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Canine Behavior/Weird walking behavior



My 7 month lab puppy is afraid of cars. He will try to run in-doors if there is a car passing by our house. He also hates parking lots because of the cars. In the past, I was unable to walk him at all because he would just stop and drop to the ground as soon as we hit the sidewalk. For the past 2-3 weeks, I have been able to walk him when he is the company of our neighbor's dogs. We go on long walks to different parts of our surroundings (he is usually skeptical but still does pretty well on the walk), but when I try to walk him by himself, he goes back to his old habits and refuses to go on his walk by dropping to the ground and not moving at all. No amounts of treats or motivation helps. He's over 75 pounds so I cannot pull him either. He will not listen to any command and just wants to pull me back home.

Any advice?

ANSWER: Fear is contagious between dogs but so is 'courage'.  Your puppy is gaining confidence from the adult dogs he is with during multiple dog walking experiences which is a very good sign.  Something about YOU and HIM alone - either a strong conditioned response to something that occurred while you two were out together - or something you did (inadvertently: disciplined, got angry, etc.) has set in his mind/behavior the fight/flight/freeze response (he's freezing).  

What's the difference in YOUR behavior and your feelings when with other persons and their dogs?  What do YOU do differently?

Let's do an experiment.  Have one of your doggy friends stand in an obscure location and observe you and your dog ALONE as you attempt to walk him.  Have this person take actual notes regarding WHEN the pup begins to fail, what you are doing before, during, after, and make every effort to forget you're on "candid camera" (hard, I know).  Then have this same friend observe you shortly thereafter (within ten minutes) walking with other dogs.  Let's see the response perseverance (will your pup retain fear response in such a short time or "bounce back" and join the other dogs), let's see how your friend observes YOUR body language and your behavior.  Tomorrow is Sunday.  See if you can recruit this encounter (observant friend and group dog walkers).

Meanwhile: if you MUST walk the dog (i.e. you have no backyard), when he drops and refuses to move, go to the end of the leash and turn your back.  Just stand there.  Do nothing.  Be certain he can't slip his collar and is not wearing a choker collar or pinch collar.  WAIT. At some point, he will "revive" and will most likely COME to you.  When he does this, praise lavishly (low key), have a "party".  Carry a squeaky toy, take it out of your pocket and squeak it and have fun for ten seconds.  Then go forward.  Every time he plops, you back up and turn your back.  Let's see if his coming "around" and coming toward you gets faster as you repeat this during one walk.  I don't care if you have to stand there for ten minutes.  Eventually, this dog WILL move on his own and it will most likely be toward you.

Do these things, report back using followup feature.

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Thank you so much for taking time out to answer my question. I appreciate your help a lot. I forgot to mention that when he was a puppy, he and I were playing outside and a school bus turned into our street, scaring him. Since then he is afraid of cars/buses and does  not like any places that have cars (parking lots, gas stations etc). Every time a car passes by the house, he runs back into the house tail between his legs.

We tried the experiment you mentioned. He froze during our walks alone, but as soon as his dog friends joined our walk, he was normal and walked with them. My friend mentioned that during my and my dog's walk, initially I was comfortable but my body language was became a little nervous and tense because I knew he was going to freeze and give me a hard time. I was more relaxed and comfortable during the group walk.

I also tried the leash walk trick that you mentioned but it did not work. When me and him went for a walk, he would freeze when a car passed by and then immediately start pulling me back home. He would not stay still even for a minute and kept pulling me back home with all his might, tail between his legs, ears pulled back.

He does fine on the group walks. Do you think eventually he will gain courage to walk alone? Any other advice would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Well, first: you need to chill.  Buy Tic Tacs (mint).  Pop one into your mouth (only ONE calorie per!) continuously to keep the adrenaline on your breath from reaching the dog.  Check your body language as your friend has already confirmed you are inadvertently SIGNALING YOUR DOG and he may very well be responding to that signal, rather than the oncoming vehicle itself.  Keep taking walks with other dogs as often as possible; don't praise your dog when a car passes and he doesn't seem to react because you might be rewarding his "thought" process or the fight/flight response that is truncated by the "protection" of the dog pack he is with (and their total lack of apparent fear from his perspective).

Does he travel well in the car or is he now totally freaked out by that, too?  If he does, take him to a place where there are not going to be any cars: parking lot of large school (out on vacation now), little traveled street, etc. BY car (ONLY if he's comfortable riding in the car or we'll be making it worse).  Teach attention:

Teach this and reinforce this at home where there is no fear response and, once the dog clearly gets it, watch his body language out in the parking lot.  Ask for "attention", heavily reward, get into car, go home.

If he is unable to travel by car (many dogs fear the car), use a different approach on the street alone with him.  SIT ON THE GROUND and refuse to move when he frantically begins his escape routine (pulling).  Use a harness, not a collar (no-pull harnesses are available at most large pet supply stores).  I do NOT recommend a  head collar in this case as it may complicate the issue.  Simply SIT THERE.  Whistle.  Sing a song.  IGNORE THE DOG.  At some point (and this might take quite a while the first few times), he has to stop pulling and start engaging cognition and he SHOULD come to you (especially given your odd behavior: wear a sign, "DOG IN TRAINING" so people will not think you're passing out on the sidewalk LOL).  Stand, ask for "attention", reward ONLY a confident response, go back in the direction he wants to take but ONLY if he no longer goes into fight/flight.  This behavior modification is actually counter conditioning and it may take weeks, or it may take days, or it may not work at all, but it's worth a try.

AND: make the dog "work" to get to his doggie friends.  Start with them half a block away so he MUST go forward to get to them.  Then extent that (slowly) to one block, then two blocks, and your dog should now be so eager to reach his friends that he will slowly (despite himself) lose his fight/flight response, at least in this scenario.

Do these things, report back using followup feature in about a week, let's see how you're doing!

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


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.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, 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.

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

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

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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