How to overcome a fear of dogs

by Jon Lewis

Cynophobia—the fear of dogs. Yes, there is actually a term for it, and it’s real. With nearly 40 percent of homes owning a dog, it is almost impossible not to have an encounter with these animals. For some people, such an encounter can cause dizziness, palpitations, panic attacks, breathing difficulties, nausea, excessive sweating throughout the body, dry mouth, shaking, temporary inability to speak or think clearly, loss of control over the body and fear of death. The mere sight of a dog in the distance can create these symptoms.

So, what can one do to overcome this fear? Well, several psychological techniques have been employed in an effort to relieve this fear, but first a person needs to understand the fear and the extent of it. This requires introspection into the history of the individual, i.e.: was there a dog bite or some type of aggressive dog behavior in the person’s past, or did the person’s parents instill the fear into that person at a young age? Next, what triggers the symptoms: a barking dog, a dog in the vicinity, a picture of a dog, etc.? Finally, what symptoms does the person exhibit: sweating, panic attack, nausea, dizziness, etc.?

Once these issues are realized along with their severity (i.e. whether you change your life due to the fear), the person can then determine the appropriate course of treatment. One method used is termed systematic desensitization. In this method, relaxation techniques are used. Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, visualization and biofeedback are some of the techniques used. First, these exercises are practiced, and after a period of time, they are implemented with pictures of a dog and, eventually, a live dog situation.

In addition to the relaxation approach, cognitive restructuring is also used. Through cognitive restructuring, the person identifies her thoughts and realizes the irrational thinking. Once that realization is accomplished, the person then attempts to restructure her thoughts. A therapist can be very useful in helping you to understand your fear.

Another way to get a better understanding of what is exactly triggering your fear is to keep a journal. Such journal entries can assist in identifying a pattern of when the fear presents itself. With this method, you analyze your thoughts, beliefs and reactions to the fear, and then, you can develop a rational explanation for the fear. For example, if a person thinks all dogs are dangerous because they witnessed a dog attack when they  were  young, they can work with their therapist to  realize  that only a minority of dogs will attack, and usually, such an attack results from the dog being provoked or improperly trained.

Finally, exposure therapy has been one of the best methods for overcoming the fear of dogs. Exposure therapy is exactly what is sounds like—exposing  the person with the phobia to a dog for extended periods of time in order to help them overcome the fear. It involves more than simply putting the person in a room with a dog. The person has to actually experience being with the dog to a point where the person no longer has an adverse response.

Cynophobia may be conquered with proper treatment. In order to do so, it is important to develop a plan of action. The therapies described above are part of that plan. Develop relaxation techniques so that when the exposure therapy kicks in, the relaxation techniques can be used. Slowly move toward the exposure therapy by thinking about the situation and utilizing cognitive restructuring. Keep a journal, and begin to move toward the ultimate goal  of experiencing an actual dog. This can be done by reading about dogs, drawing pictures of dogs, looking at pictures of dogs, watching videos of dogs, watching actual dogs, being in a room with a dog, and finally, actually petting a dog.

Fears and phobias may be difficult to defeat, but not impossible. The rewards of having a dog are immeasurable. They are loyal and compassionate to a fault. Once the fear of dogs is overcome, the old saying will truly be realized: dogs are man’s best friend.

2018-04-12T12:48:44+00:00

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