Being afraid of some animals is a natural response that has helped us survive as a species. Thus, the fear of more wild and unknown animals is common, such as lions, panthers, sharks, etc. However, there are people who also feel it towards other closer creatures, such as those who are afraid of dogs.
Despite being considered man’s best friends in the collective imagination, many people fear them due to traumatic experiences or learned behavior patterns. In any case, the fear can grow or develop in such a way that the person suffers from a phobia. Specifically, cynophobia.
How does fear of dogs develop?
Fear of dogs or cinophobia develops like fear of any other stimulus. However, this fear has some peculiarities that can give us clues to determine its origin more precisely. Thus, the fear of dogs is very common in childhood. In this context, it could develop due to the message that parents convey about dogs.
It is common to see parents preventing children from approaching and touching these animals, in addition to reminding them of the danger to which they are exposed by doing so. In this case, it could be said that fear, or excessive caution, that parents have, is the seed of the child’s fear of dogs.
On the other hand, it may be that during childhood the child has had a traumatic experience with a dog (either the parents, or an acquaintance). You do not necessarily have to have had a seizure. It can also be an unexpected movement that the child has interpreted as a threat.
However, this particular or potentially traumatic experience does not necessarily lead to phobia. In many cases it will depend on how you learn to manage fear. Furthermore, fear in dogs during childhood tends to disappear over the years, remaining or remaining a residue compared to larger or more dynamic dogs. Otherwise, the fear can grow to develop a phobia.
It is not the same to speak of fear of dogs than of cynophobia. In the latter, fear is extreme, disabling, and the person truly suffers from any stimulus related to dogs. The intensity of the emotion is such that it surpasses self-control; in fact, often, the person can reason that the dog is not a threat or that the chances of it attacking him are minimal, but at the same time he cannot help feeling threatened.
In this sense, someone with a fear of dogs may feel some tension when witnessing a large and agitated dog. However, he will assess the situation and take the necessary measures to get out of the situation in a healthy way. On the other hand, someone who suffers from cynophobia will feel extreme fear even if the dog is peacefully resting.
It can also be that the person feels fear or phobia for a specific type of dog, such as those labeled as potentially dangerous, or other breeds for some reason. Even so, the most common is that in cinophobia fear spreads to all dogs and does not discriminate if it is a chihuahua or a pitbull.
Symptoms of cynophobia
Like other phobias, dogs generate an anxiety response. Among the most common symptoms are sweating, trembling, headache, nausea, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, or even vomiting. In order for the person to be considered to have cynophobia, it is necessary that these symptoms be in the presence of the animal or some related stimulus. Additionally, you must have experienced exaggerated fear for at least six months.
These symptoms usually occur by seeing the animal in person, or just thinking about them. Thus, it may be that a person with an intense fear of dogs is very affected just by hearing a bark or seeing a photo of a puppy. You may even experience symptoms just by hearing a story about them. These stimuli vary according to the experience of each one, making the fear greater or lesser.
Encountering dogs on a day-to-day basis is enormously common, so it can be truly disabling if left untreated. That is why the person could avoid dogs so much that they decided not to leave the house anymore. He will try to avoid crossing a dog at all costs. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help to overcome the phobia.
Can it be treated?
As in any other phobia, psychological therapy is quite successful in treating them, as well as can reduce fear in general.
Thus, psychological intervention is usually based on three pillars: cognitive restructuring, systematic desensitization, and relaxation techniques. The first is focused on configuring beliefs about dogs in a more adaptive and sometimes realistic way. For example, looking for information about the real danger of these animals, information about aggressiveness or more specific data based on specific fears of the person.
On the other hand, systematic desensitization focuses on gradual and controlled exposure to the stimulus of the phobia. First, a list would be made of everyday situations in which dogs might be present. These situations would be ordered from least to most threatening according to the criteria of the person with cynophobia. Once finished, accompanied by training in relaxation techniques, the person will be exposed, following the order of the list, to these situations.
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