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Dog is scared of going outside

1095 Views 3 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  Gally
I've read some of the threads out there on dogs that are fearful of going on walks and going outside in general. I've been having similar behavior with my 3 year old cairn terrier and I wanted to get feedback on what specifically may be causing this.

My wife and I moved a year ago from a quiet gated condo complex to a relatively more urban area. A few months after we moved she started getting increasingly fearful and unwilling to go on walks - she would resist going away from our building until she realized we were serious about walking her at which point she would pull ahead and try to get around the block as quickly as possible so she could get back home. I always attributed this to her being scared of busses/cars/construction workers/etc that were new to her. As a resuly we would try to drive her to quiter areas or to dog parks when we could and would walk her around our neighborhood the rest of the time to ensure she still was getting exercise. This wasn't ideal, but it was acceptable. She has always been somewhat timid and very aware of her surroundings so I am sure that moving to a much busier area has been overwhelming for her.

Lately however she has been getting scared (shaking/hiding) when we try to take her out just to go to the bathroom (she knows the difference between walks and potty when we tell her). In the mornings she is been particularly bad with the shaking and has started having accidents in our elevator/lobby. When I do get her out she often will continually try to pull us back in until she finally does #2. My condo building has a large grass area right outside the door so she doesn't have to venture far away to do her business and up until recently she has been fine with the whole setup.

The accidents and being scared to even go outside is the most troubling to me. Another factor is that my wife started a new job last fall and now we have been leaving her at home during the day whereas before one of us would come home during lunch to take her out and play with her for a little bit. We decided at the time that it was ok to do this as she never showed signs of separation anxiety or discomfort in having to wait to go potty on the times we had left her alone for longer periods of time.

What I'm trying to figure out is if this largely a response to the change in her surroundings, moving to a city, or if it is due to our change in schedule, or if there is something else I haven't thought of. Sorry for the long-winded post but every dog is unique so I wanted to give the most detail possible about her situation.

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Her current behavior is most likely a culmination of negative events and changes in her life. It sounds like what may have started as a general nervousness in new surroundings has evolved into a full blown phobia.

It's unlikely that she is scared of outside or going for walks, it's usually something very specific that dogs are afraid of. For example, my dog is afraid of the noise basketballs make when they are bounced on concrete. He is also afraid of the noise of fireworks. He went through a phase much like your dog is now. It took a lot of time and patience to counter condition him to his fears but he will happily go for walks now. I thought for a time that he was afraid of generally going outside but through observation I discovered his fears are much more specific.

If you're interested I can tell you what we did to start counter conditioning and give you some helpful links/books to read.
Thanks for the response. Yes I would be interested in hearing what you did to help your dog. I agree there's something about the environment here that's triggering these responses. Hopefully I can do something to fix it short of moving again...
Bear with me here... I did a lot of research when Gally started going through his fear phase and came up with a lot of answers, some that were very helpful and some that weren't so much. We tried a lot of different things so if I forget something I'll add it in later.

Here is what we did that gave us good results:

Short term:
1. Get her to the vet and have her thyroid levels checked. Unbalanced thyroid levels can increase fear and anxiety. A general health checkup is good too just in case.

2. It sounds like she is predicting going out and becoming stressed and anxious before you even go out the door.
Try to make going out to potty not a big deal and as stress free as possible. Put the leash on at various times of the day and walk around your house with your dog. Treat her when she's being calm. Then take the leash off and go back to what you were doing before. Put your shoes on and walk around like you're getting ready to go out, put the leash on, treat her, then take it off. Take your shoes off. After she is reacting calmly to these exercises then get the leash, put it on, treat her and then walk out your apartment door (to the common hallway) and walk around with her in the hall, treat her, come back inside and take the leash off. If you live above the ground floor, practice going up an down the elevator, into the lobby, treating and coming back upstairs.
If she gets becomes fearful and stressed at anytime then stop the exercise and try again later with more treats.

3. Don't take her for a walk if she is afraid. Just take her out for a quick potty and try to make it as positive as you can. Use treats or a game with a toy to make it fun.

Long term:
1. It's really important that you figure out what your dog is specifically afraid of so that you can avoid that stimulus temporarily while you counter condition.

