Is your friend or family member scared of dogs? Here's how you can help them.

While most people have a very reasonable fear of spiders, a good amount of people are afraid of dogs! I mean c’mon eight legs are pretty creepy and not to mention, can be poisonous, but dogs are just furry best friends! However, not everyone has this same view and may have had an unfortunate encounter with a dog that has left them scarred and afraid. And, interestingly enough, some people have a genetic disposition to developing a phobia. So a bad experience with a dog can lead to a greater chance of this person developing this phobia. 

Cynophobia, a fear of dogs, is different than simply not preferring dogs. People with Cynophobia may dread being around a dog. They may become anxious, and worrisome just at the thought of this occurring. The following symptoms may occur: crying or screaming, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating, nausea, and increased heart rate.

How can you help someone with Cynophobia?

First, it’s important to validate their fear. Even if you yourself love dogs or even don’t mind dogs, it’s important for you to express that you understand that they are not being dramatic or irrational. They have been bitten by or chased by a dog or even may have seen or heard about a close family member or friend being chased or bitten by a dog which left them afraid. Your friend or family member may have developed their fear from seeing their parents be afraid of dogs or watching someone on television in a show who was afraid of dogs. 

Second, you can tell them that there are ways to get treated for this phobia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be very helpful. This type of therapy could start with asking the patient to imagine petting a dog. The patient would keep an anxiety journal to track their anxiety levels. Each person's timeline for progress and exposure will be different since each person starts at a different point and will progress at different rates. This cognitive component helps with recognizing the person’s mistaken belief that a dog will cause them harm. 

Exposure therapy can also be very helpful since it would gradually expose the person to the object they fear. This will help with the physical symptoms such as muscle tenseness since tenseness will send a signal to the brain that they are in danger. Most of the anxiety linked with Cynophobia is anticipatory so recognizing and maintaining the anxiety is crucial. 

How can you help someone who had a negative encounter with a dog?

If you know someone who was just bitten or chased or that person knows someone who just had a negative encounter with a dog, the best thing you can do is have them interact with a dog and have it be a positive experience. Maybe even looking at data and demonstrating to your friend or family member that it is very rare to get bitten by a dog can help them with their fear.

Keep in mind that if you have a dog and you have a friend or family member who suffers from Cynophobia, it is best to keep your dog away from them either in a crate, another friend’s house, or at a sitters. You can also rearrange plans to ensure your friend or family member does not feel anxious about coming over, so either you can do something outside or go to someone’s house who does not have a dog!

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