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Children terrified of dogs - help please!

(21 Posts)
SilverShadows Sat 01-Nov-14 18:03:32

My SIL came round with her children, who have always been wary of dogs but they were absolutely hysterical.

Eldest, girl is almost 9. She has not been upset by the dogs before but is a bit cautious round them. Youngest is 5. Has never taken to the dogs, but his reaction was far worse than usual.
As far as I know, neither has had a bad situation with a dog before.

My dogs are large, so I do understand they could be intimidating. I have a dalmatian, male, neutered 8 years old, and a Weimaraner female, 18 months old.
Dalmatian is really calm, placid, and ignores the children. Weimaraner is a bit bouncier on greeting, but we try to distract her away from the children, then she loses interest.

My issue is that they are visiting us at Christmas. I need training strategies to help the children get used to the dogs before they are suddenly exposed to them for several hours. The house will be full, and putting the dogs away in a different room isn't feasible.

Can anyone recommend any books that the children can read - a what to expect from dogs kind of thing? At the moment the dogs simply sniffing feet will cause complete hysteria.

Also, I was thinking about a gradual process. When the older one is her on her own she is fine with the dogs, but when she is here with her brother she joins in the screaming and trying to climb anything to get away. SILs answer is just to lift them up and then leave, which won't help come Christmas.

crapcrapcrapcrap Sat 01-Nov-14 18:29:40

Perhaps suggest your SIL gets in touch with local Therapets group and see if any of their volunteers could spare some time to introduce them to nice quiet dogs.

I like this website

mrslaughan Sat 01-Nov-14 18:46:32

it sounds like the children are whipping themselves up into a frenzy. think it is really important that this is not "fed"

in all honesty I have little tolerance of this kind of behaviour and I think they need to be talked to about behaving sensibly around animals. its fine for them to ignore the dogs, screaming and carrying on is silly - and dangerous actually, as it tends to make dogs interested in them...I am not meaning your dogs, but behave that way around unknown dogs it could end badly.

it sounds t\like it is your sister an law that needs to be doing the training.....

Lilcamper Sat 01-Nov-14 18:50:23

Check out the Family Paws website. Loads of info there. Kids need to learn how to behave round the dogs. Those reactions are OTT and unacceptable.

Wolfiefan Sat 01-Nov-14 18:51:01

Both my kids were wary of dogs. I greet my DM's dog myself and let her express her exuberant welcome. She then calms down. The kids sit on the sofa and she wanders over for a cuddle with them.
Can you do a really good walk and they meet you at the end of it and all come in the house together
Dogs on leads for initial greeting?
My DD loves that she can tell the dog to sit and it does!

Dancingyogi Sat 01-Nov-14 18:55:51

I don't agree - if your dogs can't tolerate kids screaming around them then you need to either train your dogs to deal with it, put the dogs away or disinvite the kids.
Telling kids to be less scared is just stupid..... What are you scared of, does it work when someone just tells you to get a grip! I scream at a spider- it's irrational, I know that but it doesn't change how I feel!

pigsDOfly Sat 01-Nov-14 19:52:21

It's understandable for children, or adults, come to that to be a little wary of dogs if they're not used to being around them but it does sound like your SIL is feeding their fear by picking them up and leaving; gets them lots of attention of the 'poor you' variety.

Think crap's idea is good. Meeting the dogs in a neutral place, the dogs not being part of the family and being with someone they don't know might all serve to make the children feel they have to behave in a more sensible, grown up manner.

It's true that fear is illogical, but I do think that a lot of children show hysterical fear around dogs because they know it gets them attention. Obviously is they've been attacked by a dog that's a different matter.

I don't think it's doing children any favours to let them go on behaving that way every time they meet a dog. There are an awful lot of dogs around, much better for them to learn respectful tolerance, even if they don't learn to love them.

Lilcamper Sat 01-Nov-14 19:53:50

Wrong, it is not acceptable to expect dogs to tolerate hysterical children. They are animals not robots.

confusedandemployed Sat 01-Nov-14 19:58:38

I completely agree with mrslaughlan. My SIL's kids became totally hysterical around my placid, ageing dogs every time they came to visit. They even stayed away because they were so scared. When they were here, rather than tell their (not tiny by any means) kids not to be so silly and that the dogs were harmless, they would pick them up, shield them from the dogs and generally affirm their totally OTT reaction.
The way to get wary kids to accept dogs (or anything, for that matter) is not to give any overreaction the oxygen of attention.

lougle Sat 01-Nov-14 20:10:02

I think there is a half-way compromise. I had a child to stay last night who is scared of dogs. I also have a very bouncy 3 year old staff x.

My approach was to put the dog outside on her arrival (he is most bouncy on the arrival of visitors), then bring him into the house on a lead.

I then let her approach him, with me holding him on a very short lead, as it meant that I was fully in control of the meeting.

At the same time, if she made squealing noises when he sniffed her, I told her it wasn't the right way to behave and that he would think she wants to play.

She made big strides towards accepting him.

confusedandemployed Sat 01-Nov-14 20:16:21

lougle I'm following you around tonight grin. And of course with a bouncy dog that's exactly the right thing to do.

MehsMum Sat 01-Nov-14 20:22:22

Sounds like it's your SIL who needs the training more than the kids... She knows you have dogs and seems to have made no effort with regard to her DC and dogs other than to lift them out of the way and leave...

