Monday, December 29, 2014

Cynophobia – The Fear of Dogs

Cynophobia (from Greek κύων kýōn, meaning dog and φόβος phóbos, meaning fear)is an unusual fear of dogs. It is a subtype of Zoophobia, or animal phobia. A good 36% of zoophobic people have sought treatment for their fear of dogs and cats. One would think that dogs being arguably the most common pet and a very friendly animal would have fewer humans scared of them, but in fact the number of cynophobic people is pretty high. Though a greater number of animal phobic people have reported to be afraid of snakes and spiders, the fear of dogs amongst the population is a greater reason of concern because the presence of a dog in every person’s daily lives is pretty high. Even these people who are extremely afraid of dogs are forced to deal with them every day in some form(even if by avoidance), because our canine friends are pretty much everywhere.


The symptoms of a Cynophobia are pretty much as expected. When the patient comes in close proximity of a dog or in few cases even when the person sees a photograph or thinks about the dog, a panic attack can get triggered. This may include few or all of the following symptoms:
  •     Trembling
  •     Palpitations
  •     Sweating
  •     Nausea
  •     Difficulty breathing
  •     Increased heart-rate
  •     Urge to escape
  •     Dizziness
  •     Faintness
  •     Dry mouth or a choking sensation
  •     Emotional distress
  •     Light headedness
  •     Panic  attacks
 For patients of Cynophobia, the symptoms may occur when they are confronted with a dog, or even when they see a photograph or video of a dog. Sometimes this fear can surface even when the patient is merely thinking about dogs. This can be a real problem and can make life impossible in a world where dogs are considered to be man’s best friend. Treatment should be sought as early as this phobia is recognized or reported. Effective behavioral therapy can ensure that the patient recovers completely and is able to coexist with non-violent and friendly dogs without panicking.  


The treatment is approached in either of the two following methods.

Systematic Desensitization Therapy

This kind of therapy aims at helping the patient deal with the fear and the manifestation of the object of fear (irrespective of the manifestation being real or imaginary). The therapist first determines the anxiety level of the patient and then trains and coaches the patient to deal with the seemingly threatening situation through breathing exercises and other techniques that relax their minds and senses. This is continued unless these relaxation techniques are internalized and the patient doesn’t show symptoms of fear when placed in situations where fear was experienced previously.

In Vivo Or Exposure Therapy

As the name indicates this kind of therapy involves exposing the patient to the dog in a controlled and systematic environment. These sessions can all be prolonged or can be increased in time duration increasingly with passing time. Additionally, the sessions can be conducted separately or in a single multi-hour session. The feared stimulus (which in case of Cynophobia, is a dog) is brought in presence of the patient while another person demonstrate a less anxious and more “normal” way of interacting with the dog. This behavior modeling can encourage the patient to gradually lower his or her defenses against the feared animal and start interacting with the dog once the anxiety level decreases significantly. After several sessions, when the therapist is convinced that the patient can be left to his own devices, the patient is encouraged to interact with dogs without the therapist being present.  This therapy has been found to be really effective and as many as 90% patients have shown significant signs of improvement and recovery just after 2-3 net hours of sessions. Patients who may assess themselves to be milder cases of Cynophobia or who are hesitant to seek professional help can start self help treatment. An assistant or a friend can help immensely and starting off with a cute looking, harmless and physically unintimidating dog can be good. Later on the labs can be brought in. Since avoidance itself may help perpetuate or reinforce the fear, the patient is advised to continue interaction with the furry, four legged friend even after therapy has ended. More and more exposure will lead to reduced fear and more self confidence.


Researchers have indicated that the most typical age of onset of animal phobia is in the early childhood (mostly in the 5-9 years range); however there have been cases when the fear of dogs has developed as late as the age of 20. Interestingly enough, as many as 75%to 90% patients have been found to be female.

There can be three different kinds of triggers for this phobia’s onset.

Direct personal experience: As the name indicates, a personal negative encounter with a dog which led to fear or injury earlier on in life can develop into a lifelong condition of phobia unless treated effectively. This negative encounter can include being brutally attacked (not leading to any injury) or being bitten by a ferocious dog.

Observational experience: Seeing a friend or close relative getting bitten can also cause this kind of fears of canines.

Informational or instructional experience: This refers to an adult’s instructions, a book, a movie or some such experience which instills a debilitating fear of dogs in a young person’s brain. In this scenario the child does not necessarily come in contact with a dog, nor does any physical harm occur (or could have occurred) but the fear and the memory of that fear instills a lifelong phobia of dogs in the mind. This kind of fear is almost exclusively found in young children.


Though it may seem like a harmless situation, it can have far reaching effects on the patient’s psyche and quality of life. Often exposure to or the possibility of exposure to dogs may incite an anxiety or panic attack and this excessive, unreasonable fear may lead to decreased social life and uncomfortable choices for the patient.

Cynophonia can greatly affect the patient’s daily activities which include social interaction and occupational responsibilities. Avoiding going to a relative who has dogs as pets can lead to estrangement or ill-feeling. Similarly, avoiding clients’ house visits when presented with the possibility of having to face their canine pets can cause the patient to look like a work-shirker. Crossing road (so as to be able to avoid dog parks) and changing routes in order to avoid dogs can cause undue inconvenience.

This phobia can often be overlooked in younger children when parents may chalk it up to “a child being a child” and it is easily concluded that the child will eventually “grow out of it”.
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