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Canine Behavior/Dog suddenly spooked


QUESTION: Hi! I have a pit bull terrier mix and she's about a year old. We've had her for several months and she's grown to be very attached and accepting of our family. We adopted her from the local Humane Society.
She never has had any issues adjusting to our home and our rules.
Sunday is when I really noticed her issues. I had a friend over (she has been over to the house multiple times before and Jazzy has had no issues with her). My husband left for work at 10:30 Sunday night and my friend left at 11:30.
The way our house is set up is that I have a front living room, then my kitchen directly behind it and my back living room to the right of it. My laundry room is on the opposite side of my kitchen from my back living room.
We have a sectional with a chaise lounge in my back living room. She was laying on it when everyone left and I'll remind you, she walked around the house all day that day until this point.
I called her to bed and she froze at the edge of my kitchen. I had to pull her past the kitchen, into the front living room so that she would walk to the bedroom. Her issues are with walking in my kitchen.
Monday, she wouldn't eat or drink anything because she would have to walk into the kitchen to get to my laundry room. That night I walked her around the kitchen to show her nothing was there... with treats to encourage her when she became frightened. This helped her some.
Today, Tuesday, she will walk into the kitchen but won't go behind my island or behind my dining room table. She will walk into the laundry room to either go outside through the back door (which WAS also an issue) or to get a few bites of food and bring it to the front living room to eat it.
She will not pass through the kitchen beyond my table to get to the couch in my back living room.
Her sudden fear seems associated with the far sides of my table, the back side of my island, and staying too long in my utility room.
She had a pretty laid back day Sunday so I know nothing happened out of the ordinary.
Could it have anything to do with a dream she had on Sunday? Or is she seeing things that aren't there?
The only household change we have is a pet parrot but he's in the front living room where she insists on staying to avoid walking through the kitchen, so I really don't think he's an issue.

ANSWER: OK your dog suddenly demonstrates an abnormal reaction to an area that was never a problem; you seem to be handling it efficiently from your report.  My question is:  WHY does your dog have to go "behind my island or behind my dining room table"????  You seem to have extinguished the issue regarding the back door and she's certainly allowed to bring food from her bowl to another area (this is quite common for many dogs).  "Her sudden fear seems associated with the far sides of my table, the back side of my island, and staying too long in my utility room."  Why does she have to stay in your utility room?

It appears to me (educated guess) that something startled her and created a conditioned fear response: "little visitor"...backfire of car outside....clanging of a pot....could be anything. A dog can acquire a conditioned fear response in three seconds.  I say IGNORE HER FEAR for the next week. Feed her where you normally feed her; do nothing if she demonstrates avoidance (certainly NEVER drag a dog anywhere and DO NOT offer treats when a dog is visibly frightened or you might inadvertently be rewarding the fear).  Let's not discount the possibility that your friend did something to frighten the dog (since you report this behavior began following your friend's departure).  NEVER leave your dog alone with anyone, no matter how good a friend.

Dogs dream,yes; their dreams are not likely to cause behavior issues.  She's not hallucinating either.  She is either reacting to some "little visitors" (and they WOULD BE in the close kitchen area, wouldn't they) that you do not see or hear, or she has acquired this fear behavior for some reason I cannot explain.  

So long as she's eating and otherwise behaving normally (going out the door she uses, not growling, not refusing to pass through rooms as she was), IGNORE IT.  While you are standing in the areas she is avoiding, sing a song, laugh, be happy.  She's watching you.  It's quite possible that, by treating these areas in this way and by ignoring her fear, it will self extinguish.

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

QUESTION: It's not that she has to be in those rooms, being a puppy we can't leave her unattended, at all, or she will tear up something. So she sleeps with me at night to avoid that. If she passes through the kitchen at all, she RUNS through it then refuses to go back through to the bedroom where we sleep. I don't want her to stay in those rooms, I just want her to feel comfortable again to go from room to room.
I've had little visitors before, but I haven't noticed any tell-tale signs of them.
The issue, really, is that she's avoiding the room where she is more likely to receive attention (the only room with a couch) because she is afraid to pass through the kitchen at all.

I apologize for the lateness of my answer, I could not sign on for some reason.

I don't think you've given sufficient time to use the answer I already gave you.  I suggest you re-read it and follow the directions.  Be VERY VERY HAPPY in the room she is avoiding.  Be happier than you HAVE EVER BEEN.  Sing a song; laugh; have a "small party".  This dog is avoiding that space for a very good reason and we don't know what THAT IS and I can't SEE ANYTHING FROM HERE.  In the rooms where she is "comfortable", use Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF): no attention, food, going in/out, etc. unless she responds to the a cue for "sit" (ONLY if trained with POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT).  In the room she is avoiding (apparently your kitchen) be very, very happy in her sight but IGNORE HER TOTALLY unless she takes a few steps in: then calmly go down to her level (on your knees) and turn your head away, lick your lips, yawn (give her every calming signal); she should within days take a few steps further in, then praise her, and wait for her to take a step or two more.  At that point, "cue" for "sit" and "jackpot" (handful of high value treat) so long as her body posture does NOT indicate FEAR.  I think you must have a problem in your kitchen: gas leak?  Something is spooking this dog.  If what I suggest does not work, first have your stove checked, then have a look for "little visitors" again (NEVER allow anyone to put down any poison that your dog can reach).  I'm literally "blind" here, I can't see the dog's behavior, I can't see what you are doing, I can't talk to you.  I suggest that, should this continue, you will need a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (NOT a DOG TRAINER) to successfully asses the situation and help to extinguish it.  Don't remember where you live.  If you need a CAAB, re-post using followup and I will send you links.

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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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