Determining the Extent of Your Fear
Analyze your symptoms. Specific phobias, including cynophobia (the fear of dogs), may include some of the following symptoms. Do you need to be in the presence of a dog, or can a photo or story of a dog trigger your symptoms? And, is it the dog itself that causes the fear, or something the dog is doing? For example, some people are fearful of barking, but are okay if a dog is silent.
â¢Feeling an imminent sense of danger.
â¢Feeling the need to escape or flee.
â¢Heart racing, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, or chills.
â¢Feeling like what is happening is unreal.
â¢Feeling like youâre losing control or going crazy.
â¢Feeling like you might die.
Determine if you change your life because of your fear. Unfortunately fears can be so severe that we feel the best way to make them go away is to avoid them completely. While a fear of flying, for example, may be quite easy to avoid by simply never flying, dogs are another story. Ask yourself if you do the following things in order to avoid being around dogs. If you do, thereâs a good chance you have cynophobia.
â¢Do you avoid hanging out with specific people because they have a dog?
â¢Do you change your route specifically to avoid a house or neighborhood that has a dog?
â¢Do you avoid speaking to certain people because they talk about their dogs?
Understand there is a way to overcome this fear. While it is possible to overcome your fear of dogs, keep in mind that you need to be patient. It wonât go away immediately, it will take work on your part. You may want to consider seeking professional help from a therapist who can walk you through the process of overcoming your fear. Consider writing about your fear in a journal. Write down specific past memories that you have about dogs, and how you felt during those experiences. Learn relaxation and meditation techniques to help keep your calm and help control your anxiety. Break your fear into smaller sections to overcome; donât think you need to tackle the whole thing all in one go. Have faith in yourself that you will get over your fear of dogs. And accept any mistakes you make along the way.
Conducting Cognitive Restructuring Understand what cognitive restructuring is. Many phobias, including cynophobia, are based on how your brain comprehends a specific situation, rather than the actual situation itself. For example, youâre not likely afraid of the actual dog in front of you, but rather, youâre brain is interpreting the dog as being a threat which is then causing you to be fearful. Cognitive restructuring helps you to identify these thoughts, understand that they are irrational, and slowly help you to rethink (or reframe) your thoughts about a specific situation (i.e. Dogs). It is important to go into cognitive restructuring with an open and willing mind. You need to accept the fact that your fear is probably not based on rational thought, and as such, means that you can train yourself to think differently. If you go into this type of treatment pessimistically or with the belief that youâre being completely reasonable in your fears, you will make the process much harder to overcome.
Think about events that trigger your fearful thoughts. The first step to overcoming your fear is to identify what is causing the fear in the first place. This may include thinking and talking about your past experiences with dogs, and trying to figure out what may have started the phobia in the first place. It may also include narrowing down the exact trigger that causes your fear. Is it dogs in general that cause you to be fearful, or do you become fearful when a dog does something specific (i.e. Growls, barks, jumps up, runs, etc.).
Analyze your existing beliefs about your trigger events. Once you have a solid understanding of the specific events that trigger your phobia, you need to evaluate what you are thinking when this fear occurs. What are you telling yourself? How are you interpreting the trigger event in your thoughts? What are your specific beliefs about that event the moment it is happening? Continue writing your memories and thoughts in your journal. At this point start recording the reasons why you think the events triggered your fear. Write down as many of your beliefs as you can remember.
Analyze your beliefs and thoughts to determine if they include any of the following:
â¢All or Nothing â do you view ALL dogs as bad, no matter what? Or do you categorize dogs differently depending on some type of feature? E.g. âI canât be friends with anyone who has a dog.â
â¢Should, Must, Ought â do you see a dog and automatically assume you have to be afraid of it? Do you feel like you have no other choice in the matter? E.g. âMy mom said I should never trust a dog.â
â¢Overgeneralizing â have you tried to overcome your fear before and werenât able to, and now you assume youâll never be able to overcome your fear of dogs? E.g. âI tried to be near dogs before and it didnât work. I have no choice but to be afraid of dogs.â
â¢Mental Filter â do you automatically draw conclusions about dogs based only on one or two previous experiences with dogs? E.g. âThat dog attacked me when I was 3, all dogs are bad and will attack people if they get the chance.â
â¢Discounting the Positive â do you ignore something good that happened because you canât believe itâll happen again? E.g. âSure, I was able to sit beside that one dog, but he was old and sick and didnât look like he could walk, let alone attack me.â
â¢Jumping to Conclusions â do you see or hear a dog and automatically draw a conclusion about whatâs going to happen? E.g. âThatâs a pit bull, theyâre awful and nasty dogs that canât be trained properly.â
Look at the feelings and behaviours that result from your beliefs. At this point you should have a better understanding of what triggers your fear of dogs, and the thoughts and beliefs you have about dogs when that trigger happens. Now itâs time to analyze how these thoughts and beliefs actually make your feel and behave. In other words, what are the consequences of your fear? What is the fear âmakingâ you do? Continue writing in your journal. At this stage youâll want to include your reactions (both internally and externally) to the events that triggered your fear, and the beliefs that contributed to that fear.
