Can you overcome your fear of dogs?
For many years now dogs have become known as ‘man’s best friend’. Cute, cuddly and loyal are just a few of the adjectives used to describe our canine friends. In recent years, smaller varieties are being bred as ‘designer’ dogs, with some being carried around in handbags as a status symbol wearing matching accessories with their owner.
Not so long ago when two different breeds of dogs mated they were called ‘mongrels’. Nowadays the breeds names are merged like ‘cockapoo’ or ‘labradoodle’ with a hefty price tag attached.
So why then is the fear of dogs (cynophobia) so common? Why do some people go all doe-eyed at the sight of a pair of big brown eyes and a wet nose whilst others go running, shrieking into the distance?
Sometimes the person with the phobia doesn’t even know why they are afraid; ‘they just are’. Others may have a clear understanding and remember a specific incident – perhaps when they were little, a big dog jumped up on them excitedly, but knocked them over in the process and barking. Or maybe they were bitten by a dog or threatened by their parents not to go into a certain garden or premises as the ‘big dog might bite you’. Some may remember having to walk by several signs on gateposts warning them a dog lived there or guarded the premises.
Whatever the reason, the one thing for certain is – there will be a reason whether they remember or not. Babies are only born with two fears – fear of falling and sudden loud noises. Every other phobia is developed through experience. The person who is afraid of water and refuses to go swimming, may have had a huge wave wash over them when paddling in the sea when they were young, leading to a lifetime fear of water. Or maybe a child constantly saw her mother running screaming out of the room at the sight of a spider, so copied that behaviour with the assumption that all spiders are to be feared.
Second generation phobias are common as the parent sometimes unwittingly passes their fear onto their child. Most people realise they are being irrational but feel helpless to do anything about it and assume they will always have to live with the fear.
Having a dog phobia can be awkward at best – turning down an invitation to a friend’s house because they have a dog to downright bothersome having to take a longer route home for fear of walking by a neighbours gate just in case their dog is in the garden.
Outings to the beach or the local park can be traumatic for people with a phobia as they cannot relax, for fear of encountering a waggling tailed, four-legged creature. For a parent with a dog phobia, their worst nightmare is explaining to their child why they can’t have a dog even although all his friends do.
Of course, it is common sense to have a respectful caution towards dogs. After all, they do have sharp teeth and they can bite, but usually only if provoked or ill-treated. Some breeds are known to be more temperamental than others - with a certain faction of society trying to look threatening by having certain types of dogs and training them to be aggressive.
However, most domesticated dogs are docile and spoiled nowadays. They have no need to fight for food as it is given in abundance and many are as spoiled as children with every whim being met. Regular check-ups at the vet ensures few dogs are in pain so there is no cause to snap if they think the person may make their pain worse.
Therapy dogs are a wonderful benefit to people with disabilities, enhancing their owners’ quality of life and well-being. It allows them the freedom and opportunity to participate in activities or socialise which otherwise would not be possible. The main breeds for therapy dogs are labradors and retrievers as they are known for their even temperament and intelligence.
Initially, therapy dogs were only used to help people who were blind, as the dogs acted as a seeing eye, but nowadays more and more dogs are being trained to help other disabilities.
Therapy dogs for autism enables the person to keep calm and cope with integration into society better, as the dog acts as a shield when needed or calms the person down or alerts the carer. This allows the person to become more outgoing, safe in the knowledge their therapy dog will protect them and act as a calming influence by their side. Other therapy dogs are used to aid people who are deaf, have epilepsy or for those who are paralysed as they become their ‘helping hand’.
Hypnotherapy is a quick and efficient way to successfully help a person overcome their phobia. During hypnosis the therapist will induce a state of deep relaxation and work on the unconscious mind where there is no conscious resistance, reasoning with it and working on strategies to overcome the fear.
Normally the phobia comes hand in hand with physiological changes to the body, sweating, palpitations, shaking and shortness of breath. An intense phobia can even induce these symptoms just at the mere thought of coming into contact with the source of the fear. Hypnosis will work on reducing these symptoms allowing the person to take back control of their thoughts which are often irrational with lots of ‘what ifs’ and ‘but it mights’ and changing the behaviour to a more positive one which is beneficial to the person.
Find a therapist with experience of working with phobias and ask for testimonials. A good therapist should test your response. If appropriate, they may even suggest you take a walk after the session so that you can see for yourself how you feel and what your reaction is like when you come into contact with a dog. Perhaps you will find yourself walking to the nearest pet store...