Help! My Dog is Scared of Going Outside!

Dogs love (and need) walks, right? That’s like… the central tenet of dog ownership.

But what if your dog is scared of going outside? What do you do?

In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re helping out an owner who wrote in saying,

“[Our shiba inu] is too scared of going outside (we are in a city). Refuses to go and when outside acts frantically pulling a lot. We tried going out enthusiastic and to guide the walk with no avail. We tried treats and she ignores them completely. It is getting worse and worse.”

This poor pup! And her poor owners! They’re really trying the best they can with treats and enthusiasm, but their young (5.5 month old) dog is just not having it.

In their intake form, these owners also mentioned that their puppy came from a breeder in the countryside and they’ve had her for about a month.

In most cases where the dog is newly scared of going outside, the dog has experienced a change in her life – moving to the city, losing a treasured companion, getting caught in a hailstorm.

How To Help a Dog Who’s Scared of Walks

If your dog is scared of going outside, stop forcing her to go on walks (for now).

It’s like that old joke – you go into the doctor, and say, “Doc, when I do this, it hurts.”

The doctor says, “Well, stop doing that. That’ll be $300.”

In some cases where the dog is scared of going outside, you can go out for a quick potty break, then come back inside right away.

But if your dog is too scared to even go potty outside, you’ll need to set up a litterbox for now. Get a special dog litterbox, not one for a cat. Make sure it’s big enough (and for male dogs, has something to pee onto).

I know, I know. I wouldn’t be excited about that, either. But we can’t really expect this to get better if we keep forcing your dog into a panic multiple times per day, every day. If she was going to “just get over it,” she’d already have done so.

Read this article about litter training your dog here.

We need to get some of those stress hormones out of your dog – a little emotional detox, if you will.

It also is probably time to visit the vet and ask about medication.

My general rule of thumb is if the dog is really struggling to deal with “normal doggie stuff,” it’s time to ask a vet for help. Your dog shouldn’t be petrified of going outside. That’s not normal.

Medication should help make your dog just calm enough that you can get some training in (so the enthusiastic cheering and treats can take hold). It shouldn’t knock your precious pup out or turn her comatose. It should just mitigate the fear/phobia/panic.

Now it’s time to teach your pup that outdoors isn’t so bad.

Once your dog isn’t being regularly panicked by daily walks, it’s time to start working on building confidence.

You can start this indoors:

Now that your pup has some basic confidence built up again, it’s time to face her fears – slowly and steadily.

Start the training just before your dog showed signs of fear before. That might mean when you pick up the leash, when you open the door, or when you step onto the street. I’ll start with the leash, just to show more steps.

A few tips before we start:

  1. Don’t do more than one step (at 10 trials) per training session.
  2. Leave at least 1 hour between sessions. This is slow, steady, boring work. I know.
  3. Reduce meal size as needed to keep your dog from gaining weight.
  4. I suggest using boiled white chicken breast, but any treat your dog likes will do.

Teaching Your Dog Not to Be Scared of the Outdoors:

  1. Pick up the leash. If your pup looks at you, toss a treat behind her. Wait for her to look at you again, and toss a treat behind her again. Do a total of 10 times.
  2. Leash your dog, and give her a treat. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Walk towards the door, give a treat, back up. Repeat 10 times. For extra-fearful dogs, each step towards the door must be repeated. For other dogs, you might be able to cross the whole living room as a single trial. Your dog should look relaxed.
  4. Open the door, wait for your pup to look up at you, and give a treat by dropping it on the ground (so she looks away). Close the door. Pause 30 seconds, then open the door and start over. Repeat 10 times.
  5. Step through the door, wait for your pup to look at you, and drop a treat on the ground. Step back inside, wait 30 seconds, and step out again to repeat 10 times.
    1. Note: if you live in an apartment, add similar steps for the hallway, the elevator/stairs, the foyer, etc.
  6. Step through the door and drop a treat when your pup looks at you. Then take another step and repeat. So on, slooooowly moving down the sidewalk. Don’t go more than 3-4 steps from your door, and if at any point your puppy pulls back towards the house, go back inside.
  7. Once your pup is able to be outside, eating treats and looking up at you happily, for at least 30 seconds, just settle in to watch the world go by. Every time something happens that pricks your pup’s ears, makes her whiskers flare, or makes her pupils dilate, give her a tasty bit of chicken.

For a long time, you might only be able to go a few steps, reward your dog for noticing the mailman or a trash bag, and then hurry back inside. That’s ok!

Consider incorporating fun stuff into your time absorbing the outdoors: relaxation protocols, hand targets, and name recognition can all come in handy here.

If you’re getting stuck at any point, reach out to a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.

If there aren’t any in your area, I can help you via a video training session. In fact, video training is particularly useful for this problem because the trainer isn’t there as an additional Big Scary Thing for your dog to deal with.

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