Examples of reactions might be:
â¢You were walking down your street and encountered a dog in the yard of a specific home. Afterwards you never walked down that street again.
â¢Your neighbour has a dog that they let into the backyard to play, so you never go in your own backyard in case your neighbourâs dog is outside.
â¢You refuse to go to a friendâs house because they got a dog, and you canât hang out with them if they bring the dog along.
Investigate if evidence exists to back-up your beliefs. You should now be at the point where youâve analyzed what triggers your fear, why your fear is triggered, and how you react to that fear. Now itâs time to analyze if thereâs any actual proof to back-up the reasons why youâre fearful of dogs. Think of this part of the process as you needing to be able to prove to your therapist (or yourself) that your fears are perfectly rational. Use your journal to write down each of your beliefs and the associated evidence you have as to why that belief is reasonable and rational. If youâre a really logical person, can you find any scientific proof to back up your beliefs? For example, you have the belief that all dogs are going to attack you no matter what. Why do you think this is true? Have you been attacked by every single dog youâve ever encountered? Does everyone else get attacked by every dog they encounter? Why would people own dogs as pets if they were constantly attacked?
Develop a rational explanation for the trigger event. At this point you have tried to prove your fear of dogs is perfectly reasonable and found that you canât find any evidence to back-up your beliefs. In fact, youâve probably found evidence of the complete opposite. You now need to think about the beliefs that are causing your fear and work with your therapist to develop rational explanations for your beliefs. These rational explanations will start to make sense, and make you realize that your resulting fear doesnât make sense. While this may sound easy, this is going to be the hardest step in your process to overcome your fear of dogs. Our beliefs can be entrenched in our minds so deeply that it can take some time (and convincing) that they make no sense. After all, your irrational beliefs may have helped you avoid bad situations, so whatâs wrong with them? For example, you have a belief that all dogs attack. You werenât able to find any evidence to back up that belief, so why do you have it? Maybe your belief is based on the fact that you saw a movie when you were 7 (that you shouldnât have watched) that had dogs attacking and killing people. After you watched that movie you started to fear dogs based on the assumption that the movie was 100% accurate. In reality, it was just a movie, and there was no truth to it. And if you think about it, youâve never actually seen a dog attack anyone.
Move to the next step in your recovery. While youâve come a long way at this point, youâre not finished. Even if youâre able to convince yourself that your fears have no rational explanation and thereâs no good reason to feel the way you do, youâre not actually âcured. In a way youâve completed the theoretical aspect of your therapy, now you have to complete the practical aspect of your therapy. At this stage you need to practice being around dogs. First, you need to learn how to relax when your fear or anxiety occurs so you donât set yourself back. Second, you need to gradually expose yourself to dogs (in different ways) until you can feel relaxed when theyâre around.
Learning Relaxation Techniques Understand the different types of relaxation techniques. There are quite a few different types of relaxation techniques that you can learn to help with your fear and anxiety. They include, but are not limited to, the following: autogenic relaxation; progressive muscle relaxation; visualization; deep breathing; hypnosis; massage; meditation; tai chi; yoga; biofeedback; and music and art therapy.
â¢Autogenic relaxation is a technique where you use visual images and body awareness, while repeating words or terms, to help relax and reduce muscle tension.
â¢Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique where you tense and relax each muscle in your body in order to get a sense of what each one feels like in both a tense and relaxed state.
â¢Visualization is a technique where you visualize specific settings that make you feel relaxed and calm (i.e. Forest, beach with waves, etc.).
â¢Deep breathing is a technique where you purposely breathe deeply from your abdomen in order to release tension and reverse hyperventilation.
â¢Biofeedback is a technique where you learn to control each of your bodyâs functions, like your heart rate or breathing.
Practice deep breathing relaxation. When youâre anxious or afraid you may react by breathing too quickly and hyperventilating. Hyperventilating can intensify your feelings of anxiety and fear and make the situation worse. Breathing deeply can help you relax, reduce your tension, and make you feel less anxious. Follow these steps to relax using deep breathing:
â¢Sit or stand somewhere where youâre comfortable and keep your back straight. Put one of your hands on your chest and put your other hand on your stomach.
â¢Take one slow deep breath in through your nose while counting to four. The hand on your stomach will rise while the hand on your chest shouldnât move very much.
â¢Hold your breath while counting to seven.
â¢Exhale through your mouth while you count to eight. Push out as much air as you can using your abdominal muscles. This means the hand on your stomach should move downwards, and the hand on your chest shouldnât move very much.
