Known by the technical name of cynophobia, a fear of dogs is a very real feeling for some individuals. This fear of dogs can manifest itself in many different ways. For example, people who are afraid of dogs may not even need to be in the presence of a dog to feel afraid. Seeing a dog from a distance, or even watching dogs play on TV can cause uncomfortable feelings for some.
To some who do not have a fear of dogs, it may seem to be an irrational fear. Many people could justify feeling afraid of something like a rat, or a creepy crawly spider, but a “cute little doggie?” Viewing someone’s fear of dogs in a judgmental light is not helpful, as everyone has their own personal struggles and fears that they deal with every day. Think about something that frightens you. Clowns, heights or the dark perhaps? Those with a fear of dogs are just like you.
Why Are Some People Afraid of Dogs?
There isn’t just one answer to this question. The person’s age is irrelevant. Fear is a subjective emotion. A fear of dogs may develop due to a combination of different factors. How severe the fear is, may depend on how early it began. A fear of dogs can happen in a child as small as 5 years old, and the fear may continue into adulthood. Let’s take a look at three different ways that a fear of dogs can develop.
A direct, personal negative experience
with a dog is often the cause. This could happen if someone gets bitten or attacked
by a dog. It could even happen by just having an overly enthusiastic dog jump on you and lick you and you don’t like it. The more involved the situation was, the more likely the fear of dogs will take hold from that point on.
Seeing a negative event happen
involving a dog is another way that a fear of dogs can take hold. If someone observes a close friend or family member being harmed by a dog, this can be more than enough reason to inspire a lasting fear of dogs.
Hearing about a negative event
involving a dog is another way a fear of dogs can develop. Perhaps you heard a story about a child being mauled by a dog. Sometimes reading a newspaper article or seeing a story on the news is enough to cause a fear of dogs.
Reactions Caused by a Fear of Dogs
When someone who is afraid of dogs is in the presence of a dog or just sees a dog, the following physical symptoms may be experienced:
- A Desire to Run Away
- Dry Mouth
- Increased Heart Rate
- Shortness of Breath
Cognitive behavioral therapy
is most commonly used to overcome a fear of dogs. This is a form of psychotherapy that works to modify dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on a solution to the situation rather than a cause. The following are three different methods of cognitive behavioral therapy which may be effective in treating cynophobia.
In the case of cynophobia, exposure therapy involves being in the presence of dogs. The idea is to retrain the brain, by teaching it that generally dogs are harmless and being in their presence should not invoke an intensely fearful reaction. Through repeated exposures, the brain is retrained to become more accustomed to relaxing when dogs are around. However, it should go without saying that whatever dog or dogs are used for exposure therapy should be very gentle and friendly in nature.
Cognitive restructuring involves doing a bit of digging to get to the bottom of any underlying beliefs that may be contributing to a fear of dogs. The idea is to work on changing these underlying beliefs through identifying them first and writing them down.
Relaxation training is a means of controlling your fears through visualization exercises, controlled breathing routines and positive mantras. The focus is on learning how to relax through meditation and visualization.
Do you know someone who is hoping to overcome a fear of dogs? Patience is a virtue. Overcoming any fear takes time and effort. Seeking professional help from a therapist may be their best bet in overcoming this fear.