Kids and Dogs: Creating PhobiasPublished November 15, 2011
Courtesy of Victoria Schade
Today was a study in contrasting parenting skills. I walked Millie down the block to the toy store to visit with a fellow merchant. As soon as we entered the store a little girl about 6 years old walked over to me, looked me in the eyes and asked, “Is it okay if I pet your dog?”
The child’s parents taught her to ask permission before approaching a strange dog, and she did so with calm confidence. An important lesson. She and Millie then fussed over each other like old friends. The girl’s mother looked over at me and mouthed, “She loooves dogs.” It was a sweet moment.
We turned to leave, rounded a toy display and came about five steps away from a mother and her toddler son. The woman immediately picked up her child and turned away as if Millie were an advancing attack dog. (Meanwhile she had seen the lovely interaction between Millie and the young girl.)
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “I just witnessed the beginnings of that little boy’s dog phobia.”
Now, there was no obvious reason for the woman to pick her child up. We were heading away from them, and 14-pound Millie was walking politely at my side. I’ll admit I was a little offended … Millie is a model canine citizen!
Maybe the woman had a traumatic experience with a small dog. Or maybe her son was frightened by a dog and she wanted to offer him solace. (Though the child seemed unaffected by Millie.). My concern is that she’s giving her son a not-so-subtle signal that all dogs are to be feared, even petite, retreating, well-mannered ones.
I’ve seen children so fearful of dogs that they practically scale up their parents to escape an approaching dog. Shrieking, hiding , crying… it’s not pretty, and it’s downright crippling in a dog-rich town like mine. I understand that dog phobias are real, and usually have a basis in experience, but I’m troubled by parents who enable the fear, or worse yet, create the fear like the mother in the toy store.
I was soothed a few hours later when a grandmother wheeled her year-old granddaughter into my store. The girl smiled and squealed, “Dogs!” over and over, her delight evident from her head to her toes.
That’s more like it!