What Causes A Fear Of Dogs – And How Can You Tackle It (1)
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What Causes A Fear Of Dogs – And How Can You Tackle It?

What Causes A Fear Of Dogs – And How Can You Tackle It? Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Harley Street phobia specialist Christopher Paul Jones, author of ‘Face Your Fears’. Christopher will explore what can cause a fear of dogs and how to cure the phobia. If you have a fear of dogs, you are not alone. It is a common phobia that affects many people. A fear of dogs can be distressing, especially when it affects your daily life. While the causes of this phobia may vary from person to person, it is essential to address the fear to overcome it. Remember, there’s no shame in seeking help; overcoming your fear of dogs is possible.

What Causes A Fear Of Dogs – And How Can You Tackle It?

Does the sight of a wagging tail send shivers down your spine? Do you freeze in fear when a playful dog barks? If so, you might be one of the millions worldwide who experience cynophobia, the fear of dogs. Often dismissed as an eccentricity, cynophobia can be a debilitating condition that significantly impacts daily life.

What Causes a Fear of Dogs?

There are four likely causes of cynophobia:

Vicarious Learning:

Witnessing others’ fear of dogs can also lead you to develop a phobia, underscoring social learning’s role.

Evolutionary Perspective:

Ancestral fears of predators like wolves might have evolutionary roots. Although threats posed by domesticated dogs are much less, this primal fear can persist.

Cultural Attitudes:

Cultural norms shape perceptions of dogs. Societies viewing animals as utilitarian may foster greater fear, whereas cultures with close human-animal bonds may encourage ease and comfort.

Traumatic Experiences:

Past negative experiences with dogs often form the core of this phobia. Traumatic encounters in childhood, such as being bitten, chased, or threatened by a dog, can deeply embed a fear response that persists into adulthood. This enduring anxiety is rooted in Pavlovian conditioning. In this process, the brain strongly associates the stimulus (dogs) with the traumatic response (fear), even when dogs pose no real threat. Understanding this connection emphasises that cynophobia is not an irrational fear but a learned response to genuine past dangers.

Severity and Impact

The intensity of fear can range from mild discomfort around dogs to debilitating panic attacks triggered by any canine encounter. Some individuals might only experience fear in specific situations, like encountering unleashed dogs or being in crowded dog parks. Others might experience anxiety around any dog, regardless of size, breed, or behaviour. Fear can strain friendships, prevent visits to dog-owning relatives, and hinder social activities like walks in the park. Anxiety about encountering dogs in public places can limit travel options and restrict daily routines. The fear can be ever-present, casting a shadow over daily activities and creating a sense of unease. The phobia might be trivialised or dismissed by others, and a dog lover might even take the phobic person’s avoidance of their dog personally, making the person feel judged and adding to the emotional burden.

So, How Can We Change This Fear?

Most phobias can be addressed, and in most cases, they can be removed completely. My new book, Face Your Fears, details detailed processes for dealing with dogs and other phobias, but here is a brief look at a seven-stage process I call the Integrated Change System. The seven steps are known as the seven Rs.

Recognise What You’re Afraid Of

Understanding the roots of any phobia is crucial. It is critical to identify the surface-level fear (dogs, in this case) and the deeper fears it represents (e.g., fear of harm, loss of control, or a past traumatic event). Instead of asking, “Why am I afraid of dogs?” focus on more profound questions, like “What specifically about dogs scares me?” “When did I first feel this fear?” and “What do I need to believe to feel this way?”

Relax The Conscious Mind

Calmness is the key to accessing emotions and letting them go. Achieving a state of relaxation allows us to work with these fears more effectively.

