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An Overview of Cynophobia – The Irrational Fear of Dogs

An Overview of Cynophobia – The Irrational Fear of Dogs

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Cynophobia - Meaning, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Key Takeaways

  • Cynophobia is an irrational and overpowering fear of dogs.
  • It is a fear response that meets the diagnostic criteria of specific phobias, animal type in DSM-5.
  • Cynophobia is caused by traumatic life experiences related to the animal.
  • People with Cynophobia may attempt to hide, run away, or freeze in extreme fear when faced with the animal.
  • Cynophobia is treatable and exposure therapy and cognitive behavior therapy are the two most effective treatment procedures.

Dogs are our beloved pets but there are many people who are extremely fearful of these animals. They may suffer from intense emotions and discomfort. 

If you are scared and get uncomfortable around dogs even if there is no real threat, you must be suffering from a phobic condition known as Cynophobia.

This is a specific phobia where the person experiences overwhelming anxiety and fear related to the animal. Even the mere sight of a dog can make them frozen with fear and dread.

Just like the fear of spiders or a general fear of animals, Cynophobia can also be regarded as a common phobia.

The fear response may get worse over a period of time. It can interfere with the person’s daily life.

The enormous psychological discomfort that this fear involves may seem irrational to others, but for the sufferer, it’s real and debilitating.

In this article, we will highlight the signs and symptoms of this phobia along with the risk factors and treatment plan.

Read on…

Cynophobia Infographics

Cynophobia - Meaning, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Cynophobia – Meaning, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Cynophobia - Meaning, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Cynophobia – Meaning, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Cynophobia meaning (fear of dogs)

Cynophobia is an intense and persistent fear response related to dogs. The fear is overwhelming, impairing, and gets worse over time. This phobic response is irrelevant and can occur without a real threat in place.

We all know that a dog is a man’s best friend. One can rely on it more than any human being. Despite this fact, some go through a tremendous phase of anxiety and worry related to dogs.

If you constantly think that dogs would bite you or harm you, it means you suffer from the problem of Cynophobia. 

Cynophobia is the technical term for a phobia of dogs. This term comes from two Greek words “Kyon” (dog) and “Phobos” (fear).

An individual with this phobia goes through a fear of dogs that is persistent and irrational, arising in situations where it is neither adaptive nor necessary.

You do not feel uncomfortable because of being around dogs or their tendency to bark.

This fear can cause panic within you even after seeing a playful dog walking past or an extreme level of worry about the chance of having an encounter with a dog once you leave the house. You need to take one aspect into account.

If a person feels anxious and scared while facing a growling, aggressive, or barking dog, he is not necessarily afraid of dogs or has Cynophobia. It could just be the fear response to a perceived threat.

It can create problems in your daily life and result in numerous symptoms like dizziness or breathing trouble. 

Typical phobias like Cynophobia affect almost 9% of the population. The Fifth Edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has formally recognized this problem as a specific phobia, animal type.

Hence, it is evident that the problem is not so rare. Close to one-third of people looking to get treatment for particular phobias tend to suffer from an irrational fear of cats or dogs.

The psychology behind Cynophobia

It is very difficult to understand why people are scared of their canine friends. In most cases, Cynophobia is an exaggerated fear. Only the mere thought of a dog can scare you immensely.

People suffering from Cynophobia always anticipate harm. They are in the grip of negative thoughts. Fear of being bitten or chased by dogs with no help around can increase the fear response.

The psychology behind Cynophobia is an irrational fear that may or may not be involved with the real threat. 

Even if the dog is not violent or harms you in any way, you may experience intense discomfort around them.

Examples of Cynophobia apprehensions

The anxiety may stem from the irrelevant thoughts of some worst-case scenarios. You may think in similar ways that aggravate the fear.

  • The dog will jump over you and bite you
  • You will not receive any immediate help
  • Crying and yelling may not work at all
  • Maybe you fear that the dog owner will not be able to save you on time
  • You may avoid streets where dogs are frequently seen
  • Feelings of sickness may appear in no time if you see a dog in front of you
  • Avoid lonely walks around the streets lest you see a dog around you
  • Barking dogs may appear more aggressive and harmful.

Cynophobia symptoms

According to the researchers, more than 62,400,000 dogs stay in the United States. So, there is a high chance of running into a dog. 

In the case of Cynophobia, you may come across symptoms dogs are close to you or even by the thought of them.

Similar to all other phobias, the severity of Cynophobia can vary dramatically from one person to another. 

