Cynophobia, from the Greek kyon meaning dog, and phobos, meaning fear, is the abnormal fear of dogs. This phobia is classified as a specific phobia, under the subtype “animal phobias”. According to Dr. Timothy O. Rentz of the Laboratory for the Study of Anxiety Disorders at the University of Texas, animal phobias are among the most common specific phobias and 36 percent who seek out treatment report being afraid of cats or dogs. Although snakes and spider are among the more common in animal phobias, cynophobia is particularly debilitating due to the high prevalence of dogs. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders reports only 12 to 30 percent of those that suffer from a specific phobia will seek out treatment.

The most common techniques for the treatment of specific phobias are systematic desensitization and in vivo of exposure therapy.

Systematic desensitization therapy was introduced by Joseph Wolpe in the year 1958 and employs relaxation methods with imagined situations. In a controlled environment, normally the therapist’s office, the patient will be instructed to visualize a threatening situation. After determining the patient’s level of anxiety, the therapist then coaches the patient in breathing exercises and some relaxation techniques to reduce their level of anxiety to normal. The therapy continues until the imagined situation no longer provokes the anxiety.

Exposure therapy is thought to be the most effective treatment for this phobia and involves systematic or prolonged exposure to a dog until the patient is able to experience the situation without a negative response.

Although most commonly done with the aid of a therapist in a professional setting, exposure therapy is also possible as a self-help treatment. First, the patient is encouraged to enlist the aid of an assistant who can help set up the exposure environment, assist in handling the dog during sessions, and demonstrate modeling behaviors. This should also be someone whom the patient deems trustworthy and who has no fear of dogs. Then, the patient compiles a grouping of fear provoking situations based on their rating of each individual session. Next, the assistant helps the patient recreate the least fearful situation in a safe and controlled environment, continuing until the patient has had an opportunity to permit the fear to subside, therefore reinforcing the realization that the fear is unfounded.

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