Are you exceptionally uncomfortable around dogs, no matter how friendly they seem? You may have cynophobia.

Dogs have long held the title of man’s best friend. Millions of people share their homes with dogs, and some canines have celebrity-level social media followings.

Despite how closely we live with dogs, not everyone is keen on canine companions.

It’s perfectly fine if you’re not a dog person — but if the sight of a dog causes you to freeze in fear, something more may be going on.

Cynophobia (SIGN-oh-foh-bee-uh) is the academic name for an intense, persistent fear of dogs.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), it’s a condition belonging to a subclass of anxiety disorders known as specific phobias, with an animal specifier.

Approximately 8.7% of adults in the United States live with a specific phobia. Of those specific phobias, a fear of animals and a fear of heights are among the most common, 2018 research suggests.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational, intense, and often impairing level of fear or anxiety related to a specific trigger.

You can experience a phobia of almost anything. For you, it may be related to dogs. For other people, phobias may involve inanimate objects or situations.

What you experience when you’re overcome by the fear of dogs can be very specific to you and the underlying causes of your phobia.

In general, specific phobias can cause several types of symptoms:

  • behavioral, such as:
    • avoidance
    • a need to escape
  • physical, including:
    • nausea
    • tension
    • sweating
    • rapid breathing
    • increased heart rate
  • cognitive, such as:
    • a fixation on or preoccupation about a dog
    • worse-case scenario thoughts

Examples of cynophobia beliefs and behaviors

  • You think, “That dog will bite me if I get too close.”
  • You think, “There’s no way that owner can control that dog around me.”
  • You take the long way home to avoid a dog on a front porch.
  • You feel sick to your stomach or start sweating at the thought of having to be near a dog.

It’s natural to have a fear of dogs if you’ve been through a traumatic experience, like a dog attack. This fear isn’t necessarily a phobia, though, unless it starts to influence and impair your daily life.

You can also experience phobia-level fear of dogs without an obvious traumatic experience.

As far back as 1992, researchers explored the possible origins of cynophobia in one of the few studies specifically evaluating the fear of dogs. What they found was that the frequency of dog attacks did not play a large role in predicting the development of this condition.

Instead, a lack of exposure to dogs, accompanied by warnings about them during childhood, was frequently associated with dog phobia symptoms.

In adults, fear of dogs often came along with a fear of many other things.

Contributing factors

Often, there’s no singular cause of a specific phobia. Other factors that may contribute to a fear of dogs can involve:

  • biological processes
  • genetics
  • life experiences
  • psychological conditioning
  • underlying mental health disorders
  • historical racial trauma with dogs

In a 2014 article for the social justice e-magazine “Pacific Standard,” a sociologist and a clinical psychologist explore cynophobia in the Black community, based off their research conducted prior to their article interview.

This fear came about due to dogs being used to capture and maul slaves and later attack Blacks during Civil Rights peaceful protests and marches.

According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of cynophobia involves any combination of the following:

  • having significant fear, anxiety, or avoidance that has been persistent for 6 months or more
  • feeling immediate anxiety or fear whenever a dog is involved (or even mentioned, for some people)
  • going to great lengths to avoid dogs
  • enduring intense anxiety or fear around dogs if you can’t avoid them
  • experiencing anxiety or fear disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the dog
  • having symptoms that result in significant distress or functional impairment
  • having no other mental health disorder that could explain symptoms

If your phobia of dogs fits the DSM-5 criteria, a mental health professional may come to a diagnosis of cynophobia.

Dogs are basically everywhere humans are — even in some retail outlets. Living with a fear of dogs can impact your interactions with family, friends, and even how you pass by strangers on the street.

Is cynophobia curable?

The phobia of dogs is treatable. Some people who were afraid of dogs as children even find that their fear of dogs fades over time.

Treatment for dog phobia

Overcoming the fear of dogs often involves the guidance of a mental health professional.

Treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms, as well as any factors that may have influenced your feelings about canines.

You may benefit from:

There’s no one-size-fits-all cure for dog phobia. Your mental health care team will work with you to address underlying causes and create a treatment plan that works for you.

Intense, irrational fear of dogs is known as cynophobia.

A mental health professional can diagnose this condition as a subclass of anxiety disorder, and it often presents with debilitating feelings of fear and anxiety directed toward dogs.

You don’t have to be attacked by a dog to experience cynophobia. Genetics, exposure to dogs, and psychological influences can all play a role in this phobia.

Cynophobia doesn’t have to influence you forever.

Through a treatment approach tailored to your individual needs, you can begin to address your fear of dogs while learning new ways to prevent those feelings from governing your life.