Some research studies have found that the perception of fear varies according to life experiences and specific encounters with dogs. It is possible that you could fear only large breeds of dogs.

There is also a chance you might feel uncomfortable or get scared of dogs when you see them moving around in front of your eyes.

You do not have any problem viewing dogs on TV shows or in photographs. Symptoms linked with particular phobias are specific to an individual.

No two individuals can experience the same fear or triggers in a similar fashion.

Similarly, the symptoms of Cynophobia can also vary. The most common symptoms associated with the fear of dogs are the uncontrolled sense of worry, stress, fear, and anxiety when faced with this animal.

The symptoms of Cynophobia occur in two forms. They are physical symptoms and psychological symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of Cynophobia are as follows –

  • You may face problems while breathing.
  • There can be a rapid increase in your heart rate.
  • You can feel tightness or pain in your chest.
  • One might start to sweat profusely.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Trembling, shaking, and utter discomfort.
  • Cold or hot flashes.
  • Nausea.
  • Numbness.
  • Try to hide from everyone.
  • Disorientation.
  • You can feel like crying.

Psychological Symptoms

All those people with Cynophobia can even show some psychological symptoms. Some of the common occurrences are –

  • You may experience anxiety disorders or panic attacks.
  • There can be a severe need to escape all those situations that make you fearful.
  • You are feeling detached from yourself.
  • It seems as if you are not in control of your life.
  • An apprehension that you may become unconscious or die.
  • Feel like you have now power over this fear
  • The dog fear’s negative impact is troubling your life and the ability to do your job at school, home, or workplace.
  • You stay away from this animal, and any level of contact with a dog makes things uncomfortable, with no improvement over time.
  • You could even feel like there is a tragedy waiting to happen.
  • Preoccupation with the animal all the time.
  • Tendency to think about the worst cases
  • Anticipatory anxiety

Diagnostic criteria of Cynophobia

Cynophobia has been recognized as a specific phobia, animal type in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Thus, the diagnosis of this disorder is done by a clinical psychologist by following the criteria of specific phobias as laid down in DSM-5.

The diagnosis of Cynophobia involves the following symptoms. The person has to suffer from discomfort and overwhelming fear response for at least 6 months to be considered for a clinical diagnosis of Cynophobia.

  • Instant anxiety and fear of seeing a dog or a mere thought of it.
  • You can go to any extent to avoid being with dogs.
  • The extreme fear response can make you sick if you cannot avoid dogs in some other way.
  • Overwhelming anxiety that doesn’t relate to the real threat.
  • Anticipating irrational harm from dogs that is not real.
  • Continuous negative thoughts of either being bitten or scratched by a dog.
  • The fear responses are interfering with daily life.
  • You are unable to control the anxiety by any other means.
  • You are suffering from this problem for a minimum of 6 months and above.
  • The fear cannot be assigned to any other types of anxiety disorders or mental health problems.
  • Your coping skills and adaptive responses are falling apart faster than you have expected.

The immediate triggers of Cynophobia

Cynophobia disorder usually affects children, even though people of all age groups can expose themselves to the risk of developing this problem. This phobia of dogs is widespread among those individuals with autism and sensory differences.

Some of the immediate triggers that can lead to the emergence of Cynophobia symptoms are as follows:

  • Substance abuse disorder.
  • People who are suffering from depression.
  • Those having Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
  • There is a history of mental health problems, panic disorder, agoraphobia, or panic attacks.
  • History of fear of dogs in one’s family.
  • Your earlier experience with a dog was not an ideal one.
  • If a dog had attacked you in the past.
  • Barking dogs near you.
  • A growling dog is looking at you.
  • A dog tied in front of a shop can make you avoid the place.
  • Seeing a picture of an aggressive dog.
  • Puppies running behind you.
  • A sudden and unexpected encounter with the dog can cause panic attacks.
  • Hearing about the negative experiences of someone else can lead to this phobia.
  • Parents could teach their children to stay away from dogs as they might bite them.

Cynophobia causes and risk factors

From the above discussion, it is clear that Cynophobia is mainly caused by a negative encounter with dogs. 

The immediate trigger could be a sudden exposure to the animal. The fear could be intense seeing a canine companion looking at you.

Like many other specific phobias, there is no single cause that can relate to the fear of dogs. However, the genetic, environmental, and personal experiences of the person do play an important role in Cynophobia.

The causes of this specific phobia are discussed as follows:

1. Traumatic negative experience with dogs

You may develop Cynophobia symptoms if you had a poor experience with dogs in your life. Maybe you were bitten by a dog, or being chased and met with an accident. 

