Cynophobia: Why Are Some People Afraid of Dogs?

When a dog suddenly starts barking at you from the other side of a fence, or if a dog lunges at you while you are out for a walk, it’s natural to be a bit startled. But for some people, this kind of situation is more than just startling – it’s terrifying.

Some people have an extreme, sometimes irrational, fear of dogs so strong that it can be considered a phobia – it is called cynophobia.

What is Cynophobia?

Cynophobia, fear of dogs, is a type of zoophobia, or fear of animals. This particular phobia is not as common as fear of spiders or snakes, but it can be just as severe for the people who experience it. While you might view your dog as your faithful friend and companion, someone who loves you unconditionally and who would never hurt you, someone else might see him as a menace and a threat.

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Cynophobia, like all phobias, is extreme and irrational, and it might not have an exact cause. For people who suffer from cynophobia, it may not be specific to a particular type of dog or even to dogs of a certain size. If you suffer from cynophobia, a large and aggressive Rottweiler might be just as frightening as a wriggling little Golden Retriever puppy. Some people with cynophobia can even be triggered by the image of a dog on television or the sight of a dog through the window.

How Can You Overcome Cynophobia?

Many people who suffer from cynophobia state that they have been afraid of dogs for as long as they remember – they may not be able to identify when or how the fear started. Cynophobes can be afraid of being scratched or bitten by a dog, not just being viciously attacked.

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The sight of a dog can induce an involuntary fear response, causing the person to start sweating and shaking – they may even have trouble breathing or experience a full-blown panic attack. Though this type of reaction is involuntary, it is possible to overcome cynophobia, as is true for most phobias.

The most common treatment for cynophobia is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) which is a form of psychotherapy. CBT is based on the idea that the way we think about things affects our emotions and thus our response. By changing the way a cynophobe thinks about dogs, it is possible to reduce and eventually eliminate the involuntary fear response. This can be accomplished through systematic desensitization, a combination of visualization exercises and gradual exposure paired with breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to reduce the fear response. Depending on the severity of the phobia, this can take time to accomplish.

Even if you know your dog to be the gentlest dog on the planet, you should not assume that everyone you encounter will feel the same way. It is your job as a responsible dog owner to teach your dog obedience and to keep him under control. You never know when you might encounter someone who is afraid of dogs and they may not act in a rational way. In situations like this, proper training and socialization will help to keep your dog safe.

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor’s degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.


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