afraid of other people's animals, even dogs.
I am amazed at how well it has worked.
I once read that children who don't know how to be nice to animals can
have empathy problems later in life. I don't know whether this is true
but it did make me think that so many families have pets for a good
reason. Plus, I wanted a cat and it was a convenient excuse. :) kitty's
I'm sorry I didn't answer this the first time around, but I do want to
suggest something: take your child to Tilden's Little Farm and just sit
off the side -- let her watch other people interact with the animals,
let her watch other kids feeding the cows, petting the donkey, but
foremost: let take her time and only observe. You could bring a picnic
lunch to eat on the lawn right next to the farm, far enough from the
animals that she shouldn't be too scared, but close enough to see them
if she wants to look. Make it a fun tea-party or something that she
particularly would enjoy. Although she will probably be very tense at
first, promise her she won't have to go close if she doesn't want to.
Also, you must leave your own tensions behind.
Like animals, children sense our tension -- how we hold them a little
tighter, get stiffer in our behavior -- when we know they are
frightened. The Little Farm's animals are all fenced in, and they are
all friendly... so if, after a few of these hands off from a distance
visits, your daughter wants to venture a little closer, she can. Just
don't push the interaction.
I also have an 80 pound American Bulldog dog who lays down for children
and is very, very gentle with them. Although that would probably be too
much for your daughter, if you would be interested in meeting us, I'd
happily meet you at a neutral park location (not a dog park, and
on-leash) where your daughter could meet her (from a distance) and watch
her and ask questions if she wants. My dog is professionally trained, a
bit frisky b/c she's young, but absolutely adoring of small children.
Feel free to email me if you are interested. Again, I think this might
be too overwhelming, but I'm offering anyway.
Finally, taking her anywhere where she can watch and observe
(gentle) animals, without making any demands on her to participate , you
will cause some desensitization to occur. I'd also ask what you've asked
in regard to why she is so fearful?
Perhaps things she's seen on TV, things other kids have told her, or
weird interactions the dog you had when she was small (I say this
because I was bitten by a dog when I was 6, and I never told anyone! but
I was terrified of collies after that) something might have triggered
Our 3-year-old is very afraid of dogs. He says he's afraid of
the dogs trying to lick him. We live on a street with a LOT of
dogs - walking down the street can be an adventure. Is it
better to ''work on'' this issue trying to help him overcome it,
or just let it be?
He also really doesn't like loud noises. I'm wondering if there
might be some kind of connection?
I definitely wouldn't ''work on'' the issue. I would respect his wishes
and protect him from the dogs. Let him see that he can totally trust
you to make him feel safe. You might get some clues about the loud
noises from www.hsperson.org. HSP stands for Highly Senstive Person,
which I thought was new-age psychobabble until I took the quiz and found
it was me and explained many things I had thought were my defects.
Anyway at this website there is a section on HSP children, and there is
a book too. Your son might not be HSP but it might give you some
clues about him.
My son who is 6 dislikes loud noises and isn't crazy about dogs either -
I think the two are definitely connected. Even a small dog who yaps
really bothers him. I don't like noises either, and although I like
dogs, I respect my son's aversion to them and frankly, I think it is a
good thing. I read a publication for work that reports on all the jury
verdicts around the state, and you would be amazed by how many kids are
bitten by dogs and get seriously injured, or at least what I call
serious ($20,000 worth of plastic surgery required). The news media
only reports on kids mauled by pit bulls; there's a lot more going on.
And keep in mind that even friendly dogs can be really scary for someone
whose head is the same height as the dog's shoulder, too. I am always
amazed by dog owners who use those extendable leashes that allow their
dog to jump on my child. They always tell me "Don't worry, he's
friendly!" and I want to say "I'm friendly too, would you like me to
lick your face?"
