It seems inevitable that at one time or another a child will have an unpleasant run-in with a dog. When my twin boys were about 18 months old, their first encounter with a dog was not pleasant for them. The dog was fairly small, but very energetic and ran straight over to them and started jumping up on them. After that experience it was months before they could even look at another dog again.
If your children have grown up around dogs, then they will probably not be as easily scared by a new dog. If your children have not spent much time around dogs, then it is probably a good idea to plan the circumstances around their first experiences with a dog. It only takes one unfortunate situation to have your child scared half out of his wits.
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My boys are now almost three years old, and they are slowly getting curious about dogs again. I have noticed that certain situations we have been in have facilitated this curiousity.
First of all, you definitely want to start out with a small dog. Many big dogs may be larger than your child is! Another thing that will help is introducing them to dogs of people you know…dogs that you know are safe.
This is one reason you might wait to overcome your child’s fear until they are old enough to understand that some dogs are “nice”, and some dogs are not. At about 2 1/2 years of age, my boys started to understand this concept that they shouldn’t try to pet all dogs. They always look to me to let them know if a dog is nice or not.
Two members of our family have small dogs, and over time our boys have slowly started to warm up to them. They started by being in the same room with them, then gradually sat next to them.
Petting them gently was next, then even once in awhile they are brave enough for a kiss! The important thing is to not force your child to do anything he doesn’t want to. This will not alleviate his fear. The best thing to do is give him the opportunity, and he will eventually take the step when he is ready.
When you are out in public places, don’t be afraid to tell dog owners that your child is afraid of dogs if they let their dogs get too close to your child. It infuriates me when people disregard leash laws and let their dogs run around in a public park where children are playing.
Obviously they have never had a child that was afraid of dogs! One bad experience with a dog can undo months of work you have done with your child to overcome his fears. I have found for the most part, however, that people are generally respectful and understanding and if you let them know your child is afraid of dogs they will steer clear with a sympathetic smile.
I have to laugh, however, when they tell me their huge dog is nice and loves children. I know my boys will appreciate that when they are bigger than the dog!