More than a third of children in the UK are scared of dogs, a survey has revealed.
Out of 2,000 parents surveyed by Dogs Trust, 37% said their child was fearful of dogs and 25% said their child’s fear affects their daily life.
The charity has launched a ‘Managing Fear Of Dogs’ campaign, to provide advice on how children can feel comfortable and act safely around the popular pet.
“Children may not always know how to react when they see a dog, particularly if they are unsure or frightened,” said Maria Gill, senior education officer at Dogs Trust.
“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.”
The survey also revealed more children are scared of dogs than snakes (20%) and tigers (7%).
After seeing a dog, 53% of parents say their children will avoid the area where they saw the dog and 29% said their children would physically run away and hide.
One in seven parents admitted they were also afraid of dogs – 68% of whom said their fear stemmed from past experience, but 15% said they had no idea why they were afraid.
Dogs Trust’s 24 education and community officers, who deliver around 7,000 ‘Be Dog Smart’ workshops in schools across the UK every year, said they have noticed a “worrying increase” in the number of children who are fearful of dogs, and have found many kids are unaware of how to act safely around them.
The officers are now increasing the number of school children who will access their workshops to help them manage their fears.
“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 them,” Gill continued.
“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.”
Dogs Trust worked with a child psychologist to provide tips for parents whose children are 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 with your child and talk 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 – use small 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.
Advice to tell children while 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.
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.
For more information and to find out about the ‘Be Dog Smart’ workshops, visit www.bedogsmart.org.uk.