Cynophobia, the phobia (irrational fear) of dogs, is a type of anxiety disorder. Cynophobia is more than being afraid of dogs or not wanting to be around dogs. This type of fear interferes with your daily activities. Cynophobia often develops at a young age and is sometimes—but not always—the result of a traumatic encounter with a dog.
This article discusses cynophobia and its symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatment options.
What Is the Fear of Dogs?
Many people are afraid of—or at least uncomfortable around—dogs and take steps to avoid them. However, phobias such as cynophobia are more than simply being afraid of something. Cynophobia is a persistent, irrational fear of dogs that causes severe anxiety symptoms. People with cynophobia may go out of their way to stay away from dogs, even avoiding going for walks or visiting people they know who have a dog.
This fear is often worse than the actual threat presented by being around a dog. In reality, there are times when being around a dog can be dangerous. However, cynophobia causes a person to believe that all dogs are viscious and ready to attack.
What Are Symptoms of Cynophobia?
You don’t have to be in the presence of a dog to experience the symptoms of cynophobia. In fact, just thinking about dogs can trigger an anxiety attack. Symptoms can include:
- Heart racing or pounding
- shortness of breath
- Sense of “impending doom”
Mental health professionals like psychiatrists make diagnoses of specific phobias, such as fear of dogs. This type of anxiety disorder is diagnosed by meeting certain criteria outlined in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5). These include:
- Excessive, unreasonable fear that occurs in the presence of dogs or when anticipating being around dogs
- Immediate anxiety response when exposed to dogs
- Understanding that your fear is out of proportion to the actual threat of being around a dog
- Avoiding dogs—to the extent that it interferes with your daily activities
- Fear that has persisted for at least six months
Cynophobia can develop if a dog has attacked you or someone you know. You can also develop a phobia by hearing or reading about someone else’s traumatic experience, even if you don’t know the person. Phobias can also be “inherited” or learned from caregivers during childhood.
An imbalance in certain chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, can also lead to anxiety disorders, including phobias. Two neurotransmitters that can contribute to anxiety are dopamine and serotonin.
Not all phobias have a cause. Some people may be inherently afraid of dogs without experiencing a traumatic event.
Treatment for Cynophobia
Several types of treatment are available for cynophobia, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and medication.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy. The main focus of cognitive behavioral therapy is to identify faulty thought patterns and learn how to change your behaviors. For example, your therapist can help you face your irrational fear of dogs and teach you ways to cope with your anxiety disorder symptoms.
CBT might include exposure therapy—gradual exposure to the thing a person fears until the anxiety response goes away. This type of treatment begins with exposure to the least-threatening stimulus first and doesn’t progress until you can be with that stimulus without experiencing anxiety.
For example, you might begin with talking about dogs, then progress to looking at pictures of dogs, seeing dogs from a distance, then eventually touching a dog.
Relaxation and Mindfulness Techniques
Phobias are based on irrational, persistent thoughts that distract you from what is going on around you. Relaxation and mindfulness techniques can help bring your mind back to the present and reduce your anxiety symptoms caused by your irrational fear of dogs.
- Breathing exercises: When you’re feeling anxious, take a few minutes to focus on your breath. Diaphragmatic breathing can reverse some of the physical symptoms of stress caused by your fears.
- Lie down or sit in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose. Fill your belly with air. Try not to allow your chest to rise.
- Purse your lips as if blowing out candles, and slowly breathe out.
- Repeat for several breaths.
- Guided imaging: This technique involves listening to a voice (and sometimes music) to help you imagine you are in a calming environment.
- visualization: This technique is used to help you picture a situation where you are around a dog but without fear and anxiety.
The most common medication type used for phobias is benzodiazepines, such as Klonopin (clonazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam). These medications are short-acting and work best when used right before confronting your phobia.
Other types of medications can be used to treat anxiety disorders, including specific phobias. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) affect levels of serotonin in your brain to decrease symptoms of anxiety. Common SSRIs include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Lexapro (escitalopram), and Celexa (citalopram).
Cynophobia is more than just being afraid of dogs. This irrational, persistent fear can keep you from enjoying everyday life—you might even avoid visiting places because there’s a chance a dog might be in the vicinity. A mental health professional such as a psychiatrist can diagnose you and get you started on a treatment regimen. Psychotherapy, mindfulness, and medications can be useful and effective treatments to help you overcome a phobia.
A Word From Verywell
Living with cynophobia can be debilitating—and maybe you’ve been too embarrassed about your symptoms to seek help. However, you aren’t the only person dealing with specific phobias, and treatment can be very effective. Talk to your doctor or a therapist about treatment options available to you.