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The fear of dogs is a natural emotion, because dogs are potentially dangerous. The abnormal fear of dogs, i.e., a specific phobia related to dogs, is called cynophobia.

Natural fear

Traditionally dogs are hunters, guardians and warriors, rather than pets, therefore a certain amount of healthy fear is reasonable, and dogs, especially unfamiliar ones, must be approached with precaution.[1]

It is not advised to come close to unfamiliar dogs, even if they are small and tied. A large tied dog may reach farther than you may expect, while a small one may feel threatened and cornered (being tied, it cannot escape) and hence can bite in defense. Small children must be absolutely forbidden to approach to unfamiliar dogs (even small ones) without most immediate supervision. Small children may rush to a dog and try to grab it (especially having experience with a home pet), and thus trigger a defensive reaction from a dog.

One must be aware of kinds of behavior a dog may perceive as threatening: direct eye contact, touching it over its head, approaching it too quickly, taking from a dog something valuable to it, e.g., a bone or a dog's toy, standing over a dog. Signs of dog's agitation include growling, raised hackles, shown teeth, erect or slightly vibrating (as opposed to wagging side to side) tail.

One must not run away from a dog accidentally because this will trigger the predatory response and most likely a chase will follow. It is advised to stand still, not making eye contact, and turn slowly away.


Main article: cynophobia

A 1992 study of cynophobia among children and adults [2] reported that actually experiencing dog attacks does contribute to cynophobia. On the other hand, early harmless exposure to dogs seems to hamper conditioning that can lead to fear of dogs. Small children are more susceptible to acquiring this fear. Pediatrical psychologists explain that gradual exposure to dogs may help to prevent the development of cynophobia.

Treatment for cynophobia is similar to treatment for other specific phobias.


  1. Scary Dog Situations
  2. Doogan S, Thomas G. V. "Origins of fear of dogs in adults and children: the role of conditioning processes and prior familiarity with dogs.", Behav. Res. Ther. 1992 Jul;30(4):387-94. PMID 1616473
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