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How to Help Your Kids Overcome Fear of Pets

Your kids are afraid of dogs or cats (or both).  You want your kids to be comfortable with dogs and cats because pets are omnipresent in our world.  Here are a few tips to help your kids overcome their fear of pets.

  • Determine the cause of the fear.  Did your kids have a bad experience with pets?  Have your kids watched a scary movie or TV show in which one or more dogs or cats behaved in a scary manner?  Is the fear rooted in lack of familiarity with pets?
  • Ensure that you lead by example: model the pet-friendly behaviors that you want your kids to exhibit.
  • Speak with your kids about pets in a positive manner.  Let your kids know that most pets are loving, intelligent beings.  Also tell your kids that pets are like people: most are friendly, but a few are not, and it’s important to be able to determine which pets and people are friendly and which are not.
  • Teach your kids how to “read” pet body language and how to respond.  For example, if kitty’s rubbing against your leg and purring, she is friendly and would be receptive to gentle petting.  If kitty’s back is arched, hair standing up, ears back, she is not feeling friendly, so your kids should respect her request to be left alone.  If puppy’s tail is wagging, tongue is lolling, and teeth are not bared, puppy is friendly and would be receptive to gentle petting.  If puppy’s teeth are bared and he is growling, your kids should respect his request to be left alone.
  • Watch movies and TV shows that portray pets in a positive light:  “The Adventures of Milo and Otis”, “All Dogs Go to Heaven”, “Aristocrats”, “Beethoven”, “Benji”, “Clifford the Big Red Dog, “Homeward Bound”, “Lady and the Tramp”, “Lassie”, “Marmaduke”, and “Scooby Doo”.
  • Take your kids to homes with pets who are friendly and reserved.  A pet who is assertively friendly may heighten your kids’ fear.  Your kids need to observe pets who are friendly but will not force affection on your kids.  If your kids can just be in the room and observe other people cuddling and petting the cat or dog, your kids can observe that the pet-people bond is happy and healthy . . . without cause for fear.
  • As your kids become comfortable being in a room with friendly pets, ask your kids to pet the cat or dog.  You may need to hold your kids’ hands and pet the cat or dog with your kids.  Gradually introduce your kids to cuddling (or just sitting next to) the pets and playing with them (i.e., with toys, such as balls, that do not trigger your kids’ fears).
  • If you want to adopt a pet of your own, find a pet who is a good fit for your family and have your kids be responsible for some of the care-giving responsibilities for the pet.  For example, your son in track can take your dog for a run daily or your daughter can give your cat fresh food and water daily.

By understanding your kids’ fears, providing them with the tools they need to interact well with pets, and gradually increasing your kids’ exposure to pets in an environment of love and safety, you can help your kids overcome their fear of pets.

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