Dog Phobia in Children

Dog phobia, as with other types of phobias, are common in children. Many children experience phobias, or irrational, disproportionate fears, because of a bad experience, or because they have been taught to fear the object of their phobia by parents, siblings, relatives or peers. Some phobias, such as fear of strangers or fear of the dark, are normal in children and usually go away on their own as the child gets older and learns there was nothing to be afraid of. When phobias don't go away on their own, therapy can help.

Recognizing Dog Phobia in Children

Children may develop dog phobia after being bitten, attacked or severely frightened by a dog. If someone your child spends time with—a friend, relative or other household member—suffers from a fear of dogs, then they might inadvertently teach your child that dogs are something to be afraid of, and pass on their own dog phobia.

Children who suffer from dog phobia become excessively anxious in the presence of dogs, because they feel that dogs are very dangerous. Usually, phobias consist of an intense fear that is far out of proportion to the amount of danger the object of fear actually presents. If your child had a bad experience with a dog, then he might wrongly get the idea that all dogs present a great danger.

If your child is anxious, he might seem clingy, distracted, or twitchy. He might come to you for protection. He might have problems sleeping. He could suffer from upset stomach, headaches, nausea, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate and sweating. 

How Therapists Treat Dog Phobia

Therapists treat phobias by gradually exposing the person to the object of their fear, so that they will eventually see that the object of fear isn't as dangerous as they thought. A therapist might start by talking to your child about what they are afraid will happen if they're confronted by a dog. The therapist can teach your child relaxation techniques that can help him deal with his fear of dogs when it arises. Finally, your child's therapist will gradually expose your child to dogs, in a safe and supportive setting, so that he can gain control of his fear as he understands that most dog's aren't dangerous.

Exposure Therapy for Dog Phobias

The process by which therapists treat phobias is called exposure therapy. This type of therapy can accustom your child to the presence of dogs, and eventually help him overcome his fear. How your child's therapy progresses will depend upon the depth of his dog phobia.

Often, therapists start by talking with your child about dogs, and may then move on to asking your child to draw pictures of dogs, or look at photos of dogs. When your child is comfortable with this, the therapist might ask your child to watch videos of dogs. Once your child has become comfortable with watching video footage of dogs, then your child's therapist will expose him to a real dog, from a safe distance. 

Eventually, as your child learns to control his fear through relaxation exercises, he'll be able to venture close to, and even touch and interact with, dogs without fear.