I don't know about the fear of dogs question but I am very understanding
of the dislike of loud noises. I hated loud noises when I was a child
and my family always put up with me but made fun of me. I later found
out that it is very common with small children because their ear drums
are so small they can vibrate at a much higher frequency than an adult
ear drum. So children hear more high frequencies and more over tones
than we do. As your child ages and his ear drum gets bigger the
sensitivity should go away. But just rejoice that his ears are working
so perfectly and be understanding.
sound sensitive as a child
We live in a large apartment complex and recently have been
coming across one of our neighbors while he walks his dog. I
have a 2 year old and a 7 month old. The owner has continually
let his dog approach my children without any restraint.
The first time we came across them, the owner let the dog out
long on his leash and just stood there. The dog approached my
baby in the stroller and would probably have licked my baby all
over if I hadn't pulled the stroller back several times. Next
the dog took interest in my toddler, and cornered him in the
lobby, while my toddler began to panic and cry fearfully. At
this point, instinct took over and I grabbed the leash to pull
back the dog. I apologized to the owner for taking over, but
it was apparent that he thought his behavior was not
inappropriate. We parted with him telling me how I should
expose my kids to dogs more so they won't be afraid. I told
him that if my son is freaking out because his dog is so close,
it's more appropriate to let him take his time. We have since
run into him again several times, and each time he seems intent
on allowing his dog to approach my kids, saying ''my dog loves
babies'' and ''there's no reason to be afraid''. As a parent, I
feel my kids should be allowed to approach animals on their own
terms, and that forcing them to interact probably will not have
a desirable effect. For some background info, I grew up with
all kinds of animals as pets. However my husband is very
allergic to dogs and cats so our kids have had minimal exposure
to animals face to face.
So my question is this, has anyone had similar situations with
dog owners? Any advice on how to get this guy to exercise more
appropriate restraint with his dog (it's not a big dog, but my
kids are not big either). What I find especially amusing is
that he exercises less restraint when his dog approaches my
baby, than do moms of toddlers when they try to touch my baby!
I do not want my children to be afraid of dogs, however I don't
want them to think it's always safe to approach any dog. Any
advice and can anyone relate to this?
Your neighbor has it all wrong! His dogs should NOT be allowed to
approach your young children, and there's no reason you should
believe that he knows his dogs ''love kids.'' I have a large dog
that loves kids, too, but can be aggressive with adults -- so I
keep her away from everyone -- ESP. kids. Although I also have a
puppy, who is harmless, under no circumstances would I let either
one of my dogs approach a child without the child (and the
mother/father's) consent. You must tell your neighbor to get
control of his dogs and keep control of them, and keep them away
from your children. Period. Your kids aren't going to get used to
dogs if they are being frightened and intimidated by them -- in
fact, the opposite will happen, which would be a shame.
Dog and kid friendly
I think you can tell the neighbor to keep his dog away from your
kids. This situation has nothing to do with ''kids'' liking or
disliking dogs. This is about your child not liking this
particular dog. The more your toddler is scared by this dog
being allowed to approach him, the more likely he will be to
develop a long lasting fear. After all, you wouldn't let a
strange person approach (much less lick) your child if your
child appeared afraid. I think your instinct about letting your
child approach dogs when he wants to and in a situation where he
feels in control is right on. Moreover, children can't say no in
the same way you can. I think you can let your neighbor know
that while you respect his opinions about kids and dogs, he
nonetheless absolutely needs to keep his dog away from your
kids. That way your child will know that you respect his
feelings and boundaries, and to me that seems more important
than whether your neighbor thinks you are being rude.
I have experienced similar attitudes from various dog-owners,
including my own mother--it's the kid's fault for
being ''needlessly'' scared by the ''harmless'' out-of-control dog,
and also my fault as the mom for not preventing my child from
being scared. They just seem to have zero empathy for the idea
that the dog is as tall as the child is, and has ten times the
physical power, and in fact probably would not mind the
toddler's command, so the question is really, why should a
toddler Not feel uneasy if an out-of-control giant animal is
taking too much of an interest in them! So I can relate to what
Solutions... much more difficult. There again I also have a
small dog who I know to be totally harmless, and it is really
hard for me to really ''get'' that people could be afraid of him.
