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I've read that dogs can pick up new fears at certain times, but I've never experienced it for myself until this last week. My brown Newfoundland Ozzy turns 6 months old tomorrow. I've taken him through the puppy obedience courses at Petsmart, and he did really well. He loves the instructor. Actually, he loves pretty much everyone, but she's a favorite. We recently started the intermediate classes, and Ozzy continues to excel, but when we were leaving he suddenly laid down and refused to move. I knelt down and hugged on him to see what was wrong. He seemed happy enough until I got him up and started walking again. Then he tucked his tail, something I've never seen him do, and his back legs looked shaky. Concerned that he might have hurt one of his back legs, I carried him to my car. Let me tell you, carrying a 95-lb dog about 100 yards isn't my idea of a fun time. When we arrived at home he was running around just like normal. I chalked it up to a need to pee or something.

I wasn't feeling well over the weekend, and the next class is on Wed night, so I drove Ozzy out to Petsmart to do some more training before class. I train at home and the park as well, but I like to get time in where the class is held, and Ozzy loves the people and dogs there. Problem was, after entering about 5 feet into the store, he laid down and wouldn't move. I was at a loss, and we were in the way, so instead of stressing him out I picked up him and carried him around to the side. Then he was completely fine. He did his drills happily, got loads of praise and treats, and all was well. That is, until we stepped off of the concrete area to the white tile area, where what I finally realized were fear symptoms came back in force. I'm not usually this dense, but Ozzy has been to Petsmart dozens of times, loves everyone there, and he's never been afraid of anything. It must be a Newfie thing, but new dogs, strange people, squealing kids, speeding cars... no big deal to Ozzy. I tried using a treat to lure him back to walking, but he wouldn't take it. That's when I knew it was serious. When Ozzy gets stressed, he doesn't bark or lunge and freak out like most dogs. He just becomes unresponsive to most everything but hugs, which always cheer him up. I managed to coax him to walk out of the store using a mix of hugs and encouragement, for which I was truly grateful. I really don't like carrying him very far. Also, my belief is that if your dog is afraid of seriously stressed, comforting them is a good thing. It is not a good thing, however, to coddle every little stressful situation, or you'll end up with a neurotic dog.

So, my situation is that I have a dog that never showed the slightest fear of going into Petsmart before, but now suddenly doesn't like the entryway flooring. I am always the one that takes him to Petsmart. Here are the facts as I know them now:

  • No bad experiences have occurred at Petsmart.
  • Ozzy has never suffered a slip or fall on this surface.
  • This behavior is very recent - first noticed 6 days ago.
  • Ozzy is typically not afraid or startled by anything.
  • At 6 months, Ozzy has just entered into his second fear period.
I'd love to hear any and all recommendations for working through this with my little bear of a puppy. Ozzy is usually very happy to enter Petsmart, as all the workers there know him and make a big deal of him. We attend weekly classes at Petsmart, but if this is going to cause undue stress, I'll have to withdraw. I'd much rather work through this with him, but I'm not entirely certain what to do. When he gets upset, even his high-value treats are of no interest to him, so luring is out. Hugs work pretty well to bolster him up, so when he lays down and refuses to move this is a way to go, but once he stands up it starts all over again. I want him to be happy while walking around and training like before. I do not want training to become 'work' to him that has to be suffered through. My philosophy of training is that it should be one of the most fun and happy times of a dog's life.
 

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I wouldn't coddle your pup, or even hug him when he has one of these frozen fear episodes - it will just reinforce it. Cheerfully tell him to come along. I'd take some irresistable treats along (tiny bits of hot dog, boiled chicken or cheese) and entice him to walk on his own (I know, easier said than done, I'm sure!). You may have to give a treat with every step taken at first (hence the tiny pieces of meat). I'd also expose him to his fear often, not just on the day he has a class. Are there any other places you can take him that has the same surface, such as Tractor Supply, another pet store, etc.?
 

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So, is he afraid of all tile flooring or just that entryway?

It's a common misconception that affection can reinforce fear. You can't reinforce fear, because fear is an emotion and not a behavior, but "hugging" (dogs don't exactly get hugging, the closest thing to hugging in the dog world is mounting) and affection certainly isn't going to do much to teach the dog to overcome whatever fear it is.

I think it sounds like a fear stage, but you definitely need to ramp up desensitization efforts. I feel like unusual reactions to flooring is a somewhat common problem. Maybe your trainer can help out, otherwise WTF good is a trainer for if they just work on bogus tricks. You say nothing bad happened, but that's through your perception. Could it be that from the dog's perception, the "big deal" that the workers make when he enters is actually an aversive experience for your dog?
 

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The finding that "affection [doesn't] reinforce fear" is a recent recommendation from a few years back. You can still read books and magazine article that warn you. However, as qingcong said, don't worry about affection... fear is a different mechanism. In any case, you have some good suggestions.

Here's another: You are probably right about the fear cycle and he may grow out of it... in a few months. He probably doesn't like the slippery floor... so you might consider getting him some rubber booties that don't slip. NO recommendation of where or how much... Maybe some used baby booties from the thrift store?
 
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