Over a third of the children in the UK are fearful of dogs, according to a May 2016 survey conducted by One Poll on behalf of Dogs Trust. As about 33 per cent of children aged between two and 14 come into contact with dogs every day, with many of them unaware of how to properly behave around them.
Maria Gill, Senior Education Officer, says that fear couple with this unawareness can lead to potentially unsafe situations.
“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," she says.
In order to tackle the issue Dogs Trust has launched its ‘Managing fear of dogs’ project as part of its Be Dog Smart education programme, which teaches around 200,000 kids and parents every year to stay safe around dogs.
"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 per cent of children will come across a dog every day," Maria says. "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 has given some tips for both parents and dog owners in order to avoid dangerous situations between children and dogs.
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 the Be Dog Smart website.
· 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
Image by Clive Tagg.