June 20, 2012
Fear of Dogs: How to Overcome?
Posted by Steph
I've written before on the topic of Fear: fears as a parent, fears that my children encounter, and my own fears (such as the creepy things my kids say).
Hubby and I have been dealing with a new fear of Chica's recently.
We don't currently own any pets. So Chica has not been raised with animals on a daily basis. But we have many family members and friends who have dogs and cats, and Chica has been fine around them for as long as I can remember. Sure, when she was little, she might have been nervous. But as she has grown, Chica has generally been fine around dogs and cats.
Then there was an Incident.
On Easter, she was playing with my sister's dog, Guinness. Guinness is a big German shepherd, who is as docile and sweet as anyone can imagine. Seriously, he's one of the most well-behaved and calm dogs I know. So Chica and Guin were playing together all Easter weekend. Perhaps we let our guard down, or Chica got too comfortable with him. But at one point, she was laying near him and accidentally leaned on him with her elbow.
And he snapped at her.
Guinness did what dogs do: he let her know she had hurt him and was protecting/defending himself. He did not bite her. But he used a formidable growl and his jaws got very close to her. Chica, not having encountered this before, was quite rocked by this experience. Which I totally understand, because having a dog unhappy with you isn't fun!
Now, I know Guinness did nothing wrong, nor did Chica. And as far as I can see it, they'll go on incident-free from here until Kingdom come.
But since Chica has had The Incident, she is wary not only of Guinness, but of all dogs. Like, every dog she encounters. Dogs that she never gave a second look at now terrify her. Dogs she has been around for years she is suddenly trembling in their presence.
And I'm not sure what to do.
You see, when I was Chica's age, I had my own Incident with a dog. Nothing traumatic or awful. I was 4 years old when the dog up the street jumped up on me and knocked me a down. She wasn't a huge dog, but at the age of 4, most dogs are bigger than you. And it scared the beejeebus about of me.
From that point on, I was wary of dogs. For most of my elementary school life, I avoided any location that had a dog. This included: friends houses, potential friends houses, parts of my neighborhood and my Nana's house.
That's right. For an entire year, I refused to set foot in my own grandmother's house. And guess what? She didn't even own a dog. She just often fed a neighborhood dog, so it always hung out around her house. And I wasn't taking any chances.
Over time, I got over my fear of dogs. I believe I was in middle school when I stopped needing to know if a dog was going to be somewhere before I committed to going. I didn't need to ask for my friends to lock their dogs away when I came over to play.
I know that Chica will most likely grow out of this phobia. She needs to process The Incident, and learn that dogs communicate in certain ways and that most are very friendly. But I also know I lost out on many opportunities because of my fear of dogs growing up. It really hindered me emotionally and socially. I will always remember the paralyzing feeling I used to get when faced with a dog unexpectedly.
And I don't want Chica to have to go through that.
So I'm asking you: What is a good way to address a fear of dogs in a child (short of buying a dog ourselves, which isn't in the cards right now)? Did you ever fear dogs? How did you overcome it?
I'm really looking forward to reading your feedback. As advice comes in, I'll write a follow-up post with all the ideas that were shared so it can be a resource for others!