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.

how to help a dog who is scared of walks | journeydogtraining.com

Comments 40

  1. I have a shiba too – and he suddenly doesn’t like the backyard and will only go on walks! Addl advice appreciated!!

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  2. Wow – this is literally my pomsky Georgia… it is wild – the only thing that makes me feel better is knowing that there was another pup like this. Similar age too, 6 months old, grew up with Breeder in the countryside and will only pop outside to potty (I literally have to carry her 🙁 )

    1. Same here with my Beagle and I’m first time dog owner. Got him when he was 6 months old and grew up with Breeder in country side. a busy dynamic bay area is extremely scary for him. Always get the puppy when it is 7-8 weeks old else adopt an adult dog. or ensure the puppy is not from a country side. Vet won’t help with medications and advised to keep socializing him. Currently, making him spend more time on canine enrichment games. I have also noticed he is more relaxed when offleash. So, I started taking him to the dog park to spend time socializing with other dog and their human parents. Also, started giving him Purina Calming care and this is the first week. It takes atleast 6 weeks to see differences and if that not works then will try CBD oil.

  3. My puppy is 11 weeks he is a cane corso and will only go outside in the front and back yard when I try to walk him past our house he refuses and wants to run back home

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  4. Thank you! So helping this works with my sweet dog. She’s always been a nervous one, and bathroom/outside has always been a rough spot for her. Admittedly, I know I didn’t help much at first, but it is what it is.
    She improved and then of course, we just moved so starting over from square one.
    She’s just started on Prozac, and trying to teach it’s okay to pee indoors. She’s not food motivated at all, so giving all the love and attention I can instead of treats.
    That and patience

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  5. Hi – we have a blind border collie – born blind due to double merle bad breeding – she has always been scared of load sudden noises and a couple of weeks ago a bird scarer went off whilst we were walking. Now I can barely get her harness on and she refuses to leave the house – she’s 9 years old. I have tried treats etc, but her blindness doesn’t help with the training!

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      Aw, poor thing. Give her time and keep at it – and let me know if you need more help. I’m not sure if I can fix this for you through just the comment section 🙁

  6. Hi
    we Just rescued a Russell terrier, He is okay when he is in home.
    But she is afraid to go for walk or either just staying in yard.
    Can you give me some advise.
    I’m not pushing her, gave her a treat this morning just went 50 feet.

  7. I have a bloodhound up until this week she was never scared of being outside unless there was noise like a motorcycle going by. Now she’s afraid of being outside every night because of the fireworks. Even if there are no fire works going off, she associates being outside at night to loud noises like fireworks and motorcycles. She has got to the point now where she will refuse to go outside and just pee in the house. But as soon as the sun comes up she’s perfectly fine and wants nothing more than to be outside. How can we get her to be less afraid of being outside at night time?

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  8. Hi! We just adopted a 2 year old pit mix from the shelter. He’s terrified of loud noises i.e garbage trucks and fireworks. We’ve had him at home for about a month and a half now and he was on a schedule with us but a few nights ago people started setting off fireworks and now we can’t even get him out of the door after dark. Does anyone have any tips on how they help their dogs with the loud noises at night?

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  9. I have a black lab and he was attacked by another dog so now I can’t get him out of the yard. He will be excited to go for a walk and will walk out the front door but he won’t leave the yard. Every time he hears a noice he pulls me to the front door. How can I help him relax enough to go for a walk?

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  10. How can I do this training for a dog who is not food motivated? I have trouble to get her interested in treats in general. So if she’s nervous she wants nothing to do with them. How can I teach this without the use of treats?

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  11. I have a 2 y/o rescue and I can’t get her to go outside to use the bathroom. I have done everything I can to help her. I have had her since 4mos nothing works. She is so afraid of outside she will literally cry and shake. She did well this summer for about two days then stopped. Getting to be too much really prefer she go potty outside

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  12. Thank you so much for outlining this detailed, step by step plan. Our 7mth old pup ‘screams’ and whines with nervousness. We have been trying treats but he won’t take them once he’s over threshold. Unfortunately, his threshold is the front door. We live in an apartment and rules state that we must carry our dog through the building. Getting past many people and in the elevator, are difficult but I will try going step by step, with the repetitions like you suggest. Thank you!!

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  13. I live in Canada and just got my 8 month old rescue pup from Mexico on Sunday. She is really nervous about going outside (shaking and going into a sit a lot outside). She can go, but she is only peeing once a day and pooing once a day. I did order one of those artificial grass systems to help her with the peeing issue (and it is arriving tomorrow). I also got her booties and I am slowly training her to accept them (right now just putting her paw in, treat, and removing it) but I am not sure if this is normal part of a nervous rescue dog adjusting to a completely new climate, city, and sounds and I should keep encouraging her to go outside a little bit or if I should back off and try to just get her to use the grass system.

