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How to Get Over a Fear of Dogs: 6 Expert Tips and Advice

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By Misty Layne

American staffordshire terrier dog running over a man(scared)

There’s no doubt that dogs are among the most popular pets, but despite the moniker of “man’s best friend”, not everyone is a fan of canines. In fact, some people have cynophobia, or a fear of dogs, that makes it impossible for them to be around these animals. And since the chances of running into a dog while out and about is incredibly high due to their prevalence as pets, it can make life difficult for those with cynophobia.

However, if you have this phobia, you don’t have to continue living with a fear of dogs! It is possible to overcome cynophobia, so you can become more confident around canines and get back to being able to enjoy life. We’ve gathered six expert tips in our step-by-step guide to doing just that, so keep reading!

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What Causes Fear of Dogs?

People develop cynophobia for different reasons, but most often, the fear of dogs develops during childhood. A person might have had a negative experience with a dog, whether it was being bitten, chased, or jumped on and knocked over. Or a person might have seen someone else have a negative experience with a canine. It’s even possible that one developed a fear of dogs because a parent had that fear and passed it on or because of media depictions of canines.

If you aren’t sure if you are afraid of dogs or simply dislike them, check out the symptoms of cynophobia below. They are similar to the symptoms of other phobias and include:

  • Crying and/or screaming
  • Dry mouth
  • The feeling something awful is about to happen
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain or tightness

man experiences chest pain or Shortness of breath or Increased heart rate
Image Credit: Prostock-studio, Shutterstock

The 6 Tips on How to Getting Over a Fear of Dogs

If you’re ready to overcome your fear of dogs, take a look at this step-by-step guide with expert tips. The process of overcoming your fear might take a bit of time, but you can do it!

1. The first step when it comes to overcoming a fear of dogs is to understand precisely where your fear comes from.

This doesn’t mean identifying a childhood experience that caused your fear but rather figuring out what exactly it is about dogs that frighten you. For example, are you only scared of big dogs? Is it only particular breeds that frighten you? Or maybe a specific dog behavior, such as barking, triggers your fear. Determining just what it is about canines that makes you afraid can help you narrow down where to focus on in overcoming that fear.

Little girl scared by dog
Image credit: Andrew Angelov, Shutterstock

2. Once you’ve narrowed down what about dogs scares you, try spending time with dogs (aka exposure therapy).

To be clear, we don’t mean interacting with the dogs! Instead, you’ll want to go with a good friend and stand outside a dog park to watch the dogs play or be around a friend’s well-mannered dog—while it’s leashed and on the other side of the room. Just sit back and observe. This way, you can pay attention to the things about dogs that frighten you, but in a safe environment that is physically far away from dogs, so nothing can go wrong.


3. After meeting with dogs under safe conditions a few times, you may be able to work up to getting closer to said dogs and even, eventually, petting them.

However, it’s vital to never push yourself to do something you aren’t comfortable with, so if you can’t move any further than being in the nearby proximity of a canine, that’s fine.

man petting dog at the park
Image Credit: jarmoluk, Pixabay

4. While you’re spending time simply observing canines, learn how to read their body language.

Knowing a dog’s body language will tell you whether the dog is happy, nervous, or scared. A wagging tail and doggy grin indicate happiness or excitement, while a pup cowering on the ground with its tail tucked is scared. And while you’re at it, take a minute to take stock of your body language to ensure you aren’t sending messages that say you’re scared or ones that indicate an assertiveness you don’t have. A lot of human and dog misunderstandings can occur via misread body language!


5. Learn techniques to help you relax.

Relaxation techniques are an excellent part of the toolkit for getting over a fear of dogs. These techniques can reduce symptoms of fear and anxiety and help you think more clearly. A few you could try out include meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.

man doing meditation pose
Image By: EnergieDeVie, Pixabay

6. If figuring out where your fear of dogs lies, slow exposure therapy and relaxation techniques aren’t working, it could be time to take it to the next step and bring in a professional.

A therapist will be equipped to handle severe cynophobia with a variety of techniques. A common technique in therapy will also be exposure therapy, but a therapist may try cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness practices, hypnotherapy, or even medication first. Or they may try a combination of those.

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Conclusion

Cynophobia can be debilitating, but it can be overcome. If your fear of dogs isn’t overwhelming, the tips in our step-by-step guide should be able to help you with your fear. However, if your phobia is severe, you might want to skip straight to the therapy step. Whatever route you take, just know that though it may take some time, you can become less afraid of canines and get back to enjoying life!


Featured Image Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock

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