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Canine Behavior/Fear of outdoors


Hi! I have rescued a German/Australian Shepherd mix one year old. She is terrified to go outside.  She will go out into the yard with me and my other dog who is Alpha but if I were to run inside to get something, she is clawing at the door to get in.   If I walk her on the lead with my other dog, she walks ok until another person or vehicle goes by and then she will begin to shake and try to back out of her collar and harness (I use both on her because of this).  If I try to walk her alone, she puts on the brakes and shakes all over.  She also will shake and growl/bark if a stranger comes in the house while backing away from them. My other dog will accept them on command, but my rescue won't; she will lay down but continue to shake and growl.  She has been on Prozac for a month as well as an over the counter calming product with l-theanine in it (vet approved it's use with prozac). She rides fine in the car and since I have had her 5 weeks, she has become comfortable in the home.  The surrender paperwork said she had lived outside since being weaned and was surrendered because she chased their goose.  I have researched fearful behavior in dogs and see how to desensitze dog from fear of people, hats, canes, umbrellas, coats, etc. But the outdoors is not included. I hope you have some suggestions. Thanks for considering and for all you do for the animals.

Your dog is obviously fear aggressive (growls/barks if a stranger comes in the house).  You cannot expect her to behave as does your other dog who has been well habituated to your household and lifestyle.  The "surrender paperwork" does not state the obvious (to me): she was tethered on short lead; she may have been starved or subjected to abuse by passing strangers.  PEOPLE LIE.  Trust me, they did not surrender this dog because she was chasing a goose, it's so ridiculous a story to me that I would laugh if I didn't want to find those people and use a baseball bat on them.  You, a woman with a bit heart, have been spared the things I've seen in my career!

Your dog dog is not "alpha", that is a fallacy:

BOTH the GSD and Australian Shepherd have an enormous problem with inherited fear, so you have a difficult hybrid.  Think about the original intention for both breeds: herd guarding, herding, control, standing ground, thinking independently and cooperating with handler after proper training.  Your year old adolescent (if she truly is the hybrid you describe and only DNA would tell you) is showing the absolute worst of both breeds and that is ENVIRONMENTAL, caused by her last "home".  She is not habituated to living indoors; she is highly mistrustful of "strangers" under any circumstances; she will gain some degree of confidence from your other dog but your other dog is not her teacher or her "alpha": you are.

You CANNOT DESENSITIZE ANY DOG any more than you can a Human.  What you CAN do is counter-condition the dog (and Human, and any other animal) calmly, patiently, little by little over time.  

PROZAC is NOT AT ALL what she should be taking; in Humans, Prozac has been known to INCREASE ANXIETY AND AGGRESSION.  Many years ago my veterinary associate and I decided never to use SSRIs on dogs for any reason (at the time, Cornell had just begun trials of Prozac with dogs).  The dog cannot TELL YOU if her anxiety is heightened, her fear is becoming greater, her aggression is developing further.  THIS IS THE WRONG DRUG.  I suggest you wean this dog off this drug very slowly (she's been on it for a month, it is most likely systemic at this point, cut the dose in half every day for three days, then give half a dose every other day for three days, then totally remove the drug.)

What you need here is eyes on by a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist because it would take you and I many pages of back and forth communication for me to even begin to be able to direct you.  I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING FROM HERE.  I suggest you call the Veterinary teaching college in your geographical area and ask for two things:  a Veterinary Behaviorist (who will know what drugs are appropriate and I would start with a beta blocker to truncate the flow of adrenaline) and a CAAB.  They should at least be able to point you to a Veterinary behaviorist who should be able to point you to a CAAB (NOT A DOG TRAINER).  You can also see the following links:

A CAAB will be able to temperament test your dog vis-a-vis her fearful behavior that is probably a combination of genetics and environment and then put you on a regimen of positive reinforcement training and counter conditioning.  A Veterinary Behaviorist will be able to prescribe appropriate medication and will require follow up visits.

What you DO NOT WANT TO DO is anything that elicits a fear response: avoid going out with her off leash and leaving her outdoors to chase you back in; avoid taking her out alone (without your other dog) for the time being UNLESS your other dog shows ANY SIGN OF FEAR BEHAVIOR (fear can be contagious).  Avoid doing or saying anything negative; no word of correction, the word "NO" disappears, no coercion, no attempt to calm her or convince her everything is ok by petting her or giving her attention when she is fearful.  This won't fix a thing but it will stop things from getting worse.

Do your best to find both professionals I suggested; then use FOLLOWUP feature, please; that is found at the bottom of the answer you receive in the link in email.  Save the original email so you can go back to this answer and scroll to the bottom and choose: Ask Followup Question.  Over the next week, maintain your calm; wean her off the Prozac and whatever else you're giving her.  Begin using positive reinforcement to teach her how to please you, doing it slowly, beginning indoors.  See the following:

Remember: the dog is extremely fearful and has a required defense response to restraint and being "cornered" (and that means: in your home, unable to get away from "strangers").  A fearful dog will do one of three things:  freeze; flee; fight.  You do not want it to go to "fight" and this hybrid might very well get there.

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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

Past/Present Clients
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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