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January 25, 2023
Living with a fear of dogs, or Cynophobia, can significantly affect your quality of life. You may skip visits to friends and family members’ houses and other special events because they have dogs. Or, you panic if you go to the park because of all the potential pups you’ll encounter. You want to overcome your fear of dogs but aren’t sure how to do it.
It's essential to recognize the difference between a fear of dogs and general nervousness or dislike. Some people get anxious around certain dogs, like large breeds, but keep their distance. However, if you have Cynophobia, you have an overwhelming fear of dogs. You likely go above and beyond to avoid any encounter with a canine.
Your stress levels kick into overdrive when you hear a dog bark in the distance. Or you don’t go outside at certain times of the day because you know it’s when your neighbor walks their dog. Maybe your heart starts racing when you walk into someone’s home and spot a dog bowl (the dog isn’t even around). If these scenarios sound familiar, you likely realize your heightened response to dogs is excessive.
It can be challenging for people that don’t have a fear of dogs to understand. However, this is often the case with many anxiety disorders. People fear typically harmless things or frequently worry about every potential “what if.” If you’re afraid of dogs, the sheer panic you feel when you see a dog approaching could make you physically sick.
Symptoms of Cynophobia vary from person to person. What triggers your anxiety and fear can differ significantly from someone else’s. For example, you start to get clammy and anxious when you see a dog. However, another person might experience severe symptoms at the mere thought of meeting a dog.
The symptoms of Cynophobia are similar to those of other phobias. They include:
People with phobias can experience panic attacks. But you don’t have to have panic attacks for a doctor to diagnose you with Cynophobia. Talk to a healthcare professional if fear of dogs is consuming your life. They will ask about your symptoms, history with dogs, family history of phobias, and quality of life. Your doctor may also refer you to a mental health professional specializing in phobias.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), roughly 9.1% of the US population deal with a specific phobia. Furthermore, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) points out that phobia symptoms typically begin in childhood, around seven years old.
Many people assume that if someone is afraid of dogs, they must have been attacked by a dog. However, this isn’t the case. But how do people develop a fear of dogs?
Professionals believe people can acquire Cynophobia due to a mix of past events, genetics, and other factors. So, it could be you were bitten by a dog when you were a kid or saw a dog attack someone else. Perhaps a dog chased you, and you were frightened. If your phobia results from a traumatic experience, it could begin as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sometimes, people can develop Cynophobia because they grow up with someone who fears dogs. Healthcare professionals also point to several other conditions making someone more susceptible to developing a phobia. These conditions include a history of mental illness in your family, depression, general anxiety disorder (GAD), substance abuse, or a history of panic attacks.
Living with Cynophobia impedes your ability to live a normal life. Your phobia keeps you from doing things you want to do and going places you want to go. If you’re ready to overcome your fear of dogs, you can do several things (and no, it doesn’t mean you have to get a dog).
It’s important to seek professional care if you’re dealing with any phobia or irrational fear. A therapist can help you understand your fear of dogs and where it comes from. Your doctor will suggest various types of therapy and possibly medication that can help you work through your Cynophobia.
Your healthcare provider will gradually increase your exposure to dogs to desensitize you and help reduce your fear. It could start with viewing images of dogs or holding a stuffed animal. Some exposure therapy even uses virtual reality initially instead of interacting with a real dog.
Your doctor will discuss your fear with you and ask you to express your thoughts about what you think will happen. Then, they'll talk through it with you to help you realize the unlikeliness of the situation. It’s similar to how people afraid to fly look at statistics of how unlikely it is to be in a plane crash.
Eventually, you’ll work up to spending time with a real dog. At first, you might pet a dog on a leash or stand a few feet away from the dog. As you progress, you can work toward spending time with a dog off-leash, and so on.
Doing yoga, meditating, and performing similar breathing and relaxation exercises can help you deal with anxiety. When you can deal with your anxiety better, it can help you cope with your Cynophobia. Some professionals might even suggest hypnotherapy as a way to reframe your thinking about dogs.
Depending on your specific situation and the source of your Cynophobia, your doctor may prescribe various medications. These could be prescriptions to help with panic attacks, depression, or anxiety.
As you work with your doctor and go through the above steps, seek out a well-behaved pup. You can check with a trusted friend or family member that has a well-mannered, affectionate dog. Starting with someone with a small dog might be easier, depending on your specific triggers and situation.
But make sure it’s a calm, easygoing pooch. Even if a dog is as sweet as can be, it’s a bit much for someone overcoming Cynophobia to deal with a case of the zoomies.
If you’re afraid of dogs, you’re not alone. Many people in the US and worldwide deal with phobias, affecting everything they do. The good news is you can overcome your fear of dogs with the help of a health professional and support from friends and family.
Talking to a therapist, exposure therapy, mindfulness exercises, and medications are all potential ways to help conquer your Cynophobia. Learning more about dogs can also help reduce your fear. The Neater Pets blog is a great place to start. You’ll find all sorts of insight into the pet world to help you better understand these furry creatures.
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