Recovering from Neck Pain

Understanding And Coping With A Child's Irrational Fear Of Dogs

by Janet Burns

Children often grow out of their irrational fears by virtue of growing up, but sometimes a fear is so strong that a child will not simply "grow out of it." This can be the sign of a much bigger problem. 

One of the most common fears experienced by children is the fear of dogs. Here is a brief introduction, and some helpful tips that parents can use to help their children overcome this fear.

The Fear of Dogs

A "phobia" is an irrational fear of something. A person with a phobia will suffer anxiety and dread when confronted with the perceived fear, or even the idea of being in that situation. Phobias can be generalized anxieties, but they can also be specific; some of the most common phobias are fears of snakes, heights, water, and flying.

Another popular phobia, particularly among children, is "cynophobia." This is the extreme fear of dogs. 

How Does Cynophobia Develop?

Not all phobias develop in the same way. Children develop cynophobia as a result of genetics, environmental factors, or a combination of the two.

  • Genetics: As strange as it might sound, some children are predisposed to developing cynophobia. This is because their genetic makeup consists of certain gene combinations that, when inherited, heighten the likelihood of that child developing anxiety and psychological disorders, including the specific irrational fear of dogs. 
  • Environmental Factors: If a child has a bad experience with a dog, that child might subconsciously develop cynophobia. Cynophobia can arise because a dog might have bitten or frightened the child, but it can also develop if the child witnesses another person being attacked. Even watching a scary movie involving dogs can result in the child developing cynophobia. The child experiences a lack of control in these situations, so future exposure to dogs will result in feelings of dread and anxiety.

How to Help Children Cope with Cynophobia

In many cases, children suffering from cynophobia will benefit from the assistance of a child psychologist, like Dr Paul Johnston, especially one who is skilled in child anxieties and phobias. In less extreme cases, a parent can significantly reduce a child's fear of dogs by proactively helping the child face the fear; for example:

  • If the child had a traumatic experience with a dog, the parent can introduce the child to a well-trained, calm dog so that the child can understand that not all dogs are scary;
  • A parent can give the child a stuffed dog and reenact irrationally scary scenarios so that the child can work through the situation with the parent's guidance; and 
  • The child can interact with a well-behaved dog in a controlled situation, like playing with it while it is on its leash or behind a fence, so the child can explore a relationship with a dog without feeling threatened.