Fear for dogs — Scope | Disability forum

Fear for dogs

lety Member Posts: 13
Hello All

I have a 7 years old ittle boy who is autistic, non verbal and he fears dogs. Until 3 years ago, he was ok with them. He could even touch a little one. However, I had left him with a childminder who happened to have a puppy. I don't know what happened but since then, he hates dogs, he gets scared and distressed when they are near him. He can't bear knowing that there is a dog staying in his space. I had booked a B&B without checking if they had a dog or not and when we arrived, the dog welcomed us and Pierre started to cry, scream and it took us ages to calm him down. We also had to go somewhere else. We travelled 2 hours to find a room in a hotel (we were in France!). I was wondering if you could give me some tips, or if you knew an organisation or people who could give us a kind of "therapy". We can't visit families and friends because they have dogs and that is a shame....
Thank you for your support.


  • Heather
    Heather Member Posts: 168 Connected
    Hi Lety. I can appreciate what yopu are going through. My son will scream and run in shear terror if he sees a dog a mile away. I'm sure it's the unpredicatable yapping and enthusiastic greetings that frighten him. I can't guarantee this will work, as it wasn't successful for us...but each child is different. My friend trains dogs for the blind, if the dog is found unsuitable for the blind, they are sometimes moved into homes who have an autistic family member. She got hold of the organisors and asked for such a dog to try and help my son with his fears, at her house. The dog was very obedient and gentle, but unfortunately my son still reacts badly. A bit calmer, but certainly not comfortable with any dog. Fingers crossed for you!
  • lety
    lety Member Posts: 13
    Thank you Heather, will try. L
  • GinaS
    GinaS Member Posts: 35 Connected
    Hi Laetitia,
    I've worked with several people who have a fear of dogs (including a close friend of mine!!). I think what Heather says is spot on: dogs can be soo unpredictable and this what scares most of the people. I'm sure that you try to avoid dogs as much as possible, but your story in France is a clear example that you can't predict everything in real life!

    An approach/type of intervention we frequently use is called "desensitization or gradual exposure". This means that you gradually expose the person to the object/animal he is scared of, after you've taught his some relaxation skills (help him to calm down).
    For example, he can start by seeing a picture of a dog in a newspaper, then you can show him a photograph and help him calm down. Then you could present a poster of a dog, a toy dog, a small dog in a box (ie in a pet shop or a farm), touching the dog, etc.
    It is a long process sometimes but helps people often to be calmer around dogs (althought they might still try to avoid them).
  • JimJams
    JimJams Member Posts: 174 Connected
    I agree with the gentle gradual exposure also, and I would maybe get some calming scents like lavender etc to promote the feeling of calmness around dogs even if it is with a picture or cuddly toy
  • socksoff
    socksoff Member Posts: 31
    I just want to share the stress! My son is 11 and still terrified of dogs and yet he loves being out and about and dogs are everywhere so I can't confine him to the house. He is slightly better if they are on a lead and I tickle his hand or back to distract him sensorily a bit which doesn't help much but anything is worth a try. Dog owners are great but always say the dog is harmless and sometimes stop and ask my son to stroke the dog which makes him scream even louder and he just says 'go'! They have taken some pets into his school - I think from Pets as Therapy and there is also an organisation called Dogs for the Disabled who do train dogs for people with autism but I suspect the numbers are very small and I am not sure how to go about even starting that process. I like the idea of desensitisation and will try that but any other ideas welcome!
  • Hannah_RosyandBo
    Hannah_RosyandBo Member Posts: 11 Listener
    There is some sense in thinking that the social demand of a dog can be too much for a child with autism. Dogs seek eye contact and interaction in an intense way. Have you thought about a cat or small furry friend to start with? Have you heard about the story of Frazer and his cat Billy - and there's a book too - 'When Frazer met Billy' Hope it helps. Hannah xx
  • Emma
    Emma Member Posts: 85 Connected
    edited September 2015
    Try checking out the pets tips. There might be a few good ideas you could try: https://community.scope.org.uk/tips/pets
  • Alex
    Alex Scope Posts: 1,307 Pioneering
    edited July 2014
    Hi @Socksoff,

    I asked Scope's Twitter followers about this (

    There were some interesting suggestions:

    Matt Naismith ‏
    have you tried using toys, slowly build up. Then try the buddy dogs for disabled.

    ann gallagher ‏
    get a toy dog to start with and just leave it around the house

    Nat Bocking ‏
    familiarisation with less threatening dogs? Handle some puppies?

    Try "Pets As Therapy" all animals including dogs chosen for placid temperament

    Disability Stockport ‏
    Get him a puppy if its possible. If not introduce him gradually to a well trained guide dog or similar.
  • Jmcc
    Jmcc Member Posts: 2
    My boy is the same - we are trying gradually getting closer to a friend's cute dog, then huge rewards if he even, say, touches the dog's fur. Just as a warning too, I have to hold his hand tight now as he will run into the road if a dog suddenly appears. It all came out quite suddenly as it used to be birds, but they are ok now!
  • We have had a similar case recently and completely agree that densitisation through gradual exposure to toys and then a very placid dog is a good way forward.
  • ajchm
    ajchm Member Posts: 7 Connected
    Gradual exposure is probably the best way forward. A small puppy or very placid dog could be a good start, or watching dogs playing at the park in the distance (ball obsessed dogs generally will ignore you but seeing the dog bring the ball back time and time again will distract them from fear hopefully!) My dog loves playing with the adults from the local learning disabled day facility, once you get over fear, dogs are much more accepting than humans.