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A few years ago my next-door neighbor’s young son had part of his face bitten off by a dog just like mine. As you can imagine, he’s not comfortable with the proximity of dog like ours only a few feet from him every time he goes out in the back yard. I feel for the boy, but at the same time I love my dog. What can I do to make the kid feel more comfortable?
It doesn’t take much research to find dozens of strategies parents can use to help their children overcome a fear of dogs or other animals. However, your problem is far more than a simple fear of dogs, and traditional fear-breaking methods probably won’t work.
In your question you classified your dog as very friendly. But even amiable and gentle canines may become flustered in the presence of children, who tend to act in ways dogs find alarming. If your neighbor exhibits obvious fear or makes unusual noises in the dog’s presence, the dog may react differently than he does around other people. Before you make a strong statement about the dog’s temperament, be sure you’ve observed the dog in the presence of other children, preferably kids of a similar age as your neighbor.
Your best shot at sorting out this problem involves talking to the boy’s parents, if you haven’t already. Be as flexible as possible, offering to allow the boy to meet the dog in a controlled environment and giving him a chance to cope with his fears. But if either the parents or the boy don’t react well to your offer, then you have fewer options. You can:
- Only let the dog out when the child is not in his back yard.
- Set up a schedule with the parents so that the child and the dog can both spend time outside without fear of contact.
- Reinforce the fence between your yards. When my dog began jumping into a neighbor’s yard, I heightened a portion of the fence using inexpensive chain-link gates purchased at a building-supply store. If you go this route, let the boy watch the work and explain that the goal is to keep the dog out of his yard. In this case, it doesn’t matter if your dog can actually jump or climb the fence, as the goal is to make the boy feel safer. I don’t know if the boy’s parents would agree to absorb some of the cost of this solution, but you can ask.
- Move away.
- Get rid of the dog.
Obviously, the last two solutions are pretty drastic. And while the boy deserves some compassion, it is not your fault that someone else’s dog attacked him. Then again, it’s not the boy’s fault that the dog that bit him happens to be the same breed as yours.
Issues like the one you describe often get messy, spoiling friendships and turning neighborhoods into war zones. If at all possible, approach the boy’s parents in a nonthreatening manner to discuss your options. Try very hard not to get defensive, and see if you can come up with a compromise that will allow both the boy and the dog to coexist in peace.
How can I teach my children about respect?
Step 1: Start by showing them respect to them, and to everyone else. Treat both friends and strangers with courtesy. This means not yelling at the rude woman at the department of motor vehicles or making snide comments about the guy who cuts in front of you in the grocery checkout line. Leading by example teaches your children how to respect others.
Step 2: Insist that your children behave respectfully to everyone – including each other. Give them specific guidance regarding conduct, as well as specific consequences for treating people disrespectfully.
Telling them what to do is good. Showing them how it’s done is better. And punishing them for acting disrespectfully makes them remember the lessons.
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