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Canine Behavior/5 month puppy afraid of outdoors

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Question
Hello,

My 5 month lab puppy is terrified of the outdoors. He only likes to go to his potty spot and come back. We live in a townhouse neighborhood near a busy street. He will not go out through our front door, which faces a street. Through the back door, he only goes to his potty spot. If we try to take him further away, he freezes and drops to the ground refusing to move. He also runs back into the house as soon as a bus/loud car passes by on the nearby street.

A little background, he was not afraid a few months ago but once he was playing outside and a school bus turned into our street which startled him. Since then, he is very afraid.

Also, he panics when we go somewhere and he has to get out of the car at a parking lot. His tail goes between his legs and he tries to pull us to 'safety'.

We have tried luring him with treats, encouragement, other dogs but nothing works. Please help us.

Thank you so much for your time.

- Toniya

Answer
All right this dog has a "soft" temperament (most likely inherited and perhaps he was the smallest in his litter) and has a very low threshold for stimuli.  Luring him with food won't work since most dogs will not "bait" (accept food) when under extreme stress.  "He freezes and drops to the ground..." is "slug puppy" behavior seen in many dogs who were not properly socialized during the crucial period or not socialized at all and, in this case, is also part of the strongly conditioned fight/flight/freeze response he obtained from the school bus (in his case, he "freezes").

Does he "panic" if a "parking lot" is NOT involved?  The obvious thing to do here is to get out of the car in a location other than a visual parking lot and have a partner or friend park the car, and have a small "party" for a minute each time you do this so the dog will slowly begin to associate disembarking from the car (into a "safe" place) with reward and your happiness.  Vets have parking lots.  This dog might very well have made that connection: parking lot followed by fearful experience, it's called "chaining".

Your dog would benefit from a "growl class" conducted by a heavily credentialed positive reinforcement trainer.  In such a class, reluctance to move forward, fearful reactions, etc. are addressed slowly and over time, teaching the dog new associations.  If you continue to attempt to lead him from his "potty spot" in order to extinguish his fear, he will soon avoid the "potty spot" and then you will have another problem.  The best response is to encourage a complex behavior for high level reward in a fearful dog.  This is done by very, very slowly guiding a dog through a "ladder", whether real or imaginary (to you).  Complex movement such as navigating a ladder, walking in circles or figure eights, etc., engage cognition and disconnect the dog from the fight/flight mechanism (which has no thought, only reaction).  This dog might not be available for such work since he is so fearful.

I would look for a growl class but it might be quite difficult to find such a sophisticated venue.  Your next best option is to find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who can come to your home, evaluate your dog, interview you, accompany you outdoors and see for him/her self what's going on.  You'd be amazed how "easily" this sort of fear response can be extinguished once it is fully understood.  To find such a professional, consult the following sites or call the veterinary school in your geographical area and ask for referral:
http://www.animalbehavior.org/ABSAppliedBehavior/caab-directory
http://certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com/page6.html

Meanwhile: DO NOT REACT.  When the dog flattens or tries to go back indoors from his "potty spot", turn your back and wait.  Pay no attention.  No matter how long it takes for his fight/flight response to self extinguish (and it may take quite a while the first few times), do and say nothing.  At some point, the dog WILL stop reacting and will look TO YOU for the next thing "to do".  When he comes freely around and tries to engage you, have a ten second "party", ask for "sit", praise and bring him indoors.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.

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I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.

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30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for ThePetChannel.com for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, K9Shrinks@egroups.com. Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

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Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

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Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

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Ph.D., UC Berkeley

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Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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