However, I do keep him absolutely away from any scared people
because I know that they are actually not knowing that my dog is
utterly harmless. So judging by my own difficulty in seeing my
beloved dog as scary, even though I also have a child who is
scared by other ''harmless'' dogs, I would imagine it to be most
likely your neighbor will not soon be learning to see things
from your child's perspective. But probably he doesn't walk the
dog at all moments of the day. So if it were me, I would try
walking with my kids at a little different time, and just avoid
that dog/owner pair. LOL!
My 2 year old has been exposed to our dog his entire short life, but I have a rule for
him that may help you. It is that he is not allowed to touch other people's dogs
unless mommy tells him it's ok. (And if that happens, I let him see that I've talked
to the dog's owner to check it out first.) I have found myself reminding him of this
rule over and over again as we come across people walking their dogs. When
people hear me telling him ''our rule,'' they usually keep their dog away or keep a
safe distance until we discuss if I want him to pet the dog, etc. I would hope that
you told this guy that you really want your son to ask for permission before petting
a ''strange'' dog, hopefully he'll be more respectful of your rules for your own
(If your little guys decides not to ask, then he doesn't get to pet Fido. Oh
Well, I'm a dog owner, too, as well as the mother of a toddler,
and I am sometimes guilty of letting my dog off-leash when we
probably shouldn't. I always, though, make sure to call my dog
back when she's near kids, and --especially when they have a
fear reaction I hold her close. If the kids seem open to it, I
will tell them she is very friendly, and have her lie down so
that they can approach or pet her if they want to. You might
want to tell your neighbor that you are trying to give your
children a good experience with dogs so that they do not
develop fear of them, and that in order to give them a good
experience, you would appreciate if he had his dog under strict
control and let your children approach when and if they feel
comfortable. If they have the experience of not being able to
run away, they will stay scared! By the way, this is similar
to how one might handle an encounter between dogs when one of
them is fearful! He should know better!
Conscientious dog owner
I'm really sorry to disagree with several people, but I have a
dog that bites, and one dog that does not. You parents are NOT
the answer to this problem. You cannot say that because you've
discussed it with the dog's owner that it's okay, because
sometimes dogs aren't ''okay'' with what is happening to them. A
dog that intimidates your children is not a dog that ever needs
your children's attention. EVER. If the kid says ''no'' than
respect that, and tell the dog's owner to keep control of the dog
and keep it far enough away from you child to be safe. Even if
it's safe for an adult to approach an apparently ''okay'' dog,
doesn't mean it is safe for a child to do so, and I say this with
the safety of the child first, the dog second, and the owner ...
well, let's just say that a dog owner that tells anyone his/her
dog is ''okay'' to approach is taking chances, even if the dog is
the best dog on the planet. Dogs make their own choices; dog
owners anthropomorphize their dogs. Who's the one who's more
likely to be right? The dog, and the best dog in the world can
bite if approached in a way that is threatening to the dog. it's
best to wait until the dog approaches the person, and the person
to act accordingly: don't offer your face to the dog, do offer
your hand to sniff and wait to see if the dog approaches further.
If it doesn't, don't try to pet it. Don't ever try to pet a
strange dog above it's head, but only in a place that the dog
won't be threatened (i.e. the shoulder or other safe,
non-vulnerable area. Not the head). Remember that the dog most
noted to be a non-biter is the Golden Retriever, and yet
statistically, that is the dog that has the highest statistic of
dog to human bites in the entire country. So, safe guard your kid
and don't blithely believe every dog owner. They should do what I
do (with my non-biting dog), and that is to ask the parent if
it's okay for my very social dog to approach your child. Then I
get on my knees and make the dog comfortable with me, and the dog
(while holding the dog in the down position), being approached
by a very little person. Both creatures are then safe. At least
with my dog.
My almost 5 year old has an EXTREME fear of dogs. I am not
aware of anything negative that happened to trigger this fear.
