Cynophobia is the irrational fear of dogs. The term cynophobia comes from the Greek words “cyno”, which means dog, and “phobia”, which means fear. It is considered to be a “specific phobia” and is quite common among those who suffer from phobias, along with fearing other animals like sharks or spiders for example.
As is the case with most phobias, the object of their fear is often completely irrational and out of touch with reality. However, with cynophobia, there is a modicum of logic in their irrational fear of dogs due to the fact that in some instances, dogs can actually be quite dangerous. However, someone suffering from full blown cynophobia will likely magnify such rare cases of vicious dog attacks and believe them to be commonplace in society.
Their inability to think about their fear of dogs in a rational way is the crux of their anxiety. In fact, though some people suffering from cynophobia may in fact be able to rationalize that their fear is somewhat illogical, when they are in the presence of a dog they will likely be unable to withhold the same disposition. Thus, reverting back to their hyperbolic anxious behavior.
Someone suffering from cynophobia may in fact experience anxiety that is so extreme and intrusive that they may even endure full blown panic attacks which can result in leaving them hospitalized insofar as their anxiety is intense enough. In such an instance, they can expect to experience an increase in heart rate, an increase in their rate of breathing, muscle tension, shakiness, and perspiration, among other symptoms.
Symptoms of Cynophobia
As is the case with virtually all other phobias, anxiety will be the main symptom experienced with cynophobia. Their irrational fear of dogs will likely motivate them to do whatever they can in their power to avoid seeing a dog. This may mean isolating themselves from the outside world or it may mean them avoiding going to parks or other areas where dogs may be seen. Avoidance is one of the most common behaviors of people suffering from phobias.
Though avoiding dogs or places where dogs could be at will give them some relief from their painstaking anxiety, such a behavior could actually be causing much more damage than they may realize. For instance, if someone with cynophobia is altering their day to day life by making conscious efforts to avoid dogs, then they may actually be worsening their cynophobia due to them reassuring to themselves everyday that dogs are worthy of being feared and avoided. Such reinforcement may make for a vicious cycle which can exacerbate their symptoms of cynophobia in the long term.
Day to day life may be very challenging for someone with cynophobia due to the fact that dogs are one of the most common house pets that people have, next to cats. With this being said, it may be quite difficult for someone with cynophobia to be able to effectively avoid seeing dogs as they are so common. Also, if they were to isolate themselves from going outside in an attempt to avoid dogs, this may open the door for them to develop additional disorders such as social anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder, among others.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of this phobia:
- Anxiety when thinking of dogs
- Anxiety when near a dog
- Unable to cope with their fear
- Rapid heart rate
- Having trouble breathing
- Muscle tension
- Shaking or trembling
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Feeling anxious/unsettled
- Hot or cold flashes
- Excessive sweating
- In fight, flight, or freeze mode
Causes of Cynophobia
There is no known cause of cynophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may play very significant roles. For instance, if someone has a family history of mental illness, then they may have a higher chance of developing cynophobia. This may be due to them also having a higher chance of being genetically predisposed to developing mental illness in general. If someone were to have such a genetic predisposition, then it may only take them experiencing some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown cynophobia.
Someone may develop cynophobia due to a very traumatizing personal experience where they were bit or attacked by a dog. The event may have been so traumatizing and anxiety provoking that the occurrence itself caused a permanent irrational fear of dogs in them that is out of touch with reality. Their irrational fear may be so great that even watching a dog on TV or seeing a picture of a dog can bring forth intense feelings of anxiety, fear, and vulnerability. Essentially, seeing a dog at a park or on TV may muster up the same emotions they experienced when they were attacked days or even years prior.
According to the theory for fear acquisition, an observational experience would be witnessing someone else getting attacked by a dog or watching a documentary about dog fighting on TV. These observational experiences can make a permanent imprint or lasting impression on the individual to where they may develop cynophobia over time. For example, someone may develop cynophobia after their sibling was violently attacked by a dog.
