19 answers

7 Year Old with Severe Fear of Dogs/animals

Does anyone else have a child with a severe phobia to animals mouths? My 7 year old was knocked over by big dogs twice in a short period of time when she was about 2 years old. They were not being aggressive but she could not tell the difference. They were just overly excited. Ever since then she is so scared of dogs and animals that she cannot go near them unless we force her to. She is even scared of kittens. We thought she may outgrow it and gently encourage her to pet animals and be around them and be around others who love their pets, especially other children. This does not seem to help and it is not getting better at all and now she is 7. She completely panics when a dog approaches and hides behind me and holds on to me so hard it hurts. She starts to climb anything near to get away. It is affecting her enjoyment of life. I don't want this to be a lifelong fear for her.
Any ideas what to do to help her get over this irrational fear?

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Dear J.,

My twin daughters were the same way when they were small. Animals just terrified them. We couldn't even go into a fish store. I bought them story books about animals. They really liked 'Barnyard Dance' by Sandra Boynton. (They are teens now and still LOVE that book.) Anyway, after reading and talking about animals (especially dogs) we got them a female German Shepherd mix puppy. (I wanted something that started out small but would grow to a good size. Plus! Females rarely lift their leg.) At first they were still afraid of her. But slowly they started to relax and now LOVE her to pieces! That dog is just a LOVE. She'll do ANYTHING for them. Now my girls 'respect' instead of 'fear' other animals now. This worked great for us. Hope it will work for you.

N. :o)

Biggest thing is not to make a big deal out of it, or you may be reinforcing the fear.

Find a person with an older well mannered small dog that can visit for a few minutes a day. Don't drag it out too long, you want to leave on a good note. Show her that she is bigger and in control of the animal.

I had a similar situation happen to me, but I was 7 years old at the time and remember it very well. The worst part was the reactions around me that made the fear kind of stick. When I was about 10 or so, I realized that animals are inferior to us and that we can tame them.

Not only am I not afraid of dogs, I have a dog now and I am able to approach any dog with confidence.

It might be something she needs to get over in time too. The greatest thing you can do for her is empower her with knowledge that she is the superior being.

~B

More Answers

Dear J.,
Your poor little girl.
I'm 45 and I'm still terrified of dogs.
A neighbor dog, "Muffin" went for my sister's throat and ripped her up when we were little. I was bitten by a dog just walking down the street to go get my cousin. He wasn't tied up and I didn't even see him until he started barking and barreling toward me. I was so traumatized, I don't even remember how I got back home. I just knew I was done with dogs after that. So, I understand the dog thing, for sure.
You can't force your daughter to be an animal lover. And what you described as an irrational fear may have become a full on phobia. You might need to see a counselor about it.
But, I would try taking her to a pet store. Let her look at the fish and the birds and the puppies and kittens. They might even have lizards...another of my not so favorites. You can call the pet store ahead of time and tell them you are bringing her (in case she freaks out - they'll be expecting it) or, they can help reassure her that they are in cages, etc and can't get out and it's fun to look at animals. They might have a little hamster or bunny that is tame and they'll let you hold it. Even if she doesn't want to hold it, she will be able to see that not all animals attack. And now that she is 7, she can learn the difference between being frisky and being agressive. Just take little steps.
Tell her that freaking out and grabbing you and climbing to get away is silly for a big girl like her, especially if the animal can't even get out of the cage.
If she still really can't emotionally deal, you will have to get her some help.
I told you I don't like dogs. Much to my dismay, everyone I know has at least one. And for some weird reason, they all seem to really like ME. I pat them and acknowledge them but they know what distance to keep.
Every now and then I get caught with one sitting next to me on the couch and snugging me or sleeping on me. I would deny it, but there are actual pictures to prove it.
Not all dogs are bad.
The fear is real. But the threat isn't. Let her know that going crazy over something that can't hurt her isn't necessary.
Try the pet store and let us know how she does.

Best of luck!

1 mom found this helpful

I see that someone has suggested hypnosis, and that's a great idea. I used it for childbirth and I know if it can take away the pain of labor, it can surely take away a phobia as well.

But there is also something you can try that is free and really easy. I used it to get over a very intense fear of my own and it worked completely. I can remember that I had the fear, but I don't feel it anymore. It's really amazing.

The method I used is a kind of accupressure combined with positive affirmations. It's called Emotional Freedom Technique and instructions are at www.emofree.com, they have a free download and lots of information about doing EFT with kids. You can also search on youtube for videos on how to do EFT with kids, there are a lot of them there too.

