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Canine Behavior/my dog show anxiety when walking on smooth floors and even on carpeted steps


QUESTION: I have a 19 month old Golden Retriever He has had 3-6 week sessions of obedience training , and has his AKC  CGC title. He always was reluctant to trust new strange objects, but will come close and sniff when asked to, then there is no problem.  About a month or so ago,  he showed a great deal of anxiety on smooth floors not only in our home, but any where (wood, tile) If on a leash in a store he will back away and also lay down showing that he was afraid of the floor.  he walks ok on the same floors in the main part of the store, but you can tell he is not confident. At home he shows this same reluctance on carpeted stairs, although he does go up and down alone but again not with confidence. His eyes have been checked by a eye specialist, and there is no problem. If he is on a floor with throw rugs separated by 1 or 2 feet of wood flooring, he will hesitate then actually launch himself over the wood floor.  We are currently enrolled in a dog therapy handling class held on a large wood floor. On leash he is following his commands, but I can see he is concerned about the floor and tends to loose focus. There are no medical reasons,  he plays like made with his sister inside and out. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER: Stop the classes immediately.  He can always obtain certification in Dog Therapy.

Please answer these questions and use followup feature so I can see your original question:

1.  Did this fear exhibit during, or after, his "obedience" training;
2.  During his CGC trial, were there shiny or wood floors involved; when did he undergo this trial (I have had several dogs with CGC, being tied and left behind can cause all sorts of superstitious behavior)
3.  I see you have had his eyes checked: no juvenile cataracts...nothing at all??  Was this a veterinary ophthalmologist or a general veterinarian?  If there is PRA or slow loss of sight, a specialist would need to examine him.
4.  Can you remember the FIRST TIME he exhibited this fear of anxiety on smooth floors?  Can you remember a slip, fall, that may have injured his joints (dogs to do not demonstrate pain)?  Has he been evaluated for hip dysplasia or other joint related problems?  If one slip caused hip pain or joint pain, that would be sufficient to make the dog fearful of anything that occurred in the moment of his pain
5.  Please explain, in detail, WHAT YOU DO when he shows this fearful behavior, at home, at "work" (in training), or in public?  Tell me exactly what you do.

Launching himself over a wood floor, if he has joint pain, is actually making the situation far worse.  Your dog WILL SUFFER EXTINCTION for his "commands" if forced to "work" in an environment where he is fearful.  He is also, in such an environment, at high risk of developing superstitious behavior which will result in his doing "something entirely different" from what you intended, while following a command.

DO NOT take him anywhere he is forced to walk onto a surface that is causing him anxiety; you are eroding his trust in you and it is making this situation worse than it needs to be.

Please answer the questions.  Since he "plays like mad with his sister inside and out" I have an idea of how to USE his "sister" to end this problem, but I need more info.  Also, since this is now generalizing to carpeted stairs, and climbing stairs requires the use of hips and other joints known to be a problem in his breed type, what do YOU DO when he hesitates to climb the stairs?  This might very well be an orthopedic issue; if not, it is a rapidly progressing generalization from shiny floors to all surfaces in the home.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you Dr.Conner

1.  The fear was before the training, primarily in our house, training was on a floor covered in rubber matting.

2.  no the floor was rubber,  he was left with a "stranger" while I left the room, and was held by a leash.  He was very comfortable for the 3 minutes required.

3.A veterinary Ophthalmologist examined him and absolutely no eye problems

4. the first time was in our laundry/ mud room with tile floors,  his feet would slip and he would not walk so we put down some rugs,  he would "launch over the tile to the rugs.  I realize goldens can be very stoic with showing pain,  but he runs, jumps, and plays very hard and shows no favoring of any joints.