Does she know anyone with a small dog her DC could get to know? I have known this tactic to work: once the child is happy with the little dog, suddenly bigger dogs are much less scary (the child I am thinking of is now a teenager who has turned into quite a dog-lover).

Is there anyone who can gently say to your SIL that encouraging her DC relax around dogs will save them a lot of stress in life? In other words, that it's in the DCs' long-term interests to resolve this issue? A dog is for life, not just for Christmas, or something... grin

Booboostoo Sat 01-Nov-14 21:03:22

It really depends on what the children were doing. We have a friend who is weary of dogs. We'd all be sitting around the dinner table, the dog would merely walk in the room not paying her any attention or going in her direction and she would jump up, scream and go to the other end of the room. The dog, being a dog, would then go up to her to see if he could play with this interesting, squeely human. She knew we had dogs so I am. To sure why she came to visit if she could not control herself to ignore the dogs when they were ignoring her.

lougle Sat 01-Nov-14 21:35:05

grin confused

Dancingyogi Sat 01-Nov-14 22:26:34

It's not easy having dcs that are scared of dogs and it's easy to blame the dcs but owners who have allowed their dogs to jump on dd caused her fear, they weren't aggressive dogs but she was 3 years old and terrified and once she had developed the fear, dealing with it was anything but straightforward and telling her to just behave was absolutely pointless. Thankfully she encountered many people who dealt with her fear with a bit more compassion and is getting better all the time but she is still on her guard around bouncy dogs.

confusedandemployed Sat 01-Nov-14 22:33:23

And quite rightly, Dancing. Bad mannered owners are the bane of responsible owners' lives. If a parent is keen to help their DC overcome such a fear though, there are ways of doing it. It may not be so urgent for some, but for others (e.g. GP with dogs) it may be worth looking into some sort of gentle acquaintance methods. Sorry rubbish phrase. I hope you know what I mean.

crapcrapcrapcrap Sat 01-Nov-14 22:38:48

I think if your children are scared of dogs you as a parent have the responsibility to take steps to help them understand and feel more confident around them. In an ideal world off-lead dogs bouncing all over frightened children wouldn't ever happen, but through stupidity, ignorance and accident it will always be a risk.

There are some brilliant resources around to help teach children how to cope with dogs approaching them (see my link above to the Liam J Perk site) and often the only way to instill confidence is to equip children with the skills they will need to deal with these situations if and when they arise.

SpicyBear Sat 01-Nov-14 23:00:58

I taught my neices and nephews to "be a tree" if they were nervous and they soon learnt that makes a dog leave them alone much faster than screaming. However with such an extreme reaction and a mother who is not interested in helping them accept dogs, I personally would not have these children anywhere near my dogs. It's not fair on the dogs or children.

Dancingyogi Sat 01-Nov-14 23:01:29

I think dd's fear started with a dog on a lead jumping up on her, the owner said, don't worry he won't bite - to a 3 year old, that means absolutely nothing.

Next bad dog experience, was a neighbours Gsd, apparently very used to children, growled and barked at dd while she was standing a few metres from the dog, the owner told me the dog has never reacted like that before and was probably scared of DD's brightly coloured jumper! After that dd had to walk to school via loads of over excited unleaded dogs who quite often would bound up to her, she used to be hysterical!

I can't tell you how desperate I felt to solve the problem and we did eventually we could but it was by no means as easy as giving her a book or telling her to get a grip and behave.

SilverShadows Sun 02-Nov-14 08:42:17

Thanks for the replies. Mrslaughlan was right, the children do whip themselves into a frenzy. I do have less patience with the 8 year old as when I looked after her a while ago she was petting the dogs etc but as soon as her brother was on the scene she also became screamy.

The dogs aren't really bothered, I'm just concerned more for the kids, they can't go through life like this. Although I can see how a more timid dog would be upset and react.

I'll look at those websites.

I was thinking about baby steps - I can do some work with the older one with my older placid dog to get her really comfortable. Also I can tell her she needs to be a big girl and show her brother how to behave , as she isn't a baby. Once she is comfortable with the older dog then I will work on the puppy with her.
Ironically we used "being a tree" when she was a toddler around our dalmatian but I'd forgotten about that.

I'll have a chat with the younger one and try to talk about what he is scared of, and also if I pretent to be a dog and sniff him etc that will work. Again I'll start with the older dog.

Would that work do you think?
I mean, I've got to get SIL on board, but I'm hoping going to her with a plan will help - if I just say she got to sort the kids out before Xmas they won't and it will be a nightmare!

mrslaughan Sun 02-Nov-14 11:35:43

My DD's best friend was like this with, she would scream and carry on, despite living with a dog, and I understand ours is huge, so more intimidating.
To start with I did what lougie, did, on lead, controlled greeting. But as time went on and her behaviour got ever more ludicrous I was nice but firm, explaining that DDog was only interested in her when she screamed and carried on. I would say this, ignore her and direct my attention to Ddog , get him to do a trick for a treat. The more I ignored her, the more her siblings started ignoring her, and then I think her mum started seeing how ridiculous it was. It has now stopped...infact she was over the other day and there was no hysterics.

So Silvershadows I would direct your polite, but firm instructions to the children, the mum isn't teaching them how to behave, and I do think with unknown dogs hysterics could be really dangerous, and hopefully they will learn how to behave.

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