1 mom found this helpful

J.,

As I have both big dogs and an 8 year old (who has no fears!), we experience this at our home from time to time. We have had great luck with slow exposure over time.

*Pick the gentlest dog
*Have an unafraid child do fun things with it-pet, treats, walk on leash, tricks
*Do this over and over until your daughter sees other kids enjoying animals. It may take a while. You cannot force it (more fear) or intellectualize her out of it (its an emotional fliht response by this time, so moderate exposure is the only way).
*Loo into the methods of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-you can employ them at home

Be careful that the dog you choose is not a fearful animal itself. The last thing you want is a fear-aggression response from the dog when he senses the tension in the situation. That means avoiding a dog that is shy or fearful when doing the exercises. Use a bomb-proof dog. If you don't have one handy, go to a service dog training facility.

Good luck!!

You might want to look up something called EFT (emotional freedom technique). You can find information about it at www.emofree.com. There are forums on there that address issues related to children and anxiety issues such as phobias. I have been using it with clients and myself and have found a lot of success with it. There are practitioners all over the country who specialize in this way of working with phobias and anxiety driven issues. Phobias. while they seem intense and overwhelming, both for the person experiencing it and their loved ones, are surprisingly easy to get rid of with the right practitioner. There are also hypnotherapists that work with children who could deal with phobias quite easily. If it is truly interfering with her life I would suggest professional help. There is nothing wrong with your little girl, she just needs some help addressing this very scary issue. Often it will only take a few sessions, sometimes even only one. I hope that helps and if you need any more information please feel free to contact me!
M.
____@____.com

Dear J.,
Please take your daughter to see a hypnotist. Some specialize in working with chidlren, but if you don't have a specialist in your area find one who is willing to work with children. Your daughter needs to be regressed back to the time she was pushed over by the dogs. That way she can handle the situation and overcome her fear.
I would offer my services, but don't know where you are located. I am in Bakersfield, Ca. Best wishes, S.

Hi there, First of all I don't think the fear is irrational ... I think it's very real and I'm glad you know what the fear is so you can deal with it. I read most of the replys and it seems like there are some good ideas. Desensitizing works well also, even with pictures . I am going to check out the www.emofree.com myself. I am writing because I have panic attacks and phobias as an adult and it has affected my whole life so please get all the help you can so your child can live a long and happy carefree life. I think it's really neat that you have recognized it enough to help your child. Good Luck in whatever you choose.

J.,
Hi....
I also had a child who got pushed over by a dog when he was about 2-3 yrs old. My son landed in the pool, so not only was he afraid of animals but also of the water...He did eventually grow out of it. When he was about 8 we got a golden retriever that was the best,most gentle dog ever! Santa brought the dog on Xmas, and who couldn't love a dog from Santa!! But actually that wasn't what I had intended to tell you.
I wanted to suggest a dwarf hamster. My 12yr old daughter recently got one for a friend, & everyone in our family fell in LOVE with it. They are about the size of 2 quarters,less than a third the size of your hand and so so lovable. The regular sized hamsters we saw did not like being held & were a lil mean. I know this might be too small an animal for your child to hold yet but if you had it in the house & you held it, let it run around in one of those clear balls your child would get use to it & when they are old enough you can show the child how to hold it & care for it etc. I think this might help ease the fears of an animal. The other suggestion is if you have a family memeber with a small,gentle dog that you could just let her see occasionally(not neccesaariily pet). The problem with my son was just the fear of the unknown dog. Once we had a pet he got use to them & was better able to know how to approach pets we are not familiar with.
Good Luck, I don;t know if any of my suggestions will help but I sure hope so.

Just to add on to what others have said....
Do you know anyone with a very gentle pet?? I am thinking older dog use to kids and use to being very gentle and submissive....I am suggesting to start by having a dog near-by and not telling her about and not showing her the dog or having the dog pay attention to her at all...do this in baby steps and then start by having you throw a ball or pet the dog(while she stays away from you and the dog)and then slowly get her just to throw the object for the dog...just baby steps to get her to see that it's okay to have a "healthy" fear of dogs...and also teach her some basic commands for dogs...no, down, off..so she has some control too.
And I also suggest contacting Stacy of wagntrain dog training(www.wagntrain.com); she is a fantastic dog trainer and may have some more advice for you or someone for you to contact to further your daughter's education on animals.
Also, books! Read lots of dog books about dogs being gentle and kind and helping people; so she gains some perspective on them not being always aggressive or hyper. Even dog training books might be fun for her....
Good luck. It's a process, but I hope she can get through it!

Biggest thing is not to make a big deal out of it, or you may be reinforcing the fear.

