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Cynophobia or fear of dogs

Cynophobia – what is it, and how can you defeat it?

Cynophobia comes from the Greek words meaning „cyno,” meaning dogs and „ „phobia,” meaning fear. A cynophobic person has an exaggerated fear of dogs, both irrational and persistent. It is more than just not feeling good when you hear the barking of the dogs or when you are in their presence. This fear can interfere with daily life and can trigger some symptoms, such as breathing problems or dizziness.

Specific phobias, such as cynophobia, affect about 7-9% of the population. Cynophobia is part of the „animal” spectrum. About one-third of people seeking treatment for specific phobias have an irrational fear of dogs or cats.

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Cynophobia – symptoms

The researchers estimate that in Romania, more than 3.500.000 dogs are having an owner, but are a lot of stray dogs. So the chances of meeting a dog are relatively high. If you have cynophobia, you may have symptoms when you are around dogs or even when you are just thinking about them.

Symptoms associated with specific phobias differ from person to person. Two people cannot experience fear or certain triggering factors in the same way. Symptoms can be physical, emotional, or both.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Fast heart rate
  • Pain or sensation of tightness in the chest
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Stomach problems
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Sweat

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Panic attacks or anxiety
  • An intense need to get rid of specific situations that trigger your fear
  • A sense of derealisation
  • Loss of control
  • The feeling that you can faint or even die
  • You feel that you cannot do anything about this fear

Children have specific symptoms. When exposed to their work or situation, they are afraid. They can:

  • have a tantrum crisis
  • cling to parents or the person who takes cares of them
  • cry or yell

For example, a child may refuse to leave their parents when a dog is nearby.

Why does cynophobia occur

You may not be able to specify exactly when the fear started or what caused it the first time. Cynophobia may develop suddenly due to a dog attack, or it may develop gradually over time. There are certain situations or predispositions, such as genetic factors, that can put you at a higher risk of developing cynophobia.

Specific risk factors may include:

  • The experience. Have you ever had an unpleasant experience with a dog? Were you chased or bitten? Traumatic situations can put you at risk for developing cynophobia.
  • Age. Phobias can affect both children and adults. In some cases, specific phobias may initially appear after the age of 10 but may occur later in life.
  • The family. If one of your close relatives has a phobia or anxiety, the likelihood of developing a phobia is higher. It can be genetically inherited or become a learned behavior over time.
  • Mood. You may have a higher risk of developing phobias if you have a more sensitive temperament.
  • Information. It is possible to develop cynophobia if you have heard negative things about being around dogs. For example, if you read about an attack of a dog, in response, this fear can be triggered.

To be officially diagnosed with a specific phobia, such as cynophobia, you must have experienced the symptoms for at least six months or longer. If you have noticed that your fear of dogs has begun to affect your daily life, you may want to keep a personal journal to share with your doctor.

How cynophobia can be treated?

Not all phobias require treatment. When fear becomes so intense that you avoid parks or other situations where you might encounter dogs, there are a variety of options available. Treatment includes psychotherapy or drug treatment.

Cognitive-behavioral Psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy can be incredibly effective in treating specific phobias. Some people report results in just 1 to 4 sessions.

Virtual Reality Exposure Psychotherapy

Exposure to virtual reality psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy in which people face their fears directly. While some people may benefit from exposure psychotherapy in vivo or around dogs in real life, others may obtain a similar benefit from what’s called active imaging exposure, where they imagine they are performing various tasks with a dog.

In a 2003 study, 82 people with cynophobia underwent in vivo or imaginary psychotherapeutic processes. Some people have interacted with dogs, while others have been merely doing different tasks with them. All presented a significant improvement after the exposure, be it real or imaginary. Improvement rates for virtual and in vivo psychotherapy were 73.1%, and for active imaging exposure psychotherapy were 62.1%.

Drug treatment

Drug treatment is an option that can be used either with psychotherapy or in the short term if there is a situation in which you will be around dogs.

Drug treatment may include:

  • Beta-blockers. These are drugs that block adrenaline to lessen symptoms such as rapid pulse, high blood pressure, or agitation.
  • Sedatives. These drugs reduce anxiety, so you can relax in situations where you are afraid.
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