â¢Repeat these steps until you feel calmer and relaxed.
Perform progressive muscle relaxation. Anxious people also tend to be tense, even when they think theyâre relaxed. Progressive muscle relaxation can help you distinguish between relaxed and tense muscles so you actually know what it feels like to relax. Practice the following steps twice a day until you really feel it working.
â¢Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Remove your shoes.
â¢Allow your body to go as loose as you can and take 5 deep breaths.
â¢Select a specific muscle group to begin with (i.e. Your left foot) and focus on those muscles.
â¢Work each of these muscles groups: individual feet; lower leg and foot; entire leg; individual hands; entire arm; buttocks; stomach; chest; neck and shoulders; mouth; eyes; and forehead.
â¢Take one slow, deep breath while tensing the muscles youâve selected for 5 seconds. Make sure you can feel the tension in your muscles before you move on.
â¢Allow all the tension to leave the muscles youâve selected while exhaling.
â¢Pay close attention to how these muscles feels when tense and when relaxed.
â¢Stay relaxed for 15 seconds, then select another muscle group and repeat the same steps.
Try guided visualization. Using visualization to relax is exactly what it sounds like â you visualize something that you find extremely relaxing in order to reduce your anxiety and reduce your fears. A guided visualization is where you listen to a recording where someone talks you through the process step-by-step. There are many free guided visualizations available online, some with background music or sound effects to help make the process seem more real. Guided visualization recordings will provide the instructions on how to prepare yourself and what to do. They will also vary in length, so you can select the ones that work best for you.
Working with Exposure Therapy
Develop an exposure plan. The reason you learned relaxation techniques was to keep yourself calm while slowly building up your exposure to dogs. But before you start allowing dogs to be in your presence, you need to develop a plan. This plan should include each step youâre going to go through between now (no dogs) and actually being in their presence. Your plan should be customized for your particular type of fears, and the fearful situations you personally experience. The list should be written in order of least fearful to most fearful so you work your way up to conquering your most fearful situation.
An example of a plan to overcome your fear of dogs is as follows:
â¢Step 1 - draw a dog on a piece of paper.
â¢Step 2 - read about dogs.
â¢Step 3 - look at photos of dogs.
â¢Step 4 - look at videos of dogs.
â¢Step 5 - look at dogs through a closed window.
â¢Step 6 - look at dogs through a partially opened window.
â¢Step 7 - look at dogs through an open window.
â¢Step 8 - look at dogs through a doorway.
â¢Step 9 - look at dogs from outside the doorway.
â¢Step 10 - look at a dog (who is on a leash) in the next room.
â¢Step 11 - look at a dog (who is on a leash) in the same room.
â¢Step 12 - sit beside a dog.
â¢Step 13 - pet a dog.
Create and practice using an anxiety distress scale. Use the scale to measure your level of anxiety, with 0 being totally relaxed and 100 being the most fear/anxiety/discomfort you have ever experienced. This is a helpful tool for measuring how your distress levels change over time. The anxiety distress scale can also help you decide when it's time for you to move to the next step of your exposure plan. Be patient and take your time. Don't move to the next step too quickly.
Engage the help of a trusted friend with a dog. At some point in your plan you will have to place yourself in the presence of an actual dog. You need this dog to be handled by a competent and trustful person, and the dog needs to be predictable and well-trained. Talk to the dogâs owner in advance of executing your plan and explain to them what youâre trying to accomplish. They should be patient and understanding as they may need to simply sit there with their dog for a while as your acclimatize to the dogâs presence. It is not a good idea to use a puppy, even if you think theyâre cuter and not as violent. Puppies are not well-trained and can be quite unpredictable. This can cause them to do something unexpected in your presence which may only exacerbate your fear. Eventually, if youâre able to, have your friend teach you basic commands for the dog so you can control the dog yourself. Being in control of the dog may further help you to alleviate your fears once you realize you have the ability to direct their actions.
Start facing your fear of dogs. Start with the first item on your plan and carry it out. Repeatedly carry it out until you feel less anxious and fearful doing it. If the step youâre doing allows you to stay in one place (i.e. Watch dogs though a window), slowly expand the length of time you perform the activity as well. Use the relaxation techniques you practiced to help keep yourself calm. Use your journal to keep track of your progress. Write down each attempt you make and how it went. Rate your level of anxiety and fear before and after each attempt. Remember that your exposure to dogs should be planned, prolonged and repeated. Donât feel you need to rush. Take your time on each step of your plan until you feel comfortable moving onto the next step.
Practice regularly. This part of the recovery process is going to be the hardest youâll have to go through, but the only way itâs going to be successful is if you keep it up. Make a schedule where you practice on a regular basis. If at all possible, practice daily. Reward yourself for the progress you make. If needed, build rewards into your plan so you have an extra goal to work towards for each step.
Should you need any further assistance. Please feel free to contact.