Do You Love Someone who is Afraid of Dogs? - Scarsdale Moms

By Stefani M. Cohen, LCSW

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, parenting counselor, mom, grandma and dog lover I’ve been helping people of all ages face their fear of dogs for over 20 years. The fear of dogs, aka cynohobia, affects up to 20% of all people. My own daughter, at the age of 4, became so afraid of dogs that she refused to go on playdates or family outings because she might see a dog.

Through exposure therapy, I provide in person sessions and am assisted by therapy dog teams. In this way we provide children with safe, supervised and positive experiences so that they learn to feel safe and in control around dogs.

Exposure therapy starts with more benign and less threatening exercises that help an individual confront their fears in a manageable way. The goal is to gradually build the person’s confidence so they can handle more frequent and longer exposures to the situation that generates their fear. People who face their fear of dogs feel relieved, proud of themselves and can live a fuller life.

When the fear is not addressed it can significantly impact the child’s social and emotional development and may also increase family stress. If you’re afraid of spiders or heights, you can still live a relatively normal life. However, it is virtually impossible to avoid dogs if you want to leave your house.

Children who are afraid of dogs will try and avoid them at all costs. Sometimes these kids even put themselves at risk by running into traffic to avoid encountering a dog on a sidewalk or in a park. It can be difficult for parents to see their kids in distress around dogs so they often inadvertently reinforce this fear by allowing the avoidance.

We are afraid of things we don’t understand, so it’s important to help kids learn how dogs behave and communicate. I call this “dog lessons.” As parents, we teach kids how to look both ways before crossing the street, to “stop, drop and roll” in a fire and not to touch the stove.

However, most parents don’t teach their children about dogs and how to know when it’s safe to approach and greet a dog and when it’s best to stay away. We need to teach kids to respect dogs and to educate them about dog body language signals that say “I’m uncomfortable” or “I need space.” In this way children can avoid an unpleasant interaction with a dog, or worse, a dog bite.

If you love someone who is afraid of dogs the best time to address the fear is as soon as you can. Help is available.



Stefani is the author of, Overcoming Your Child’s Fear of Dogs: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents.

Get in Touch: Stefani is available for a complementary 15 minute phone call to get you started.

Stefani provides in person exposure sessions and “dog lessons” and can be reached at [email protected] and

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