Informational experience involves fearing something due to reading or hearing about it. You may have heard several gruesome stories about people getting attacked by dogs or you may have read statistics of dog attacks in your country and the numbers (as minuscule as they may be) took you by surprise. If someone is genetically predisposed to develop mental illness, then informational experience may be all that is necessary for someone to develop cynophobia.
Genetics is another very significant factor for someone developing cynophobia. One person may be more vulnerable to developing cynophobia than someone else is due to their genetic makeup. For example, someone who has no traceable family history of mental illness of any kind may have a much smaller chance of developing cynophobia than someone whose parents both have anxiety disorders. So, taking a closer look at your family’s mental health may help you to shed some light as to whether or not you are at risk for developing cynophobia.
Also, research has been done which shows that memories and learned experiences may indeed be able to be inherited biologically via chemical changes that occur in DNA. Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, have found that mice can pass down learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences to their offspring. In this experiment, the mice inherited the fear of the smell of cherry blossom. This research provides evidence that cynophobia and other phobias may be caused from the inherited experiences of their ancestors.
Diagnostic Criteria for Cynophobia
To get diagnosed with cynophobia (and any other “specific phobia”) there are strict criteria which must be met. According to the DSM-IV-TR, the criteria of getting diagnosed with cynophobia are as follows:
- Constant fear of an object or of a specific situation
- Exposure to the feared object or situation evokes immediate anxiety
- Adults realize that their fear is excessive and irrational (this is not always the case with children)
- Exposure to the feared object or situation is often avoided or is endured with intense dread
- Their fear significantly hinders with their day to day activities
- Patients under the age of 18 have symptoms that last for at least six months
- Their anxiety, panic attacks, or avoidance behavior cannot be due to another mental disorder
There are no treatments that are specifically designed to treat cynophobia. However, there are several types of treatments that can be very beneficial for treating the symptoms of phobias and anxiety disorders in general. Such is the case with exposure therapy, relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and some medications. Below, you will see various treatment methods that can help to reduce some of the symptoms of cynophobia.
Exposure therapy for cynophobia
Exposure therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from phobias. Fortunately, this form of therapy can be effectively used to treat cynophobia as well. This cannot necessarily be said for many other phobias, such as selachophobia (fear of sharks), peniaphobia (fear of poverty), and diabetophobia (fear of diabetes) as it would be dangerous, irresponsible, and unethical for the therapist to directly expose the patient to these things. Moreover, this is not the case with cynophobia as the patient can safely be exposed to a real dog, such as a small puppy and not be at risk for actually being harmed.
Using this form of treatment for cynophobia would involve the person becoming exposed to a dog in some capacity. Depending on the severity of their cynophobia, they will probably start off slow. Their therapist may first prompt them to look at a picture or a video of a dog. Then, the therapist may increase the exposure by having the patient observe a dog in a park while the patient is in their car, for example. Eventually, the goal would be for the patient with cynophobia to be able to be fully exposed to a real dog with little to no irrational fear.
Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to that which they fear, the less it will bother them over time. So, the more someone is exposed to dogs, the less anxiety they should experience as time goes on. Exposure therapy can be very challenging for patients, so it is very important to find a therapist that is very adept and experienced at treating phobias. For example, if the therapist were to expose the patient to too much too soon, then it may actually have a counterproductive effect by worsening their cynophobia as opposed to gradually improving it.
Relaxation training for cynophobia
This type of phobia treatment involves using calming techniques to help reduce irrational anxiety caused by cynophobia. Such relaxation training may include breathing techniques, mindfulness, and positive affirmations, among many others.
Mindfulness meditation is a very common technique that people use to help them minimize daily stress. Fortunately, it can also be used as an effective way to cope with cynophobia as well. There are many ways that one can implement mindfulness, such as by focusing the attention on the breath, on a specific sound such as the trees rustling in the wind, specific tastes while eating, sensations such as the way the heels of the feet feel while walking, and observing colors. Essentially, paying close attention to one or more of your five main senses can help to greatly reduce the anxiety experienced with cynophobia.