I grew up with dogs and am very fond of them. She has been
terrified of dogs since she was very young (she was adopted at
7 months of age), but the fear has worsened over the years.
It is to the point now that if she sees a dog a block or more
away she'll frantically ask to be picked up or hide somewhere
so the dog cannot be near her. If there is actually a dog
present, she will absolutely demand to be picked up and will
practically shake with fear. This applies to large or small
dogs. It does not matter AT ALL if the dog is gentle,
friendly, etc. You cannot rationally tell her that the dog
will not hurt her or that the dog is old, or friendly, etc.
She is not wild about animals in general, but enjoys pony
rides, is willing to pet hamsters & can at least be in the same
room as a cat. I am wondering if this is something she might
outgrow. Do I just wait it out and continue physically
protecting her in a dog's presence or do I seek some sort of
phobia therapy? I feel so bad for her because she just worries
the entire time when we're at an event where a dog is
She feels so bad about it that she asked me the other night if
there are other people who are as afraid of dogs as she is.
The completely ironic thing is that when asked what she wants
for her birthday, she'll say a puppy!! We were recently around
a 9 week-old, very friendly puppy for 10 days and she would
have NOTHING to do with it.
P.S. We cannot have dogs where we live, so it's not an option
I know exactly where you're coming from. My now-11-year-old was
absolutely petrified of dogs from a very early age. Like your
child, I could recall no bad experience that would have triggered
it. We, too had to cross streets and/or pick him up if any dog
was even in sight, or he would practically explode with fear. It
mattered not in the least what the specific dog was like. In our
case, other animals did not trigger this kind of fear at all. We
were advised by (well-meaning) others to get a dog, force him to
pet a nice doggie and ''learn there was nothing to be afraid of'',
etc. I believe his thought would have been more like ''why are
they torturing me by forcing me to be near a dog!?''
What has gradually helped over the years has been a combination
of growing older, and having a few very good friends who had both
dogs and very understanding parents. Those parents accepted that
some kids just aren't comfortable around dogs, and would put the
dog in the backyard when my son came to play (and bring the dog
inside if they kids played outside). The dog then became a
familiar sight, while not being forced on him. After a while
(I'm talking a few YEARS), the dog could be a little closer, and
maybe even walk by. Only AFTER he had adjusted to seeing these
specific dogs around, we (and the dog-owners) started to talk
with him about how his fears seemed to have subsided with the
particular dog, and helped him try to generalize this to other
dogs. He is no longer acutely afraid of dogs - even some pretty
jumpy ones we know - though he remains a little wary of
unfamiliar ones (which is probably o.k.).
To summarize - time, and very gradual, incidental (not forced)
familiarity with someone else's gentle dog, followed by helping
him be aware, finally helped. But it took a long time.
I was deathly afraid of dogs until I was in mid-20's. My fear
wasn't specifically caused by dogs-- I was simply an extremely
cautious and fearful child who was instinctively afraid of many
things that were perceived as threatening (dogs, water, cold,
dark.) Thankfully, chance encounters with dogs were rare, and
when it did occur, I simply avoided them.
Sometime during my 20's, my brother adopted an adorable Bichon
pup. I was unaware of this when I knocked on his door one day,
and at the sight of the puppy, I instinctively ran. I bolted back
into my car, slamming the door shut on this little puppy that
followed me out. Despite being shaken up, looking out at it
through the window, I couldn't help but feel ridiculous about the
unfounded fear, even feeling a little curious about this little
white fur-ball with soft curls.
With gradual exposure over several months, I reason myself out of
the unfounded fear. It help that I was at an age where I could
reason with myself, and it also really helped that he was
undisputedly harmless-looking and cute, even to me. He completely
won me over, over my fear.