The “4-7-8 Breathing Technique” involves inhaling quietly through the nose for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and exhaling forcefully through the mouth, pursed around the tongue, for eight seconds. Repeated three to four times, this breathing pattern is a natural tranquiliser for the nervous system. It’s particularly effective in reducing anxiety because it increases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, slows the heart rate, and stabilises blood pressure – it counteracts the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

Reward For Your Fear (Secondary Gain)

Phobias can serve hidden purposes even if it doesn’t seem logical. Emotions aren’t logical. Things like avoiding uncomfortable situations, receiving attention and care from others, or feeling that fear protects us or keeps us safe are all hidden gains. Identifying the secondary gains can help us change any blocks that stop us from letting go of our fear. One way to find the secondary gain is to ask, “Does this fear keep me safe from situations I perceive as dangerous?” “Do I receive comfort or attention because of this fear?” “What might I lose if this fear were to disappear now?” Trust your first answers that come; you might find some things you had never thought about before.

Recipe (Deconstructing your Strategy)

Everything we do, including phobias, operates according to a subconscious ‘recipe’—a collection of thoughts, behaviours, and feelings that reinforce, in this case, the fear. By becoming clear about our recipe for fear, it becomes easier to change it. A highly effective technique involves changing the internal representation of the fear.

Visual Changes

Imagine the dog that triggers your phobia. Now, in your mind’s eye, start shrinking that image, making it lose its colour until it’s black and white, and then letting it play backwards like a film reel running in reverse. This process helps diminish the emotional impact the image has on you. The absurdity of a dog walking backwards in a silent movie creates a distance between you and the fear.

Auditory Changes

Pair this altered visual with a change in any sounds associated with your fear. If a dog’s bark is a trigger, imagine that sound becoming high-pitched, like a cartoon character, or even overlay it with a ridiculous sound effect. Incorporating humorous or nonsensical auditory elements further breaks down the fear’s intensity. This is similar to the Ridiculous Spell in Harry Potter; by actively changing how we visualise and hear our fears, we engage different neural pathways, reducing the original stimulus’s emotional and physiological impact. Moreover, laughter and humour have been shown to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Release The Past

This step addresses the root of the fear, often buried in past experiences, by finding the first event and changing the mind’s link to fear. This can then affect how somebody feels about that fear.

One way to release the past is through tapping. Identify the fear or specific event related to your dog’s phobia. This might be a past incident where a dog threatened or scared you. Hold this memory in your mind.

The Setup:

Start by tapping on the karate chop point (the outer edge of your hand) with the fingertips of the other hand. As you tap, verbalise your fear and your acceptance of yourself despite this fear. For example, “Even though I fear dogs, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Tapping Sequence:

Proceed to tap lightly but firmly on the sequence of points: the eyebrow, side of the eye, under the eye, under the nose, the chin, the collarbone, under the arm, and top of the head. While tapping each point about seven times, briefly state your fear to maintain focus on the issue.

Reframing:

After a few rounds of tapping, introduce a positive reframing of your fear. For instance, “I choose to release this fear” or “I am open to feeling safe around dogs.” Tapping on specific meridian points while focusing on fear or negative emotion sends signals to the amygdala (the brain’s fear centre) to calm down, reducing the emotional intensity of the memory.

Recondition Your Emotions

The essence of emotional reconditioning lies in recognising that our responses to dogs—or any fear-inducing stimuli—are learned behaviours. Much like Pavlov’s dogs learned to associate a bell with food, we’ve learned to link dogs with fear. The good news? Just as a response can be learned, it can be unlearned or modified.

One way to do this is an exercise known as Emotional Anchoring. This technique is about replacing the fear response with something more positive, switching our automatic fear of dogs to a calmer or more positive reaction. Here’s how:

Choose a Positive Emotion:

First, decide on the positive feeling you’d want instead of fear. This could be calm, happiness, or courage. Think of this emotion as your new reaction when you think about or see dogs.

Find a Memory:

Select a memory where you strongly felt this positive emotion. It could be any happy or calm moment from your life. The key here is that the feeling should be powerful and clear.