To help relieve some of the symptoms of cynophobia or at least some of the day to day stress that is a result of it, you may benefit from engaging in what is called mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR). This very effective educational approach to mindfulness meditation is centered around helping patients to improve their overall equanimity. However, someone doesn’t have to engage in MBSR to merely meditate as this can be done by simply noticing the sensation of the breath with each inhale and exhale. Doing so may help to calm your mind and reduce the anxiety caused by cynophobia.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for cynophobia
CBT is one of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from anxiety disorders and can also be very effective for treating cynophobia as well. It can help the patient to learn new and effective ways to cope with their anxiety. Such skills can be extremely beneficial during the onset of a panic attack. Besides this, they can also expect to learn how to improve their cognition by discovering the root causes of their fears. Upon engaging in CBT, the patient can expect to also make much healthier behavior changes as a result.
CBT may be a healthy alternative to exposure therapy if the patient’s symptoms of cynophobia are simply too extreme for them to be exposed to any sort of stimuli involving dogs. This form of therapy may also be very beneficial for someone with cynophobia if they also have symptoms of social anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder as CBT can help to improve these conditions as well.
CBT is very effective at helping the patient to think about their fears in a more logical way. So, someone with cynophobia can benefit immensely from this form of treatment due to the fact that much of the stress and anxiety experienced with this disorder is a result of illogical thoughts that are out of touch with reality. Also, CBT can help with emotional regulation too. This alone makes CBT very beneficial for anyone who suffers from cynophobia or any other severe form of mental illness.
Anxiety medication for cynophobia
Anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants can be very advantageous for someone suffering from cynophobia. When taken in a low dose alongside exposure therapy or CBT, these medications can prove to be a very effective strategy for improving someone’s symptoms of cynophobia. Be that as it may, merely taking medication alone without the use of any sort of therapy may not be very effective at long-term improvement. This would likely be due to the fact that the patient would not have learned the many skills needed to improve their anxiety and behavior. Nevertheless, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor.
Some of the most common anti-anxiety medications used to help treat people suffering from anxiety disorders like cynophobia are Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Serax, among others. These types of drugs are commonly used at the onset of a panic attack or to help prevent intense anxiety from occurring. So, someone with cynophobia may take such a medication to help them cope with their fear of dogs if they knew they would be exposed to one.
Depending on their symptoms of cynophobia, their psychiatrist may prescribe them antidepressants which will be used on a daily basis as opposed to an as-needed bases such as the case with anti-anxiety medications. Some common drugs which may help to reduce some of the symptoms of cynophobia are Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro, among others. If a patient has symptoms of cynophobia as well symptoms of depression or social anxiety, then the foregoing medications may be prescribed.
Pursed lip breathing for cynophobia
This technique can be used to help reduce the overall anxiety experienced from cynophobia. Pursed lip breathing is often used as a mindfulness meditation technique to help calm the mind and to allow the individual to become centered into the present moment. Such a technique can prove to be substantially beneficial for someone suffering from cynophobia. For example, it can be used at the onset of anxiety, during spells of anxiety, as well as a coping mechanism to help experience greater equanimity.
This technique works by taking a deep breath through your nose, pursing your lips together as if you were blowing out candles, and then blowing out through your pursed lips to lengthen the amount of time it takes for the air to be completely expelled from your lungs. This may be very advantageous for someone with cynophobia. Essentially, when your exhale is longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve sends a signal to your brain to increase activation of your parasympathetic nervous system and to decrease activation of your sympathetic nervous system.
For someone suffering form cynophobia, this can be very beneficial as the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for releasing hormones such as cortisol which help to prepare the body for fight or flight. The is the nervous system which is responsible for someone having a panic attack. So, if pursed lip breathing can help to turn down or limit sympathetic nervous system activation, then this may help to limit someone’s symptoms of cynophobia from exacerbating.
