FunNature & AnimalWhy am I afraid of dogs?

Why am I afraid of dogs?

What is the phobia or fear of dogs called? The fear of dogs is known as cynophobia . Cynophobia occurs when a person, adult or child, experiences anxiety symptoms that make them want to get out of the situation or become paralyzed in the presence of a dog .

Classical conditioning and associative learning

Classical conditioning occurs when the body’s involuntary response occurs in the presence of a stimulus. For example, feeling afraid in the presence of a dog. 

An association can then be produced in our brain between the sensation of fear and the presence of the dog. This is known as associative learning .

Associative learning is responsible for our fear again of the next dogs that appear.

Therefore, the fear response to dogs is generalized. Even just imagining a dog can produce a fear response in our body.

Transmission of information and vicarious learning

It can be learned through observing the behavior of other individuals and their experiences. Social culture is an important source of learning.

  • There are a greater number of children with fear of dogs than adults who suffer from cynophobia . 
  • Adults who are afraid of dogs today were afraid of dogs when they were children.
  • Fearful children say they have been conditioned by adult warnings about dogs. 
  • Children with a fear of dogs are able to recognize their curiosity towards dogs that seem friendly to them.
  • Adults with a fear of dogs have additional fears that have nothing to do with dogs. 
  • A high percentage of children who are afraid of dogs outgrow it as adults, while another percentage maintains it.

This is the question researchers are trying to answer. 

It seems that in the case of fear of dogs, associative learning by classical conditioning would not be the main cause, as occurs in most phobias .

In the case of cynophobia, learning by transmission and vicariousness occupies an important part of its development. In this regard, it is not surprising that the amount of news on TV about attacks by dogs of certain breeds, classified as potentially dangerous (PPP) , have generated a worse public image and greater fear of this type of dog.

But in addition, behind the phobia of dogs, there are more factors that have yet to be determined. In the case of adults, there could be certain personality factors, finding that, in general, adults with cynophobia have other additional fears.

It has been proven that early contact with dogs in a calm way and without the appearance of situations that could condition a phobia, prevents fear of dogs in children. In other words, good experiences with dogs when we are little are important.

Many children are afraid of dogs, precisely because of the lack of knowledge of the species .

  • Knowing the species: the lack of knowledge of canine language makes children and adults unable to differentiate between when a dog comes with a play intention and when it is an attack.
  • Respect the language of the dog: knowing how you should interact with a dog, as well as respecting the signs of discomfort or tension that it may show, will avoid major scares.
  • Good experiences: having fun with a dog and experiencing emotions other than fear in his presence are the best medicine. Look for dogs that go with your personality and learn to play and share time with them. 
  • Don’t be in a hurry: no one overcomes fear overnight. Be patient.
  • Work with a professional: asking for help from a professional to guide you is always the best decision you can make to overcome your fears.


Doogan, S. et al. 1992. Origins of fear of dogs in adults and children: The role of conditioning processes and prior familiarity with dogs. Behavior research and therapy , 30(4), 387-394.

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