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How to Conquer Your Fear of Dog Phobia

Updated on June 23, 2012

Dogs have commonly been known as ‘man’s best friend’ for many years but for some people they are far from being a best friend. A fear of dogs or cynophobia is almost as common as spider and snake phobias despite the fact that they are the most popular household pet. We can begin to fear dogs through a single traumatic experience, whether this was directly concerning a dog or if a dog was present during that experience (by association). We may also be conditioned by what we see or hear to become dog phobic. Many of us often can’t even remember when or why the fear started but knowing that not all dogs are friendly and indeed that some can be fierce doesn't help matters. A bark can sound aggressive; dogs lick you sometimes without an invitation to or can jump up on you invading your body space. If you already fear dogs then some of their behaviour is going to add to the fear.

Some people fear big dogs only.
Some people fear big dogs only. | Source

Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are among some of the breeds that have raised alarm for many people due to increased media coverage following attacks. When we hear that a family’s pet dog has turned nasty and attacked after years of being friendly and adored, we may begin to doubt dogs generally. Fear of certain dog breeds especially large dogs is common. Being very hesitant when near dogs running around without a lead in public can be somewhat understandable, but when you have a phobia (an intense fear) of dogs it is certainly time to address the situation or perhaps seek appropriate therapy.

Do You Have a Dog Phobia?

Can you relate to any of the following?

  • Do you know that your fear may be irrational but you feel you can not control it?
  • Do your anxiety levels soar when near any dog?
  • Do you go out of your way to totally avoid dogs, even seeing them on television or in pictures?
  • Do you attempt to escape or hide from dogs in public?
  • Does hearing a dog barking trigger feelings of anxiety for you?
  • If seeing or hearing a dog makes you anxious then your heart will race, you may feel nauseas, dizzy and shaky. You may experience full blown panic attacks.

Therapies for Dog Phobia

Hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP):

We all have trigger thoughts with phobias. Hypnosis can help to change those trigger thoughts. Under a state of mental and physical relaxation, of which you remain in control, the hypnotherapist will suggest different ways to think when viewing images of dogs and changing those trigger thoughts. So, hypnotherapy works by replacing scary negative thoughts with calming positive thoughts. NLP is used alongside hypnosis and works by breaking the cycle of arousal and fear produced by mental images. All you need is to have a reasonable imagination as you will probably be asked to watch your fearful situation as if it were a movie and be able to rewind, fast forward and play it using your mind’s eye.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

As this therapy implies, the idea is to look at both how you think and how you behave. With CBT, the fearful thoughts will be addressed and replaced by different helpful thoughts. People who have a phobia of dogs tend to think they will get bitten or attacked and this kind of risk is built on the negative perception or thoughts of that person. Will that dog definitely bite you? Will it definitely attack you? What evidence is there to support this negative thought? The dog has probably never bitten anyone before in its life and is unlikely to do so. The cognitive part of this therapy will address your negative thinking pattern. When we think in a certain way, this determines how we behave. So if our thinking tells us that the dog is going to bite then we will want to escape from the danger. When we escape because of the command from an irrational fear the problem is maintained. This is avoidance. CBT can help us change our reactionary behaviour.

Ask a friend to help you with your fear of dogs
Ask a friend to help you with your fear of dogs | Source

Exposure and Desensitization:

This method of therapy works well with CBT. Once your fears have been discussed and you have a better understanding of how your thinking and behaviour play a huge part in your phobia, then facing the dogs would be the next step. The level of exposure would be minimal to begin with and increase after each time you felt comfortable with that level. You don’t have to pay for this kind of therapy if you can be brave enough to attempt it with a family member or friend. Depending upon the severity of your phobia, you could try all or some of this:

  • Look at many dog pictures over and over. You could even make a slide show with free pictures from the internet and look at it a few times a day (smilebox is a good free slide show program).
  • Read books about dogs and find out as much as you can about them. Read books about dogs to children who have a fear of them.
  • Sit in the car in a suitable place and actually look at dogs through the car window.
  • Ask a friend or family member to bring a dog on a lead (leash) to your home or any venue with instructions to keep it on a lead at all times. You decide how slowly all this happens!
  • Stand a comfortable distance away from the dog for as long as possible. Each time you feel able to handle that distance increase this distance by a couple of feet at a time.
  • When you feel comfortable with the dog next to you on a lead, try stroking the dog.

Throughout the above procedure remember to breathe nice slow deep breaths and how you must turn those negative statements into positive ones. You could try this technique with a child who has a dog phobia too but remember that you must allow the child to decide when the dog is too close. If you do not know of anyone with a dog and you live in the UK then Pets as Therapy may be able to help you out.

Remember, you don’t have to like all dogs but so many are affectionate, sociable animals that can be trained to be obedient. Some people don’t like all dogs but they do not have a true dog phobia. Some of the negative aspects you read about concerning dogs can be the result of irresponsible owners.

Tips for Helping a Child Overcome Dog Phobia


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