Half-smiling for cynophobia
This is another technique which may help to reduce the amount of anxiety experienced with cynophobia. Though it may seem counterproductive at first glance, half-smiling can significantly help to positively alter the way you think about your fears. So, for someone suffering with cynophobia, they can use this technique when they are in the presence of a dog or when they are in a safe environment to help them become more equanimeous.
With reference to cynophobia, this technique works by thinking of a dog which frightens you. As you think of a dog which gives you anxiety, gently raise the corners of your lips by slightly smiling. As you anxiously think of the dog while half-smiling, maintain a disposition of good-will, forgiveness, and understanding all while being nonjudgmental. Though this will likely be very challenging and antithetical to your true feelings toward dogs, it can significantly help you to improve your cynophobia if done correctly.
It is very important when using this technique to try and feel positive emotions and to have positive thoughts when thinking of a dog. If someone with cynophobia using the half-smiling technique were to do so while thinking about how much they fear dogs, thus allowing their anxiety to worsen, then this technique will likely not be beneficial. It is imperative that someone suffering with cynophobia tries to be nonjudgmental throughout the practice. Doing so should significantly help to improve their symptoms of cynophobia in the long run.
If you think you may have cynophobia or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms described in this article, then you should talk to your doctor to get properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, you may then be referred to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist for further treatment. To ensure that all of your concerns are understood by your doctor, you may want to write down a list of questions that would like answered. This can be very useful so to ensure that you have a better understanding of all of your options for treatment.
10 Interesting Facts about Dogs
1.) They can get really jealous
Most of us have experienced petting one dog while another dog watching walked over to get some of the love too. In such a situation, the dog not getting pet can often be heard whimpering. The mere fact that dogs can overtly experience a very human-like emotion such as jealousy may greatly exacerbate someone’s symptoms of cynophobia insofar as it adds to the erriness of the animal. This is especially the case when realizing that there are not many other animals that overtly express the emotion of jealousy in the way that dogs do.
2.) They have an amazing sense of smell
This should come to no surprise to most people as a great sense of smell is what dogs are most known for. In fact, it’s been shown that dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses. This is especially impressive when we take into consideration that we only have about 6 million. That means that dogs can smell about 50 times better than we can. Such a keen sense of smell may give those suffering from cynophobia a high influx of unwanted anxiety simply due to the fact that dogs will be able to know of your presence far before you will know of theirs insofar as they are detecting you using their nose.
3.) They can see very well in dim lighting
Dogs don’t have a great sense of vision as it is estimated that their eye for detail is 6 times worse than that of a human. However, it has been shown that dogs can see in light that is around 5 times dimmer than humans can. Such a fact can invoke a lot of unwanted anxiety in someone suffering from cynophobia and may make them much more hesitant to walk outside in the night.
4.) They only sweat on their nose and paw pads
The sweat glands that dogs have are located everywhere except where fur is seen. So, this means that the only areas where dogs can sweat are in their paws and on their nose. Someone with cynophobia may find this to be unsettling insofar as it may sound odd to them due to the sheer uniqueness of it. Nevertheless, with such a sparse amount of sweat glands in dogs, this may be why they can get overheated so easily, causing them to heavily pant after running or when they are in a hot environment.
5.) Dog petting lowers blood pressure
It has been shown that petting your dog may in fact help you to lower your blood pressure. The same can likely be said for virtually any other experience which helps to increase your overall equanimity. Nevertheless, even though dog petting may be able to help lower blood pressure in the person doing the petting, such a realization may fall on deaf ears with those suffering from full blown cynophobia as the opposite will likely be the case. Someone with cynophobia can expect to experience a much higher blood pressure when petting a dog.
