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Why are people afraid of dogs?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

We are made to believe or feel that we should all love dogs. However, cynophobia, or the fear of dogs, is one of the most challenging phobias a person can have. That isn’t to belittle other phobias, but to have a fear of “man’s best friend” often makes a sufferer the recipient of some rather critical questions. While it is not as prevalent in the population as a fear of snakes or spiders, it affects around 7-9% of us and is a very real phobia. But why is it that people can be afraid of dogs?

Like many things in life, there isn’t an easy, clear cut answer to why individuals can develop cynophobia. There are, however, three main schools of thought when it comes to the reasons why someone may develop a fear of dogs. Based on research put forward by Dr S. Rachman in 1977, the modern interpretation into the development of fear falls into personal, observed or informed experiences. But what does that actually mean?

1. Personal Experience -

Often noted to happen at a young age, a negative interaction with a dog can see the beginning of a fear of the four-legged creatures. Be it a bite, being knocked as they go by, or an all out attack, these experiences can leave us shaken and influence our feelings towards them. Then, there is the overwhelming experience of being jumped on and licked, normally by a particularly enthusiastic dog. Probably meant with the best of intentions, it can be too much and that lack of control in the situation is hard to manage. In essence, the more profound the experience is, the higher the likelihood that it will lay, reinforce or deepen the foundations of a lasting phobia.

2. Observed Experience -

Seeing an event take place to someone else is a common reason for the fear of dogs to manifest itself. It could be similar events mentioned earlier, but when it happens to others, in particular a close friend or member of family, it can be sufficiently traumatic to inspire a lasting fear of dogs. The ‘victim’ may have a neutral reaction to the event, but this doesn’t serve to eliminate the individual's feelings towards what has taken place, nor influence the development of cynophobia.

3. Informed Experience -

Unlike the others, contact with a dog is not required for this, simply reading or hearing about a negative event involving dogs can initiate cynophobia. Regardless of how remote or distant from the actual experience with a dog someone is, reading a newspaper article, hearing a story from friends or family, or watching an unnerving segment on television or a film will lay a pathway to fear. More specifically, learned cynophobia can arise from the common misconceptions about specific breeds of dog, such as the Pit Bull and Rottweiler, and can create an atmosphere in which a fear of dogs can thrive.

While these may point someone in the direction of their own root cause for their phobia of dogs, there are no easy answers to why one person develops it and another does not. Life experiences are incredibly subjective, so the fear may arise from one event, or due to a combination of circumstances, which will also influence how strongly someone can feel that fear. 


Want to know a bit more about the fear of dogs? A previous article talks about Living with cynophobia for a more closer look at what living with cynophobia can be like.


Ultimately, the fear of dogs is one which can be explored for those who are cynophobic, to find the root cause for the phobia and, in time, overcome some or all aspects of it. The important thing for us all to consider is how we are supporting those people who feel this fear and it’s crippling effects. Just because some people adore dogs, doesn’t mean everyone can.


Is this ringing any bells? Do you think you might just be afraid of dogs? Why not try this free online cynophobia test from oVRcome? You will receive a free customised report, with some actionable tips for your severity level. It could be the perfect start to overcoming your phobia!

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