How to Get Over a Fear of Dogs - Banish that Phobia!

Don’t let a dog phobia control what you can and can’t do. Follow these 11 steps for how to get over a fear of dogs and start going where you want and enjoying life to the full!

Welcome to another #DrAlexAnswers, and in today's post I want to talk to you all about how to overcome a fear of dogs. I had a message from one of my email subscribers, Kate, and she wrote:

“I am not at ease with dogs...I felt OK when I owned a dog myself as relating to dogs felt more natural at the time...I got bitten once by a nice dog when feeding him...How is it best to behave with a dog you are slightly scared of?


Dog phobia is really common

This is actually really quite common, affecting up to 9% of the population! A fear of dogs can develop as children, but it can also take effect as an adult. When we experience a bad situation such as being bitten, especially when you considered that dog to be friendly, it’s something that’s perfectly understandable.

Now I'm certainly not a human behavioral expert, but I've got 11 tips and strategies that will help you get over that fear and help you to be more comfortable around dogs. My first six steps are the first thing to work on to try and control the situation a little bit better while you're then working on the 5 other strategies to help overcome that fear.

11 Steps to overcome a fear of dogs

  1. Keep distance + avoid high dog areas to start with

  2. Don’t force interaction

  3. Ask owners to keep their dog away and under control

  4. Learn to read dog body language

  5. Learn how to react to strange dogs

  6. Learn relaxation techniques

  7. Analyse exactly what you are afraid of

  8. Interact with known dogs in controlled environments

  9. Practice regularly

  10. Harness the power of positive thinking

  11. Seek professional help from a therapist

How to behave around dogs

Avoid high dog areas

My first step is, wherever possible, to try and keep your distance from dogs and try to avoid high dog areas. This will set you up for success rather than failure.

I certainly know from a pet behavior point of view, for every bad experience we have, it then becomes harder to get over that experience or that fear. I imagine this will be the same for us trying to overcome a fear of dogs. If we can try and set ourselves up for success and to be comfortable, rather than having a high chance of failure, then we're much more likely to succeed.

Don’t force yourself to interact

Step number two is not to force any interaction. It's easy to think "oh, I'm being silly", "this dog looks friendly, I'm just going to get stuck in". Really don't force it.

Also don't allow anyone in your family, or friends who are close to you to try and force you into a situation where you come into contact with dogs. They might have the friendliest dog. They might think that it's never going to cause any problems and that there's no way you should be scared of it. But don't force their views onto you.

Again, you want to set yourself up for success. So just be clear that you're not comfortable and avoid those situations.

Ask for dogs to be controlled + restrained

Step number three is when you're out, to ask strangers to hold onto their dog, to control their dog. Don't be embarrassed. Explained the situation. Say you're not comfortable around dogs and would they mind please just restraining their dog.

It's something that any responsible dog owner should be more than happy to comply with, and if we're avoiding dogs, if we're avoiding high dog areas in the first place, then it won't be something that you're going to have to ask a lot of people to do. But definitely voice your concerns.

Ask people to control their dogs. It's only polite anyway and it's really the responsibility of all of us as dog owners to control our dogs, to have a really strong recall, to get them to sit, to heal or to have them on a leash in areas where we can’t be certain of this level of control. So don't be embarrassed about asking someone to do this.

Understand dog body language

Step number four is to learn to read dog body language. Put in a little bit of effort to try and learn the signs that dogs can show when they're not very comfortable with the situation and starting to get stressed, as well as when they might be becoming aggressive.

If we can understand more about the signs that our dogs are showing us, then we'll be much more comfortable when it comes to interacting with dogs at a later date. Dogs are really very good at showing us what their feelings are, if only we learn how to interpret what they're telling us. If their eyes are wide, if their ears are erect and pointing forward or flattened against the back of their head, they might be scared. If they're lip smacking, if they're pulling their lips back and kind of smiling, then again that can be a sign that they're stressed and may be a bite risk.

If we learn how to interpret these signs, it can make us more confident when we're interacting with a friendly dog to know that they are friendly, to know that they are relaxed and to know that they're enjoying that interaction. If we know they are relaxe then we can also relax.

React to dogs the right way

Step number five is learning how to react to dogs that you don't know coming up to you. It's easy to panic and try to run away if we're really scared. But that's certainly not what we should be doing. Running away can trigger a dogs chase instinct. Not what you want to happen!