5.At home when he encounters a 1 or 2 foot expanse of wood floor between carpets, I call him to me and he will jump over. in stores where there is large amounts of tile flooring, he will walk along with me on a leash, but he's worried.  When I turn down a side isle,  he sometimes will lay down showing fear. I then turn him around and leave the store, not making a big deal, for he is stressed by then. In the house  on stairs he will approach then sit at the stair (even just two steps,if they are tiled) He will not come if called, and sometimes cries.  If I come close to him and point my finger on the first stair he will readily come down and I give him a big YES and GOOD BOY hug. On carpeted flights of stairs he will go up and down alone but shows caution. However on stairs on the outside he has absolutely no problem. I noticed that he has no problem slipping and sliding outside on ice.  Today he came into our basement storage room
which has a 5 foot long carpet then becomes concrete, and he showed reluctance to step off the rug.  he did come a few feet after I called him, but was not happy.  Makes me wonder if seeing a difference in  flooring is making him anxious.  I'm at a loss.  I am not taking him to any stores with non carpeted floors right now.  He is in a therapy handling class where there is a large wood floor,  he does walk with e and follow commands, but if I do a sit and recall, he does not run to me, but walks looking concerned.  This is where his test will be in about 3 months.  His sister who is 3 years showed fear at a lot of different things around his age, but we would entice her with treats at any object bothering her and now she has outgrown most all of those fears.

I have made this suggestion and it is absolutely important:  NO CLASSES ON WOOD FLOORS OR FLOORS WITH CERAMIC TILES.  NO CLASSES AT ALL WHERE THE DOG HAS LOST HIS RECALL.  I don't care if he WILL walk with you, he is in a high state of fight/flight/freeze and you are LOSING COMMANDS with this dog.

BTW...never did one CGC trial where a "stranger" held the leash; dogs were always tied out of sight of me.  When a stranger holds the leash, you are essentially handing the dog over into a stressful situation; approaching a "strange" dog and taking the leash from the owner's hand is one small part of temperament testing a dog for a no-kill rescue facility.  It is also strongly contraindicated in any dog with behavioral issues (especially aggression).  That's an odd CGC evaluative test imo.

This dog CANNOT GO ANYWHERE where floor surfaces frighten him.  At home, I suggest you buy rubber backed rugs (or independent floor covers that stick to the floor, cheap at Walmart.)  Do NOT use any commands, especially recall, to coerce this dog forward.  

Try this for the next few days:  you know the places in your home where the dog is extremely fearful of walking on the floor(s).  You have another dog that is not; put THAT dog in a sit/stay and then recall HER to you across the slippery slope.  As she crosses, have a little party (this will enhance her recall too).  Your fearful Golden will SEE how his sister/friend progresses easily and without FEAR on the slippery slopes.  Do this in various places, sporadically, repeating five times daily spaced over an entire day.  At some point, the fearful dog SHOULD COME FORWARD when you call the other dog.  NOW you have to *jackpot* when he gets to you: handful of string cheese, hot dog bits, (and of course reward smaller bit for bidable dog).  This is an exercise to see if we can get the fearful dog to PERCEIVE the courage of the other dog, her lack of fear, and propel him to do the same.  Do not cajole, coerce, or in any way attempt to force/lead the fearful dog.  After your other dog has performed well (and she should), reward (after small party), get up AND WALK AWAY.  The fearful dog is most likely getting cues from you (body language) that you are anxious, worried, and it's making him worry even more (these are subtle cues you can't help).  Five days of doing this five times a day equals 25 "trials"; I would be very surprised if your fearful dog chooses NOT to follow his sister/friend eventually, especially since he does not want YOU to walk away and ignore him.  Report back in five days.  I do not accept private questions, I have made this answer public.

As for stairs, same scenario.  Tiled stairs are a true challenge and should be avoided, if possible; fear of carpeted stairs is "generalizing"...he's becoming fearful of anything that reminds him of that which he already fears.  Put your other dog on leash, go up the stairs with her, reward, ask for sit, go down the stairs.  Be sure your male is observing.  Do this five times in a row, just once; let's see if, by the fifth trial, he doesn't bound up those stairs happily: reward ONLY if his body language is CONFIDENT.  Report back using followup feature.  I have no 'eyes on' here, this is a safe experimental approach.

PS:  there is a spray available for "show" dogs, for their paws to prevent slippage in the ring.  See if you can find some online.

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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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