How Understanding Other People’s Fear Of Dogs Can Help Them Overcome It

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi

September 11, 2015

Most folks who peruse the BarkPost blog are here because they are gaga for canines. We are a diverse community from all walks of life with one thing unifying us: our undeniable adoration for all things pooch. But imagine instead that you were one of the tens of thousands of people all over the world who experience debilitating anxiety and paralyzing fear at the very thought of the dog next door.

do not beware of dog

Animal phobias are quite common, with snakes and spiders leading the pack of the most horror-inducing. The fear of dogs, or Cynophobia, isn’t far behind the aforementioned creepy crawlies. This phobia is life altering because dogs are so prevalent in our society. For some it can be difficult to get through a single day without having to face down the object of their terror.

dogs at play

The majority of people suffering from Cynophobia develop the condition as a result of a negative experience with a dog in their youth. They may have been chased or bitten by a dog, witnessed a loved one get terrorized by a dog, or have grown up with a close relative whose aversion to dogs became their own fear. To learn more about the causes and signs of Cynophobia visit

chihua n baby

So what can be done to help our Cynophobic friends overcome their fear and experience the love, joy and devoted companionship that only dogs can offer? The following tips are a great starting point, but anyone feeling overwhelmed by their fear should consult a professional therapist.

1. Figure Out The Root Of Your Fear

beard love

What is it about dogs that frightens you so much? Is it their bark? Their speed and agility? Can you remember a specific event from your past that triggered your fear? Do any close family members share your phobia and could they have influenced your view of dogs? Knowing where exactly your fear is coming from can allow you to break it down piece by piece and see that it may not be justified.

2. Knowledge Is Power

yorkie baby

Often the fear of dogs comes with many incorrect assumptions about canine behavior. Learning to read canine body language can empower folks afflicted with Cynophobia to feel more comfortable around dogs who display passive or positive physical cues.

3. Know The Cues You Are Sending

educated pug

Cynophobia can become a self fulfilling prophecy for those who display fear signals around an already timid dog. The following physical signals should be avoided around any dog, and especially those with a tendency towards nervousness or aggression.

–Maintain A Relaxed Stance: When two dogs are sizing each other up and determining whether to fight, they will often freeze with all their muscles tensed prior to attacking. Freezing at the site of a dog can give them the impression that you are in fact displaying aggression rather than fear.

–Do Not Stare: Canines, like many other animal species, take direct eye contact as a challenge or a sign of dominance. If you are dealing with a dominant dog, this could lead to trouble. It is OK to keep your eye on the pooch, but do not stare.

–Do Not Run: The natural instinct of a dog is to chase. If you come upon a dog that makes you nervous it is best to ignore it, keep a safe distance and continue at a steady pace. Breaking into a sudden run could startle the dog and spark that desire to chase.

–Do Not Use Stalky, Sporadic Movements: Prior to a fight, two dogs will circle each other in slow, halting movements, sizing each other up. Again, it is best to walk with a purpose and ignore the dog. Doing so greatly reduces the chance that the pooch will respond negatively to your fear induced behaviors.

4. Try Going Where The Dogs Go


Ask a trusted friend to accompany you to the local dog park or indoor agility facility. From safely behind the fenced area, simply observe the dogs as they interact with one another and with the people inside the fence. This can be done from whatever distance you feel comfortable with. Do this often to desensitize yourself to the normal sounds and actions of dogs.

5. Decide What Type Of Dog Is The Least Frightening To You

Dog Park

Some Cynophobics find that being around a sleepy, rolly puppy is the safest they could possibly feel around a dog. For others, an impeccably trained adult or senior dog under the strict control of his master feels safest. Decide which scenario you feel comfortable with before exposing yourself to the presence of dogs.

6. Use The Proper Approach

yawning pup

Dogs are tuned in to your emotions and fears. If you are on edge, they may be, too. Focus on breathing  steadily and presenting a relaxed approach. Instead of bending or reaching towards the dog head-on, position yourself beside him. This is far less threatening and allows you to avoid eye contact. If you would like to offer a treat, try dropping it on the ground or allowing the dog to take the treat from an open, lowered hand instead. Do not let anyone pressure you into touching a dog before you are ready.

7. Utilize A Therapy Dog or CGC

milk bone

Dogs who have completed therapy certification or Canine Good Citizen training are among the most docile and predictable you can find. Explore these resources when you reach the decision that you are ready to attempt interacting with a dog. These pups are far less likely to react should your fear get the best of you and cause an outburst. Handlers go through training alongside their pooch, so you can feel secure that they are in full control of the dog. To learn more about Therapy and CGC dogs in your area visit the AKC website.

8. Consider Professional Support

therapy dog

Phobias are real psychiatric conditions and nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes well meaning friends and family can actually make things worse by forcing you into situations with the object of your fear before you are ready. Dogs are beloved by so many, it can be difficult for those who don’t suffer from this phobia to understand your fear. If tackling your condition seems impossible on your own, reach out for the help of a trained professional. There are therapists all over the world who specialize in treating patients with phobias.

9. Do Not Give Up Hope


Eliminating your fear won’t occur overnight, and some of the exercises along the way will be uncomfortable. But don’t forget that the end result will be worth all your efforts. Overcoming Cynophobia will not only allow you to live a life without fear, you will be free to build new relationships with some of the best animals on earth. The love of a dog is something no human should live without due to unfounded fear.

h/t to Professional Dog Trainer, Shelby Semel

Featured image via @ericcoyote

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Written by: Dina Fantegrossi

September 11, 2015

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