Cynophobia is classified as an animal type specific phobia within the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). This phobia is characterized by an intense or unreasonable fear that is cued by the thoughts or actual presence of dogs. Exposure to a dog generally causes an immediate anxiety reaction (e.g., heart racing, feelings of dread, shortness of breath, sweating, hyperventilating), that may include panic attacks. In some cases, people may also have strong anxiety reactions to depictions of dogs (e.g., magazine photo, movie about dogs), thoughts of dogs, and conversations involving discussion of dogs. People with cynophobia know that their fears are excessive, but will often go out of their way to avoid dogs, including changing their routines to avoid possible contact with dogs, including avoiding parks, not walking around populated neighborhoods, not watching animal shows on TV, avoiding movies about dogs, and not visiting the homes of friends or families who have dogs. This avoidance, anxiety, and distress can lead to impairments in social, occupational, and/or academic functioning. Given that people in the United States and many other societies value dogs as pets, it can be very difficult for a person with cynophobia to avoid contact with dogs. It should be noted that although a large number of people may be afraid of a strange potentially threatening dog, a person would only receive a clinical diagnosis of a specific phobia if the level of distress or avoidance behaviors were causing impairment in their functioning. So a person that carefully avoids their neighbor’s vicious Rottweiler, but can still be around with their cousin’s playful German Shepherd and their friend’s poodle would not likely have cynophobia.
Animal phobias, such as cynophobia, are often acquired in early childhood and are more common in women than men. The self-reported fears in animal type specific phobias are generally focused on feelings of disgust and revulsion and may also be focused on feeling the animal may cause harm or be dangerous. Feelings that dogs are dangerous may be especially salient among people with dog phobias, as many people with cynophobia report having been attacked or bitten by a dog, witnessing someone being attacked, or being told by family members to avoid dogs because they are dangerous. Depression and other anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders that may co-occur with cynophobia.
Interestingly, dogs themselves may also develop phobias to things such as thunderstorms and noise.
Celebrities who reportedly have or had a fear of dogs include Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, and Bobby Brown.
Cynophobia can be treated with standard exposure-based anxiety treatments for phobias, including systematic desensitization, flooding, one-session treatments, and modeling techniques. It can also be treated using virtual reality treatment. If cynophobia is interfering with your life, consult a health professional to discuss possible treatment options.
See the following links for more information about phobias and cynophobia:
Mayo Clinic article on phobias
NBC News artcle on tips to overcome a fear of dogs
WebMD article on fear of dogs