The trauma associated with the negative experience can stay in your mind forever. It can lead to an aversion of the animal even if there is no immediate real threat. You may suffer from an apprehension that the dog may bite or harm you again.

If you were jumped on by a dog and there was no help around, you could head on towards a phobic response. Feelings of terrible fear can cripple you in no time.

Thus, the next time you see a dog, the previous bad encounter may remind you of some possible harm. Thus your anxiety level goes up instantly.

Way back in 1992, researchers also found that lack of exposure to these canines can lead to possible fear.

If you do not know what can happen if you encounter a dog, you may develop an illogical fear that is absolutely baseless.

They found that children were not fearful of dog attack or harm; rather they were apprehensive of what can happen if they suddenly see a dog around them. 

Most kids also reported that they were taught by their parents to beware of dogs, they may harm them.

2. Genetic factors

It has been found that Cynophobia runs in families. People who come from homes where parents also suffered from dog fear have more likelihood of developing a similar fear response.

Many people suffering from various forms of specific phobias have actually seen their parents behaving in similar ways when they were children.

Thus, the anxiety and stress that was in the household manifested in the child’s behavior. Later on, the symptoms increased because the person did not do much to avoid the crippling fear.

Research studies have found a very high correlation between genetic factors and Cynophobia.

3. Biological factors

Scientific facts have found that people who suffer from Cynophobia actually have exaggerated brain functioning.

The increase in the release of neurotransmitters can trigger a sudden fear response. With it comes the physical symptom of anxiety. You may be alarmed by possible harm. 

People who suffer from extreme fear of dogs undergo many biological changes in their brains.

The brain activity changes due to the release of cortisol and other brain hormones. This brings changes in heart rate and blood pressure in times of stress.

Cortisol leads to an immediate fight or flight response. The person either fears a close encounter with dogs or may show an immediate avoidance response.

4. Psychological conditioning

Cynophobia can be related to psychological conditioning. A single bad experience with dogs can increase the fear response. If you have ever been bitten or attacked by a dog, you’ll develop fear intensely.

This happens because you have developed a conditioned response to the feared animal. The moment you see dogs, it reminds you of the previous attack. 

Maybe the dog appears absolutely harmless at the present moment but the previous experience was so sour that it leads to an instant fear response. Cynophobia may get really bad if it is frequent and keeps you on your toes always.

Thus, your direct negative experiences conditioned you to behave in similar ways when faced with the feared element.

5. Shared experiences of other people

Sometimes Cynophobia is a learned response. It means that you must have heard from someone that dogs are dangerous carnivores and they need to be avoided. Maybe when you were a child, your parents told you to avoid being with dogs.

You were taught to see the negative side of your canine companion. Nobody helped you to learn that dogs are faithful pets and always remain loyal to their masters.

Negative information received from elders in the family or friends has led to a negative opinion about the animal. You may have developed your fear from false information about dog behavior.

Impact of Cynophobia

When an individual is developing Cynophobia, their behavioral pattern sees a massive change from some typical manner of functioning.

The person would avoid places, people, and all those events connected with dogs. The symptoms may start to appear slowly, with the concerned person reacting in a limited manner. 

He might not attend office for a few days or lose a few of his friends having dogs. As time goes by, the impact could become a lot more widespread.

It might lead a person with Cynophobia to get comfortable only in a familiar environment like his/her own house or a loved one’s place. 

He/she does not want to risk getting in touch with people around him/her and getting exposed to dogs.

This specific type of phobia can also lead to the following complications:

  • One can get into depression.
  • Social withdrawal, aloofness, and living in isolation from people who are typical dog lovers.
  • Severe avoidance response towards the animal.
  • You might even resort to substance abuse to get temporary relief from anxiety.
  • People close to you can often see you screaming and showing various kinds of intense reactions.
  • You would prefer to lead your daily life away from dogs at all costs.
  • Unable to differentiate between reality and fiction.
  • Poor social relationships may crop up in a friend’s circles due to the aversion to dogs.

Cynophobia in children

Cynophobia happens to be one of the most prevalent phobias that affect the lives of children.

This dog phobia can arise among youngsters after hearing past experiences of dogs biting their parents when they were young. 

It can also crop up from what they have encountered with dogs. Maybe dogs had threatened to bite them on the streets. Their friends might frequently discuss some of their frightful experiences with dogs. 

Other than these, there could be several sources that might give rise to Cynophobia among children. 

