How to overcome the fear of dogs when you want a dog

Do you have a fear of dogs? Or do you suffer from cynophobia?

Like many phobias, the fear of dogs has a scientifically classified name. What is the scientific name for the fear of dogs, I hear you ask? Well, like arachnophobia is the fear of spiders, being cynophobic is known as the fear of dogs. I mention this because my mum and sister are both so scared of dogs, and now that I plan to get a dog, I’m concerned about how they will respond when they come and visit me. I most definitely will have to work out how I will manage the situation.

 Golden Labrador Dog Outdoor

When I say my mum and sister have a fear of dogs and animals, it’s bad to the extent that my mum will become anxious at the sight of even the smallest dog walking down the road. My sister is exactly the same, but she goes a step further by actually screaming at the sight of a dog, even if it’s one hundred yards away. It’s sometimes hilarious seeing the drama unfold when either of them sees a dog out in public, especially when it’s a miniature dog. Sorry, Mum. Sorry, Sis. Enough of my antics and jesting.

I shouldn’t laugh, and I do try to control what I used to think was an overreaction, but as I’ve gotten older and matured, I’ve become more considerate and try to calm them down and help them navigate through the ten to sixty seconds period of time that they are in the same vicinity as a dog. But I wish I could help them get over their fear.

 Scared dog at home

Why are people scared of dogs?

I now realize that cynophobia is actually a stressful condition to have to live with. The fear of dogs can be classified as a form of anxiety that could either be caused by a genetic predisposition or condition that could have been caused by some type of a traumatic event, like being chased, bitten by a dog, or misinterpreting dog play as threatening or intrusive. In the two videos, the cynophobic in the first video developed a fear of dogs as a child after a dog licked her face while she was in her pram. She was only three years old, and the experience traumatized her.

The cynophobic in the video below developed the dog phobia as a young child because she witnessed her mother screaming hysterically while her brother was being attacked by a dog. I guess this degree of trauma would make anybody scared of dogs, so I totally get it.

The fear of dogs exhibited by someone who has witnessed a dog attack is justified. However, I think that my mum’s and sister’s fear of dogs and cats is a natural disposition that my mum has genetically passed onto my sister. I  honestly can’t think of anything that would have caused this trauma on Mum, especially as she has told me stories of how we owned dogs when I was an infant.

I’ve come to think that the media had a major role in portraying dogs as animals that people should be afraid of.  In the early to mid-’90s, there was a TV and media campaign tailored to rid the UK of dangerous dogs. I think this created reservations about dog temperaments in a lot of people’s minds.

Let’s face it; it’s possible that some dogs can be unpredictable, and although someone getting bitten by a dog is rare, we as humans have a tendency to retain information associated with negative events to a greater extent than we do with positive events.

According to psycom, a method that someone can use to overcome their fear of dogs is going through some type of therapy, and in most cases, cognitive behavior therapy. Would any of my family members ever consider going to therapy to overcome their fear of dogs for my sake? I highly doubt it; however, I do think that for their benefit and for the benefit of anyone in a similar position, they should try and resolve this fear in order to alleviate the misconception that all dogs are scary, bad, and dangerous.

What can happen when you witness dog aggression at a young age?

I remember when I was approximately five or six years old, and I still remember this vividly.  My parents had dropped me and my two brothers at my cousin’s house.

black aggressive dog with handler

We all then decided to go to the playground. As young kids do, we were having harmless fun and running around. One of my cousin’s friends from the area came to the playground with his Staffordshire Bull Terrier and started trying to playfully scare people with his dog. The Staff was no more than one or two years old, so those of us in the park who were playing along with the owner’s antics didn’t see the dog as that much of a threat.

It all started out as fun and games, but I then remember we all started running and trying to stay on elevated ledges so the dog couldn’t get at us. The adolescent dog owner continued to try to threaten people in the playground with his dog. That’s when my brother got bitten by this Staff. It happened so fast.

I witnessed my older brother running, trying to get from one ledge to a different place in the park. I then saw the dog running after him, then latch on to his calf to bite him. It wasn’t a pretty sight. No serious damage was done to my brother, but I do remember him having to go to the hospital to get an injection.

That incident and the eventual outcome caused me to develop an appreciation of what dogs can do if they are mismanaged. The question from this situation then becomes How do you know when a dog is playing or being aggressive? We were playing. Was the dog playing along too?

How do you know when a dog is playing or being aggressive?

