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How to Overcome Fear of Dogs

How to Overcome Fear of Dogs

Cynophobia, more commonly known as the fear of dogs, is a serious phobia that can affect a person's well-being. Leaf through this Buzzle article to learn more about this phobia and what can be done to get over this fear.
PsycholoGenie Staff
People have different fears. Some are scared of insects, and some of darkness. Some are scared of commitment and some of hospitals or doctors. And, some are scared of dogs. As a dog lover, this fear baffled me. The average dog is a tail wagging, butt-sniffing, barking cream puff. They like to chase their own tails and drink out of the toilet. What's there to be scared of? A good friend of mine, who fears dogs, gave me a lot of points. Teeth, rows and rows of teeth. Unpredictable behavior like barking, jumping..., the list went on and on. Well, she's not alone to experience this kind of fear. In fact, it is one of the most common phobias present today. Let's take a look at this phobia, its symptoms, and the treatment.

Fear of Dogs (Cynophobia)
It is a type of animal phobia, like the fear of snakes or cats. In Western countries, with a large dog population like the U.S., this fear can be a serious phobia, which affects a person in his everyday activities. The severity of cynophobia differs from person to person; some are simply fearful of large dogs, while some are scared only of stray or wild dogs. You can be comfortable watching dogs on the TV or in pictures, but terrified of them in real life.

Causes and Symptoms
Fearing dogs is a common childhood fear. Even children brought up around a dog can be scared, and if an adult does not identify this fear, then it becomes a phobia in adulthood. Being bitten or attacked, or even chased as a child can lead to cynophobia. Another cause is adults' behavior around dogs. If a mother is scared of an approaching dog, her fear is observed and magnified by the child. Other adults' experiences and impressions influence the child's attitude. A fertile imagination combined with incomplete or wrong ideas about dogs can lead to a full-blown phobia. Parents, while trying to teach kids to be careful, often end up teaching them to be scared or wary of dogs. If you are scared of dogs, you may display the following symptoms:
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Freezing in terror
  • Feelings of dread or terror
  • Urge to cry
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dry mouth
  • Taking extreme measures to avoid the dog
  • Excessive sweating
  • Inability to speak or think clearly
Being scared of dogs can cause a person to avoid neighbors and friends with dogs, and social gatherings, where people can bring dogs. Some people even develop agoraphobia and social isolation, as they become unwilling to leave their homes.

How to Overcome the Fear
In their book Specific Phobias, Drs T. Bruce and W. Sanderson noted that the onset for dog and cat phobias is usually between the age of 5 and 9. To counter the fear in children, here are some simple steps:
  1. Understand your child's fear
  2. Take small steps, don't get impatient
  3. Take your child to meet a dog, preferably an adult one
  4. Understand the body and face language of the dog by yourself
  5. Let your child pet a dog
  6. Teach your kid, how to behave around dogs
  7. If your kid is a little older and be around a pet dog without your supervision, tell him to learn about the dog, its behavioral tendencies, from the owner before touching or approaching the dog
For adults, there are two main treatment options: professional and self-help. Professional methods include:

Systematic Desensitization: The patient imagines situations with the dogs, and is taught relaxation techniques to deal with those situations. After some time, a live dog is used and patients can practice the same techniques to alleviate their fear.

In Vivo or Exposure Therapy: The patient is exposed to a dog for a certain period until he can handle the situation without giving in to his fear. First, he is just placed in the same room as the dog, and is encouraged to approach the dog and fully interact with it as his fear decreases. This is one of the most effective methods to relieve the fear. Other methods include hypnosis and virtual reality sessions.

Self-help includes increasing your own knowledge and awareness about dogs. Learning more about dogs decreases your fear. Approach leashed or chained dogs. If the dog is supervised or controlled, it can't do you any harm, which will lessen your fear. A good step is to play with puppies. Cute, wriggly, and small puppies are harmless, and will boost your confidence. Expose yourself more to dogs around you. Visit people with dogs as you start feeling more confident, if the owner is there with you. When meeting a new dog, let him sniff your hand first. Pet the chest and neck areas, avoid the head. Don't stare into his eyes as this is a sign of aggression. Don't run or scream or act excited, as this panics the dog and he might start barking or jumping.

A fear of snakes or even a fear of spiders is understandable. However, a dog is a wonderful animal, loving and full of life. It has been created by God to be loved, not to be feared. Like most animals, it attacks only in self defense. The fear of dogs is a scary and a debilitating phobia, as there are so many chances to meet the object of your fear. It's nearly impossible to find a dog-free area, so stop hiding and face your fear. With the right attitude and help, cynophobia can definitely be cured.