This dog phobia can start as early as age 5. If the problem is left untreated, it can affect their lives even after growing up.

Following are some specific symptoms that children showcase when they suffer from this dog phobia:

  • They can have a tantrum.
  • You can see them clinging to their caregiver.
  • They can start crying out of fear.
  • Trembling of hands and feet.
  • May avoid going to parks or visiting a friend’s house that might be having a pet dog.
  • A choking sensation.
  • Inability to speak about their discomfort.
  • Racing heart.
  • Screaming aloud for help.
  • May feel like fainting.
  • Butterflies in stomach
  • Numbness
  • Extreme avoidance
  • Fearful of both pet dogs and stray dogs.
  • May avoid seeing cartoons and children’s movies with dog scenes in them.
  • May cling to parents all the time while outdoors.

Ways to make children feel comfortable

As parents, it is difficult to see your children living with a phobia from such an early age. Therefore, when you see that your children have developed Cynophobia, the phobia of dogs, you have an important role to play.

You must ensure their freedom to play around and remain happy does not get stifled because of this fear. 

Here are a few things you can do to make your child overcome their fear and feel comfortable around dogs:

Accept their fear

You must treat their fear seriously and assure them that you are there to protect them.

Keep a watch over what you say

When you see someone with their dog, ask them if you can see it, rather than asking if it growls or bites.

Words have tremendous power to influence others, especially children. They will instantly pick up what you say and can act accordingly.

Do not rush things

Introduce dogs in your child’s life steadily. You can start by showing them pictures of dogs, then share more information on dogs, and finally decide to set up a meeting.

Further, you can also think of petting a dog and letting your child know that dogs are harmless, loyal friends.

Organize a meeting

Once your child becomes comfortable, you can look to initiate a meeting with a grown-up dog. You might want to get in touch with a group that conducts doggy meets. 

Give your child a prize for their bravery

Finally, when you see your child getting friendly and involving themselves freely with dogs, you can encourage them further and try gifting them a sticker or chocolate for their bravery.

Prevalence of Cynophobia

Just like the fear of snakes or spiders, or closed spaces, Cynophobia is a common type of specific phobia. Thus, the global prevalence rate of Cynophobia is quite high.

  • According to Timothy O. Rentz of the University of Texas, the prevalence of animal phobias is always high. About 36% of patients seeking treatment for specific phobias have fear of dogs and cats.
  • Cynophobia can affect about 7-9% of the population globally.
  • People who fear dogs suffer from real anxiety. It is an aversion and worry response that is painful for the sufferer. Thus, to all the dog lovers out there; Phobia of dogs is a disturbing condition. It is not animal hatred at all. Maybe 1 in 20 people suffer from Cynophobia.
  • The fear of snakes, spiders, and dogs is widely common in the United Kingdom. About 10 million people in the UK suffer from specific phobias every year.
  • The intense fear of different types of animals is the most common form of specific phobias. 1 in 3 people with a fear of animals is scared of dogs in the United States.
  • About 9% of US adults suffer from specific phobias, especially dogs and snakes. Women are more likely to suffer from specific phobias than men.

How to overcome Cynophobia? (self-help tips)

Cynophobia can leave you in a state of extreme terror and dread. You can make certain lifestyle changes along with mindfulness and relaxation exercises to control the symptoms of the illness.

The duration and severity of the symptoms do play an important role in overcoming the problem.

If you are suffering from the illness for a long time, you should think of going for a diagnosis or treatment instantly. 

Along with the treatment options suggested by the therapist or doctor, you should always follow certain self-help tips to improve your condition.

1. Being mindful

Mindfulness is a calm state of existence when you can connect deeply with yourself. This practice is helpful to understand the causes of your fear. 

Being mindful, you will be able to understand your triggers and symptoms in a better way.

Managing anxiety is an art that you need to learn. Cynophobia is not a life-threatening condition. You just need to be more aware of the conditions. 

Practicing mindfulness will help you to reflect on your insecurities and deepest fears related to the fear of dogs.

2. Speak openly and share your problems with others

If you are suffering from Cynophobia, you may think that avoiding the problem can help you overcome the fear of dogs. But in reality, avoiding increases the fear much more than what you had expected.

Instead, speak about your fears with others. Share your worries and concerns with family members and friends. Their advice and emotional support may help you overcome the fear to a great extent.

3. Relaxation exercises

You may start meditation and deep breathing exercises to feel better. These relaxation techniques help to lower the physical and mental discomfort that Cynophobia brings in. 