Create Your Anchor:

While immersed in this memory, make a simple physical gesture, like pressing your thumb and forefinger together. This gesture is your anchor. It’s a physical action tied to your positive emotion. Now, find a new memory and do the same again. Keep doing this until the act of squeezing your fingers takes you straight to a positive feeling.

Now start thinking about dogs or looking at pictures of dogs and using your anchor. Notice how you feel. What we’re doing here is creating a new pathway in the brain. Every time you use your anchor and feel that positive emotion, you weaken the old fear response and strengthen the new, positive one. It’s a bit like carving a new path in a forest. The more you walk it, the more defined it becomes.

Realise A Powerful Future

Step Seven is about crafting a future where fear doesn’t dictate our choices, transforming “what-ifs” and “yes, buts” (which are often the mantra of the anxiety mind) into new positive possibilities.

This is called the “Yep But” and “What If” Exercise:
Start by jotting down the most frequent “Yep but” and “What if” thoughts that bubble up when you think about interacting with dogs. These might be thoughts like, “Yep, but last time didn’t go well,” or “What if the dog jumps on me?”

Now Challenge Them:

For each “Yep but” and “What if,” ask yourself, “Is this thought helping me or hindering me?” Challenge the validity of these thoughts. How many of these imagined scenarios have actually happened? How many are based on assumptions rather than facts?

Script Flipping:

Now, for the fun part—flipping the script. Rewrite each “Yep but” and “What if” into a positive statement or question. For example, “Yep, but last time didn’t go well” becomes “What if I feel more prepared and confident this time?” Transform “What if the dog jumps on me?” into “What if the dog calmly sits by my side?”

Visualisation and Affirmation:

Take your statements and visualise them. Close your eyes and picture the positive outcomes. Pair this with affirmations that reinforce your new narrative, like “I am capable of feeling calm and in control around dogs.”

After following these steps and repeating them as needed, you may find that your fear of dogs becomes reduced.

I hope you enjoyed that.

Talk soon.

Christopher PJ lo res 1ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christopher Paul Jones is a leading Harley Street phobia expert. Having overcome his own phobias, Christopher’s culmination of over 20 years of research across Europe, North America and Asia is an integrated approach combining mainstream psychology with cutting edge techniques: The Integrated Change System™. The system aims to change the mind’s danger response and leave people free and happy to enjoy things they once found terrifying. A fear, anxiety or phobia can be cured in as little as a session. Christopher’s clients come from all over the world and include Hollywood actors and Oscar nominees, models, musicians, presenters and celebrities.

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Working with Strong women, I help empower women not to give up on their goals and find true happiness within themselves. #lifestyle #womenempowerment #selfcare

11 Comments

  • Clarice

    This is good to know. As a furmom, it is helpful to understand what causes a fear of dogs. It can also help us manage situations when these phobias are triggered.

  • Nikki Wayne

    This is very nice for the people who are afraid to dogs. Because some of them cannot explain why they are afraid in dogs so this is nice because they can reflect on to themselves and observe themself also.

  • pedja

    Conquering the fear of dogs can be quite a challenge due to their unpredictable nature, but it’s essential to have a range of strategies like this at hand to address this issue effectively.

  • barbie ritzman

    It seems to me that past negative experiences with dogs often form the core of this phobia. I can see why traumatic encounters with dogs in childhood can lead to persistent fear responses in adulthood.

  • Mila R

    I’m glad to have come across this post. It reminds me of my partner’s fear of small dogs, which he developed after being attacked by one. While he hasn’t been able to overcome his phobia yet, I’m hopeful that he will soon. As a dog mom, I understand the importance of creating positive associations with dogs, and I’m willing to help him in any way I can.

  • Beth

    I have a friend who was bitten by a dog when she was a child. She’s afraid of them to this day, and we’re in our fifties. I have to show this to her.

  • Debbie

    I wish I read this post years ago! I was attacked as a child by my neighbors dog which created a huge dog phobia for years. It wasn’t easy to overcome it, but I’m a proud dog mom now!

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