Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fear of Dogs: Cynophobia Symptoms, Causes and Cures

By Julia Williams

Do you have a fear of dogs, or know someone who does? The likelihood that you answered yes to one or both of those questions is fairly high, considering that the fear of dogs is quite common in our society today. Having a little fear of dogs is natural and may actually protect you, because some dogs (especially strays or other dogs you don’t know) could be dangerous, and should always be approached with caution. But for people who have Cynophobia, which is not a healthy fear of dogs but an extreme, irrational one, this fear can make their life miserable. Left untreated, Cynophobia can severely interfere with a person’s work, school, and social relationships.

Phobias are classified as a type of anxiety disorder, whereby exposure to the feared object, activity or situation can cause excessive sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, inability to think or speak clearly, and even a full blown panic attack. Cynophobia then, is not simply an aversion to dogs; it’s an intense feeling of fear at the sight of one – even if it’s just on television or through a window. Very often, a person with Cynophobia can have an anxiety attack just by thinking about encountering a dog. They may understand intellectually that a dog on TV poses no danger, but this doesn’t prevent them from having a reaction.

Although snakes and spiders are more common animal phobias, Cynophobia is especially debilitating because dogs are such an intrinsic part of everyday life. According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, there are approximately 74.8 million pet dogs in the United States. Dogs are everywhere we look and thus, practically impossible to avoid. And for someone with Cynophobia, it doesn’t matter if the dog is a tiny puppy, a Chihuahua or a snarling guard dog– all are equally frightening.

What causes Cynophobia?

Like all irrational fears, Cynophobia is a protective mechanism created by the unconscious mind. A Cynophobe is usually terrified of being scratched, bitten or attacked by a dog, but may not have any idea where this fear originated. Sometimes all they know is that they've had a fear of dogs for as long as they can remember. It is possible, though, that they had a frightening experience with a dog at a young age but don’t remember it.

Both children and adults can develop Cynophobia after being attacked or bitten by a dog, or seeing another person have a bad experience with a dog. In addition, parents who have a strong fear of dogs can sometimes transfer this to their children. On the other hand, early exposure to good-tempered dogs seems to lessen the probability of a person developing Cynophobia as an adult.

Treatments for Cynophobia

With professional help, the fear of dogs can usually be overcome; however, many Cynophobics avoid seeking treatment because they’re embarrassed about fearing an animal so many people love. If they get teased by others who don’t understand the debilitating nature of phobias, they may be even more reluctant to seek treatment. For some, the idea of confronting their fear of dogs is just as terrifying as dealing with Cynophobia. Nevertheless, if someone has a desire to conquer their fear of dogs it can be done, and there are several therapeutic options.

Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the belief that the way we think about things affects how we feel emotionally. Rather than focusing on past experiences, cognitive therapy employs problem solving in the present, e.g., helping someone change the way they think about dogs.

Systematic desensitization therapy uses visualization and gradual exposure combined with relaxation and breathing exercises to desensitize a person to their phobia. In a controlled environment, typically a therapist's office, the patient is taught to visualize a frightening situation (such as encountering a dog). When this no longer produces intense anxiety, exposure to dogs is introduced in a systematic, structured way while the person concentrates on staying calm. This exposure could include looking at photos of dogs, watching videos about dogs, seeing a dog through a window, and eventually, being in the same room with a dog.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is the study of how individuals create their reality. NLP views phobias as the result of faulty “programs” or images that a person has created, e.g., seeing all dogs as aggressive and threatening. With NLP, these programs are revealed and “re-programmed” so that the phobia is minimized or eliminated.

Hypnosis helps to reprogram the subconscious thoughts that may be linked to the phobia. People with Cynophobia usually have a strong subconscious belief that any dog they see will attack them. When the subconscious is reprogrammed through hypnotherapy, the phobia symptoms are often minimized.

If you suffer from Cynophobia but feel like you’re all alone, rest assured – there are many others who share your fear of dogs. And you shouldn’t feel that this is just something you “have to live with,” because with proper treatment, effort and time, you can overcome Cynophobia.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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