Fear of dogs, also called “cynophobia”, is actually more common than you think. Although many people have phobias relating to snakes, spiders or other animals, you are more likely to encounter dogs than other animals in your everyday life. Being very afraid of dogs can pose a lot of issues for the person suffering from the phobia, causing episodes of extreme fear, sadness, discomfort, social anxiety, or missing out on regular activities because of the possibility of encountering a dog. If you have an extreme fear of dogs, you aren't alone, and there are options for treating this phobia.
For many people, cynophobia is often caused by a negative incident involving a dog. You are more likely to develop a fear of dogs if this negative experience occurred when you were a child. While some experiences involves trauma, many do not, but the phobia develops because of the negative emotions that were triggered during the event. For instance, if you were a child startled by the sight and sound of a large, intimidating-looking dog growling from behind a fence, this could have been emotionally stressful enough to cause a fear of dogs later in life. Or perhaps, a negative incident with a dog did not directly involve you, but still affected you emotionally.
While it is reasonable to have a healthy apprehension when approaching unfamiliar dogs, having a full-on phobia will bring you nothing but unwanted stress and anxiety. Fortunately, there are many wonderful self-help techniques you can use to help ease your mind and get over your fear of dogs. It is important to be very kind to yourself, and be patient. Having a fear of dogs does not mean you are weak or silly, and with practice you can diminish its impact on your life.
Self Help With Exposure Therapy
Imagine facing your fears as a type of mental gardening: you've got to clear away the brush and thorns, so you can begin taking steps on the path to better mental health. Taking time to cultivate self-help techniques takes consideration, practice and determination. It might be a little hard at first, but it will become much easier over time.
Once the seed of fear has been planted, it will take root in your mind, and like a weed, might be a little difficult to pull out. One way that many people find helpful for conquering the fear of dogs is called exposure therapy. This method involves gradually exposing yourself to what you fear in small, controlled amounts. This enables you to mentally process the feelings that arise when you see a dog. Exposure therapy works because it allows you to remain in control of the situation, so that you can evaluate how you are feeling and address your reactions. If you start to feel overwhelmed at any time, take a break, or stop for a while. Exposure therapy is meant to be a gradual process, so don't push yourself too hard.
For example, start by looking at pictures of dogs. Take note of your physical, mental and emotional reactions. If you start to feel anxious, scared, sad or other strong emotions, write them down, and think about why the picture made you feel that way. When you become more comfortable looking at pictures, move on to watching a video of dogs. Again, keep track of your responses to what you see and hear. Further your exposure by looking at dogs from a window, or from a distance. When you start feeling less anxious, you may feel you are ready to stand close to a dog or even eventually pet one.
Challenge Negative Thinking
When you are taking notes, evaluate what is behind those feelings. Have a conversation with yourself, and be very honest. Many times, the thoughts triggered by strong emotions are not very realistic, and are overgeneralized, or based on preconceived worries or assumptions.
For instance, if you see a picture of a big dog that makes you feel scared, ask yourself why. If the answer is because big dogs bite people, consider that answer carefully. Do all big dogs really bite people, all the time? Logically, you know the answer is no, they do not. While of course it is important to be careful around any dogs, you know that not all large dogs bite people.
Start challenging your negative thoughts when they occur in real time. Suppose you see a dog while you're out running errands, and your anxiety is immediately triggered. Breathe in deeply, and begin a conversation with yourself regarding your reaction from seeing the dog.
Trigger reaction: “That dog is scary! It's so big! If I get too close it will jump at me for sure!”
Pause here. Ask yourself some questions to determine the reality of the situation.
“Is the dog really scary? Maybe, but it isn't even looking at me.”
“Is the dog really going to jump at me? Probably not, I'm not going to go near it anyway.”
Allow yourself to express your feelings, and be patient with yourself. Even if the questions seem silly, answering them will remind you that you're in control of the situation, not your fear.
While many people suffer from the fear of dogs, this fear can be overcome with patience and time. These are just a few techniques that can help you relax if you want to start working on being less afraid of dogs right away. If your problem is especially severe, consult with a doctor or therapist for more specific advice.
If you or your loved one have suffered from post traumatic stress following a dog bite incident, you may be able to obtain compensation for medical expenses (including therapy), as well as pain and suffering. You can call (800) 838-6644 to obtain a free case evaluation from one of our experienced dog bite lawyers today.