Or, how can you distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior? I bring this up because of an incident I witnessed with my neighbor, who had two Rottweilers, Buster and Sadie.

portrait of the big rottweiler dog

These dogs were so placid, or so they appeared to be until one winter’s evening. I had walked these dogs multiple times, so when the incident began to unfold, I couldn’t understand where the placid dogs I knew had gone.

In front of the building where we lived, there is a dog walking area. And it’s pretty easy to look out and see the area from the bedroom window or living room balcony on my second-floor home. On this bitterly cold winter’s evening,  it had gotten dark by late afternoon. It was on a Sunday. I remember it like it was yesterday. We suddenly heard curdling screams for help.

“HELP, HELP, get them off me. Help! They’re biting me! Help!” Our neighbor’s son, who must have been about fourteen years old at the time, had taken his two Rottweilers out for a walk, and they had turned on him. I remember looking over my balcony and seeing Malcolm being pounced on by both dogs. I don’t know what led up to this, but it was traumatic to watch. I don’t even know if the dogs were playing or being aggressive, but I do know that Malcolm was in pain and screaming for help.

It took two grown adults having to go and intervene to stop the situation from getting any worse than it already was. Witnessing something like this is enough to cause trauma and infuse fear of dogs into anyone.

In addition, growing up where I did, teenage boys would own Staffordshire Bull terriers or illegal Pit Bull terriers to boost their image, fuel their testosterone-driven egos, or just prance around.

What steps and actions can be taken to help someone overcome a fear of dogs?

At what stage did I overcome my fear of dogs? Probably after having lived with dogs when I lived with each of my brothers. My older brother had a dog, which confirms that he certainly did not develop a fear or dog phobia from when he was bitten by a dog. My younger brother has had three dogs that all had different personalities. One of the comments that my younger brother made that resonates with me is that a dog can potentially adopt the same sensitivities and temperaments as the person who is caring for it.

Cute gray dog with funny emotions in park giving paw to owner. Dog shelter. Adoption concept. Woman petting and playing with scared homeless dog in city street

He emphasizes that at a point in his life, he was going through a depressed, angry with the world phase, and he believes that his dog Ceaser developed overtly aggressive characteristics. He told me that Ceaser had been aggressive towards people.  From this, I’ve come to accept that it’s ok for people to be wary of dogs, especially if you are unaware of the dog’s temperamental disposition.

I’ll add that people, in general, should have a degree of respect for all breeds of dogs, but more so for the dog breeds that are known for being protective and loyal to their human. I also believe that many people are not afraid of dogs, but are afraid of what the dogs can do.

Step-by-step tips for how to not be scared of dogs

It’s important that someone who is progressing from a fear of dogs to someone who wants to get to know how a dog functions become familiar with how to respond to them, know how to lead them, and care for them. They could possibly even foster a dog so that they can begin to acclimatize themselves with a dog’s temperament.

hand of man caress little scared dog from shelter posing outside in sunny park

Having a fear of dogs is justified because there are rules for being around dogs that need to be followed. There are boundaries and limitations that need to be adhered to when one is handling dogs, almost like a silent code. Once this code is broken or the rules are breached, then there is a great likelihood of the inevitable. The fact that people love dogs doesn’t mean that they know dogs, and therefore don’t respect dogs.

The video below sees Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, point out some of the rules and boundaries that should be followed when dealing with dogs. Cesar Millan also tries to assist the interviewer, Lee Hawkins, to overcome his fear of dogs. The steps outlined include using energy, body language, and mutual respect, just to name a few.

The key to how to overcome the fear of dogs is understanding how to be around a dog and how to understand a dog’s behavior. Also, how to coach your dog not just to be around you and your family, but how to be around and interact with people in the wider world; therefore, early socialization is important.

According to Cesar Millian, dogs are intuitive and instinctive, and they pick up on the way humans respond to them. Therefore, it’s important to know your role, because whatever energy a dog receives is the energy that it’s likely to give back. Cesar Millan goes on to add that it’s important to understand how a dog functions.

Brown Boxer Dog With Orange Black Powerdog Vest

Final Thoughts

People who have a phobia of dogs but want to care for a dog are potentially missing out on the unconditional love and loyalty that dogs offer to their caregivers.

Dogs give more than just love and affection to people; they do amazing things for children and people with disabilities and people who have had strokes. 

According to Cesar Millan, dogs value honesty, loyalty, and integrity, which are the fundamental building block of every relationship in the world. If what Cesar Millan the Dog Whisperer believes is true, then we humans should take some tips from the rules that dogs live by.

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