Fear of Dogs: Cynophobia Symptoms, Causes and Cures

November 17, 2009

By Julia Williams

Do you have a fear of dogs, or know someone who does? The likelihood that you answered yes to one or both of those questions is fairly high, considering that the fear of dogs is quite common in our society today. Having a little fear of dogs is natural and may actually protect you, because some dogs (especially strays or other dogs you don’t know) could be dangerous, and should always be approached with caution. But for people who have Cynophobia, which is not a healthy fear of dogs but an extreme, irrational one, this fear can make their life miserable. Left untreated, Cynophobia can severely interfere with a person’s work, school, and social relationships.

Phobias are classified as a type of anxiety disorder, whereby exposure to the feared object, activity or situation can cause excessive sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, inability to think or speak clearly, and even a full blown panic attack. Cynophobia then, is not simply an aversion to dogs; it’s an intense feeling of fear at the sight of one – even if it’s just on television or through a window. Very often, a person with Cynophobia can have an anxiety attack just by thinking about encountering a dog. They may understand intellectually that a dog on TV poses no danger, but this doesn’t prevent them from having a reaction.

Although snakes and spiders are more common animal phobias, Cynophobia is especially debilitating because dogs are such an intrinsic part of everyday life. According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, there are approximately 74.8 million pet dogs in the United States. Dogs are everywhere we look and thus, practically impossible to avoid. And for someone with Cynophobia, it doesn’t matter if the dog is a tiny puppy, a Chihuahua or a snarling guard dog– all are equally frightening.

What causes Cynophobia?

Like all irrational fears, Cynophobia is a protective mechanism created by the unconscious mind. A Cynophobe is usually terrified of being scratched, bitten or attacked by a dog, but may not have any idea where this fear originated. Sometimes all they know is that they’ve had a fear of dogs for as long as they can remember. It is possible, though, that they had a frightening experience with a dog at a young age but don’t remember it.

Both children and adults can develop Cynophobia after being attacked or bitten by a dog, or seeing another person have a bad experience with a dog. In addition, parents who have a strong fear of dogs can sometimes transfer this to their children. On the other hand, early exposure to good-tempered dogs seems to lessen the probability of a person developing Cynophobia as an adult.

Treatments for Cynophobia

With professional help, the fear of dogs can usually be overcome; however, many Cynophobics avoid seeking treatment because they’re embarrassed about fearing an animal so many people love. If they get teased by others who don’t understand the debilitating nature of phobias, they may be even more reluctant to seek treatment. For some, the idea of confronting their fear of dogs is just as terrifying as dealing with Cynophobia. Nevertheless, if someone has a desire to conquer their fear of dogs it can be done, and there are several therapeutic options.

Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the belief that the way we think about things affects how we feel emotionally. Rather than focusing on past experiences, cognitive therapy employs problem solving in the present, e.g., helping someone change the way they think about dogs.

Systematic desensitization therapy uses visualization and gradual exposure combined with relaxation and breathing exercises to desensitize a person to their phobia. In a controlled environment, typically a therapist’s office, the patient is taught to visualize a frightening situation (such as encountering a dog). When this no longer produces intense anxiety, exposure to dogs is introduced in a systematic, structured way while the person concentrates on staying calm. This exposure could include looking at photos of dogs, watching videos about dogs, seeing a dog through a window, and eventually, being in the same room with a dog.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is the study of how individuals create their reality. NLP views phobias as the result of faulty “programs” or images that a person has created, e.g., seeing all dogs as aggressive and threatening. With NLP, these programs are revealed and “re-programmed” so that the phobia is minimized or eliminated.

Hypnosis helps to reprogram the subconscious thoughts that may be linked to the phobia. People with Cynophobia usually have a strong subconscious belief that any dog they see will attack them. When the subconscious is reprogrammed through hypnotherapy, the phobia symptoms are often minimized.

