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Discussion Starter #1
Hey everyone,

We just got a ~2 y/o rescue Lab mix. We live in a large apartment complex with a large, 2-3x football-field sized park attached to it complete with fenced-in dog park. My girlfriend and I are both very physically active - I run pretty much every day, she goes for a long walk or hike almost every day - so we figured a dog toward the more athletic end of the spectrum would be a great fit for our situation given how much time we love spending outside.

However, our dog seems to be terrified of going outside for walks. We cannot get her to the door to put her leash on. I literally have to scoop her up in my arms like a baby (which she seems to really like, actually), carry her to the door, and put her leash on to take her out the door.

Once I have her at the door, she goes out the door willingly, but once outside she is terrified. Her tail is tucked between her legs and I can't get her more than 75 feet before she freezes in place - she either stands there with her tail tucked or just lays/sits down. Nothing gets her moving in any direction - treats, praise, belly-rubs, nothing. Just totally frozen. For no obvious reason either - loud noises scare her, but most of the time there is no clear reason for her to be frozen. The park is behind our building and secluded from traffic and other obvious sources of noise.

Sometimes she will "snap out of it" and come back inside, but most of the time I just have to pick her up and carry her. I can't even get her to walk the 200 yards or so to the dog park. I know she needs the exercise, so I will just carry her there, and once she is there she has a GREAT time. Gets along fabulously with all of the other dogs and people, runs after tennis balls, etc. But then the second it's time to go home, she freezes again and I have to carry her back.

What do you think is going on here? Again TREATS DO NOT WORK. She doesn't even acknowledge them. We are really stumped - we somehow ended up with the only Lab in the world who doesn't like treats (or moving!)!
 

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A dog that is this frightened will not take food. This is not at all unusual and breed has nothing to do with it. I know you were sort of kidding but just wanted to emphasize that fear this strong overcomes any desire for food. If you were terrified of snakes and you saw a snake and someone offered you your very favorite food in the world, would you feel like eating it?

Please take a look at this website. Fearfuldogs.com
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for your reply. I understand that the fear is suppressing her interest in treats. I only emphasized it in my post because it is literally the first thing everyone I have ever talked to about this suggests, so I am just trying to save peoples' time :)

The question is then what do we actually do? How do we get her comfortable being outside?
 

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Hi,

Congrats on the new dog, and since going outside is such a thrilling thing for dogs to do, I think you'll be able to overcome her issues. ;) I have to ask, too, what kind of treats are you using? Sometimes, its just the matter of finding something they can't resist - for my dog, it's chicken or very raw beef. Most other things he can take or leave.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say it's not the 'outside' that is distressing her, but the leash itself. Perhaps in her previous life, having a leash on meant bad things happened. What she needs to learn is that leash = good things. So, you'll need to counter-condition her to the elash. Star by bringing the leash out and showing it to her, then give her lots and lots of praise/treats (I'm assuming that she'll take treats when not stressed; if she never takes treats, just praise and pet. That's still positive reinforcement, even if not quite as compelling as treats). Touch her, while the leash is in your other hand, with lots of praise and treats. Attach the leash to your belt loop, so that it's always there while you are interacting with her in all positive ways. Do this for maybe a day or two.

Next, start attaching the leash very briefly to her collar, then taking it off immediately, and giving lots of praise/treats. Then put it on, offer her treats; if she takes them, that's good. If not, back up a step.

When she'll take treats while the leash is on, you can leave it on for a few moments, giving her treats, praise and affection. Gradually increase the time the leash is on, and encourage her to take a couple of steps, inside the house, and treat/praise. Increase the time she has the leash on, and how far she walks around with you. You can do this over two-three days, with several short sessions throughout the day. You could also try leaving the leash on her, and letting her drag it. It's there, but nothing is happening - just keep an eye on her body language, make sure the leash isn't making her stressed.

Move outside; you may have to start from the beginning, since dogs don't generalize well, so while she may be willing to believe the leash is safe inside the house, she may have to learn it's also safe outside the house. But hopefully it'll go faster the second time.

You may have to carry her outside to eliminate, but I would suggest that you not try to walk her or take her to the dog park while getting her used to the idea that the leash is 'safe'. You want her to have her desire for some outside fun to help with accepting the leash. Not sure what your set-up is, but if you could avoid using the leash until she's a lot more comfortable with it. If you must use it for safety, then carry her outside, put the leash on, and let her do her business, remove the leash and go back in.

You could also try getting a harness and attaching the leash to that. That may be different enough to overcome her fear. It would also make it easier to counter-condition her to the leash attached to her collar.

Fearfuldogs.com is a great resource.
 

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If I happen to be wrong that its the leash, then a similar protocol can be used for counter-conditioning her to going outside. The goal is to find out where she's comfortable and praise/treat that position, and then move closer to the goal, praising and treating at every step. Try not to lure; luring can work, but may not eliminate the fear. You want to change her negative association to a positive one, but you have to start where she's still comfortable, rather than putting her in the midst of the 'fear' and then trying to treat her out of it.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks a lot - I like your suggestions but unfortunately we both work during the day and do not have the option of coming home at any point during the workday. We also live in an apartment building and there is no option of taking her outside without a leash.