I wonder if this is an issue of your child not being ready to
confront her fear yet? In retrospect, I wish my parents had paid
more attention to the overall tendencies of fear and
anxiety(which I still struggle with) instead of focusing specific
I missed the initial post, so I'm not sure that this will be
helpful, but I wanted to share my experience. After I was
attacked by a dog when I was 10, I became very fearful of all
dogs. My fear altered my life. If I was out for a run, biking
or walking and I heard a dog barking, I would change course. I
was afraid to be left alone with friends' or relatives' dogs,
unless they were very small. Particularly as a child, people
sometimes did not take my fear seriously and would nevertheless
leave me alone with a dog. I remember spending one evening
trying to keep a swivelling chair between myself and a dog --
not fun. Where I grew up there were many trails where dogs
could walk of leash, I did not want to walk on these trails for
fear that I would be attacked. I took to walking around my
neighborhood with a stick. These things may seem minor, but in
many ways they were paralyzing -- you would be surprised how
many streets are home to a barking dog. Each time I heard a
dog bark my blood pressure would rise and I would feel
terrified. After I successfully passed the dog, I would
sometimes cry with relief.
I'm not sure what the root of your child's fear is, but I
recommend that you take it seriously because I doubt it is
something he or she will grow out of. Dogs are hard to avoid
and in this area, they are often off leash. Looking back, I am
very appreciative that my parents were sensitive to my fear,
but I wish they had also helped me to overcome it by getting a
dog or teaching me more about them. I think they didn't
because they were not dog people themselves. As it turns out,
my fears were mostly cured just last year when my husband
convinced me to get a dog. Owning a dog has taught me about
their behavior, and now that I better understand them, I feel
more confident in my interactions with them. Also, being a
master to one dog has empowered me in my interactions with
others. Even if you don't want to get a dog, I would recommend
teaching your child about dogs. The best experience for your
child would be to spend time with a well trained dog. That's
the approach my husband took, and through that, I grew to
understand that (most)dogs are just as afraid of humans as we
are of them.
My 4.5-year-old daughter has an extreme phobia of dogs and
cats. She cries almost hysterically whenever she sees a dog,
even if it's 2-3 blocks away and across the street. She works
her schedule around not seeing any dogs or cats. She won't go
into a house where they have a dog or cat. It's starting to
get extreme. She was fine until she was two but then a huge
neighborhood dog who was bigger than she was suddenly appeared
in her face as we walked around the corner one day. But that
was 2.5 years ago. I thought she'd get over it, but in last few
months it's gotten worse. My husband and I don't mind dogs or
cats. We didn't talk about the various dog biting scandals at
home. We don't know what to do to get her to calm down and
realize that a little caution is not a bad idea, but most
dogs/cats are very friendly and won't attack randomly. Any
tips on easing her fears other than renting Lassie and Benji
movies? Thank you.
You didn't mention whether her fear extends to other animals--
hamsters, birds, etc. Perhaps if you start off by borrowing
(from a classroom, Lindsay Wildlife, friend, etc.) a very small,
non-threatening animal for a weekend or so and see if she has
any positive feelings or interactions. If that goes well (or if
other small animals are no problem), you could look into
fostering a a tiny, helpless kitten or puppy (from the SF SPCA,
Oakland SPCA, ARF, etc--a local vet usually has postings about
organizations in need of foster homes). Kitten season is
actually in the Spring, but there may be some in need now, and
aside from providing a wonderful and worthy service, you may be
able to give her the opportunity to help and care for a very
small and non-threatening creature (sometimes you are asked to
take a litter or a pair, so it may not be possible to just get
1). This is a big commitment, and would obviously affect the
whole family, and sometimes these animals need medications,
frequent hand-feedings, etc., so it should not be entered into
lightly, but if all of that is okay with you it could be a
wonderful experience for your daughter. I'm thinking that with
a really small, young, animal who appears helpless and in need
of TLC, maybe she would not only not be afraid, but also would
feel a sense of pride, importance, and responsibility if she
were able to provide help, love, and comfort. Who knows, maybe
you'd even end up falling in love and adopting an animal in need!
Best of luck!
