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(Last updated 3/27/01)

DOGGONE GOOD: POOCH HELPS CANINE PHOBES CONQUER THEIR FEARS

COLUMBUS - Lying at his trainer's feet, the docile golden retriever certainly doesn't conjure up the image of a vicious dog looking to chomp on the next unsuspecting leg.

But simply seeing the resting dog, named Ches, could drive someone with a fear of dogs into a fit of panic.

Ches is part of a new program offered by Ohio State's Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic, intended to help adults and children who fear dogs get over their phobia.

"A person who wants to get over his dog phobia eventually needs to be exposed to a real dog," said Brad Schmidt, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State and director of the clinic.


"People with dog phobias typically develop their fear because they either saw somebody get bitten by a dog, or were bitten themselves."

People with dog phobias typically develop their fear because they either saw somebody get bitten by a dog or were bitten themselves, Schmidt said. A smaller portion of dog phobics developed their fears just because they know that dogs sometimes do bite.

Ches lives with Jay Ashmore, a graduate student in psychology. Ashmore and Ches work with patients to help them overcome their fears.

When Ches is "on command," he's at work, following Ashmore's instructions to lie, stay, sit, walk, run, or even wag his tail - whatever is necessary to help the patient become accustomed to the pooch. But Ches also gets the chance to be a real dog.

When Jay utters "release," Ches turns into a normal, spunky 2-year-old golden retriever, playfully checking out a visitor in Schmidt's office, pushing his nose into her hands.

Schmidt and Ashmore call Ches an 'exposure stimulus' - a patient is exposed to his fear through Ches, who, at Ashmore's command, interacts with the patient to help him overcome his phobia.

Treatment sessions generally last about two months, or eight to 10 sessions, Schmidt said.

Dog phobia is called a "specific phobia" -- specific phobias are the most common anxiety conditions. And anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder, Schmidt said.

"Roughly 8 percent of men and 14 percent of women suffer from specific phobias," Schmidt said. "A phobia can be very debilitating. A person may not be able to leave her house. Often, adults learn to cope with their fears, but still suffer. But phobias are very treatable conditions."

To contact the anxiety and stress disorders clinic, or for more information on the dog phobia program, please call 614-292-2345 or visit the clinic's website at
http://anxiety.psy.ohio-state.edu

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Contact: Brad Schmidt, (614) 292-2687; Schmidt.283@osu.edu
Jay Ashmore, (614) 449-1273; Ashmore.2@osu.edu
Written by Holly Wagner, (614) 292-8310; Wagner.235@osu.edu