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Child's Fear of Animals

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Advice about Pets > Child's Fear of Animals


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Toddler anxious about neighbor's barking dog

March 2012

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 !


5-year-old's fear of dogs is now a safety issue

June 2011

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. It's terrifying.

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. shaken up


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! anon
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 help.

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. Lenore


Hello, 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.

Tips:
- 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. good luck! - 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 choose. dog lover
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 passes soon. Another mom
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. littlepinklines


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. Good luck! ln


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. Leslie


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

10 month old scared of cats and dogs

Sept 2009

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? Diana


Wise kid. She's really too young to socialize closely with most animals, and of course never unsupervised both for her sake and theirs.

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

4-year-old is extremely afraid of dogs

May 2009

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! Feeling desparate


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? Bittin

3-year-old is terrified of all animals

March 2007

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 Christmas.

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 'grandma'


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 this phobia.

Good luck. heather


3-year-old is very afraid of dogs and loud noises

Feb 2006

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? dave


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. anon
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?" Fran
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

Neighbor allows his dog to scare my toddler

May 2005

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? anon


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. anon
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 you wrote.

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! meg


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 if 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 child. (If your little guys decides not to ask, then he doesn't get to pet Fido. Oh well...) Good luck.
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. heather

Five-year-old's extreme fear of dogs

Sept 2004

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 present.

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 anyway!! patty


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. R.K.


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 fears. CK


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. Good luck. amy


4.5-year-old's extreme phobia of dogs and cats

Dec 2002

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. Christine


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! Tracy

Two-year-old is afraid of all animals

Aug 1999

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 do it.
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 went on. 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. Barbara
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