Following a past traumatic event, some people can develop an irrational fear of dogs that can take a heavy toll on their enjoyment of life. They may fear dogs so much that they will refuse to have a pet dog, go to places populated by dogs like parks or a friend’s house, or even have panic attacks when they see a dog. Even though these people know that their fear is irrational and excessive, they just can’t help it. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome your fear of dogs, even if it involves a lot of work.
Why Are Some People So Afraid of Dogs?
In most cases, irrational fear of dogs is caused by a past traumatic event the person may not even remember. In other cases, the fear of dogs might get triggered in a child by parents or the media portraying all dogs as dangerous creatures, even though dogs can have very different personalities.
The fear of dogs may also be caused by an unpleasant past experience around a dog, especially in childhood, like being chased or bitten by a dog or a loved one being bitten by a dog and severely injured. The reasons some people fear dogs are complicated, and the levels of anxiety a dog may trigger in one such person vary by various degrees.
For instance, some people are so afraid of dogs that they feel pain or dizziness in their chest, get all sweaty, are shaking, may get an upset stomach, may experience hot or cold flashes, may have a panic attack, or may cry uncontrollably at the sight of a dog. These people will likely be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder known as cynophobia.
Not all people who fear dogs are cynophobic. So, treatment options to help them overcome the fear of dogs will be different.
5 Steps to Overcoming Your Fear of Dogs
In mild cases, the fear of dogs may just get away if you recognize your fear, stay committed to overcoming it, educate yourself on dog behavior, and gradually be exposed to dogs. In more severe cases like cynophobia, professional help might be needed.
Step 1: Recognize Your Fear
The first big step is to recognize what you are afraid of and how it holds you back. Many people rationalize away their fears saying that they are not that bad. But healing can only come from a place of truth. Lying about your fear of dogs is not productive either, like telling people that you are allergic to dogs instead of acknowledging your real problem. You might miss critical help and healing opportunities that way.
Step 2: Stay Committed
Without the commitment to overcoming your fear of dogs, there can be no real progress. You can stay committed to your goal by keeping an anxiety journal recording all the scenarios that triggered your anxiety around a dog on a scale of one to ten to keep tabs on your progress. You should also write down how your fear of dogs negatively impacts your life for an extra boost of motivation.
Step 3: Educate Yourself
You should educate yourself on the body language and behavior of dogs and read all that you can find about dogs. You may learn that dog bites rarely happen out of the blue, which you can find comforting when facing a living, breathing dog.
Step 4: Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can help address the physical reactions spurred by your anxiety around dogs. When done right, breathing exercises can be a godsend for stressed people living with any type of fear or phobia.
Step 5: Getting Exposed
After steps one to four, the next big step would be to gradually get exposed to small puppies or well-behaved dogs after informing their owner of your fear of dogs. Breathing can also be of help during your encounters. Don’t push yourself too hard. You can start with a stuffed animal and continue from there to the real thing. Take your time to desensitize yourself to dogs, even if progress comes painfully slow.
Extra Step: Getting Professional Help
In more severe cases, like cynophobia, you will likely need help from a professional with a well-structured plan and vast experience with phobias. The tried-and-tested method of overcoming excess fear of dogs is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), paired with gradual exposure to a dog, self-education, and deep breathing exercises.
A cognitive-behavioral therapist will help their patients identify the irrational thoughts that cause them to be anxious around dogs and find opposing thoughts that can bring the much-needed peace of mind around a canine. A therapist might also ask you to imagine petting a harmless dog, like a pup or a dog from a movie or story you enjoyed as a child.
Next, the exposure to dogs will get real, but the dog needs to be perceived as harmless. So, a muzzled adult dog or a small pup (younger than six months) will likely be used. Keeping an anxiety journal can be a great morale booster during all that time.
An irrational fear of dogs can be serious business, as it can affect a person’s life to the point of severely altering their daily routines, missing fantastic opportunities, or keeping them stuck. With the right dose of commitment, a person can overcome their fear of dogs on their own. If the phobia is severe, they may need professional help like a CBT expert.
But help shouldn’t stop here. Even if you have overcome your fear of dogs, but you or a loved one was bitten by a dog, you can hold the negligent dog owner liable to prevent other people and kids from being traumatized by the same dog. A dog bite attorney can help you better navigate dog bite laws in your state and determine liability after a dog bite incident. Being proactive about such incidents can also restore your sense of control and prevent phobias from setting in.