Helping a Rescue Dog Get Over Her Fear of Being Outside

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 19, 2019

For this Santa Monica dog training / behavior session, we help 4 year-old Pitbull Greta get over her fear of being outside after spending two years in an animal shelter before being rescued by Bella Vita Dog Rescue.

A little background; Rescue dog Greta was found in a tiny enclosure in a scrapyard, really horrible conditions. She was transported to a shelter and she was there for OVER A YEAR. Thats over one million minutes!

Suffice it to say, Greta had a tough start to life. Fortunately Jill at Bella Vita found her, got her out of that shelter and placed her in a home with a wonderfully patient, caring and supportive guardian. Together they reached out to me and gave me the privilege of being able to come and help Greta. As a Dog Behaviorist, helping rescue dogs get over fears is one of the most rewarding things about my job.

Due to her situation of being in a shelter for so long, Greta was fearful of going outside. Fortunately the guardian lives in an apartment complex with a courtyard and hallways that are kinda outside, but covered. This is a great easy version of being outside that I took advantage of. Its not common for a dog to be afraid of being outside, I think Greta is only my 3-4 case with this issue.

I had the guardian prop open the door to his place, then he and I walked out the door and down the hallway. We didn’t call or do anything to get Greta to follow us other than leave. As a dog behaviorist I knew she would follow her new guardian and calling / asking can sometimes backfire and stop the dog from moving forward.

Greta followed us about 30 paces from the door. Shortly after the hallway took a turn, she stopped. We kept walking about 25 more paces by stopping and hanging out for a minute. After watching us from that corner for a minute, she turned around and went back home (this is why I had the guardian prop the door open). This was a wonderful success as my goal was to help the dog build up confidence by doing all the work herself without any direct influence from the humans aside from setting the situation up for her.

We repeated this a few times during the session and Id like the guardian to repeat this a few times a day. Each time she came out, she carried herself a little taller and hesitated less and less.

We did a version of this on his balcony too. You can watch her build up confidence right before your eyes by watching the video below.

Id like the guardian to practice this exercise to help the dog get over a fear of being outside. If he practices this and the hallway a few times a day, Greta will become more confident which will help motivate her to go further.

I tried to shoot a video teaching her how to sit but it started out rough so I pulled the plug. I described passive training to her guardian as this is a great way to help motivate a dog to offer desired behaviors.

Because she suffers from separation anxiety, I showed her guardian how to teach her to stay. This is a great way to help a dog develop self control and practice being alone. You can watch me teach Greta to stay as well as how to sit and some additional tips for dogs with separation anxiety in the video below.

Training a dog to stay is a pretty advanced command, especially for a dog who doesn’t know even the most basic of commands. As you saw, I had difficulty at first, but once she moved to the dog bed and I was able to get her to sit, we started to make progress.

Practicing the stay many times a day in short sessions that slowly get longer will help her develop self control, respect for her guardian and boost her self esteem once she masters distance.

Anytime you have a fearful dog, teaching it new tricks and commands can be helpful. Not only do these offer nice ways to distract a dog away from their fears, it boosts their self esteem.

Its not surprising that Greta is showing signs of suffering from Separation Anxiety as she has finally found a human to support, love and take care of her. Greta destroyed her guardians’s bed one of the first times she was left alone. On the next solo, she bent and escaped her kennel. Another unsurprising event for a dog who spent almost her entire life in a confined kennel.

A few days later I returned with reinforcements, well one. I borrowed a friend of mine’s dog named Moose. Moose is a happy, balanced dog and being a boy, I hoped he might help motivate her to move forward and provide some moral support.

This was quite the experience for Greta. Downtown Santa Monica is a busy place so we took multiple stops to help Greta reset and collect herself. Occasionally we would stop and sit down until she showed she was comfortable before we started up again. Other times we would stop and crouch down and call out to Greta. Getting lower make humans more approachable to Greta so this is something her guardian should incorporate on future walks.

I suggested the guardian post a cute pic of Greta along with her backstory to see if he can find friends who have friendly, mid-sized dogs with a medium energy to give her some socialization experience and more moral support.

When we got back home, Greta was relieved and I could see that she was carrying herself with more confidence. She and Moose celebrated with some play time.

After we shot the above video I realized our walk was actually over two hours long. It was a lot for Greta to take in, but this exposure should lead to increased confidence which should help on future walks.

Id like to see Greta’s guardian taking her for a walk or two each day, preferably when it’s not so busy outside. The key is to do this a few times every day as momentum can be a powerful force in canine rehabilitation. Getting some help with friendly dogs will certainly help.

The goal is that Greta gets to the point where walks are no big deal. Its going to take time and patience, fortunately her guardian has these traits in abundance and is committed to helping her. I asked him to stay in touch with progress reports or if he runs into any roadblocks or new wrinkles.

To help the guardian remember all the Dog Psychology tips I shared in these in-home dog training sessions, we shot a roadmap to success video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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