If you suffer from Cynophobia but feel like you’re all alone, rest assured – there are many others who share your fear of dogs. And you shouldn’t feel that this is just something you “have to live with,” because with proper treatment, effort and time, you can overcome Cynophobia.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Queza Blough says:

    I think and I believed ,I have cynophobia.I have frightening experience
    back home,I was attacked by 2 black K-9 .One was on my chest,and one on my leg..got bit,not to serious because the people in neighbour hood were quick,they took the dogs right away.I was shaking,feared,shocked
    because it’s sudden,they just appeared infront of me,and attacked.
    One year ago,I was doing community(home care).I went to my new
    client,didn’t know they got dogs.When I entered their home,the dog
    just attacked me,bit me.I was screaming,shaking,crying,,was running
    back to my car,rushed to a nearby hospital.

  2. Joey says:

    I fear dogs since I was 5. I was attacked by dogs repeatedly and that caused me not going outside. I am now 20 and the fear hasn’t changed and worse, it evolved. Once I see a dog, I panic. My hands turn sweaty, my heart beats fast, and all I want to do is to get myself out in that situation. I even reach to a point that I found myself crying. I really want to do something about it but I don’t know how or where to seek help.

  3. Dog meat says:

    Recent attacked by my father’s dog twice, I’m 37 year old male. Well its the feeling during first attack that I had to push harder or I was going down, and I would be hurt bad.. I’m very fearful of the big dogs I once loved. It scares me in a way I’ve never felt. And then add on I feel like they are protecting the dog, and I’m over reacting, they make jokes. It hurts!! I’m struggling already with depression. I’m thankful my mom, sister, and friends are supportive. And I’ve decided to go get some kind of counseling or more help if they advise it.
    Worst part, I don’t blame the dog. Probably some ignorant human didn’t treat the dog right, or train it properly. I just feel like if It flips on a kid, it will be BAD. But it won’t cause it’s my fault. Well we won’t share too much

  4. Erykah says:

    Since the time I was around six I’ve had a fear of dogs after being jumped on and bitten (by two different dogs). The sad part was in one situation I was trying to be brave but ended up getting bitten anyway by my cousin’s dog. I can watch them on videos and laugh and think they’re cute but whenever I see one while walking home I may tear up or shake. I believe it’s developing into a hatred since whenever I’m in a car and see one I think about hitting it. Since some of my friends and family have dogs I’d like to at least be able to be around them without being obviously horrified. If anyone has any tips on how to get to that point I’d love to hear them. Thanks ahead of time!

  5. Janet Tandy says:

    If you are in Kent, we run classes for children with cynophobia, with 90% of children petting a dog within the first hour. kentcynophobia.com The Essex Dog Training centre run classes for Essex and ‘from fear to friend’ on the borders of Sussex and Surrey have just started a class. FREE – no one pays its all run by volunteers.

  6. James says:

    ive had a fear of dogs since i was a little kid. I was attacked and bitten by a dog as a child. I have never liked dogs ever since, cant be around them, cant go near them.

  7. Em says:

    I have had cynophobia since I was 14, I am 20 now. While I don’t fear pictures or videos of dogs, meeting one causes me very much stress. It really causes much problem for me, since I live in a small apartment where the neighbours have 3 dogs (soon 4) so every time I want to go out, I’m honestly scared that the neighbours’ dogs will be outside.

    1. Nish says:

      I feel you. I’m 16 and I am usually told that this ‘irrational’ fear of mine will go away with time. I live in a place where almost everyone owns a dog and because of that reason I’ve stopped going out during 5-6 pm because that’s when the rightful owners walk their dogs. I feel demeaned when my fear is dismissed as ridiculous and someone who is afraid of spiders/snakes gets the ‘practical fear’ tag. I’m not sure how to prove the authenticity of my fear so as to get some sort of help. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just big dogs that make me panicky, it’s nothing to do with size. I am afraid of all dogs and that when I have had no bad encounter with one.