A Dog will Help but They are Afraid!

I have a 4-1/2-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.  My kids are not at all rough with each other or other kids. They are, however, a little afraid of dogs.  And I think they feed off of each other’s fear.
My son has a speech delay and some sensory processing issues, and his therapists tell me that a dog would help him a lot. But . . . they are both afraid.

My husband and I have come to the conclusion that we need to get a dog . . . and the sooner the better.  We both love dogs, by the way.

What do you think of us getting a dog and just helping their fears along in that way? Or is it best not to do that?  Would that traumatize them even more?

I go back and forth on this issue and would really appreciate some feedback. ~ Kelly

It’s great that you and your husband love dogs. That will help tremendously.

Don’t get a dog yet.  I think you’d be wise to spend some time helping your kids become more comfortable around dogs first. Here are some things that I think might help:

  1. Doggone Crazy game. This game has lots of photos of dogs that you can talk about. Each gamecard asks whether you should approach the dog shown and the back of the card explains the answer. It’s designed for kids 4 and up.
  2. • Dogs, Cats, and Kids Video, by Wayne Hunthausen. This has good body language information presented in easy-to-understand format.
  3. • Local Trainers. Ask a trainer if you can come watch a group class. You might even want to pay for a session in which a trainer sits with you and your kids and talks about every dog in class. Then the trainer can accompany you and the kids to meet any dogs the kids feel comfortable with.  The idea is to have them start thinking of dogs as individuals. It’s okay to like only one dog. Soon they’ll like one more, and one more, and so on.

Don’t be in a rush to add a dog to your household, but definitely get out there and start meeting some dogs. Take things slow and go at your kids’ pace. You may even want to take them out one at a time, so that they don’t feed off of each other’s anxiety.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get the right dog. Your kids are too little to completely understand how to be empathetic and kind, so you need a really great dog. Don’t choose based on breed alone. Find someone who performs behavioral assessments (also called temperament tests) to help you find a gentle, social, and very tolerant dog. These dogs exist, but it can take a while to find the right one for your family. Take your time; it will be worth the wait.

Good luck!

About the Author

Living with kids and dogs is a lot of work! But when things are going well, a dog can be your child's best friend. That experience is a wonderful gift for any child and well worth the effort involved. Got a question? Let's talk!

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