6.) They sometimes roll around in dead animals
Dogs may roll around in a dead animal they killed or just a dead animal in general as a means of them masking their own scent with the scent of the dead animal. This may aid them in more adeptly sneaking up on unsuspecting prey as they would not be able to easily identify the scent of the dog due to the blood and tissue remains of the dead animal overpowering the scent of the dog. Such a disturbing and grotesque display may make those with cynophobia gawk with horror due to the mere unsettling image that this behavior evokes.
7.) They eat grass for added nutrition
Most of us have seen dogs occasionally eating grass just like a cow would. At first glance, this display appears to be out of their nature. Thus, rendering it a strange and rare occurrence. However, dogs may eat grass to help them improve their digestion, to help treat intestinal worms, or to help them fill some other nutritional void. Though this isn’t nearly as unsettling as some of the other dog facts in this list, those with cynophobia may still find this to be anxiety provoking merely due to the fact that by eating grass for reasons of self-nourishment means that they are quite intelligent as they are doing so by means of their instinctive nature only.
8.) A newborn pup is toothless, deaf, and blind
Just as human babies are completely vulnerable to the environment around them, so are newborn puppies. Though this may not sound too surprising, it is to a certain degree as there are many different animals who can not only see and hear right out of the womb, but can even walk and run soon after birth. So, if anything, the fact that dogs come out of the womb quite helpless may give some relief to someone suffering from full blown cynophobia.
9.) A Doberman Pinscher has the strongest dog bite
Someone with cynophobia may be overly concerned with how strong a dog’s bite is. However, it should come to some relief that not all dog bites are the same, regardless of whether or not they are the same size. The Doberman Pinscher has been shown to have the most powerful bite at 245 PSI. For context, the German Shepherd, coming in second, has a bite force of about 238 PSI, and the Labrador Retriever, coming in at fifth, has a bite force of about 230 PSI. Such numbers may make those with cynophobia quite anxious. Thus, forcing them to be even more fearful of these dogs in particular.
10.) About 4.5 million Americans are bit per year
From records accumulated in 2005, about 6,000-13,000 people each year end up hospitalized due to dog bites. A dog bit can be quite nasty and in some cases can be fatal. This may be the main reason as to why people with cynophobia feel the amount of fear they do. If someone were to get bit by a stray dog, there are many things that must happen, such as getting checked for rabies, infections, etc. So, the fear of getting bit by a dog will likely be one of the main causes of someone to experience the many symptoms of cynophobia.
8 Dogs to Test Your Fear
The aggressive nature of the Rottweiler was put to good use many years ago as they were often used to herd livestock. They are also sometimes used as police dogs, guard dogs, or rescue dogs. However, this position is commonly filled by the German Shepherd instead.
Although such uses of the Rottweiler can still be seen today, this dog can also be commonly seen as a house dog coexisting with their human family.
They can get up to a weight of 132 pounds and a height of 27 inches.
If the aggressive nature of the Rottweiler wasn’t enough to evoke symptoms of cynophobia within you, then its sheer size and muscularity may. Those with cynophobia may find the Rottweiler to be truly terrifying. However, you can still use recommendations of how to deal with aggressive dogs and discover ways to prevent aggression in dogs.
2.) Siberian Husky
The Siberian Husky can be commonly found in Russia. It can weigh up to 65 pounds and get up to a height of about 24 inches.
Russians experiencing cynophobia will likely have a very difficult time coping with the fact that this very tenacious animal is commonplace among the cold Russian landscape.
The Siberian Husky was once bred to be a sled-dog to help aid the people living in some of the harshest snowy conditions to travel long distances, as well as to aid them in transporting goods back and forth to different areas.
The Siberian Husky can be commonly seen sporting two different eye colors, which may only increase someone’s symptoms of cynophobia due to the eeriness of it.
3.) German Shepherd
The German Shepherd can get up to a weight of 88 pounds and a height of 26 inches. This dog can be commonly seen aiding police officers as they can be easily trained, can be very aggressive, and are quite intelligent.
