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How do you cure a phobia?

(17 Posts)
MamosianAntiMatterChopsticks Mon 19-Mar-18 18:08:45

My DS is 5. He was once attacked by a relatives dog when DS was around 3. He wasn't hurt because my husband was there to snatch DS out of the way before the dog got chance to harm him. But the snarling, barking dog going crazy was obviously enough to understandably terrify DS.

Family dismissed it, said it was just a one-off because the dog was a fairly new pet (and also a Battersea rescue dog) and was just having some issues settling in etc. The owner of the dog said they were seeking behavioural therapy from a proper professional. So we gave the dog another chance a few months later when we were invited to a family gathering that the dog would also be at.

But the dog attempted to attack DS again (we were both on our guard this time and again he was snatched out of the way before he got hurt) and angrily bit the feet of me, DH and another relative. The owner again dismissed the attack and claimed it was my DH's fault, as she said he kicked the dog. He didn't kicked the dog, he pushed it away with his foot because it was begging at the dinner table. But owner of dog claimed this provoked the dogs attacks.

This 2nd attack left DS pretty traumatised so we took him home and promised he'd never have to see the dog again. And we've stuck to our word. We no longer visit owners home if we have DS with us and if the dog is ever present at other relatives homes we don't attend.

However, DS has been left with an awful phobia of all dogs, and this phobia is now progressing to include all other animals if they aren't caged.

Has anyone else had a child with a phobia and cured it?

Wolfiefan Mon 19-Mar-18 18:12:04

Oh bless him. How awful. Could you chat to the GP? I used to have a full on phobia of snakes. I started by making myself look at pictures of snakes. I eventually managed to hold one.
DD was scared of dogs and we did a Dogs Trust course. No dog present. Well a stuffed one! But I wouldn't imagine that would help an actual phobia.

Greenyogagirl Mon 19-Mar-18 18:16:16

Start with pictures/cartoons like hairy mclairy books of funny friendly dogs. Don’t make a big deal of it just read or watch a dog cartoon (like kipper) with him.
Next try watching a film about a dog (there’s lots of Netflix) not necessarily make him watch it but just having it on (hotel for dogs is a nice one)
Next go somewhere where there’s likely to be dogs and just calmly walk past, he will sense any anxiety so you need to act like there’s not even a dog there, if he panics just say ‘it’s ok’ and walk past.

It’s a long process but is possible. It’s also good to talk about dogs with your partner in front of him in a positive way. Things like crufts and scrufts.

Fekko Mon 19-Mar-18 18:18:15

Green has it spot on! I was a therapist and that's roughly what I'd suggest.

Keep it light, relaxed - no surprises.

Astrid2 Mon 19-Mar-18 18:18:46

I was scared of dogs when I was a child. It took until I was early teens but I eventually grew out of it. I could barely walk past a dog on the other side of the street. It was terrible.

My Mum's friend had a lovely quiet calm dog which my Mum slowly introduced me too and I did grow more and more comfortable as I got to know the dog. It's going to be a long haul tho.

llangennith Mon 19-Mar-18 18:22:29

My niece had a real phobia about all dogs, big and small. She could sense a dog from a mile away!
The only thing that worked for her was when my sister bought a King Charles Cavalier puppy. Drastic but successful.

Flicketyflack Mon 19-Mar-18 18:25:55

Son was similar after being jumped on by a neighbours puppy aged 4!sad

I gradually encouraged contact with calm/quiet dogs and he has got less nervous (10 now) .

I am going to get a dog in the next year or so and am hoping this will help 'cure' it.

I have also been to a dog show with him last year & encouraged contact with various breeds. I have also taught him good etiquette with dogs especially ASKING the owner before stroking a dog.

Generally positive reinforcement and avoiding/ignoring jumpy/poorly managed dogs where possible grin

Flicketyflack Mon 19-Mar-18 18:26:53

CBT would be possible if phobia continues as he gets older smile

laurzj82 Mon 19-Mar-18 18:34:34

Following with interest. My DD (4) has a very severe phobia of cuts/needles/blood/taking medicine. She is under paediatrician for SEN too so I am hoping they can point me in the direction of support for it.

Anyway, I would echo what pps have suggested. There is a lovely programme on CBeebies at the moment called Waffle the Wonder Dog that DD enjoys. Maybe try watching that. Avoiding dogs altogether will make it worse; can he say walk down the street past one on a leash? Tiny tiny steps from where he is now until maybe at some point he feels safe enough to be near a friendly dog.

I was terrified of dogs as a child because I was bitten. My parents gradually introduced me to friendly dogs and eventually it went away when we got one.

Wouldn't be without our pooch now.

Good luck x

MamosianAntiMatterChopsticks Mon 19-Mar-18 20:46:38

The problem is, over the last 2 yrs, we've tried this exposure therapy with him, and talking positively about dogs, showing him pics of our pet dogs his dad and I had when we were kids, watching doggy type cartoons and programmes (Paw Patrol is a fave of his) but just when we think we're making progress he regresses.

We live near lots of open land and parks, and we regularly have to pass dog walkers on our walk to DSs school. Initially, when he started at school in Sept, this walk was an utter nightmare for him. He'd spot a dog in the distance and instantly have a massive screaming panic attack. But eventually we worked up to him being able to let a dog on a lead pass us without him having a total meltdown, providing I stand in front to protect him.

But he regresses when other members of the public - dog owners - try to force their dogs on him, allow their dogs to run amok off the lead and jump at him or openly take offense because he's scared of their dog.

We've had more than one dog owner stop and say "My dogs friendly, there's no need to be afraid. Go on, stroke him!" when he's clearly terrified and the best thing they could do is take the dog away, but instead allow it to chase traumatised DS around.

