Overcoming your child’s fear of dogs

Based on decades of experience as a therapist, parenting coach and mother of a child who was afraid of dogs, I developed the Overcoming Fear of Dogs (OFOD) protocol. This is a step-by-step guide for parents (therapists will find it helpful as well) based on exposure therapy using a live dog. This book provides an easy to understand tool for parents to help their child overcome the fear of dogs. By using exposure therapy and my specifically designed exercises, parents will gradually increase their child’s exposure to a real dog and thereby decrease their child’s fear and resistance. This book helps parents understand how and why their child is afraid of dogs and most importantly how to help their child face the fear and overcome it.

Numerous children have contact with dogs either by choice or circumstance. I receive many queries from people wanting to know how to help their children overcome their fear of dogs and was thrilled to learn about LCSW therapist Stefani Cohen’s book (with contributions from Cathy Malkin) called Overcoming Your Child’s Fear of Dogs: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents, in which she uses exposure therapy and her Overcoming Fear of Dogs (OFOD) protocol to gradually increase a child’s exposure to a real dog and thereby decrease the child’s fear and resistance. Here’s what she had to say about her easy-to-read book from which I learned an incredible amount about this topic.

about the book

When a child has a strong fear of dogs it is important to address this fear as soon as possible. There is much to gain when children are able to overcome their fears. They develop self-confidence and self-esteem and feel empowered. Children who face their fears learn coping skills and self-control, two of the biggest predictors of success later in life. In addition, they learn to speak up and ask for help.

By using the method in this book children will become more aware of their feelings and learn to express them clearly. Mindfulness and relaxation exercises are included in the book to help this develop. Anxiety and fear create the feeling of being out of control. My method helps kids feel in control and “take back the leash” when interacting with dogs.

Most children do not outgrow this fear and they need to have supervised brief and positive experiences with dogs in order to feel safe and in control when interacting with them. Dogs are everywhere these days and it is impossible to avoid them. Kids who are afraid of dogs suffer socially and emotionally. They avoid sleepovers and play dates where a dog is in residence. They often refuse to go to a park in case they might encounter a dog. Some children will even endanger themselves by running into the street to avoid a dog.

Children are afraid of things they don’t understand and this book provides education for parents and children about dogs. The book includes information on how dogs communicate as well as how to “read” dogs and know when it is safe to interact with them and when it is best to stay away. My ultimate goal is to enable children to feel comfortable around dogs so their lives aren’t disrupted by the fear of them.

While the book is designed for parents of children aged 5-12 my method can be used with older children and adults.

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Fantastic book for helping our autistic son overcome a severe dog phobia. It offers a gentle, respectful method of working with your child, so that the child always feels safe and in control. It’s also really helpful in terms of giving advice in finding the right dog to work with, as well as how to best educate your child about dogs, and dog safety. Highly recommended.  

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This book provides a step by step process for helping children overcome their fear of dogs. It gives us hope that we can help our kids conquer this issue.

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My son has a fear of dogs that has limited our socializing to where we can’t go anywhere if dogs are there. The author was able to help my son through the book and through her coaching him a little and it has made a difference. We are still working on it but I feel the book has given us a lot of insights and resources and tips to help my son overcome his fear. He may never become a dog lover but we are hoping in time he will become less frightened and anxious around dogs to the point that he can be in the same house with them. Thank you for a well-written book!

What’s Inside The book?

The book’s goal is to enable children to feel safe around dogs so their fear doesn’t disrupt their lives.

The beginning of this book sets the tone to help parents understand fear and phobias. This chapter addresses the general development of fear in children and how parents can  begin to help their children overcome the fear of dogs. 9 pages. 

Cynophobia, the fear of dogs, affects not just the child but the entire family as well as social dynamics. This chapter addresses the spectrum of fear, criteria to help parents determine whether their child has a phobia, and suggestions for how parents can support their fearful child. 10 pages. 

Cynophobia is not a fear that a child can overcome on their own. It requires intervention. In the U.S., dogs are an integral and prevalent part of people’s lives and cannot be easily avoided. This chapter explains the cost of being afraid, the shame associated with it, and the benefits of overcoming this fear, which helps children become empowered. 8 pages. 

This chapter prepares parents for working with the Overcoming the Fear of Dogs (OFOD) protocol, which is based on exposure therapy with a live dog and its handler. By exploring strategies such as goal setting, positive reinforcement and recognizing the child’s specific readiness, it will help ensure that the exposure therapy will be successful. Parents are provided with the techniques and knowledge to apply the OFOD protocol. 19 pages. 

This chapter provides a detailed step-by-step guide to use the OFOD protocol. It walks parents through the ten steps, which decrease the child’s fear by gradually increasing exposure and interactions with the helper dog. The exercises in the protocol desensitize the child to dogs, so that they learn to observe and interact with dogs in a safe and controlled environment. A detailed case study helps illustrate the steps and process. 28 pages.

This chapter was developed in collaboration with animal behaviorist and humane educator Cathy Malkin, my sister. Parents learn important facts about dog safety and bite prevention. It includes safety guidelines for parents to follow when meeting and greeting dogs. It also highlights the importance of supervision, so that children and dogs can interact in a safe and enjoyable way. 17 pages. 

This chapter, developed in collaboration with Cathy Malkin, provides parents with a brief overview to help their children learn the basics of dog body language and communication. Also considering the dog’s needs, this chapter teaches parents about dog stress signals, warning signs and when dogs are receptive for attention and interaction. This ensures a safe and enjoyable learning environment for all involved, including the dog. 11 pages.

In this chapter parents recognize that all the hard work they and their child have put towards conquering cynophobia will help them reap the rewards of interacting with dogs.  Overcoming fear and learning how to safely interact with dogs will make children feel more confident and empowered. Knowing that they can face their fears, they not only learn valuable life skills, but also receive many health and emotional benefits from being with dogs. 12 pages. 

Overcoming your child’s fear of dogs