This is definitely something we can work on on weekends, though. My fear is that any progress we make on the weekends will be reversed during the week when we are on a time crunch to get her out the door to eliminate.
 

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Thanks a lot - I like your suggestions but unfortunately we both work during the day and do not have the option of coming home at any point during the workday. We also live in an apartment building and there is no option of taking her outside without a leash.
I guess it wasn't clear to me how this was working. You have to carry her to the door, you said, so I assumed it was a front door, but are you talking about the door to the building? Do you live on the ground floor of the apartment?

This is definitely something we can work on on weekends, though. My fear is that any progress we make on the weekends will be reversed during the week when we are on a time crunch to get her out the door to eliminate.
Would you be able to hire someone for a week or so, who could take her out during the day and continue the counter-conditioning? Or what about a harness?

Also, I should have said - my idea that she's afraid of the leash is because her fear starts before she's outside, not after. It might be worth your while to contact a behaviorist to assess her to help identify her fear, and a way to address it.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
So I carry her to the door of our apartment - once she is there, she goes out the door just fine. We then walk down a long hallway, go down an elevator, then down another hallway, then we are outside. Once outside she is OK for a few minutes then "freezes," at which point I have to pick her up and carry her back to the door to our building. Once at the door to our building she goes inside just fine - down the hallway, up the elevator, down the hallway on our floor, and back into our apartment.

We are currently using a harness.

Thanks for all of your help!
 

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So I carry her to the door of our apartment - once she is there, she goes out the door just fine. We then walk down a long hallway, go down an elevator, then down another hallway, then we are outside. Once outside she is OK for a few minutes then "freezes," at which point I have to pick her up and carry her back to the door to our building. Once at the door to our building she goes inside just fine - down the hallway, up the elevator, down the hallway on our floor, and back into our apartment.

We are currently using a harness.

Thanks for all of your help!
Then my leash-theory may be entirely wrong, since I didn't realize she was actually walking quite a distance leashed, inside. The joys of internet communication. :)

Can you get a behaviorist or skilled positive-only trainer in to assess? And have you had a chance to check out fearfuldogs.com?
 

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Just thought ... when she is walking from your apartment door to the building door, what is her body language like? Is she excited, happy, plodding, tense, anxious?
 

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Could it be the ground? Is it paved to get to the park or grass? I'm going to assume the dog park is grass and you mentioned she is ok in there.

Is it possible to have one of her doggy friends there when she needs to go outside initially? Maybe having another friendly dog that is not afraid might help her overcome whatever is scaring her. Or have her bring her favourite toy along for the walk.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
A little guarded but not full-on freaking out - she walks nicely right at my side with a loose leash down the hallway. She isn't wagging her tail but it isn't tucked either - she seems slightly nervous. One time I threw a tennis ball to the end of the hallway and chased it to see if she would follow but she acted like she didn't even notice it. The good part is she doesn't freeze in the hallway - I am able to keep her moving.

We're looking at getting a session with a behaviorist/trainer but in the meantime are seeing what we can do to address it. In our area they cost $200+ per session so we want to make sure we actually need it!
 

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A little guarded but not full-on freaking out - she walks nicely right at my side with a loose leash down the hallway. She isn't wagging her tail but it isn't tucked either - she seems slightly nervous. One time I threw a tennis ball to the end of the hallway and chased it to see if she would follow but she acted like she didn't even notice it.
What position is her tail, head, ears? Is her brow furrowed at all? Do the whites of her eyes show? Is her mouth open or closed? Is she panting? If her tail is low, head low, ears down/back, if her mouth is closed or if she's panting, those are all signs of stress.

The good part is she doesn't freeze in the hallway - I am able to keep her moving.
If she's showing signs of stress, or if she would normally go for the tennis ball, but just ignored it and simply kept up with you, then I'd say she's actually somewhat shut down during the walk between your apartment and the outside door. This means that she feels completely helpless to change what's going to happen, so she just does her best to get through it.

We're looking at getting a session with a behaviorist/trainer but in the meantime are seeing what we can do to address it. In our area they cost $200+ per session so we want to make sure we actually need it!
I really think it would be worthwhile. As much info/advice as we can give you over the interwebz, there's really no substitute for someone with experience who can actually see what's going on. Just be certain the person you choose understands behaviour, learning theory, and isn't going to be advising you to be 'leader of the pack" or to stand or walk a certain way in order to solve your dog's issues.

She might seem like a lot of work/money right now, but when you are able to rehabilitate a fearful dog, so see them gain joy in the world and trust in you, there's nothing quite like it. My dog is fearful, and one of the happiest moments in my life was when he went through the tire at an agility class, even though he was afraid. Treats weren't inviting enough and his other person wasn't able to persuade him, but he looked at me and I could just see the decision in his eyes that he'd do it, because he trusts me and he wanted to please me.

Hope you'll keep continue to keep us updated.
 
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