By Shameika Rhymes, USA TODAY’s “Pet Guide” magazine
Published 8:00 a.m. ET May 24, 2020
Your dog may be your best friend, but not all of your pals will share your affection for your fur baby. Believe it or not, some people are just afraid of dogs, but there are a few ways to help your animal-wary acquaintances get comfortable around your pets.
The medical term for the fear of dogs is cynophobia. According to Tameka Brewington of Charlotte, N.C.-based Real Talk Counseling, cynophobia is common. Some research suggests that 1 in 20 Americans are afraid of dogs. It’s often a result of a childhood interaction, she says. “Children have overactive imaginations and at times will interpret things in a manner that distorts the interaction,” Brewington says.
That means even the perceived threat of danger from a peaceful animal can be enough to instill fear.
“I was about 9 when a neighborhood kid threatened to let his Rottweiler off the leash for no reason,” says Wilmington, Del., journalist Chris Stevens, 38, who still fears dogs.
Los Angeles resident Tyler Young has been keeping her distance from dogs since she was 5. “I panic when I come into contact with animals that aren’t in cages or on leashes. My heart starts racing, and my mouth gets dry,” says the 31-year-old writer.
While it’s likely difficult for pet parents to understand why anyone would be afraid of their dog, Brewington says an awareness that someone is fearful is the first step to making him or her feel more comfortable. Here are some ways you can help loved ones and visitors calm their anxiety around your pets:
1. When entertaining at home, Gianna Spriggs-MacDonald, who lives with five dogs in Charlotte, N.C., lets her pups play in the yard. She also uses baby gates to separate people and pooches. Khara Schuetzner, owner of The Doggie Spot groomers in Shawnee, Okla., says: “Teach the dog to go to a place such as a mat or (training platform). This creates a safe space in the area that will (benefit) the dog and the guest.”
2. Show your dominance. Your dog’s obedience to commands such as “sit” and “stay” will help cynophobes relax, suggests Schuetzner, also 2020 chair of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Schuetzner says teaching behavior cues will help the dog learn who to approach.
3. Attempt to understand what the issue is. Is your guest anxious alone with your dog, but at ease when you’re around? If possible, accommodate the person, says Brewington. “If a person is willing to work on their fear, meet them with support.”
4. Find out guests’ comfort level before they visit, says Brewington. Don’t wait until they’re at your front door to mention you have a dog. Your pet’s welcoming excitement and close-up curiosity might trigger some fearful friends.
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