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Cynophobia: Fear of Man's Best Friend

By: Kat Tigas-dela TorreCynophobia: Fear of Man's Best Friend

Many people would say that they cannot live without their dogs and I can totally relate. Who would want to live without the consistent unconditional love that our pets are so good at giving?

Unfortunately, for a certain group of people, even touching a dog is unimaginable. For them, dogs trigger an intense, sometimes irrational, fear that causes a variety of physical and emotional negative responses. This condition is known as cynophobia, the fear of dogs.

I have a cousin who was attacked by the family pet when we were kids. She went outside the house quietly one morning to where the pet was staying and the dog was caught by surprise so it bit her. Her fear of dogs developed fairly fast after that. She would cry and cower if a dog came within a few meters of her. She lived with this fear for a few years until one day, her household welcomed a little, gentle Japanese Spitz pup named Gizmo. He was the game changer for my cousin, having had him from puppyhood.  She had the chance to ease back into having a dog in the house. Now decades later, she is still wary of strange dogs but her intense fear of dogs went away. Currently, she owns (and spoils!) 3 furry Shih Tzus.

But contrary to what some people believe, cynophobia isn't always caused by past scary experience. It can sometimes beset people even without any direct interaction with a dog. Aside from an actual encounter, sources like the Mayo Clinic also list brain function, hereditary, and environmental factors as possible causes to the development of cynophobia.

But all is not lost for cynophobes. If you are determined to overcome your fear, there are various ways which you can do so:

  • Try watching a movie with a dog as one of the characters like “Benji” or “A Dog's Purpose”. Movies like these depict them in a way that most dogs are: loyal and affectionate.
  • You can also visit a nearby pet store or a dog-friendly park and just look at the dogs from what you personally think is a ‘safe’ distance. Just observe them and try to relax in their presence.
  • Ask a friend or a relative who owns a healthy, vaccinated, and well-socialized (i.e. used to interacting with people) dog with a mellow personality to meet with you at a neutral space. Make sure that the agreed location does not make the dog nervous and that the dog is on its leash.
  • If you feel uncomfortable touching the dog, just be in each other's presence. It may take several meet-ups until you feel your comfort level increase enough to give you the confidence to try and pat the dog.
  • Once you're ready to touch or pet the dog, remember that safety should always come first. The owner should be in full control of the dog in case of any unexpected reactions. Before engaging with the dog, ask the owner to take the dog for a walk or play with him/her to use up excess energy that might make him/her jump on you or act agitated.
  • When going in for that first touch, ask the owner to pat the dog too. Have the owner pat the head while you gently touch a part of its body he/she doesn't mind getting touched. Check with the owner on what these parts are.
  • Be as calm as possible. Don't do things that might alarm the dog, such as making loud, alarming sounds or sudden movements. Again, this might take several attempts until you can truly be at ease directly interacting with a dog and that's perfectly fine.
  • Friends and family can also play a big role in helping you get over this. Let them know that you need their support. If they sometimes make fun of you or make jokes about your fear, speak out. Feeling alone and unsupported can add to your anxiety.
  • If you feel like your phobia is beyond your control, seek the help of a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.  Together, you can work on a plan that makes sense to you.

Lastly, be patient with yourself. Despite what you hear or read, be aware that overcoming your phobia may not come easy for you. You are your own best ally in dealing with any and all challenges that come your way, so treat yourself with kindness.

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