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Canine Behavior/New Dog Adraid To Go Outside



I adopted a dog from a local shelter 3 days ago. She is an 8 month old Duck Tolling Retriever/ Lab Mix. Although her full background is unknown, it is thought that she was captured as a stray and taken to a high kill shelter where she was reduced and sent to a foster for about 2 months and we picked her up from the foster. The foster had 4 young children, so she is very sweet however, she is not leash trained and is very, very, very timid. It seems to be just a lack of socialization and trust. Even after only 3 days, though, she has already warmed up to me very much and has gone from hiding under the table to cuddling with me on the couch and wagging her tail or giving me kisses when I pet her. I have high hopes that with some patience and training, she will be a wonderful dog.

I have been working very hard not to push her too hard for fear that she won't trust me anymore. I have been keeping a harness on her and I put a leash on to let her drag it around when she is walking around, to allow her to get used to the feeling. I have also been using lots of treats, praises and positive reinforcement whenever she does something right or seems to warm up to someone or try something new (such as walking in the kitchen, where she has never been before). I have never yelled at her or used any type of discipline, hoping to build a bond and trust.

The problem, however, is that she is not leash trained, and as soon as I grab the leash she runs away. According to the foster family, she had a fenced in backyard and was never leashed. They also told me that she does not like to be picked up or confined. She does great if you give her time to come to you. With all that said, I don't know how to get her to go outside. She was house broken, but has been too afraid to walk outside that she has started going to the bathroom in the house. I understand that she has to go, so I have just been cleaning it up and trying to lure her outside, but it's just not working. I have tried everything! Food (which she is highly motivated by), treats, toys, sweet talk, pets, ignoring her (to see if she'll wander out), etc. and as soon as she gets to the welcome mat in front of the door, she seems interested, but will then nervously go back in side and sit on the couch (sometimes with her tail wagging).

I suppose that my question is: should I let her keep using the bathroom in the house and keep working with her to get her to come outside on her own, or should I pick her up (which really scares her), risking her being traumatized and associating outside or being picked up with something scary? Because the backyard is all the way through the basement (a lot of steps that she won't go down), it would be easiest to keep her on a leash in the front yard for now, which is out the front door and down 3 steps.

I don't want to push her too hard or regress the progress that we've made, but I'm worried about her using the bathroom in the house for too long. Any advice would be really appreciated. I'm stuck and not sure what to do next! Help!

Let's take a look at her "capture" scenario (kill shelter dog control): it involved a "rabies pole"....that is a long metal pipe (lightweight) with a noose at the other end; noose is slipped over dog's head, tightened, and then dog is dragged (screaming in fear) to closed van where cages await: she is then picked up and placed into a cage and door is slammed.  wouldn't YOU be afraid of a leash and being picked up after this?

I've done an awful lot of rescue; I would never put a dog into a foster home with four children, not for love or money.  Perhaps a child picked her up, dropped her; perhaps a child used a leash to forcibly take her somewhere (totally innocent, let's hope; children only deliberately inflict pain on an animal as a sign of underlying mental disorder).  We just don't know.

FOOD REWARD is a BAD IDEA until YOU KNOW WHAT THE DOG IS THINKING.  If she was starving on the "streets", she will take any bait you offer; but what is she THINKING, what is she reacting to; her fight/flight response might be in effect.  Food reward can ONLY be used when you KNOW the dog is totally relaxed, giving signs of calm and peace, no obvious stress (watch ear set, watch tail set, observe body posture, see where the dog is LOOKING).  Study this:

You are correct to have a harness and "house tab" on this dog (lightweight leash).  You cannot expect this dog to learn to go down a flight of stairs into the basement and out doors for weeks (or more).  Tying her up outside IS NEVER GOING TO BE AN OPTION.  You are going to have to leash walk this dog unless, and until, you are able to afford a fence (NO ELECTRIC FENCES, EVER).  Do NOT pick up this dog for any reason.  In months, you should be able to do this only to pet her, snuggle with her, and you might need some help teaching her she no longer has to fear being picked up (so keep my contact information).  It appears that you are "putting" the dog out?  Or attempting to lead her using the leash (house tab) she is wearing indoors?

I would like you to try something:  attach another leash through the handle of the house tab (be certain clip is large enough, and strong, to hold to the handle of the house tab).  This gives the dog a lot of "space" (another six feet).  Then walk out the door of your choice (not the basement door, too much to ask right now) and STAND on the other side.  She DOES get to the welcome mat: observe her body language, if she is truly interested there will be no visible sign of fear (yet): treat immediately high value food (chicken hot dog bit, string cheese bit) and then just stand and WAIT.  Let her see that you still have food in your hand.  If she moves forward, praise, observe body language (you do not want to reward fear, you want to reward her progress).  AS she is moving forward (even if it is an inch, praise and offer treat.  Then stand there.  Let's see how far we can get this dog out that door IN THE NEXT THREE DAYS.  Meanwhile: put a pad NEAR THE DOOR YOU ARE GOING TO USE (especially intended for a dog to urinate on).  NO PLACE ELSE.  If you attach a longer "outside" leash to the handle of the house tab, she CAN'T RUN AWAY.  If she FREEZES, sit down on the floor.  Turn your head away; lick your lips; yawn (these are calming signals) and wait for her to loosen up and come to you; praise and cuddle, get up and walk toward the DOOR, holding the now extended leash.

KEEP THE EMAIL CONTAINING THIS RESPONSE.  If you cannot make any progress of any sort, or the dog worsens, use the FOLLOWUP FEATURE to send me a PRIVATE QUESTION (I only accept private questions after giving invitation for same) and in that private question (NO ONE can see it but me) put contact info (phone #), State you are in (for time difference) and best time of day you can be reached.  We'll talk through it.

PS:  The Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever is an extremely rare breed.  I very much doubt she is a hybrid of same.  If you have a photo, imbed it if you use FOLLOWUP for private question.

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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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