I explain to these people that DS is phobic as a result of a dog attack, but we often get tuts, huffs, dirty looks and rolled eyes. Even the odd snigger.

We came across a nasty lady a couple of weeks ago who called DS a silly boy and that he wasn't very nice, because dogs are lovely animals. She then stomped off with a face like a smacked arse.

This constant insistence from others with dogs that he should like them, he should allow them to jump at him, he should stroke them and being criticised by strangers for not liking dogs just keeps setting him back.

We've recently moved next door to someone with a cat, and now this phobia has extended to cats as well, and we can't walk out of the front door without him panicking that the cat might get him.

I'm feeling a bit lost because I have a phobia too, and know how it feels. But my phobia is far less 'everyday' and I don't have to come into contact with it very often at all. But DSs phobia is all around him.

(My DS has no idea I have a phobia, just to clarify)

Wolfiefan Mon 19-Mar-18 21:09:20

You say he has no idea but you would be amazed. Unfortunately by standing in between him and the dog you validate the fear and show him that dogs are something he needs protecting from.
Sorry for those idiot owners. I have a giant breed and I always assume children will be wary of her at the very least.
Can you avoid areas where dogs will be off lead for now?
I would take things extremely slowly. Perhaps some expert advice would help. Poor boy. And as for any dog owner who thinks their dog should leap all over him etc? Remind them that the law says they must have control of their dog at all time in public. Idiots!!

Greenyogagirl Mon 19-Mar-18 21:19:07

It’s a very slow progress. Maybe you could read social stories about how owners should handle their dogs and sometimes owners aren’t very good but it’s not the dogs fault.
Also instead of ‘protecting’ him physically, do it verbally so he begins to associate the ‘bad’ behaviour with the owner and not the dog. Try to walk past calmly and quickly, not too fast so he thinks you need to get away and not slow enough for dogs to jump up.
Persevere with swing dogs and animals in a positive light and reminding him that the dogs he likes are different breeds of dogs like ‘I love Skye, she’s my favourite because she can fly and is a tiny dog’ or you could say chase is a police dog and Alsatians are police dogs in real life too.
Not constantly going on about dogs but equally don’t avoid it and take an opportunity when it arises to be positive about dogs.

MamosianAntiMatterChopsticks Mon 19-Mar-18 21:56:12

I see what you're saying about me standing in front of dogs to 'protect' him validates the idea they are dangerous. I'll try not to do that. I tend to do it on paths by roads as his fear has him running for his life and I've had to hold him back from running into roads to escape dogs.

At the moment we are actively avoiding going to local parks where they'll be off the lead. It's just he's missing out on so much. We live in a flat and don't have a garden, so we were taking him to a grassed park to teach him how to ride his bike (a paw patrol bike btw!), but he couldn't relax for fear of a dog turning up. We can't meet up at the kids play park with his friends after school because dogs are everywhere. He no longer wants to go to the skate park to ride his scooter. Even going out for a picnic last summer turned into a horror show for him and we had to go home.

I hate to see it holding him back and making him miserable. I see how he desperately wants to do all these things but just can't let the fear go.

I guess we'll just have to keep persevering with exposure and positivity.

Thanks guys

PeonyTruffle Mon 19-Mar-18 22:08:52

I was terrified of dogs as a child and a teen. I bolted out of a shop and straight into a main road when I was about 12 because there was a dog in a shop. Anywhere that was a dog, I couldn’t go. Friends homes, the beach, the park. Nope no way. Not ideal.

GP referred me to psychiatrist and they basically said it was my mums fault (she was also scared)

Then one day she bought a puppy, and it completely cured me. Fear went out the window and to this day it was the best thing she’s ever done.
I want my own dog now smile

Wolfiefan Mon 19-Mar-18 22:11:40

Bless him. It's so hard. Hand holding would reassure him. Maybe make a habit of doing that. (Not just when there's a dog.)
Are there any dog free areas you can use it any places where dogs MUST be on leads. My eldest was grabbed by a dog once. No damage but it did worry him.
In would look for professional advice. Maybe for both of you if you have a phobia too. Kids know more than you think!

shouldwestayorshouldwego Mon 19-Mar-18 22:14:26

We found having cats has helped dd. There is something about the way an animal moves, the slight randomness, the way they get spooked or seek attention. Learning to approach an animal. I am not suggesting you get a cat but if it is friendly then sometimes stroking the neighbour's cat, watching it from the window, offering to feed it when they go away. Obviously it does depend on the cat's temperament but it has helped dd. I too hate it when owners are too pushy. I teach my dc to ask the owner if they can stroke a dog then it is fine to say that the dog is friendly. When the dog is jumping up trying to lick my dd I just want them to control their dog however friendly they might consider it to be.

jeepsinbeepsfoxonbox Mon 19-Mar-18 22:25:11

It's a bit different but dd was petrified of fireworks and this started to spread to other loud, sudden noises. We watched a lot of children's videos on YouTube about fireworks and the wooly and Tig episode where Tig is scared of them was very helpful. We also read a lot of books about fears and gradually she got better and now when they is a sudden noise (fireworks or thunder for example) she doesn't react. Haven't attempted taking her to a display yet but will do that next bonfire night.

Perhaps you could do similar with your ds and look for videos/ TV shows with friendly animals, read books on fears and phobias aimed at his age group, and maybe even start visits to pet shops if you have any that have dogs/cats where he can get used to them behind a cage and gradually desensitize a bit.

Much harder with dogs and now cats as you can't really avoid them out the house. sad

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