How to Overcome Your Fear of Dogs

Published: 6/2/2021
Dogs are the most popular pets in the world, but many people are afraid of them too. The fear of dogs is also known as cynophobia, which comes from the Greek words cyno, meaning dog, and phobia, meaning fear. With more than 62 million dogs living in the United States, it can be difficult for people with cynophobia to go about their daily lives since the chances of running into a canine are pretty high. 

The majority of cynophobic folks develop their fear due to a negative experience with a dog in their past. But if you are scared of dogs, you don't have to live in fear. We've gathered together several tips to help you overcome your fear of dogs and get back to enjoying your life. Let's take a look!

#1 Understand where your fear is coming from
Analyze what it is about dogs that you’re afraid of. Do all dogs in all situations frighten you? Or is it just big dogs or specific breeds? Perhaps it’s only when they’re doing certain activities such as barking. Is your fear triggered by a negative past experience? Identifying exactly what it is you’re scared of can help you narrow things down and have a more focused approach for getting over your fear.

#2 Try being around dogs
Go to the dog park with a trusted friend and observe the dogs interacting with one another from a distance. Or, spend some time in the same room as a friend’s or family member’s dog while they’re on a leash. You don’t have to interact with the dog at all; don’t force yourself to do anything you’re not comfortable with. When you’re ready, you can try petting the dog—it might take a few more meetings before you get there, and that’s OK. The key is to take small steps that set you up for success.

#3 Learn how to read dog body language
Dogs use non-verbal body language more often than barks and other sounds to communicate. Knowing how to decipher the signs that a dog is showing can help you feel more at ease when interacting with them. For example, if a dog licks their lips and there’s no food around, then they’re nervous or anxious. A dog who looks away and avoids eye contact is feeling uncomfortable. If they’re hunched toward the ground, then they’re scared. In these cases, you’ll want to back off and give the dog space.

#4 Be aware of your own body language

To avoid human-canine misunderstandings, it’s important to be aware of the signals you’re sending too. If a dog you don’t know is coming up to you, stand tall in a relaxed manner with your head up; keep your eye on the dog but don’t stare directly at them, as canines use eye contact to establish dominance. Don’t panic and run off—doing so could startle the dog and prompt them to chase you. Instead, remove yourself from the situation by walking away calmly and slowly.


#5 Practice makes perfect
Reading about how to overcome your fear of dogs is necessary, but the only way you’ll be able to do it is to actually implement what you’ve learned. Spend time with dogs regularly to desensitize yourself to them. Continue practicing even after you’ve reached the point where you feel comfortable interacting with them, as there’s still a chance that your fear could return. Small, consistent steps go a long way.

#6 Learn some relaxation techniques
Different relaxation techniques can reduce symptoms caused by your fear of dogs, including an upset stomach and rapid heart rate. They can also boost your confidence to handle problems and help you think more clearly to make better decisions. Types of relaxation techniques include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, visualization, and tai chi. Keep in mind that relaxation techniques are skills, and as with any skill, you’ll get better the more you practice. Be patient with yourself and if one technique doesn’t work for you, you can always try another one.

#7 Consider professional help
Severe cases would benefit from the help of a trained professional. Phobias can be debilitating, and there’s no shame in reaching out to your doctor or therapist if you can’t tackle your fear on your own. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used in the treatment of fears and has been shown to be very effective at treating specific phobias. And the sooner you start, the more effective it will be.

Overcoming your fear of dogs will be an uncomfortable process, but once you experience the love of a dog, you’ll be glad you did!