We all know what phobias are – they’re fears that have no basis in any kind of common sense, but that we still find difficult, or even impossible, to overcome.
For years, I had a phobia about moths. Apparently, the clinical term is mottephobia. I think I probably inherited it from my mother. At night, as soon as the moths started coming out, she’d close up all the doors and windows and draw the curtains. Then she’d hunch up in a chair and scream at me if I dared to open a door or peek outside the curtains.
For years, I was equally terrified of moths. Honestly, for months I was scared out of my mind, practically beside myself any time a moth came into the house, or even anywhere near it.
I’m over it now, though, but it took a long time, and I kind of think that I just sort of ended up where I had to be. Once I moved out of town and into my little house in the country, there was simply no getting away from moths. I still don’t much like them, but if the odd one wanders into the house and starts batting its evil little wings against the light bulb in my reading lamp, I don’t panic.
I don’t lose it, and I don’t panic.
I just kill it.
Of course, there are other phobias that can be pretty common. We all know people who are terrified of spiders (arachnophobia), snakes (ophidophobia), heights (acrophobia), water (hydrophobia), enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) and open spaces (agoraphobia), to name just a few common phobias.
I like to think of myself as a kind and caring person, but quite honestly, where my “huggy feel good meter” tips into the negative zone is when people admit to dog phobias (cynophobias). I just can’t wrap my head around it, and my natural instinct is to say, “Man up and get over it!”
I Should Be More Understanding
Yes, I should. And although I have trouble understanding people with dog phobias, I do know that they exist, and I’m going to try really hard to understand those people. So, let’s move on, and take a closer look at dog phobias.
Are Dog Phobias Common?
They are. They’re not as common as the phobias that I’ve already mentioned, but they indisputably exist. And let’s put one thing to rest at the outset – a person with cynophobia doesn’t hate dogs, usually; he or she is just very, very afraid of them. Typically, these people know on some level that there’s no logical reason to be afraid of dogs, but knowing doesn’t make a difference.
Fortunately, if a person really wants to be free of his or her dog phobias, there are ways to make that happen. The first step is to look back and try to determine what caused the phobia in the first place. With my mottephobia, it’s obvious – I inherited it. And that might be the case with a good many people who have an abnormal fear of dogs. If your mother or father, or someone else close to you, had an irrational fear of dogs, chances are that you might have picked it up.
Alternatively, did you have a bad experience with a dog?
I remember back when I was in grade school, being terrorized by a Saint Bernard who kept coming into the schoolyard, backing me up against a wall, and growling at me. It was years before I could get over my fear of that particular breed, but oddly enough, it never translated into a fear of dogs in general.
If your experiences with dogs have not been generally good, though, it’s probably not all that unreasonable that you’re afraid.
You might also have seen something happen to another person. If someone you know was bitten, even though you weren’t personally affected, you might be afraid of dogs.
The good news is that, whatever happened in the past, you can get over your fear of dogs. Now, how will you do it?
Getting Over Your Fear of Dogs
To get over a fear of dogs, follow these easy steps.
1. Ask yourself what triggers your symptoms.
When it comes to dog phobias, your triggers might be “low threshold” or “high threshold.” An example of a low-trigger threshold would be that you can’t even think about a dog without being afraid. Or you can’t see a picture of a dog. Or you can’t read a story about a dog.
A high-trigger threshold, on the other hand, would be a situation in which you think you’re in danger of being bitten.
Low-trigger thresholds are easier to deal with, obviously. You know, intellectually, that you are not going to be harmed by seeing a dog in a movie, or reading a story about a dog.
And for that matter, when you get to “high-trigger” thresholds, maybe you’re not phobic at all – maybe you’re just sensible! After all, who wouldn’t be concerned if they had good reason to think that they were about to be bitten?
The “low-trigger” people are, in my opinion, the ones that are truly phobic. So, let’s talk about what they can do.
First, read a friggin’ story! And man up!
