Fear of dogs (cynophobia): causes and treatment
Cynophobia, the phobia (irrational fear) of dogs, is a type of anxiety disorder. Cynophobia is more than being afraid of dogs or not wanting to be with dogs. This type of fear interferes with your daily activities. Cynophobia often develops at a young age and is sometimes, but not always, the result of a traumatic encounter with a dog.
This article discusses cynophobia and its symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatment options.
What is the fear of dogs?
Many people are afraid of dogs or at least uncomfortable with dogs and take steps to avoid them. However, phobias such as cynophobia go far beyond the simple fear of something. Cynophobia is a persistent, irrational fear of dogs that causes severe symptoms of anxiety. People with cynophobia can do everything possible to stay away from dogs, even avoiding walking around or visiting people they know who have dogs.
This fear is often worse than the actual threat posed by a dog’s presence. In fact, there are times when it can be dangerous to be with a dog. However, cynophobia makes a person believe that all dogs are vicious and ready to attack.
What are the symptoms of cynophobia?
You don’t have to be around a dog to experience the symptoms of cynophobia. In fact, just thinking about dogs can trigger an anxiety attack. Symptoms may include:
- The heart beats or beats
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling of “imminent punishment”
Mental health professionals like psychiatrists diagnose specific phobias, such as fear of dogs. This type of anxiety disorder is diagnosed by meeting certain criteria described in the âDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersâ (DSM-5). These include:
- Excessive and unreasonable fear that occurs in the presence of dogs or when anticipating being around dogs
- Immediate anxiety response when exposed to dogs
- Understanding that your fear is out of proportion to the actual threat of being with a dog
- Avoid dogs, as this interferes with your daily activities
- Fear that has persisted for at least six months
Cynophobia can develop if a dog has attacked you or someone you know. You can also develop a phobia from hearing or reading someone else’s traumatic experience, even if you don’t know it. Phobias can also be “inherited” or learned from caregivers during childhood.
An imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters can also lead to anxiety disorders, including phobias. Two neurotransmitters that can contribute to anxiety are dopamine and serotonin.
Not all phobias have a cause. Some people can be afraid of dogs by nature without going through a traumatic event.
Treatment of cynophobia
Several types of treatment are available for cynophobia, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and medications.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy. The main goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to identify faulty thought patterns and learn how to change your behaviors. For example, your therapist can help you cope with your irrational fear of dogs and teach you ways to manage your anxiety disorder symptoms.
CBT can include exposure therapy, which is gradual exposure to what a person fears until the anxiety reaction subsides. This type of treatment begins with exposure to the least threatening stimulus and only progresses when you can be with that stimulus without feeling anxious.
For example, you could start by talking about dogs, then move on to looking at pictures of dogs, seeing dogs from a distance, and then potentially touching a dog.
Relaxation and mindfulness techniques
Phobias are based on irrational and persistent thoughts that distract you from what is going on around you. Relaxation and mindfulness techniques can help bring your mind back to the present and reduce your anxiety symptoms caused by your irrational fear of dogs.
- Breathing exercises: When you feel anxious, take a few minutes to focus on your breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing can reverse some of the physical symptoms of stress caused by your fears.
- Lie down or sit in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Inhale slowly through your nose. Fill your belly with air. Try not to let your chest rise.
- Purse your lips as if you were blowing out candles and breathe out slowly.
- Repeat for several breaths.
- Guided imagery: This technique involves listening to a voice (and sometimes music) to help you imagine yourself in a calming environment.
- Visualization: This technique is used to help you imagine a situation where you are around a dog but without fear or anxiety.
The most common type of medicine used for phobias are benzodiazepines, such as Klonopin (clonazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam). These drugs have a short duration of action and work best when used right before you confront your phobia.
Other types of drugs can be used to treat anxiety disorders, including specific phobias. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) affect the levels of serotonin in your brain to decrease symptoms of anxiety. Common SSRIs include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Lexapro (escitalopram), and Celexa (citalopram).
Cynophobia is more than being afraid of dogs. This irrational and persistent fear can prevent you from enjoying your day-to-day life. A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, can diagnose you and get you started with a treatment regimen. Psychotherapy, mindfulness, and medication can be helpful and effective treatments to help you overcome a phobia.
A word from Verywell
Living with cynophobia can be debilitating, and you may have been too embarrassed by your symptoms to seek help. However, you are not the only person with specific phobias, and treatment can be very effective. Talk to your doctor or therapist about the treatment options available to you.