My son used to be around our dog until she died, almost a year ago, when he was 11 months old.

Since then, and up until last December, he'd gladly pet a dog whenever he had the occasion to, that is, whenever we'd met a calm dog with comprehensive owners.

But in the last six months or so, my son, now 22 months old, seems to have developed a fear of dogs, to the point that he won't get anywhere within ten meters from a dog, and will start screaming and asking to be picked up if a dog comes near us.

The death of our dog left a painful wound, and his mother and I haven't felt ready to take another dog yet, and I'm afraid that our child's fear may make it even harder for us to decide to ever have another dog. Besides, I love dogs very much, and I think that my son's (like everyone's) life would be richer around dogs, whether they are ours or not.

I have been trying to let my son see dogs from safe distance, getting slowly closer, but he just freaks out as we get too close, and it simply isn't working.

What is the best way to help our son overcome his fear of dogs?

  • We don't have a dog and my son with exactly through these phase. He would pet strangers dog and then he was afraid. We would talk a lot about dogs, let him stare at dogs from far away for as long as he need to and slowly he got back to it. Grab him and get close to the dog. It took a few months.
    – the_lotus
    Jul 6, 2016 at 11:19
  • Dogs have always scared me, you have an unknown animal that tries to climb up you and use it's mouth and nose to check you out. Intelectually I know the chance of it biting is extremely small but the fear is at a more primal level than that. Jul 6, 2016 at 13:49
  • @PeterGreen I know! I used to be terribly scared of dogs until I was about 15, then suddenly I stopped being scared and started loving dogs... I'm not even sure how it happened, I think it was the day I met a few straw dogs barking at me, and I was terrified, and then I realised they were far more scared of me than I was of them, and felt empathy for them.
    – giorgian
    Jul 6, 2016 at 13:53

5 Answers 5


Don't give up on having a dog; your son's fear is likely transitory, and there are ways you can help him overcome them. But it will take time and patience. I'm sure there are a number of ways to do this. Here is what I would recommend.

Is he able to express yet why he's afraid of dogs? When he is, that will be a help, although he may not be able to recognize the reasons himself.

Movies about "good" dogs (Bolt and others) aren't too complicated for him to get the message that dogs don't have to be scary. Plenty of age-appropriate books about dogs also exist. Some for older children are educational as well (did you know that a dog named Balto once saved Nome, Alaska from diphtheria in 1925?) Your son might not get all the fine details, but he'll understand dogs are helpful.

Long distance viewing of dogs is a great idea, but don't let him get close enough to the dog to scare him, or it becomes a self-defeating exercise. Let him admire them from afar only.

When this has been going well for a while, you might decide to approach a dog. Look for a calm, older dog (don't approach a puppy.) While your son is in your arms, ask the owner if you may approach their dog (this is only polite). If the answer is yes, ask if the dog is accustomed to children (don't ask if the dog bites!) If the answer is an enthusiastic yes - and your son isn't crying - you pet the dog while holding your child. Repeat this with various dogs until your son asks to pet the dog himself. When he does, let him pet the ruff of the dog or some other body part, not the head.

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it is. But, like you, I think a good dog enriches a family's life significantly, and the investment is worthwhile.

Picking a family dog is another matter. Remember puppies are rambunctious. If your son is still harboring some fear of dogs, this might be hard for him. There are plenty of great adult dogs that need a home for one reason or another. Please don't rule this out.

  • Thanks, I was thinking of picking an adult, calm dog exactly for that reason.
    – giorgian
    Jul 5, 2016 at 14:52
  • Asking if you may approach someone's dog is not only polite, it's the only correct thing to do. Even the calmest and well-behaved dog can get startled when touched unexpectedly by strangers and can act aggressively. And one anecdote I heard - someone was helping an abused dog recover. The dog had great fear of males, and a random male stranger just jumped to the dog to pet him, which resulted in the dog having a breakdown.
    – Maurycy
    Jul 6, 2016 at 10:35
  • 1
    I always ask if I may approach a dog. You're correct that it's the proper thing to do in all circumstances. "Only polite" may be an idiom in English. Jul 6, 2016 at 13:02

I suspect it is just another phase of growing up for your son. I say this because our son did exactly the same thing - started out happy and curious about dogs and (suddenly without any cause - we have never had a dog) got scared of them - to the point of screaming and wanting to be picked up when there were any around. At one point he shouted and screamed so loudly at a small dog it ran away!

We didn't force the issue but tried to demonstrate that dogs are not scary by stroking them and saying things like "what a lovely dog" when we saw one out walking in the park. As he is getting older (he is 4 1/2 now) he is much happier around dogs, doesn't run away and will even stroke them. Nothing changed other than time. He is now asking if he can get a dog when he is older.

I'm not a child psychologist, but I suspect as children grow they start to notice more about the world and what might once have been fine becomes a terrifying thing (I know I feel that way as I get older! :-)) and children, like us, will eventually grow out of these fears.

So in answer to your question - it is probably the same for all things involving children - patience, love and time.


Your son is very young and has gone from very friendly to fearful in a short time. This more than likely has something to do with the family reaction to the devastating loss of your pet/ family member. Regardless of the cause of the behavior change the best plan to overcome his newfound fear/ irritation is the simplest: pick him up when he runs to you and continue to explain "the rules" when it comes to foreign dogs and other animals (e.g. ask permission before petting) and demonstrate to him how to be friendly with other animals. Be patient, consistent and methodical. There is a lot of information about the world you need to impart.

This post reminded me of a little girl (probably around 3-4 years old) in my apartment building who used to be petrified of my dog. Her mother would always be happy and laughing saying "doggie" and pet my dog, despite her daughter screeching and hiding behind her legs. After many, many months of this one day she came over to my dog as he was sitting down (I think we were in the elevator, or waiting for it to arrive) and gave him a kiss on the head. After that she had no problem.

Don't let your son's fear of animals stop you from adopting another pet, either. Bringing home a new dog or even including him in the selection process will most likely be very beneficial to getting him to overcome his fear/ irritation as it is either caused by the families ongoing reaction/ discussion to the loss of your pet or some semi-understanding of loss/ finality on your son's part, again, most likely based upon or amplified by the family reaction.

I'm not ready for a new pet either. But we can lead by example.


You can buy him a toy puppy and let him get used to it. He probably saw the dead dog in front of him and his brain associated it's death with "danger". Seeing a dead animal can be pretty scary experience especially as a child.

I myself have experienced this fear when I was a child. A dead tiger was found near the town and was brought to the wildlife conservation center. I got a chance to peek at the dead animal and that gave me an uncanny chill down my spines. I didn't sleep properly for weeks and slowly recovered.

Do not force the child to hold the toy, let him approach it itself. Let him watch funny dog cartoons and everything should slowly get together and his fear should go away.


First thing to do that the dog must to be on a lead so under complete control, parents should stroke and interact with the dog by taking with the child at a save distance with the other parent. The dog owner can start to demonstrate regarding how obedient the dog is by getting it to sit or down or fetch. Using toys and food with the dog will help to get the child's interest, maybe a game of throwing the titbit to the dog, which the child may want to join in with mom or dad, but you should not push or force the child to join in, you need to allow this to happen naturally, it may take a few sessions for the child to relax but if allowed to go slowly at their own pace I promise they will be out of fear.

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