How is dog phobia involved in psychotherapy?

Dog phobia, also known as dog phobia, is a specific type of phobia in which the person experiences an overly intense anxiety reaction in front of dogs (or when faced with the image of a real or imagined dog).

To diagnose the phobia, the patient must have some dysfunction, that is, their daily life must be affected. In the case of cynophobia, the dreaded stimulus is a very common animal in our society, being very easy for the patient to find and can in no way be avoided. For this reason, it will be necessary to perform psychotherapeutic intervention.

In this article we will see what phobia in dogs is and what techniques have been shown to be the most effective for treatment.

    What is phobia in dogs?

    Dog phobia, or phobia, is a specific type of phobia. a disproportionate fear of a possible future threat, which generates in the individual who suffers from it the need to avoid this situation (or if he supports it, he does so with great discomfort). Within phobias we have different types. The American Psychological Association (DSM) Diagnostic Manual speaks of three characteristic types: agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobia.

    Thus, specific phobia is defined as a disproportionate and very intense fear of a specific object or situation, which may occur, occur at this time, in the present, or may occur in the future. , doing an anticipation in this case. The response to the anxiety or fear that occurs is immediate and panic attacks can occur, characterized primarily by increased physiological activation.

    Specific phobia is considered the most common anxiety disorder in the general population, even if it is also the one that generates the fewest problems and handicaps, as many times the stimuli that are feared or unlikely to be found or avoided by the subject. In this way, the criterion of altering the functionality of the person’s life, necessary for the diagnosis, is rarely met. The severity of this disorder is usually medium to low. Another criterion that must be met to be classified as a disorder is that the duration is 6 months or more.

    There are many types of specific phobias, as many objects or possible situations in the world. These are classified into four different groups depending on whether the anxiety arises in the face of any animal, in the face of the sight of blood, injections or injuries, in the face of situations or in the face of a natural or environmental environment. . The phobias in each group will tend to start at different ages, being more characteristic in one sex or the other as well.

    As for phobia in animals, also known as zoophobia, which is the category where fear of any type of animal is classified, it usually occurs for the first time in childhood. That is, it appears at an early age and is more common in women, in other words, there are more women with this disease than men.

    This way, phobia in dogs will be defined as disproportionate fear or anxiety in dogs, usually consolidating during childhood, and may be due to a traumatic event experienced by the affected subject with a dog. Also add that there may be variations depending on the cause of the cynophobia, for example, you may be afraid of all dogs in general, regardless of their characteristics, or you may be afraid of specific dogs, depending on their color or their race. .

      How is dog phobia treated in therapy?

      The likelihood of encountering the stimulus that generates this type of phobia, i.e. with a dog, is high in the society we live in. Likewise, it will be difficult to predict when we might encounter one, making it difficult to avoid them. It is for these reasons that if we have a disproportionate fear of dogs, cynophobia, our functionality will be impaired, affecting our daily life and therefore with a high probability we need specific treatment.

      Because all phobia, cynophobia has a genetic predisposition to its development, it means that if parents have an animal phobia, their children will also be more likely to have it. Although this is not the only cause, it will also affect the experiences the subject has had, for example, if they have had a bad experience with a dog or if they have witnessed an unpleasant situation for another. anybody.

      Therefore, given the characteristics of this type of phobia, the fact that the stimulus is specific and it is possible to know the cause, the intervention procedure we will do will be similar to that applied for the treatment of specific phobias in general.

        1. Exposure treatment

        The most effective treatment for most specific phobias is live exposure to the phobic stimulus.. In this particular case, there will be an exposure to the stimulus, because this technique makes it possible to visualize the feared animal in a controlled and safe situation and thus to be able to break the association between the dog and the fear or anxiety that it is. generates. , that is to say, to reverse the classic conditioning that had been generated by the traumatic experience lived by the patient.

        Explained in more detail, the live exhibition is to present, in this case, the stimulus of the dog more or less gradually (following an ascending curve of intensity or difficulty) and maintain their presence so that the subject can cope, and thus make the anxiety and fear that appear in front of the dogs diminish and eventually disappear. Since this type of technique generates a high level of anxiety so that it is not unbearable for the subject and can cope better, it is recommended that during the first sessions of exposure the movement of the dog is limited, in order to make the patient feel a little more secure. . . .

        This procedure can be done in different sessions, although it has also been proposed and good results have been treated with only one session of up to 3 hours. In order to perform this intervention, it is essential that the subject has only a monosymptomatic phobia, that is to say that a stimulus, that the subject is motivated and that having the phobia does not bring benefits. or that its disappearance does not lead to negative consequences. .

        Also, as we have already pointed out, direct exposure to the feared stimulus produces great anxiety and can generate great rejection in the subject. That is why other similar techniques have been tried and also get positive results. These strategies consist of making an exhibition thanks to virtual or augmented reality, which refers to the use of a simulator to create the sensation of the individual in front of a dog.

        Although generating favorable results, better accepted by individuals and allowing better control of the situation, this is not equivalent and does not completely replace live exposure and it is always necessary to end up presenting the stimulus directly.

          2. Psychoeducation

          Although we have said before that live exposure is the most effective treatment for this disorder, other strategies have also been used. In addition to exposure to the stimulus, a psychoeducational phase is also recommended. This consists of give information about the feared stimulus, in this case dogs, in order to be able to correct and modify the erroneous and unrealistic beliefs that the patient has.

          Likewise, it may be beneficial and necessary to teach and train him skills to know how to better treat or handle the animal; for example, what is the best way to approach or touch a dog.

          3. Modeling of participants

          We have also seen that application of participatory modeling technique combined with live exposure can yield positive results, and is recommended when the patient needs to acquire management skills.

          The participatory modeling is characterized by the fact that it is a process where a model, usually the therapist, performs and serves as a guide for the patient to know how to best act in the face of the feared situation. Above all, the introduction of this technique has been beneficial in obtaining better results in interventions performed on children.

          4. Cognitive-behavioral therapy

          With reference to other techniques used and which have also shown some effectiveness are those used in cognitive behavioral therapy, thus introducing strategies such as anxiety management, which can be done for example by relaxing or by using more cognitive techniques such as cognitive restructuring, which involves modifying unrealistic beliefs.

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          Finally, it should be noted that the use of psychotropic drugs is not considered effective in the treatment of specific phobias, only in certain special cases can it be used in addition to the first sessions of exposure, but it will not be never the first treatment option, taking only for a short time, then withdrawing.

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