Find a person with an older well mannered small dog that can visit for a few minutes a day. Don't drag it out too long, you want to leave on a good note. Show her that she is bigger and in control of the animal.

I had a similar situation happen to me, but I was 7 years old at the time and remember it very well. The worst part was the reactions around me that made the fear kind of stick. When I was about 10 or so, I realized that animals are inferior to us and that we can tame them.

Not only am I not afraid of dogs, I have a dog now and I am able to approach any dog with confidence.

It might be something she needs to get over in time too. The greatest thing you can do for her is empower her with knowledge that she is the superior being.

~B

Dear J.,

My twin daughters were the same way when they were small. Animals just terrified them. We couldn't even go into a fish store. I bought them story books about animals. They really liked 'Barnyard Dance' by Sandra Boynton. (They are teens now and still LOVE that book.) Anyway, after reading and talking about animals (especially dogs) we got them a female German Shepherd mix puppy. (I wanted something that started out small but would grow to a good size. Plus! Females rarely lift their leg.) At first they were still afraid of her. But slowly they started to relax and now LOVE her to pieces! That dog is just a LOVE. She'll do ANYTHING for them. Now my girls 'respect' instead of 'fear' other animals now. This worked great for us. Hope it will work for you.

N. :o)

Hi J.!

My oldest boy was exactly like this after getting "nipped" by an old neighbor dog. He was 3-4 at the time, and it lasted until he was between 8 & 9. After that, I always tried to go around dogs that I KNEW were good dogs, so he could see for himself that not all dogs bite. It helped when his favorite Auntie got a puppy :o) After a year, he was fine with Auntie's dog, but no other dogs.

Finally, out of the blue one day, he said, "I wish we had a dog"................I couldn't believe it!!!! So, while he went back to school each morning I drove across town to check out the puppies at the SPCA. By the 4th morning, I had a good idea of 3 puppies that I thought would be good in our home. When the boys came home from school, I said, "Get in, we're going to get a puppy"...I gave my "scared son" the authority to pick from my choices...and he picked Max :o)

Now almost 3yr old, Max has brought a new laughter into my son's life that only a dog can do :o)

Be patient with your daughter. She may NEVER like dogs again, and you certainly don't want to rush it.

I thought I'd share my exdperience with you, because my son would ridiculously climb on me whenever he saw a dog....I know how scared these kids can get around dogs. But I also wanted you to know a "happy ending"

:o) N.

I thought we were the only ones! Our son was chased by a wild turkey when he was 18 months old and that has translated into a fear of animals (not bugs or snakes). He is now 8 years old and he still is vigilant about checking the park for dogs that are unleashed. We have tried lots of things and honestly it seems like it is just taking time. His brain is more rational now and we talk out his fears everytime we are faced with a loose dog or a stray cat. I read once that to overcome a fear you should list the 10 worst things that could happen related to that fear and then face those fears. We tried this with our son but he really needs to be reminded almost everytime he has a near animal experience. It is comforting to us to know that others have this issue too but I am sorry for your situation and I totally understand. Sorry I don't have any answers. Just wanted you to know that you are not alone. If you find something that works, please let us know.
K. and family

Hi J.,
I would recommend a course you try pairing animals with positive stimuli (candy, praise, etc.) instead of just neutral stimuli ('I didn't get knocked over'). If you really want to help her with his, which I recommend you do, start with the most innocuous animal you can think of-- such as a sleepy kitten, and work out a deal such as 'How many M&M's would you need before you pet it?' This works especially well if you have another adult who'll say, 'Three M&M's! That's ridiculous!' that way your daughter will think she's getting away with something, and focus more on the reward than petting a kitten. Slowly up the stakes-- more petting for the same amount of candy, or less candy for the same amount of petting, and if you put in three of four 1/2 sessions, she should start associating kittens with nice things, like candy and praise.
If you object to candy for health reasons, or if that's not her thing, try other small rewards, such as stickers, marbles, etc.
Best of luck!

I would recommend consulting a child psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders. Your daughter is just old enough to engage in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Julie Lustig, PhD in Menlo Park is one, and if you contact me I can give you more referrals (they're at the office). Good luck.

