Whether you’re a child or an adult, you may have a fear of dogs.
People of all ages and all walks of life can have or develop a fear of dogs. Often this fear is something rooted in a past issue, often from childhood, where a child was frightened by a dog or perhaps even hurt.
Children and adults can also be frightened of dogs because of what they believe about these pets. If parents and other family members didn’t have dogs and talked about dogs being aggressive, dangerous or untrustworthy, it is only natural that children will grow up with those assumptions as well.
Even when a child or a grown-up has a fear of dogs, it is possible to overcome this fear and become very comfortable around canines. The key is to use a method known as desensitization that allows the individual with the fear to gradually, and at his or her own pace, become desensitized to the presence of the dog until they are comfortable with the pets around.
The first step in overcoming a fear of dogs is to find someone you trust that owns a well-trained, friendly and non-aggressive dog. This also includes a dog that is obedient and is not prone to jumping or becoming overly excited to see people or to interact with people.
Another great option is to start by interacting with puppies. Just remember, puppies are not trained, and they may engage in behavior that is known as mouthing. This involves the puppy chewing on things, which can include fingers, toes, ankles or even clothing. If engaging with puppies, be sure to have someone holding the puppy that allows you to move away if you are feeling anxious or uncomfortable with the puppy’s behavior.
Closer and Closer
Start with the dog on a collar and leash and under control of his or her owner. If the fear of dogs is significant, start with just having the dog and owner in the same room, but don’t worry about how close or far away you are from the dog. It may also be a good idea to go for a walk outdoors, but have the owner keep the dog under control on a leash.
When you are comfortable, move closer to the dog. This is the desensitization part, gradually building up your confidence and comfort level with less space between you and the dog.
The next step may be to offer a treat or to reach out and pet the dog. Again, take this at your own pace and have the owner there to manage the dog, lessening the stress you feel.
Over time, gradually increase the contact with the dog. When you are comfortable, consider taking the dog for a walk with the owner, but this time you hold the leash. You may also want to learn how to work with the dog, which is a great way to build confidence.
For those that are extremely nervous around dogs, there are therapeutic interventions that may also be helpful. Working with a counselor or therapists can help you to understand the cause of your fear of dogs and develop a personalized plan to learn to enjoy spending time with these wonderful animals.