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Dog fear: when is it just fear and when is it a phobia?

“A certain basic fear is inherent in each of us. Feeling is something natural and also something important that protects us in everyday life, for example, ”explains Johannes Rother, psychologist at Phobius, a psychological center for fear, panic and phobias based in Vienna. While fear expresses itself through a certain respect, for example towards dogs, in the case of a phobia it turns into an anxiety disorder, i.e. into an irrational, i.e. unfounded fear of certain objects, subjects or situations. In the case of dog phobia (a so-called cynophobia), an excessive fear of dogs. This is then also expressed in physical symptoms such as sweaty hands, a racing heart and faster breathing. Also very typical of a dog phobia is the freezing when a dog comes near.

Where can dog phobias come from?

"It is often the case that people with a cynophobia get this fear of dogs conveyed in early childhood, for example when their parents or other caregivers bring the fear with them and pass it on to the children," says Rother. “Or the person concerned has seen someone knocked over by a dog, for example. Many of the anxious patients feel a fear of dogs without ever having had direct contact with the animals. The case that the phobia is triggered by a traumatic experience, such as a dog bite in the past, is rather rare. "

A multiple reaction is then a permanent avoidance of the animals. This can go so far that people have trouble getting out of the house for fear of encountering dogs along the way. This is where the fear of controlling everyday life begins.

What to do if you meet dogs

“In our experience, animals do not react very much to people who are afraid of dogs in an everyday situation. They neither approach them nor run away. Dogs react more to the behavior and gestures of their counterpart, ”reports Rother. If there is direct contact with the four-legged friend, then it helps to adhere to the following rules so that the dog does not pay any further attention to its counterpart:

  • Breathe calmly

  • Do not Cry

  • Do not run away, because the dog could see this as a game

  • Do not stare at the dog, this could be misunderstood by the animal as a request for contact

Can you lose the fear of dogs?

If there is a real panic of dogs, it can of course be difficult for the person concerned to remain calm in such situations. "A phobics can certainly learn to deal with fear and to reduce this excessive fear towards an appropriate, rather respectful treatment of dogs," explains the psychologist. You can work on this together with a psychologist in therapy, for example. “Such a process usually takes place in three steps,” explains Rother. “First of all, we theoretically pick up the patient and convey what fear actually is. In the second step, we show calming and relaxation techniques for situations in which an acute fear arises. In the last step, we then slowly enter the confrontation by first looking at pictures and videos of dogs together, then switching to virtual reality, which is wonderfully suitable as a bridging function, and at the end also confronting the person with a real therapy dog. The aim is that the person concerned learns over time to get the excessive fear of dogs under control and can go about their everyday life again, such as a walk in the park. ”IVH