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Brentwood centre helping children beat their drastic fear of dogs

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: July 30, 2012

  • HELPING HAND: Children, parents, dogs and dog handlers at the Essex Dog Training Centre

  • CANINE COMPANION: Twins Rebecca and Olivia Sargent brush Emily the dog. Beside them is volunteer Nicole Crockford

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"WE HAVE had children literally wet or mess themselves," Roy Dyer says as young students crouch calmly beside what was once their biggest fear.

"We had a boy who had to black out the car windows because he found dogs physically repulsive. When we asked the kids to draw dogs, he drew them with a knife through it."

Welcome to the terrifying and unimaginable world of cynophobia – the morbid fear of dogs – which can leave children physically shaken by even the distant sight of man's best friend.

In total there have been around 200 children who have conquered their persistent and often irrational fear at Brentwood-based Essex Dogs Training Centre, which is the only venue in Europe to offer a child's cynophobia course and has developed a growing reputation.

Now, having just been given the stamp of approval and high praise from leading psychiatrists who have visited the centre, Mr Dyer, who has no formal therapy training, wants to help launch a national scheme to reach terrified people even further afield.

The centre's founder and chief instructor, Mr Dyer, whose course has just attracted attention from the world of television and entertainment, said: "We have had children passing out when they look at a picture of a dog.

"People don't realise how deep it can get. Kids have been run over because they have run out into the road when they saw a dog 100 yards away.

"We even had a small girl whose fear of dogs was so great that it manifested itself in anything furry including touching cuddly toys or hair from a hair brush."

What is perhaps most surprising then is that the children do not pay a penny for the cynophobia course, with the emphasis instead on curing the children of their fear with the help of a dedicated team of volunteer handlers and specially trained cynophobia pooches, who have to pass strict criteria to qualify for the job.

This philosophy, Mr Dyer hopes, will be replicated if a national project can be launched, without other trainers trying to make a quick buck at the expense of children.

His vision has also been spurred on by the recent visit of three experts from the medical world, from both the NHS and private sector, who have given their seal of approval to the project.

Mr Dyer said: "It had been an absolute privilege to help so many children over the years.

"I am delighted with the experts' findings. I've never claimed to cure, but with a great team of volunteer dog handlers we are able to successfully help a child with cynophobia.

"Unfortunately most people think the answer to this problem is just introduce a dog into the equation but it is far from that simple. In fact doing just that can cause many more problems for a child."

He added: "I am now looking to compile a manual and training program that will help others learn my methods. However, I am somewhat concerned that it might be used as a money-making project, rather than a genuine reason of wanting to help children overcome their fear.

"We have also been contacted by two television companies with a view of a documentary about the classes. However, I would only consider this if it was beneficial in helping children and not just for the entertainment value."

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