Such prowess may exacerbate someone’s symptoms of cynophobia at first glance. This is especially true when we look closer at all that the German Shepherd is used for by humans.
The German Shepherd was commonly used to herd sheep, but can now be seen aiding in military endeavors, search-and-rescue, as well as aiding the disabled.
Although this dog is a very popular house dog among Americans, those suffering from cynophobia may not share the same endearment for the German Shepherd, given its strength, aggressiveness, and overall intelligence.
The Boxer can get to a weight of about 71 pounds and a height of about 25 inches. Although this dog can be perceived to appear quite adorable, its very powerful bite may make you think otherwise.
Its strong jaw muscles can be seen in action as they will oftentimes use them to hang onto large prey. Such foreknowledge may instill a great amount of fear in those experiencing symptoms of cynophobia.
There are several different color variations of the boxer which gives it a unique look, such as the Red Fawn Boxer and the Reverse Brindle Boxer. Be that as it may, don’t let its attractive colors fool you, the Boxer can hold its own among the roughest dogs on the planet.
The Boxer is a pretty common house dog among Americans as it doesn’t have the reputation of being nearly as aggressive as the Rottweiler or the Siberian Husky.
5.) Doberman Pinscher
The Doberman Pinscher can get up to a weight of 99 pounds and a height of about 28 inches. They are known for their graceful posture and symmetrical gait.
Looking past the Doberman Pinscher’s pretentious gait and shiny coat, they have also been known to become quite aggressive if the situation calls for it.
Such aggressiveness may evoke high amounts of anxiety in those suffering from full blown cynophobia or in those who just have some symptoms of cynophobia.
All things considered, the Doberman Pinscher is also known to be a very loving and devoted companion. In addition to this, they are also known to be very intelligent and adept at being alert watchdogs.
6.) Pit Bull
The Pit Bull can get up to a weight of about 65 pounds, though they can get much larger than this as they are quite muscular animals. They can also get to a height of about 21 inches. Pit Bull’s have a reputation as being very aggressive dogs which aren’t fit for the average household.
Although, when trained correctly, these dogs can coexist very harmoniously with most families as they are known to be very loving and affectionate animals.
Be that as it may, given its sheer muscularity, its aggressiveness in the midst of a potential threat, and the the mere size of its head and jaw, the Pit Bull is likely to give those suffering with cynophobia a very high influx of unwanted anxiety.
It is also due to the reasons just stated why many people engage in underground dog fights with Pit Bulls as they can be extremely vicious and deadly when in such a fight or flight situation.
7.) Great Dane
The Great Dane can get up to a weight of about 180 pounds and a height of about 31 inches. However, when the Great Dane stands on two legs, it can reach heights close to that of the average human.
Such a chilling fact may mean even more anxiety for someone suffering with cynophobia.
The Great Dane comes in many different colors and sizes and is most notably known for its towering height when standing on two legs. There are many different color variations, from jet black to the one shown in this article.
Although Great Dane’s don’t have the reputation that a Pit Bull or a Rottweiler has insofar as we are looking at its sheer aggressiveness/killer instinct, its impressive height and overall size will likely be enough to make those with cynophobia even that much more frightened.
Wolfdog’s can get up to a weight of around 60 pounds and a height of about 33 inches. The Wolfdog can only be found in certain areas as their thick coat may not be well adapted for warmer climates.
This may come to some relief for those suffering from full blown cynophobia who also reside in warmer climates.
However, although the wolfdog may not be found naturally in such climates, this dog has been known to also be a household pet.
The Wolfdog can hold its own among some of the other aggressive dogs on this list. Such foreknowledge make make it that much more difficult for someone suffering with cynophobia to be able to cope when seeing such an animal.
If you think you may be suffering from some of the symptoms of this condition, then you may benefit from therapy. Feel free to reach out to your doctor or local mental health clinic to see what your available options are and to see if there is any sort of discount or promo code available to help you with the costs of treatment, as well as if your health insurance will cover treatment costs.