Okay, I’m not really trying to be insensitive here. Seriously, read a story. If it bothers you a lot, put the book down and get back to it later.
Now, watch a movie about dogs. Pretty much anything you get off the Disney Channel is going to be safe. If you find you can’t handle it, pause the movie and go make some popcorn. Get back to it later.
2. Take a Hard Look at Your Symptoms and What You Can Do About Them
Okay, a question. Can you be around a dog at all? Or is it just some dogs you can’t be around? If a dog isn’t barking, are you okay? Or is it just when the dog starts to bark that you feel you need to get out of Dodge?
If it’s the barking that troubles you, that causes you to shake and have trouble breathing, then stay away from barking dogs. But if you truly want to overcome your dog phobia, setting yourself up in situations where you’re in contact with quiet, calm dogs can help.
3. Ask Yourself if Overcoming Your Dog Phobias Will Change Your Life
I’m pretty sure that you don’t like feeling this way.
Dog phobias can really interfere with a person’s life. That’s simply because there’s no way at all of avoiding dogs. There are 60 million of them in the United States alone. Now, I suppose that theoretically, you could avoid dogs if you never left your house, but that’s hardly practical, is it?
Do you avoid going to certain places because there might be dogs present? Do you keep away from people that you would ordinarily like to be friends with, simply because they have dogs? Do you avoid family gatherings because of other family members who might want to bring their dogs?
Does any of this bother you?
Okay, if you’re sitting there, reading this, and saying, “Well, I just hate dogs, and it’s fine with me if I never go anywhere that dogs are likely to be,” honestly, I don’t know what to say to you.
But if you’re saying, “I’m missing out on a lot because of this fear that I know is irrational,” then I do have some suggestions. The first is simply this –
Okay, I’m not trying to be funny here. You want to change your life, but your fear of dogs is so severe that you don’t know how to do it.
The thing is, you can.
First, you need to understand your fear, and own it. Also, accept that this fear isn’t going to go away overnight.
Some of the best techniques for overcoming fear of dogs are the ones that work best for other fears. The first thing you need to do is have faith in yourself. Understand that you can overcome this fear. Also, accept that you might backslide – you don’t want to, but you probably will, and it’s okay.
Sometimes, one of the best ways to get rid of fear is to write about it. Keep a journal. Write about the times when dogs scare you. If there are certain breeds of dogs that you find particularly frightening, write about them. Sometimes, talking (even to yourself) about your fears is the best way to overcome them.
2. Get Professional Help
Professional therapists are highly skilled in helping people overcome all manner of phobias. It’s almost certain that there are therapists in your area who are well-versed in helping people overcome phobias, and if you can’t do it on your own, there’s no shame in seeking professional help.
3. Rewire Your Brain
I’m serious! A lot of phobias, including dog phobias, are hard-wired in the brain. What this means is that it’s not the dog that’s in front of you, barking and carrying on, that’s really bothering you – it’s how you perceive the idea of any dog doing that. You’re actually reacting to fear of a dog that isn’t even there.
If you work on rewiring your brain, you re-structure how you think. The way you do this is to think about the things that trigger your fear. What’s causing it? Is it a bad experience with a dog? Is it something that your parents told you? Get down to the cause of the fear. Then, when you get to it, tell your brain, “STOP!” Tell your brain, “That’s not relevant anymore.”
I know that this sounds easy, but I’m putting it out here because it is easy. Just do it.
4. Change Your Assumptions
Often, we make assumptions about certain things, and often, they’re “all or nothing” assumptions. For instance, people with dog phobias often make assumptions like, “I can’t be friends with a person who has a dog,” “Any dog I meet is likely to bite me,” “Any time I was ever near a dog something bad happened, so that’s not going to change,” or “I’ve always been told that you can never trust a dog.”
Change your assumptions. Try, “Some people that I know who have dogs might be good friends,” “Most dogs that I meet won’t bite me,” “Most of the time, I’m not around dogs, so it’s not likely I’ll be bitten,” and “Most dogs are friendly and not likely to bite.”
