What to Do If You’re Afraid of Dogs
If you’re afraid of dogs, you’re not alone. Phobias of dogs, also known as cynophobia, are one of the most common types of phobias. In many cases, it’s completely understandable how a person would end up being afraid of dogs. Dog phobias are frequently caused in one of three ways: being bitten or attacked by a dog, witnessing another person being bitten or attacked by a dog, or by hearing about dangerous dog behavior through other people or the media (news stories, movies, television).
Dog phobias most commonly start early in childhood, between the ages of five and nine, but they can also start later. Cynophobia is not a “one-size-fits-all” type of phobia; it manifests differently in different people. Some people might panic at the mere thought of encountering a dog, others are only afraid of large breed dogs, and others might be fine with seeing pictures of dogs or seeing dogs on TV, but can’t handle being near a real, live dog.
For many people with phobias, the natural reaction is to simply avoid whatever it is they’re afraid of. But when you’re afraid of an extremely common type of household pet (about 37-47% of American households have at least one dog), avoidance can make life extremely difficult. You might find yourself avoiding common activities like going for a walk around the neighborhood or visiting a friend’s house out of fear of encountering a dog. This can leave a person feeling very isolated and depressed, and in some cases, can escalate to being afraid to leave the house at all.
Although cynophobia often stems from a traumatic event like a dog bite, it’s important to understand that you don’t have to let that fear rule your life. One way to face your fear is to start observing dogs in small doses. You could go to a park and, from a safe distance, watch people walking or playing with their dogs for just a few minutes and over time, ease your way in to approaching a dog owner for permission to pet their dog. Or if you have a friend or family member with a calm, gentle dog, you could start spending small amounts of time around it. You could start by greeting it through a fence and work your way up to approaching it while your friend has it on a leash. You don’t have to be around dogs for long amounts of time at first, short amounts of time are just fine.
If you have a child who is afraid of dogs, it’s important to be careful to avoid saying things that could unintentionally reinforce that fear. For example, instead of asking a stranger with a dog, “Is it safe to pet your dog?” you should ask something more positive like, “Can we meet your dog?”
Learning about how dogs communicate can be very helpful in getting over a fear of dogs. Dogs tend to communicate their feelings through body language and by learning how to interpret a dog’s body language, you can see the difference between a happy, friendly dog and one that is likely to attack. Seeing a therapist can also be helpful in severe cases of cynophobia.
In severe cases of cynophobia, a therapist may be able to help you.