We drove to Minnesota to spend the week of Thanksgiving (2012) with my family. Romeo is accustomed to a quiet household, so a house full of adults and my nephews ranging from 4 years to college-age, is quite different for him. But he was very well-behaved and adjusted quite well to the change in environment.
My 7-year-old nephew is afraid of dogs. While he’s never been bitten, he’s had a couple of close encounters that scared him, so he’s very wary. One of my goals was to help him overcome some of his fears and help him see that some dogs can actually be a lot of fun.
When a person or a dog is afraid of something, one of the most common ways we try to address it is to try to convince him or her that there’s nothing to be afraid of: It’s OK, just say hello. He’s friendly. Just pet him, it’ll be fine. . . Sound familiar? But that’s often not the best way to approach it. What I did, instead, was never try to force my nephew to approach or pet Romeo. I let others approach and pet Romeo so my nephew could see that everyone else had positive interactions and nothing bad happened.
I also let my nephew see that Romeo was very well-behaved and well-trained and could do lots of fun things. By seeing Romeo perform some of his cued behaviors, my nephew began to see this wasn’t an out-of-control unpredictable dog. Rather, he would do as he was told, which helped to make this dog a more predictable and less scary individual. When dogs are afraid of kids, and kids are afraid of dogs, a big part of that is each feels the other is unpredictable and could do something scary at any moment. But my nephew began to see how predictable Romeo really could be.
When I would work with Romeo for his breakfast, my nephew was always close by watching. He really was interested but still cautious. So one morning, it was just me, Romeo and my nephew in the living room while I was working with Romeo. Since my nephew was interested, I decided to teach Romeo something new. He already knows, “Where’s daddy?” which means, go find my husband and touch him with his nose. So we began to teach Romeo, “Where’s C____?” to mean go touch my nephew with your nose and then return to me for your reward. My nephew thought this was a very cool game. Though a bit nervous at first, he realized that Romeo would only touch him with his nose and then return to me. No jumping on him. No nipping at him. No biting him.
My nephew helped cue Romeo to do some things, got in lots of petting, and really enjoyed spending time with Romeo. Hopefully, when he gets back home, my nephew can have more interactions with well-behaved dogs to help him continue to overcome his fears and concerns about dogs. Glad we could help start that process.