HI there mom, i too have a child who was afraid of dogs and cats until just 2 months ago. she is 6.5 years old. i saw you wrote that your child has an irrational fear. i believe you are mistaken. and you are projecting your fealings. how do you know its affecting her enjoyment of life. your daughter has been knocked over twice and now she is afraid. its normal. my daughter had never been knocked over. she was just terrified and then knocked over which didnt make matters worse. what has worked for me was to acknowledge her feelings no matter how much i coulnt understand them. allow her to be afraid. she will feel safer with you and then learn that she can be around dogs and cats.
I had to teach my daughter how to behave around dogs. how to put her hands out first to let the animal smell her. how to use her arms and elbows to manuvere around large dogs. all kinds of things. my daughter is a small girls . think about how a big dog with sharp teeth at her eye level could be totally scarry.
please give your daughter a break. shes scared. she will learn if you gently guide her. it took my daughter years , at least 4 years and a few wonderful dogs to get beyond her fear, to feel confident around large dogs who are breathing at her eye level.
good luck.

Hi J.,
My daughter had a similar experience when she was a toddler - our neighbor's big yellow lab ran up and licked her in the face and knocked her down. It absolutely terrified her, although the dog was as friendly as could be and meant no harm to her. After that for several years she acted exactly like your daughter. (She is now almost 6.)

What finally helped her overcome her fear was a friend's Maltese puppy. It was so tiny (even full grown this dog is less than 5 pounds, and most of that is fur). She watched my friend's children play with the puppy, and decided it wasn't so bad after all. She allowed it to lick her hand and she petted it (but wouldn't hold it!). We graduated from there to a friendly Jack Russell terrier outside our local Starbucks, and even to a French Bulldog at the dog park near us. (She petted him but then told me in a whisper as we walked away - "I need to wash my hand - he was so ugly and slimy!")

She still doesn't love big dogs but she is not terrified of them unless they bark at her. We can even walk near the dog park and look at the dogs, and if one comes up to the fence, she'll hold out her hand. Although she refers to our neighbor's chocolate labs rather disdainfully as "The Monsters." Oh well. She's not a dog lover but at least she isn't so afraid anymore.

So I think the key is to start with small, docile animals, and work your way up from there. She may not even want to touch them at first, but just keep exposing her to animals in small doses and she will see that they won't hurt her.

Good luck!

Dear J.,

I’m an animal lover (especially dogs) and I don't think your daughter's fear is necessarily irrational. Many people develop phobias from a single incident and when something triggers the memory, that incident re-plays in ones mind. For example, after the 89 Loma Prieta earthquake, I had a fear of driving over any size bridge. It’s been a long time and I can now drive over a bridge, but when there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic, I get kind of anxious.

Since she was two when the incident happened, I’m wondering how many times over the years, she has heard the dog story? If she has heard it over and over, the dogs may have grown bigger and bigger as your daughter grew.

You mentioned “forcing her” and “gently encouraging her”, I would stick with being very gentle and let her proceed at her own pace. One idea that might help is to get a couple of dog/puppy training videos, so she can see that humans have the ability to teach pets. If that helps, you could take her to an actual puppy training class. There are places such as PETCO that have puppy training classes conducted behind glass walls. She could observe the animals and still feel safe.

I hope she does get over her fear. I can’t imagine life without pets, but some folks just don’t like to be around animals and still manage to have a happy life.

Blessings to you and your family…

My 7 year old had a dog incident when she was 2 that has affected her greatly. Just like yours, she hides behind me and climbs things to get away from even the tiniest dogs. Right now, I do my best to accommodate her fear because I don't want it to get worse. So, I always ask before every play date if there are dogs and can they be put in another room while she is visiting and if not then we have the play date at our house. I realize that this doesn't help her get used to animals any, but really, if I'm not familiar with the animal, then I really don't want to risk another incident. I'm letting her get used to animals at her own pace. She's gotten to know her grandparent's dog and recently her cousin just got two lab pups. She's gotten a little better with each good encounter.

Someday, when the kids are older, I'll be interested in getting a dog and I'm sure that will help. I don't like to see her so riddled with fear, but I'd rather she be cautious than what my other daughter does, which is walk right up to any strange animal and stick her hand out to pet. Yikes! No fear.

Don't force her, just take the gentle approach and let her learn at her own pace. If she has enough good experiences maybe things will slowly get better.

Good luck!

I personally wouldn't push her at all. I would much rather hear about a child who is scared of dogs/animals then have no fear and chance getting hurt. My cousin was terrified of dogs when she was younger and just out grew it. My other cousin was afraid of dogs until the past couple years, and he's 23. Just let it work itself out and give her the space to deal with it herself. You want her to learn how to trust her instinks. If you really want to start her interaction with animals, maybe drive by a dog park and just stay in the car, then take a next step and stand outside of it watching the dogs play with people. I would never take a child into a dog park, but it's a good way to watch fun interactions between people and dogs.
Best of luck,
C.

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