"Is your dog scared of going outside?
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"Is your dog scared of going outside?

Most dogs are only too keen to get out of the house at every opportunity, and many dogs not only pick up the meaning of the word “walk” and the activity that surrounds getting their lead, but often, sometimes seem to know instinctively just by how you put your newspaper down or how you look at them that they’re going out, and react with great excitement!

However, a few dogs really seem to actively dislike going outside and will avoid it at all costs, which can be due to various health reasons, a dislike of bad weather, or in some cases, a genuine fear of going out full stop.

If your dog falls into the latter category, this is a big problem, as it can make their walks and trips out to the loo stressful and unpleasant for both the dog and the owner, as well as denying the dog many of the social benefits of happy outdoors interactions. So, if your dog is scared of going outside, what can you do about it? Read on to learn more.

What is scaring your dog?

As with any behavioural problem in the dog, resolving the issue comes down to finding out what is causing the problem in the first place. This will vary on a case by case basis, and you may have to spend some time working out your own dog’s triggers or pinch points, particularly if you have not owned your dog for their whole life and so, do not know their full history.

Some of the most common things that can deter a dog from going outside or scare them once they are out include:

  • Feeling threatened by another dog or the sound of barking dogs nearby.
  • Feeling unsafe on the stairs or surfaces that they have to walk over to get out.
  • Hearing sounds that make them feel uncertain, but which may be normal to you.
  • A dislike of inclement weather, particularly things like hail and thunder that can scare even the boldest of dogs.
  • Fear of the unknown, and general anxiety.

Not all dogs that are uncomfortable going outside will have a problem that can be traced back to one obvious root cause, and fear of the outdoors may stem from a lack of exposure to it, inadequate socialisation, poor handling, or prior mistreatment; anything that serves to make your dog feel insecure.

There are a variety of different ways to tackle the problem and restore your dog’s joy of the outdoors again, as well as a range of pitfalls to avoid, which can make the problem worse. We will cover some of those in the final section, but for now, here are some tips for handling the problem.

Desensitise your dog to their fear trigger

Desensitisation therapy involves gradually exposing your dog to the source of their fear over a prolonged period of time, increasing the level of exposure very gradually so that they do not become afraid. This takes time and intensive work to achieve, but the results are permanent and highly effective.

Counterconditioning therapy

Counterconditioning therapy involves working with your dog to change the emotional reaction that exposure to a trigger generates, by turning their negative associations with something into positive ones.

For instance, if your dog associates having their lead put on with something that they don’t like or that scares them, use treats to turn their responses into associating the lead with a reward, until they begin to view it positively. Repeat this process with each stage of the problem that promotes a negative reaction in your dog.

Grab a pal

Assuming that your dog is not afraid of most other dogs, getting a canine friend in to help them can be useful. If your dog has a canine friend that they enjoy being with, invite them over and then get them both ready to go out together.

Not only will the other dog divert your dog’s attention from their fear somewhat, but your dog will also learn from observing the other dog’s responses, and want to know why the other dog is happy and excited to go out, causing them to view the outdoors differently, and possibly, catch the other dog’s enthusiasm!

Pitfalls to avoid

It is all too easy to sabotage your good work with a few simply mistakes, but once you wise up to them, they can be avoided! Both of the following behaviours or reactions from you will serve to reinforce your dog’s fear and set back their progress, undoing all of your good work:

  • Telling your dog off for their fear, or trying to bully them into going out. No dog ever got over a problem by becoming more afraid of their handler than they were of their trigger! Don’t shout at your dog, push them around or otherwise be harsh with them, no matter how much inconvenience they are causing you.
  • Carrying your dog outside might seem like the path of least resistance when it comes to getting them out of the door, but this will do absolutely nothing to resolve your dog’s problem in the long term! Your dog may even begin to associate being carried with the fear trigger in their mind, adding more issues to the existing problem!

Your dog has to learn to be able to face the outdoors on their own, and you need to be able to help them to do this, rather than enabling their fear.

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