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Overcoming Dog Phobias: Understanding the Symptoms, Causes, and Effective Treatment
CBT for Dog Phobias in Orlando

GroundWork provides in-person appointments in Central Florida and virtual appointments for clients residing in Florida, Maine, Vermont, Montana and South Carolina.

For some of us, dogs are not just pets but also beloved members of our families. However, for others, they bring a sense of apprehension, fear, and even panic. Fear / phobia of dogs, known as “cynophobia”, is a phobia that affects millions of people worldwide. This fear can be so intense that it can impact daily functioning and even lead to panic attacks. While it may seem overwhelming, the good news is that dog phobia can be treated effectively.

What Causes A Dog Phobia?

Dog phobia typically develops after a traumatic experience with dogs, such as being attacked or bitten. However, in some cases, it may develop over time due to learned behavior or from hearing negative news stories or experiencing a dog attack vicariously. Some people may also develop cynophobia due to a more generalized fear of animals or anxiety in social situations. Dog phobia is considered a “specific phobia” under the DSM diagnostic manual.

  1. Traumatic Experiences: One of the most common causes of dog phobia is a traumatic experience in the past involving a dog. This could range from being bitten or attacked by a dog to witnessing someone else being frightened or attacked.
  2. Learned Fear: Phobia can be learned behavior. If a family member or close friend is afraid of dogs, it might influence the person to develop the same fear.
  3. Lack of Familiarity: People who have not had much contact with dogs, especially during their childhood, might develop a fear of dogs due to unfamiliarity.
  4. Media Influence: The way dogs are portrayed in media can also contribute to the development of a fear of dogs. Aggressive and threatening portrayals can create and reinforce fear.
  5. General Anxiety Disorder: People with general anxiety disorder are more prone to develop specific phobias, including cynophobia.

Symptoms of Dog Phobia:

People who have cynophobia (phobia of dogs) may experience a range of symptoms, from mild anxiety to intense panic attacks. Some common signs and symptoms include an elevated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, difficulty breathing, and a sense of panic or dread when encountering dogs or even seeing them on TV or in pictures. Others may feel nauseous, dizzy, or experience chest pains. In extreme cases, people may experience an overwhelming desire to flee and avoid all situations that involve dogs or could possibly involve dogs.

Impacts on Functioning:

People with an intense fear of dogs may avoid going to parks, jogging, or engaging in any outdoor activity that might involve dogs. They may choose different routes to avoid encountering dogs, and this could severely limit their mobility and willingness to go out. Additionally, they may avoid visiting friends or family who have dogs, causing social isolation and decreased quality of life.

Effective Treatment & CBT Therapy for Dog Phobia:

Fortunately, there are several evidence-based treatment approaches that can help overcome dog phobia. The most effective treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT aims to change negative, irrational thoughts and beliefs about dogs and replace them with rational thoughts and experiences. Exposure therapy is used in conjunction with CBT, exposure aims to gradually expose individuals to dogs, starting with pictures and eventually moving to controlled interactions to help desensitize and overcome the fear. At GroundWork, our therapists are specifically trained and specialize in using CBT and exposure therapy.

It is important to note that while treatment can be effective, it is important to work with a therapist specifically trained in addressing phobias using evidence-based therapy. Talk therapy has not been found in studies to be effective for phobias, and might even make symptoms worse.

Treatment Outlook:

With proper treatment, most people with a dog phobia can overcome their fear of dogs and improve their quality of life. While it may take time and effort, the reward is worth it. People with dog phobia can learn to manage their symptoms, lead more fulfilling lives, and even enjoy the companionship of their own furry friend.

In summary, cynophobia can be a debilitating condition that negatively affects one’s daily life. However, with the right treatment approach, it is highly treatable. If you or someone you know has a fear of dogs, take the first step and reach out to a specialized and licensed mental health professional at GroundWork, who can help you overcome this fear and live a happier, more fulfilling life.

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