You can also follow a guided meditation tool to lessen the symptoms. Relaxation exercises also prepare you to stay calm in all future situations where you may get exposed to dogs.

4. Keep yourself informed about dog behavior

Sometimes the fear of dogs is caused due to a lack of proper information about them. You may not know how they behave with humans.

Thus, you are fearful of something about which you do not have enough information.

Thus, you need to educate yourself more about these canine companions who can become your faithful pals. You may take help from dog lovers or people who already have a pet dog at home. 

Dog owners are the best option because they see the varied behavior patterns of dogs every day. They will guide you and educate you about the same.

They can help you with more information about how to be friendlier with dogs. In this way, you will be able to lower your symptoms to a great extent.

Treatment of Cynophobia

Sometimes self-help strategies may not work for you. It’s time to seek professional help from a mental health worker or a psychotherapist.

The treatment of cynophobia is client-specific. It means that there is no one-size-fits-all that can be used to reduce cynophobia symptoms. 

The plan of treatment is designed depending upon the severity and duration of the symptoms. Some of the most common treatment techniques for cynophobia are as follows:

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is the first line of treatment for people with cynophobia. In this treatment, the person is slowly and gradually exposed to the feared stimuli.

This technique is also known as desensitization. Here, the person is exposed to the feared stimuli (dogs) in real-life situations. The immediate response of fear and emotional discomfort is recorded by the therapist.

Exposure therapy aims to lower the fear response in such a way so that the person is able to tolerate the fear without getting overwhelmed.

By repeatedly exposing the individual to dogs, they are desensitized to tolerate and face their fears boldly.  

In exposure therapy, the therapist prepares a list of situations that can cause dog phobia. Then the person will be asked to rate their fears from the most fearful situations to the least harmful ones.

In this way, the triggers of cynophobia are identified. Then, the therapist exposes the person to dogs. It starts with less fearful situations till the person is ready to face more intense fear.

When the person gets used to the treatment they are exposed to more fearful situations.

Slowly, the person can overcome their irrational fear. Some people may take many sessions before they can fully overcome their fear.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy or CBT is a form of psychotherapy used to treat specific phobias. In this method, the therapist helps the patient to alter negative thoughts with positive ones.

It is known as talking therapy where the therapist helps the patient to cope with fear by altering mind states. 

They are given positive feedback about dogs from real-life stories. The motive is to change the negative attitude of the patient towards the animal.

CBT also involves behavior modification procedures such as systematic desensitization and flooding.

In systematic desensitization, the patient is gradually exposed to dogs. Their instant fear and reaction are recorded and regulated by the therapist.

In this case, the person can be shown pictures of dogs cuddling with a person. The aim of the treatment is to create a positive image and nurture positive thoughts in the mind of the person. 

The patient is made to believe that there is nothing to fear because there is no real threat. Their fear is irrational and baseless.

Another technique is the flooding method. In this process, the person is exposed to dogs quite often and for a longer duration.  It helps them to tolerate and control their fear responses.

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

VRET is a kind of exposure therapy where the patient is exposed to feared stimuli in virtual atmospheres. They may be shown pictures and videos of dogs interacting with patients.

Sometimes, patients are educated about dog behavior, just to make them realize that canine companions are not that bad. 

In this therapy, computer simulations are used to expose the patient to dogs.

The process starts with small exposures and when the patient gets comfortable, they are exposed to violent, barking, and growling dogs.

The method can have variable success rates depending upon the severity of the condition.


Cynophobia is a specific phobia that has a lot of anxiousness, fear, and worry in it. Thus, along with therapy, you may need some supportive medications to control the symptoms.

Anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives, and beta-blockers are used to control the physical symptoms of the disease.

If you are taking anti-anxiety drugs or sedatives, follow the correct dosage strictly to get the desired benefits. Medication should always be taken as per the advice of your doctor.

Cynophobia Statistics

Cynophobia Statistics
Cynophobia Statistics (Sources – Wikipedia, Healthline, Cleveland Clinic, The Cynophobia Clinic)

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

To wrap the discussion, it is important to highlight that cynophobia is a treatable condition.

Living with the fear of dogs is not as easy as it sounds. Maybe, the sufferer knows what they are going through.

Sometimes, the patient may feel shy to seek help because of the social stigma. However, the disease is a common specific phobia. 

Society must have a positive mindset so that the person may feel free to share their agonies with others and seek support if needed. 

Just treating cynophobia at the right time is the need of the hour. The earlier the person seeks medical advice, the better they become in due course of time.

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