5. Don’t Buy into What You Hear in the Media
Pit Bull attack. Rottweiler attack. Take a closer look at these reports, and most often you’ll find that it’s “a dog that looked like…” Use your common sense, and don’t allow yourself to be terrified by media over-reaction.
6. Get in Tune with Your Feelings
Now, what do you really feel and believe? What is your fear causing you to do?
Imagine these scenarios, and think about how you might respond positively.
- Your neighbor has a Pit Bull. Because of that, you won’t go out into your own yard. Have you ever actually met the dog, though, and been up close and personal with him? Could you introduce yourself? Get to know him? Throw a ball for him?
- Someone walks a dog down your street. The dog has never been aggressive toward you. In fact, he kind of looks as though he’d like to be friends. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you make overtures?
- You walk by the local dog park. A dog has never exited the park and become aggressive toward you. What’s the worst that can happen? I’m serious here, what’s the absolute worst?
- Your child desperately wants a dog. Okay, I’m not even going to go into specifics here; you’re on your own with this one, and I hope you’ll make the right decision!
I think that at this point, you’re probably coming to some pretty sensible conclusions about dog phobias. However, you still need to move along in your recovery.
You need to know how to relax. That’s the key to overcoming dog phobias. There are a number of techniques that you can use, including meditation, yoga, and other methods.
One of the best methods of relaxation is progressive muscle relaxation. This is pretty much what it sounds like – you simply tense up and then release all your muscles. Start with your feet and work up to your shoulders, tensing and releasing, tensing and releasing.
You can also try visualization, in which every time you begin to feel stressed (as you might when facing a dog), you imagine a place that makes you feel good. It could be a forest, a beach, or some other calming place.
Deep breathing is also helpful, and this is another technique that is just what it sounds like – you breathe deeply from your abdomen, and the deep breaths help to soothe you.
If you’re still afraid of dogs, and the above techniques haven’t worked, then you might try going with an exposure plan.
This is another thing that is pretty much what it sounds like – you’ll expose yourself to dogs.
Now, I’m not going to tell you to dive into a kennel. In fact, some of the initial suggestions that I’m going to offer might sound pretty lame. Draw a picture of a dog?
If you’re really, really afraid, that might be where you want to begin.
You can jump ahead if you’re less apprehensive, though. So, let’s take it in baby steps for those who need it. The brave among you can jump ahead.
- Take a piece of paper and draw a picture of a dog.
- Find a book about dogs and look at the pictures.
- Go on Facebook or YouTube and look at videos of dogs.
- Sit at your window and look at neighborhood dogs.
- Open the window and look at those dogs.
- Open the door and look at the dogs.
- Have a friend bring a dog into your house, but keep it on a leash.
- Sit next to your friend’s dog.
- Touch the dog.
- Pet the dog.
- Let the dog kiss you.
- Kiss the dog back.
You get the idea.
Now, at every step of the exercise, ask yourself how anxious you are. Rate it on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “not at all anxious” and 10 being “so anxious I want to jump out of my skin and run screaming into the night.”
Make a Plan
Now that you’ve identified your level of anxiety, make a plan. Do something that’s on the low anxiety level first, and then gradually scale it up a bit. Your journal can help you here, too – you can use it to record your anxiety level and keep an eye on your progress. Remember, you don’t want to go too fast. If you have a serious dog phobia, then you’re going to want to take it slow. You don’t have to rush – just take each stage as it comes, and don’t move onto the next step until you’re completely comfortable.
The Final Word
I think the key here is to practice. You’re not going to recover overnight from dog phobias, so you need to take it slow and easy. You can also reward yourself along the way – if you manage to pet a dog, then take yourself out for a latte. If you attend an event where dogs are present, buy yourself something nice.
The big thing here is that, if you’ve been reading this, I know that you want to rid yourself of dog phobias. And you can do it! It might not happen right away, but slow and easy will win the race.
Let me know how you do – the comment section is at the bottom of this post.