My 22.5-month-old daughter is a very outgoing and sociable kid. She
can recognize most animals and loves to play with stuffed animals or any
fake animals. However, she is quite afraid of real animals such as
dogs, cats, cows, or even butterflies, seagulls, ants. She does not
like any battery/manual operated moving toys any more either. When she
sees an animal, she usually does not cry but would say "I'm afraid of such
such... Mommy hold me..." and clings to my legs. I wonder whether this fear
is normal, will she grow out of this phase by herself. What can I do to
help her other than verbal assurance, making an effort to bring her to see
more animals, and encouraging her to touch the animal etc.?
Moving objects, especially when big or loud, can be perceived as a
reasonable threat to a small body. Maybe it helps if you allow your child
more control over the movement (as explained below), because movement is
actually a very fascinating matter at that age. My daughter loved to play
endlessly with medium size metal replicas of cars at this age. The
little Duplo people fit right in there if you buy convertibles
without rooftops. That gives her more control over the speed and
direction of the movement than anything battery operated. I don't
understand why it is important to you that your daughter touches
animals. Observing them from a distance is quite nice for a while until
she knows enough about them to anticipate certain behavior from them and
expresses the wish to touch them. (Otherwise it's seems equivalent to
touching a stranger). How about a trip to the Zoo where animals are
not as close as at the Farm in Tilden Park? Keep her at your height
when looking at animals. Buy books about animals and draw animals
on paper that she can scribble over or erase (like a magna doodle).
I just worked with my 28 months old daughter through a big fear of
spiders, she suddenly picked up at daycare from somebody else's
reaction. (Grrrr!) So I bought the cutest out of the itsy-bitsy
spider books (the spider with the friendly smile) and it is a big hit.
She also loves to draw really big spiders on her magna doodle and then erase
them I think your daughter (like mine) is a very careful person who likes
to "play it safe" and I'm very glad and respectful of that. My daughter does
not like to touch horses, goats or cows either, but she enjoys observing me
My daughter is 4 years old and had gone through a sensitive time when she
was around 2 years old until about 3.5 years. Dogs and cats would both make
her nervous. Dogs in particular would make her panic. I coined my own term
for it - "Fido-phobia." She also was a bit more sensitive to loud noises
(vacuums, car washes, and loud characters in a movie) and frenetic
movements of anything and anybody. My impression is that this is very normal
for some 2-3 year olds. They are more mobile then and starting to learn more
about how big the world is. I never pushed her to interact with any animal
unless she wanted to do it. I kept a sharp eye out for dogs and cats when we
went walking or to the park. If one walked by, I would emphasize how the
owner was keeping the dog away or how the dog was just minding his own
business and just walking on by. The entire time I would be saying this, I
would calmly pick her up or let her hide behind me. (Smart dogs often want
to get far away from a panicky child and will walk right on by.) My daughter
just recently decided that she is a "big girl" and that she likes dogs. I
told her never to approach a dog that is off-leash and to wait until a
leashed dog's owners let her know if the dog wants to be petted.
Fortunately, most dog owners around here are VERY responsible and will let a
child know right away how child-friendly their pooch is. They will shorten
up the lead on the leash and have their dog sit for a quick petting session.
I'm sure your child is going through a very normal phobic stage and she or
he will grow out of it.
Each of my children had a similar experience as toddlers. My son was
frightened by a low-flying jet at an air show and for at least a year,
every time we went outside and a low plane flew over, he went into
semi-hysterics. With my daughter, it was the big, loud Harley motorcycle
across the street and, even in the house, every time he went by, she
started freaking out. With my son's phobia, we just kept reassuring him
and it gradually wore off. With my daughter, we did the same but we also
introduced her to the motorcycle guy and he cooperated by trying to be a
little quieter going by our house so her fears became less and less as time
If I were you, I would try to show your child all the emergency buttons and
phones in the elevator and have her try to use those in her dream to save
herself. I would expect, with time and a lot of reassurance and not making
too big a deal of it yourselves, the problem will gradually correct itself
but it sure can make life difficult in the meantime.
this page was last updated: Oct 28, 2012
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2013 Berkeley Parents Network