Five-year-old Carly is fascinated by dogs. She loves them. Well, she loves
the thought of them.
The doggone reality? Not so much.
"She'll go up to people walking their dogs and ask if she can pet them,"
says Laura Pittman, an Atlanta accountant and Carly's mom, "but as she puts her
hand out, if the dog's muzzle gets anywhere near, she yanks it away and hides
behind my leg."
Lots of kids happily run up to strange pooches and grab them in bear hugs --
much to the horror of mom and dad -- so what's behind the fear of dogs in some
kids, and what can you do about it? To get the answers, and tips on how you can
help your child overcome a fear of dogs, WebMD turned to the experts in dog
(and people) behavior.
Kids are wildly different. Some rough-house, others read; some take off on
adventures, and others fear new and challenging things. "These children are
more sensitive to stimulating experiences," says Tracy A. Dennis, PhD,
associate professor in the department of psychology at Hunter College, the City
University of New York, "and so have a lower threshold for feeling distress
when they encounter something new or unexpected."
It's definitely the unknown and unexpected that contributes to a fear of
dogs, says Linda P. Case, MS, adjunct assistant professor at the University of
Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.Maybe mom and dad haven't talked
to their child about dogs, or that child has had little exposure to one.
Other times the reasons for a child's fear are clearer. "A lot of parents
teach their kids to avoid dogs," says Renee Payne, CPDT-KA, a certified pet dog
trainer. "I see parents teaching kids that dogs are scary."
Dogs Are Afraid of Kids, Too
Children aren't alone in their fears; sometimes the problem is magnified
because dogs can be afraid of children, too.
"A lot of kids freak dogs out," says Payne, co-author of Be a Dog's Best
Friend, especially mobile kids under age 5 or 6. "They do all the things
dogs think are impolite. They're right at eye level, so they stare. They scream
and yell. They flail their arms. And at that age they move in a very
stop-and-start erratic way."
So how can you help fearful kids (and dogs) to meet in the middle? The pros
offer these tips for taking the tension out of dog-child introductions and