Some kids just naturally gravitate to any furry thing that squirms and licks their faces, but others might be apprehensive around dogs because of their size or exuberance. If your toddler is a bit fearful, you can help him or her become more comfortable around dogs through patience, knowledge and understanding.
Nothing is more important than your child’s safety, so be extremely cautious when introducing any dog to your toddler, and don’t ever leave them alone without a responsible adult to monitor them. Dogs can sense fear and even the most lovable family pet could respond in a way you don’t expect. Trust your gut — if you see even the slightest sign of aggression or get a feeling that something isn’t quite right, separate the child from the animal immediately.
Face your own fears
If you’re afraid of dogs, you’ll need to address your own fears before you can begin to help your little one. Kids aren’t stupid and because they trust you, will pick up on your signals that there’s something to be afraid of. If your toddler already knows that you’re afraid of dogs, let him or her see you become more comfortable around them as you start getting over your fears. Don’t work on it together until you’ve gained more confidence yourself, which you can then help transfer to your toddler.
Identify the cause
Pinpointing why your child is afraid of dogs can be a big step towards alleviating that fear. Did a dog growl or nip at your toddler? Was the baby’s first encounter with a dog a large breed whose sheer size was intimidating? Finding the source of the problem can help you work towards the solution.
Size does matter
A smaller dog might seem the more likely choice to first introduce to your child, but some small breeds are easily excitable, always yapping and jumping, which might scare a little one who isn’t used to that amount of exuberance. On the other end of the spectrum, a large dog with a gruff bark might frighten your toddler well before he is close enough to pet him. A medium-sized dog that is already familiar with kids is the better option to help your child overcome a fear. If you have a friend with a dog that fits that description, ask for their help by setting up a few play dates.
Take is slow
Whatever dog you choose to help overcome your child’s fear, be patient and don’t expect that it will be alleviated right away. It might help to play with the dog first, perhaps throw a ball in the back yard, to let loose some energy before bringing your toddler into the equation. Once the dog has had some exercise and personal attention, pet the dog yourself to show that the dog won’t hurt you, then encourage your toddler to come closer. Even if she doesn’t actually pat the dog, every step closer to the animal is another step towards acceptance. If truly fearful, back off and try again later. Pushing the issue will only compound the problem.
Accentuate the positive
Don’t always focus on the fear itself, but also show how much fun a dog can be. If you have other children who aren’t afraid, seeing them play with the dog and getting slobbered with kisses will help reinforce that there’s nothing to be afraid of. A dog can be a good playmate and better than a teddy bear to snuggle with, so make sure that your toddler sees what they might be missing.
Know when to quit
Some fears might never be able to be overcome, so know when to stop pushing. If your child has a true phobia that is making his or her life difficult, your veterinarian might be able to recommend where to get professional help. If the fear isn’t affecting your family in some way, it might be best to just let it go, at least temporarily. It’s possible to do more harm than good by pushing a child who isn’t ready.
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