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How to Overcome a Fear of Dogs: 6 Steps to Follow

Written by: Keri-Beth Clur

Last Updated on April 15, 2024 by Dogster Team

Angry dog barking at something or someone

How to Overcome a Fear of Dogs: 6 Steps to Follow

There are around 70 million domestic dogs in the United States, which means that most people you know have at least one dog.1 Most people look forward to visiting homes with dogs or even owning their own dog so that they can cuddle, go on walks, and play fetch with them, but for a small few of around 9% of adults in the United States, interacting with a dog can be a terrifying experience.2

Having an intense fear of dogs can have an impact on a person’s life because dogs are just about everywhere. They are commonly walked in neighborhoods and parks, but they’re also often allowed to travel on public transport and visit pet-friendly hotels and restaurants. For the most part, canines are unavoidable. The best thing a person with a fear of dogs can do is try and overcome it. We’re going to discuss how, so keep reading.

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Before You Start

Before we get into how to overcome this phobia, we need to understand it. The fear of dogs isn’t as uncommon as you may realize, and there is even a name for it, called cynophobia. The fear of dogs isn’t the same as a bit of nervousness around a hyperactive dog, but rather it is intense and can affect a person’s life. One person can be more fearful of dogs than another, and in extreme cases, a person may experience sweating, a rapid heartbeat, nausea, trembling, anxiety, and feeling like they’re in danger when around dogs.

Cynophobia is common in children, but adults can suffer from it too. You’re more likely to see cynophobia in adults with autism, depression, and substance abuse disorders, but it can affect anyone, especially if they’ve had a bad experience with a dog in the past. This fear can be so strong that it can be triggered by hearing a dog growl without needing to see it. In some cases, just seeing a dog on television can trigger the symptoms.

Severe cases of cynophobia should be treated by a psychologist because medication might be necessary. However, others who feel capable of working through this fear can do so on their own or with the help of a friend or family member.

Image Credit: Przemek Iciak,Shutterstock

The 6 Steps to Overcome a Fear of Dogs

1. Identify What It Is That Scares You

You may know that you are scared of dogs, but to overcome that fear, you need to identify what it is about dogs that scare you. This will take a bit of self-evaluation. Were you bitten or chased by a dog in the past to where you now feel unsafe around them? Is the sound of their barking overwhelming? Do you feel more afraid around larger dogs as opposed to smaller ones? Do you prefer being around one breed but not another?

Once you know what the source of your fear is, you can start to figure out what is rational and what isn’t and deal with irrational fears by challenging them with common sense.

2. Think About Dogs

One of the best ways to start to overcome your fear in a controlled environment is to simply think about dogs. Imagine seeing a dog in the distance and as you feel more and more comfortable with the imagery, picture yourself going closer to the dog. Eventually, you can challenge yourself to pet the dog, talk to the dog, and even take the dog for a walk. Once you start to feel comfortable with the thoughts, you can move on to the next step.

salt and pepper mini schnauzer puppy chasing dog playing chasing red ball
Image By: Debra Anderson,Shutterstock

3. Look At Real Videos of Dogs

For some people, looking at videos of dogs can be difficult, but it’s such an important step to take. Spend time looking at pictures of different dogs, large and small, and even attempt to watch dog videos. Listen to them bark, run, and play with each other.

You can also watch videos of people interacting with dogs and take notice of how relaxed and comfortable they look. This could reassure you about some of the irrational fears you’ve had about dogs. Once watching these videos are no longer overwhelming, move on to holding a toy dog.

4. Get Around a Friendly Dog

This step is going to be one of the harder ones you’ll need to accomplish, but once you do, you’ll be so much more confident around dogs. Start by watching dogs from a distance in a park or in the yard of one of your friends or family members. If this step feels very challenging, ask a friend to do it with you. Next, start to move closer to the dog as you did when you imagined dogs in your mind in step two.

Once you’re ready, attempt to pet the dog while they are held on a leash or in the arms of their owner. Do this enough times until you’re able to be around the dog without a leash on. Don’t force yourself to do anything you don’t feel ready for. This can be a process that you accomplish over one day or several days. Just do what feels right for you.

girl playing with rhodesian ridgeback dog in the field
Image Credit: GillianVann, Shutterstock

5. Understand Body Language

Body language goes both ways. Once you start to feel more comfortable around dogs, they’ll see it in your body language and feel more comfortable around you. You can show a dog that you’re feeling relaxed around them by watching them casually and remaining composed if they jump up or run around you. Screaming will only get a dog worked up and escalate the situation. Make sure you avoid running because this will indicate that you want them to run with you or even after you.

Understanding a dog’s body language will make you feel more confident. Knowing that the dog is comfortable and calm around you will help you feel relaxed. Any barking, growling, baring of teeth, or raised hair is an indication that the dog isn’t comfortable, and you should calmly remove yourself from their space. However, tail wagging, licking, rolling over, and yawning can indicate that the dog is comfortable, relaxed, and even happy to be around you.

6. Keep At It

Now that you’ve faced your fears, continue to do so over and over again, and soon enough, you won’t find dogs as frightening as you once did. If you do it once and never again, you may fall back into your old way of thinking, leaving you feeling anxious and fearful. Spending time with dogs that you trust will build your confidence with them, which will help you feel in control when confronted with a new dog on public transport, in the park, or someone’s home.

happy woman owner playing with bulldog on the beach
Image Credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj, Shutterstock

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Having a fear of dogs can affect a person greatly and even prevent them from carrying out simple tasks. Some people suffer from cynophobia so severely that they require professional help and medication to get through it. However, others are able to overcome their fear by following a few simple steps that include identifying the source of the fear, thinking about dogs, watching them, getting around them, and understanding them.

Once these steps are carried out and repeated, people are able to feel more confident around dogs and begin to ignore the irrational fears they once had. Remember, this is a process, and it may take some time to get to the place you hope to be!

Featured Image Credit: alexei_tm, Shutterstock

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