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      1. According to the rescue she was a pretty typical pup. She was rambunctious, friendly, and used to climb fences to greet people on the other side. They did not notice any issues. She has gotten a little better since I wrote that post, up to two times a day, but she refuses to use the inside pad and if it snows, all bets are off. She was bitten by a tick while in Mexico and is now on antibiotics to recover from a disease she got, but I checked with a vet and they said physically, everything was fine and they do not think her meds are impacting her ability to go. They believe she is still adjusting to being up here and needs more time (and suggested one of those calming collars to try and help).

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          I would guess that being taken from Mexico to Canada has been a huge shock for her – I suspect that helping her through the transition as slowly and kindly as you can will help a lot!

  14. My spouse and I just rescued a beautiful, 2 year old pittie mix (female) just 3 days ago. She was found by vets as a stray and was neglected and potentially abused by a former owner; as well as evidence that she recently gave birth to a litter of puppies. We live in an interior apartment building on the third floor. Our new girl is very slowly warming up to us, but she is absolutely terrified of going outside, let along the long hallway and elevator of our building. Obviously, potty training is a HUGE priority, but with my spouse and I being ‘outdoor people’ we want to establish that outside is not only necessary for potty but safe and fun for our pup as well as establish an early and not fall into undesirable habits. We would absolutely appreciate your help and advice!

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      Hi Marcus, what have you tried so far based on the article? I’d urge you not to push it too hard too fast – you’re more likely to cause damage by scaring her if you move too fast.

  15. We just rescued a 2 year old shihtzu that was abandoned after overbreeding her. Today is day 1 and she’s already adjusting well and playing with out other dog. But everything changes when I grab her leash. She suddenly cowers in the corner and looks for an escape

  16. Hi! I am dog sitting my family pup for one month, he is a 1 year old King Charles Cavalier. He is a suburbs dog + a covid puppy and he is staying with me in NYC, so as you can imagine he is terrified of everything!! He has been here for 2 days and won’t poop or pee outside on the street, only in the apartment. I took him to the park to try on grass but he wouldn’t go. He isn’t interested in treats either when he is outside, just yanks himself back toward our building. I want him to be comfortable and acclimated here, but I am worried to get him TOO acclimated to city life as it a temporary stay and I don’t want to ruin any prior training from my family for when he returns to the suburbs! Any advice?? Thanks!

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      Hi Dina – I don’t think it’s possible to get him TOO acclimated, so go ahead and do whatever you can based on this article to help him out! Situational medications may also be wise, talk to your vet.

  17. Hi Kayla,
    I’ve had my sweet, but timid, husky mix for 6 years and she’s been completely house-trained the entire time. She had an upset stomach a week ago and left a mess next to our front door when we woke up the next morning. (We didn’t discipline her when we found it). But ever since, she refuses to go outside and will hide and shake and show her teeth if you even try to get her off her dog bed. She’s even gone 24 hours without leaving her dog bed or “safe space”. Treats, toys, praises, snuggles, nothing seems to work. Do you have any suggestions?

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      Hi Beth – that’s realy interesting and probably quite distressing for all of you. Is it possible that she’s still feeling unwell? A sudden behavior change like that in relation to sickness is a big red flag to me!

  18. What great information and an amazing resource. Thank you for writing this! I am a behaviorist that works with children. I just adopted a dog that is fearful of outside. I knew I needed to desensitize and reinforce him, but wasn’t sure exactly how to apply the strategies with him. Having this plan outlined like this will be so helpful. I can’t wait to try it with him starting tomorrow.

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  19. Hello Kayla,

    About two weeks ago we adopted a 5 years old Beagle mix from a shelter. She is an amazing and sweet dog, but going outside and doing her business while on walks is a challenge. She is afraid of people, noises, going outside, and walking through the door. While on walks she freezes, pulls towards home and she curls her tail under her belly. It’s really hard for her to go outside. We live in an apartment, so we don’t have a back yard. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. Great article!

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      Hi Paul, congrats on your new family member! I would try to simply carry her to a quiet spot, the same spot every day, and make that as safe and cozy of an experience as possible for her. Only start to expand her world when she’s comfortable in that one spot (perhaps a side strip of grass near your apartment?). It may also be worth talking to your vet about medications to help her feel comfortable and confident in the “real world.” She’s in good hands, keep it up!

  20. I have a 2 year old golden retriever. I adopted her from a family that had her in an apartment and could no longer keep her. She loves the backyard! But as soon as we get past the garage door in the front to go on a walk she freezes. The weird thing is, she’s been on a walk with me before and was totally fine! She saw a school bus the other day and I think that freaked her out because she hasn’t gone out since.

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