Sunday, June 5, 2011

Excellent Advice on Helping Children Control Their Fear of Dogs

I'm so thrilled!  Someone has left  a fabulous comment regarding our problems with off-leash dogs in Toronto.  (In case you aren't aware of what's been going on, you can read about our mis-adventures here, here and here.)  Please read my response after the comment.

Toronto Dog Stuff has left a new comment on your post "Toronto Dog-Owners...What is WRONG with them?":

I agree that off leash dogs can be a menace. And I know what it's like to have small children who are afraid of dogs. It doesn't matter if they are friendly or not. It's hard for dog owners to understand that not everybody loves dogs and that they need to respect the personal space of others.

With that said, as a parent, try to look at this the same way as teaching your children road safety. Even a leashed dog may react negatively to a child that triggers them. The problem is that dogs view children as little animals, not little people and they don't really understand where they fit into the hierarchy of things. When children stare wide eyed at a dog, it is seen as a challenge to that dog. Making intense eye contact is how dogs challenge each other. It's their way of saying, "Come here and say that." If children scream or run they are saying chase me and knock me down. The more they act like a rabbit, the more they will be treated as one.

If you teach your children to walk calmly beside you when you pass dogs and COMPLETELY IGNORE the dogs, the dogs will not be threatened or excited. If a dog comes rushing up to your child, calmly block it will your body. It's okay to set boundaries for a strange dog. If you are calm and assertive, it will listen to you. Don't wait for the owner to control their dog. Some owners won't, others aren't really in control. The strange dog will respect you for taking control.

Remember, 99% of dogs just want to see who you are. And how they greet you is by smelling you. Let them (even if they go for the crotch) while still ignoring them and they will be on their way. Don't let your kids stick a hand out or pet the dog (this isn't where their scent is and the dog may see this as an aggressive move).
The sooner your kids learn how to safely greet dogs, the sooner you can enjoy nature and avoid these awful altercations! You don't have to wait for the owners to improve. Take control!
Dear Toronto Dog Stuff,

Thankyou so much for taking the time to respond to my post.  You have really understood how complex and perplexing this problem has become for me and my family.  Your answer shows such respect and concern for us and I am deeply touched that you would offer me your advice.

I especially appreciate your explanation of how dogs don't understand small children and how a child's body language or authentic reactions to a dog might make the dog act either aggressive or playful.  We have been told so many times, "Tell your children to stand still if a dog comes toward them" which has always seemed totally counter-intuitive to me:  Am I supposed to instruct my children to turn off their intuitive urge to flee from that which scares them?  Thanks to your input, I now have a better understanding of how to ignore dogs as a way of dealing with their presence.

Your advice is both empathetic and empowing.  Thankyou again for helping to educate and encourage me.  I feel much more confident about being able to help my children to feel more control when they encounter dogs.

P.S.  Do I know you?

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