A couple of tips here would be to stand up tall and avoid direct eye contact by keeping your head looking up. Have your arms by your sides and make a fist to keep your fingers away from the dog (not to fight them with!). Also try and stand side on as this will help stop you being knocked over if the dog jumps up at you. Finally don’t run away. The dog will be able to run faster than you anyway. Just slowly withdraw from that situation, slowly walk away.

Relaxation techniques

Step number six to get over your fear of dogs is to learn some relaxation techniques. There are lots of different ones out there and they can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths.

Anything we can do to help calm any initial panic or anxiety will be a big help in any stressful situation. If we calm ourselves down to be able to think in a more level-headed manner and more rationally, we will be able to make better decisions.

So those are some tips for how to act around dogs and how to set ourselves up for success in the early stages. Let's move on to how to actually try and overcome that fear of dogs.

How to get over a fear of dogs

What are you scared of (exactly)

First of all, try and analyze exactly what it is that you're afraid of. Are you scared of all dogs in all situations or is it only big dogs? Is it only small dogs? Is it only a certain breed? Is it only when they're doing certain activities? So in Kate's case, it might be related to feeding and food because of that bad negative experience she had.

Just try and have a little think about exactly what it is that you are afraid of, because that will help you narrow things down to then allow you to develop a much more focused strategy for how to get over that fear.

Control the environment and interaction - take things slowly

Step number eight is to interact with known dogs in controlled environments and going through a process of progressive desensitization. This means we slowly challenge ourselves with progressively more “scary” situations in a very slow, systematic manner. By taking things slowly and nly progressing to the next step when we are comfortable we can end up eliminating our dog phobia.

We want to have a really controlled environment. We want a dog that we we know logically is safe, is friendly, is happy and is really unlikely to bite. We want to take small steps at a time.

If for example we were scared of all dogs, then we might start off by just being in the same room as a dog who is on a very short leash being held and controlled by their owner. Once we get comfortable with being in the same room, and that might be at the other end of the room (or even in the next room) we then want to slowly reduce the distance between you and the dog. At no point are you actually interacting to begin with, you're just getting comfortable having dogs around you, and eventually coming into your personal space.

We want to take really small steps. We don't want to get to a stage where you're really uptight, where you're really frightened because that will only emphasize our fear and perpetuate it. Don't rush it, even if it seems to be taking forever.

Also if you've analyzed what it is you're scared of, if for example, it's a big dog then you might want to start this off with small dogs. Get really comfortable doing things with small dogs and then find a friend who's got a slightly bigger dog and then a bigger dog again. Just to slowly get comfortable with that situation. If it's small dogs that you're scared of then do the reverse. If it's younger, enthusiastic dogs that you're scared of then maybe start off with an older, more placid, more gentle dog.

Practice makes perfect

The next step is to actually practice. So we can't expect to get over a fear of dogs just by reading. Just by thinking. We actually have to practice interacting with them. Once we're going through the desensitization process, we want that to be pretty regular so that we do make progress.

Even once we're happy with dogs, we still need to practice. We need to continue our interaction with dogs because there may be a risk that our behavior will revert back to what it was before and we'll again become scared of dogs if we stop future interactions. So practice makes perfect and tackling your dog phobia is no exception.

Positive thinking

Step number 10 is to harness the power of positive thinking. If your about to interact with a dog and all you're thinking is that “it's going to be scary”, or “I'm really afraid, this is going to be terrible” or “I'm going to get bitten”, then there is no way that you'll ever get over your dog fear.

Instead, if you're thinking, “we're going through a simple step today”, “I was comfortable yesterday”, “It's going to be easy. I'm going to be fine”, “I'm going to get over my fear of dogs”, then you're much more likely to experience these positive sentiments. You're much more likely to be comfortable. You're more likely to get over your fear.

Seek professional help

My final step is, depending on how scared you are, consider professional help. Consider talking to a therapist, consider approaching your doctor.

Severe phobias can be absolutely debilitating. As an adult you might think of them as silly or not important, but they absolutely are. They affect our quality of life. They can restrict the kinds of activities that we're able to do, the way that we live our lives, the lifestyle that we want to have. So consider seeking professional help would be my final step.

I hope these simple steps give you a plan of action and ultimately help you get over your fear of dogs. It will take time, effort and patients but I’m sure you’ll be successful.

Let me know how you get on with getting over your fear. Let me know which step you found most interesting or most helpful and let me know some other strategies that you've found to have helped you become more comfortable around dogs and get over your fear of dogs. I'd really love to hear, just leave me a comment down below.

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