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Ask Dr. Jo Your Own Question

Dr. Jo
Dr. Jo, Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 1065
Experience:  Small animal veterinarian since 1994. Special interests include pet birds and canine behavior.
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why is my dog scared to go for a walk

Resolved Question:

why is my dog scared to go for a walk? She used to be ok when out for a walk, although sometimes just stopped and refused to go further, but this week she has refused a walk every evening and tonight when she saw me put my shoes and coat on she ran and jumped in the bath to hide. Nothing has happened whilst out on a walk that would suggest she's scared and I'm getting concerned now as to why she's doing it
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Jo replied 3 years ago.

Dr. Jo :

Hello,

Dr. Jo :

My name isXXXXX and I would be happy to help you with your question. What a frustrating situation for you to have with your dog...I'm so sorry.

Dr. Jo :

My first concern is to be sure that she is doing this because she is afraid, and not because something is wrong physically that makes it so she can't go on.

Dr. Jo :

I bring that up because you say that sometimes in the past she hast just stopped and refused to go further. Was that because she was physically unable to continue?

Dr. Jo :

Or are you quite convinced that it was a voluntary choice on her part?

Dr. Jo :

My best guess is that even though YOU don't see anything that has happened on the walk that would frighten her, in HER mind something has. Something has made her think that bad things happen when she's going for a walk.

Dr. Jo :

Please understand that this is from HER point of view, so it may even be something that you cannot hear or didn't see. Or, maybe it's something that you cannot feel. Perhaps she is developing some kind of joint condition that causes pain.

Dr. Jo :

The botXXXXX XXXXXne is that it may be difficult to figure out what has caused this behavior (if it is indeed a behavior and not the result of a physical ailment), and the appropriate thing to do is to focus on how to fix it.

Dr. Jo :

Whenever training a dog to perform any behavior, you get the best results if you set the dog up as far as it can go with success and stop there and praise your dog. Then slowly add on to the behavior in baby steps.

Dr. Jo :

So right now, since she's hiding when you put on your shoes and coat, you'll have to back up in the routine to a point just before that, go through the motions that far, and praise her for staying calm. Repeat often.

Dr. Jo :

It's equally important to make sure you do NOT positively reinforce the undesired behavior.

Dr. Jo :

Do NOT praise, stroke, pet, soothe or otherwise do things to calm her that she will interpret as praise. This will cause her to become even more anxious because she is getting praised for it.

Customer :

ok i can accpet that something has happened to cause her to be fearful of going out. Se's a rescue dog so I'm unsure of her age etc and what exactly happened before we had her

Dr. Jo :

I should say do NOT praise her when she is showing fear and refusing to go.

Dr. Jo :

Perhaps it triggered a memory of something really traumatic, so now she has taken two steps backwards...

Customer :

but this week it seems to have got particularly bad. Last week we were going to the park and into town etc, mostly with no problems. Even if she did stop a high pitched voice and a treat was enough to get her walking again no problem

Customer :

she was seen by the vet last week for a general checkup and he didn't say anything. Just that she's a little underweight at the moment (she was when we got her)

Customer :

could it be a 2nd fear stage? Something I've read about?

Dr. Jo :

Your description of how "Happy talk" and a treat were sufficient to get her going again let me know that it sounds like she is in good hands. You want to do everything you can to show her that walking is just the best thing ever---that good things happen while you are walking. Keep that up and she will recover.

Customer :

I just despair now that I can't even get her out of the door

Customer :

or near it for that matter

Dr. Jo :

Yes....the 2nd fear stage. It sounds like you are reading good material. She will need time, repetition, security and successful experiences to get over this. In my practice I have seen one dog that I was convinced had bona fide PTSD. It does occur in dogs.

Dr. Jo :

If she is crouching in fear in a room and afraid to go near the door for any reason at all, that may be what is going on.

Customer :

not, she's fine indoors (although unless she needs the toilet she won't go into the garden) and playful and socialable with the family, just cannot get her outside anymore. Even last night she got excited when I mentioned a walk and ran to the door, but when I opened it she bolted into thekitchen

Dr. Jo :

For such a severely affected dog, the best results are obtained with medication as well as daily training exercises.

Customer :

I just can;t understand why it's happened now? She's been walking fine for the last 2.5 weeks. Although we have only had her about 3.5 weeks

Dr. Jo :

That's the key: you haven't had her for very long. Everything in her whole world was shook up when you brought her home. It's only just now getting to be a long enough time for her to develop the problem.

Dr. Jo :

And don't send yourself on a guilt trip. These things don't happen because of something you've done wrong.

Customer :

ok, so maybe she had this problem before and now she's settled in enough to reveal it?

Dr. Jo :

Right----she's been exposed to who knows what and at risk for anxiety issues. The timing is actually perfect for her to break with clinical signs of anxiety after starting to adapt to the new household and routine.Just be aware that the most common mistake people DO make

Dr. Jo :

is to inadvertently praise the fear/anxiety out of a very natural desire to calm and soothe.

Customer :

so the trick isto ignore the unwanted behaviour and reward the wanted?

Dr. Jo :

Yep. Soothing makes it worse. Once she starts to show fear/anxiety responses, ignore her. Tell her BAH! and walk away.

Dr. Jo :

She needs to learn that when she is fearful and anxious, everyone goes away, but that when she is calm, she gets attention. And, over time, she will learn that when she goes outside, really good things consistently happen.

Customer :

ok, that I can do. So do I continue to try and get her out to walk? Or leave it for now? I don't want her to get into the habit of not wlaking?

Dr. Jo :

Go only as far as she can go and succeed, but do it several times a day. Approach the door closed. Approach the open door, etc. And make all of this really, really fun.

Dr. Jo :

If that means she doesn't get walked for a few days, it will be alright.

Customer :

sounds like a plan. I've noticed she's a bright dog and hopefully she'll understand what I'm trying to do

Dr. Jo :

It sounds like she has a bright owner too. I think you will be successful!

Customer :

I think I've got to go right back to shoes/coat etc though (btw, thanks)

Dr. Jo :

You're very welcome! THanks for using Just Answer!

Customer :

Thanks x

Dr. Jo, Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 1065
Experience: Small animal veterinarian since 1994. Special interests include pet birds and canine behavior.
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