You feel as though you cannot step out your own front door without risking life and limb. You avoid parks, beaches, and strange neighborhoods because you never know when you may come face to face with one. When you do see one, your heart races, panic rises, and you change directions, cross the street, or enter a nearby store to avoid going near the manifestation of your four-legged nightmare.
A fear of dogs is frighteningly common in our dog crazy society and with the numbers of our furry companions growing in direct comparison to the incidents of bites reported, cynophobia or the fear of dogs, is an equally growing phenomenon. For people suffering from cynophobia or a fear of dogs, the condition can be almost debilitating in its irrational, potentially disabling episodes – how do you go anywhere in our cities, towns, or rural areas without coming across a dog?
How people develop a fear of dogs depends on the situation. Although it is more common for the sufferer to have had a bad experience with a dog, being bitten is not necessary to be wary of our canine friends. A lack of positive exposure as a child increases the likelihood of cynophobia so even if someone was never bit or scared by a dog, they can still have an unnatural fear of dogs. Phobias can also develop as a type of panic attack as well and learning to overcome these episodes is crucial for sufferers to live a normal life.
Learning to Cope with a Fear of Dogs
The power of our own words can often be the catalyst on how we react in a situation. When a person who does not suffer from a fear of dogs encounters a stray, their reaction is be wary but also in control. They judge the situation, look for signs of aggression in the dog, and react accordingly. Their ‘self-talk’ may be as calm as ‘cute dog!’ or ‘that dog looks like it does not want to be bothered’.
In comparison, someone suffering from cynophobia may say to themselves ‘that dog is dangerous’ even though it is behind a secure fence or ‘that dog wants to bite me’ in regards to a happy, tail-wagging dog that is panting. Those fear words intensify the experience and blow the danger out of proportion.
Learning to use calming language such as ‘I know that dog cannot get to me’ or ‘my friends say this dog is friendly and I should trust what my friends say’.
Other things to do to help control the rising panic attack are:
- Watch your breathing – take long, slow breaths to help counteract the rising panic
- Consciously relax your body
- Be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you are scared but lessen the fear by talking calmly to yourself
- If saying calming words to yourself is not enough, say them aloud
- Seek treatment if the fear of dogs is controlling or inhibiting your life
Treatment for a Fear of Dogs
Treatment for cynophobia most often includes not only learning to control panic attacks but slow and gradual exposure to dogs under safe and controlled circumstances. Find a psychiatrist that is practiced in helping people overcome their phobias as well as treating panic attacks. Children are often most susceptible to a fear of dogs and early treatment is essential for them to overcome their fear. Start working with calm, gentle dogs that are not easily flustered. Although children often prefer small dogs due to their diminutive stature, small dogs also tend to be more hyper with quick, erratic movements. Large dogs move slower and tend to have a calmer demeanor so are often used for this treatment.
When Your Fear of Dogs is Justified
There are times where your instincts are correct and learning to tell the difference between an irrational fear and a genuine fear is important. Nothing is worse then the person who is scared of dogs misreading the situation and blaming their apprehension on their phobia only to find out that their instinct was entirely correct.
Part of learning to live with your fear of dogs might include working with an animal behaviorist to learn to accurately read canine body language. Understanding what the dog is saying helps to improve the confidence of those of us that are scared of dogs.
Learn to ask for help from professionals, family and friends. The majority of dogs in our society are gentle, sweet, and generous, do yourself a favor and discover how to live in peace with such incredible companions.