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Canine Behavior/Rescue Dog has fear of coming in the house



We recently adopted a Mexican street dog.  She is 4 yrs old, and was found emaciated, covered in mange and pregnant.  She had her litter and was brought to the US via a rescue organization.  She is wonderful, sweet, but fairly traumatized by (I assume)the brutal treatment she received from humans which unfortunately is common in Mexico towards street dogs.  

We have only had her a week, and she is making great strides in coming out of her shell.  She is bonding to my husband and I, and getting along very well with our other two dogs.  I have worked with abused dogs before (one of the two we have had that history), and I am making big improvements in most areas.  The one I cannot figure out is we have them in a fenced yard during the day, and we let them in and out via a door that is in the garage that opens out to the fenced yard. So, we have to run them out through the garage to go outside and 'go potty'.  She is fine going out, but gets very freaked out and fearful coming back in.  She flat out will not, and barks at me and acts very freaked out.  I can only coax her in with a leash and treats, but she cowers.  I've heard of dogs being afraid of doors or doorways, but hers is only when she comes back inside.... she is fine going outside.  

She is fearful of new things in general, new places, new people, etc.  We expected that given she was a street dog for 3-4 years. We have been working on slowly exposing her to new things and building her confidence, which seems to be slowly working.  I know all this takes time and patience, and I don't expect an overnight fix by any means.  But the going in and out of the house is really a challenge, because we take them outside to 'go potty' multiple times a day, and it is always a bug struggle.  We try to coax her in with high value/super yummy treats, but it doesn't work unless we have her on a leash a give a gentle tug until she comes in.  She will come with a little light tugging... nothing dramatic...  but not on her own no matter how good the treat. I was hoping to associate a positive reinforcement with the treat, so coming in would slowly become fun.  

I read your article on door fears and tried the technique you described multiple times coaxing her without the leash, using a really decadent yummy treat as a lure, and waited for over a half hour sitting in the garage.  She just went to sleep by the door!! LOL  Given the number of times we have to take them out, it just isn't practical to wait that long each time, especially since it doesn't seem to work in her case.  We both work, and can't invest that amount of time each and every time we take them outside, multiple times a day.  Any advice?

You CANNOT use food to reward any behavior you think she is offering freely; a street dog has starved, she will eat anything, and it is rewarding her fear.

The presence of your other, confident dogs WILL eventually help HER to learn (by following their example) that going out (and especially coming back in) is rewarding.  This will take weeks, perhaps longer.  You say she DOES come in after a "gentle tug"; this is plenty good enough if you do the following:

Call the OTHER dogs in FIRST, have a "party", laugh and sing a song, get your other dogs all happy and excited to be inside with you; I assume they are not leashed.  During this happy fest, using a long training leash, turn your back to HER as she hesitates at the door.  No matter how long it takes, WAIT for her to walk in toward you.  If she does not, close the garage door, count to ten, with your back turned open the door, continue with your "party".  She should begin to understand and it should begin to work as counter conditioning (combination of the two things I suggested).  Once she does freely step through the door without any "partying", you have now accomplished an enormous leap in counter conditioning and she should be receiving a very high value treat every time for a few days, every other time for a few days, every third time for a few days, every time for a day, every FOURTH time for a few days; once in a while, give her a "jackpot" just to maintain the newly acquired behavior and set it in permanent memory.

Congratulations for being a superlative Human.  You saved a life!  You've had her ONLY ONE WEEK and have already made tremendous strides!  It takes a domesticated adult dog MONTHS to habituate to a new home environment!  Ty the above for one week, report back.  God bless!

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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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