Families will inevitably spend more time outdoors in the summer holidays, but a new survey* by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, has discovered that, whilst more children are afraid of wasps, bees and spiders, over a third (37%) of UK parents think that their children are fearful of dogs. With 33% of 2-14 year olds coming into contact with a dog every single day, this could be problematic for families when they are out and about this summer, especially as 25% of parents say their child’s fear of dogs affects their daily life.
To help children and parents, Dogs Trust is launching its ‘Managing fear of dogs’ project as part of its hugely successful Be Dog Smart education programme, which teaches around 200,000 kids and parents every year to stay safe around dogs. Dogs Trust’s 24 Education & Community Officers, who deliver around 7,000 workshops in schools across the UK every year, have noticed a worrying increase in the number of children who are fearful of dogs, and have found that many kids are unaware of how to act safely around them.
The most common reaction when a child sees a dog is to avoid a public area, run away, hide or scream or shriek. Dogs Trust has worked with a child psychologist to provide some helpful tips for parents to help them manage their child’s fear when out and about.
Maria Gill, Senior Education Officer explains why this type of reaction could confuse a dog,
“Children may not always know how to react when they see a dog, particularly if they are unsure or frightened. Sometimes they can run away or scream which is a normal reaction for a child who is scared but this may be confusing for a dog. As the UK’s largest dog welfare charity we have a responsibility to educate parents, children and dog owners on behalf of the dog, particularly during the summer months when dogs and children are more likely to be out and about enjoying the sunshine together in public parks and beaches.
There are huge benefits to dog ownership in childhood, but whilst we are not saying every one of the 7.95 million** children in the UK needs to love dogs, it’s really important for children to be comfortable/safe around dogs, especially as 33% of children will come across a dog every day. We hope this vital extension to our Be Dog Smart programme will help thousands of children across the country manage their fear of dogs and ensure they always act safely and calmly in a situation where they may feel frightened or worried by a dog.”
Top tips if your child is afraid of dogs:
· Discuss why your child is afraid of dogs and how severe this fear is. If the fear is severe, you may want to consider speaking to a psychologist or GP directly.
· Speak to your local Education and Community Officer and arrange a workshop by visiting www.bedogsmart.org.uk.
· Sit down and talk to your child to think through their worries about what might happen if they were to encounter a dog.
· Children can pick up on fear from those around them so model positive behaviour and talk positively about dogs and the many helpful roles they play.
· Develop a stepped approach to engaging with dogs – for example select books with pictures of dogs in them for book time, watch films where the leading star is a dog, move on to spending time with a friendly dog who is quiet and calm.
· Try using role play - using small figures/toys to act out situations that your child finds frightening, and practice what they might do in that situation instead
· Explain to your child that not all dogs are the same, just like people. Just because one dog might have misbehaved, does not mean all dogs will.
· Understand that dogs see the world differently to humans and that running away or screaming can be seen as an invitation to play
Top tips whilst out and about:
· If you see a dog and are frightened, walk past calmly
· Never run away as this may encourage the dog to chase after you
· Try not to scream as this may alarm or excite the dogs
· Try to avoid areas where dogs are off lead
· Many children’s play areas have railings around them to keep dogs out
Top Tips for dog owners:
· Make sure your dog is under control at all times and will come back when you call him
· Keep your dog on a lead when near children’s play areas or where there are groups of children
· If your dog does not react well to loud noises or can get over excited, then be cautious around children
Dogs Trust has a team of 24 Education Officers and 6 Youth Trainers who deliver around 7,000 workshops in schools every year. As an extension of this hugely successful programme, the charity will now be offering guidance to school children, to help them manage their fear, be comfortable around dogs and act safely with dogs at all times.