2. The first step is so important because you need to make sure your not putting your dog in a situation where they are going to go over their fear threshold (common fear behaviors include shaking, panting, running away etc.). Every time a dog has another negative experience with their fear stimulus there is a good chance the fear will increase, this is why fears can build up slowly over time from a nervousness around an object or noise to become a phobia. Obviously this is hard when you need to take the dog to go out to go pee but if she wants to go back in afterwards let her, don't force her to go for a walk if she doesn't want to.

3. Next is the prestep to counter conditioning, it teaches the dog how to relax so that they are relaxed before you start counter conditioning.
Protocol for relaxation: http://dogscouts.org/Protocol_for_relaxation.htmlThis really helped Gally learn to relax and helped build his confidence. Gally's response to fear is to run away and I think these exercises helped reduce this instinct and taught him that unusual noises and activities around him were nothing to be alarmed about and actually lead to positive things happening to him.

4. After your dog has mastered the basic protocol laid out in that link you can start to cater it to their specific fears. There are CDs you can buy that play noises that dogs are typically afraid of at increasing degrees of intensity that you can use to start desensitizing and counter conditioning in a controlled environment. These are the CD's we used: http://throughadogsear.com/canine-noise-phobia-series/ I'm sure you could also find noise clips online that would work as well. The important thing is to go slow and not put your dog over their fear threshold. You may need to start with the sounds playing on a machine in another room, on the lowest volume possible for your dog to stay below threshold while they play. Remember to continue the treat rewards from the relaxation protocol, the treats will counter condition the dog to their fear by creating a positive association that will eventually override the fear association.
If your dog is afraid of an object rather than a noise you can bring the object into the home and allow the dog to explore it at their own pace, placing treats on and around it can be very helpful. Any exploration of the object should be rewarded, but if the dog becomes overwhelmed then remove the object immediately. Gally has his own basketball that we used to help him get used to the object and sound it makes.

5. Counter conditioning in the real world. It's important to make facing their fears their own choice and to never force them. Dogs generally have a distance threshold to their fears so when you are going for a walk it's important to keep them at a distance where they feel comfortable and not force them to go closer to their trigger. Playing the look at that game can be very helpful for dogs that are afraid of specific objects. I found this technique in the book Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt but the basics are laid out here: http://clickerleash.wordpress.com/2...itive-approach-to-dealing-with-reactive-dogs/ You can start practicing this game in the home before taking it to the street. Anytime your dog is calm around their stimulus you want to reward that behavior.

6. Continued progress. Doing training, trying new things together and keeping a routine can help nervous and fearful dogs become more confident. We just finished a basic agility class with Gally where we learned to do all kinds of new things together. His confidence grew so much in just a few months as he was able to succeed at new and difficult challenges. Any training you can do together will help build her confidence in herself. I highly recommend clicker training if you haven't already done it with her. Kikopup has a great free video series: http://www.youtube.com/user/kikopup?feature=results_main

General tips:
-Listen to your dog. It's important to acknowledge when they are afraid and help them cope with the situation, usually by moving away from their fear stimulus.
-Restraining a dog so they can't move away from their stimulus is potentially damaging and could turn a mild fear into a phobia
-Use the highest value of treats you can find for counter conditioning. You are trying to overwrite a very powerful and natural response so you need to take out the big guns.
-It's okay to treat a dog who is showing mild fear symptoms (if they are over threshold the probably wont accept a treat). A treat can turn a negative stimulus into a positive one in the dogs mind.
-There are various products that can help temporarily reduce stress and fear while you work on counter conditioning. They can help keep her under threshold if you find she is going over very easily. Any of the digestible products should be discussed with a vet before taking. Rescue remedy is popular and for shorter duration things that can be predicted like thunderstorms or fireworks melatonin has been proven to be helpful for some dogs. The Thundershirt is really helpful for some dogs as it applies gentle pressure to the nervous system which has a calming effect without medication.
-Counter conditioning can be a long process and it's important to form a plan for continuing progress in the long term. If you're feeling overwhelmed it can be helpful to contact a behaviorist to help you form a training plan. http://www.animalbehavior.org/ABSAppliedBehavior/caab-directory

Other reading material:
The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell (http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?id=dtb586)
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