Helping a Little Dog with a Big Fear of the Dog Door

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 7, 2018

For this Los Angeles dog training session we worked with Penny, a 2-year-old Shorkie who likes to jump up on people, is afraid to go through the dog door, is nervous around noises and doesn’t always listen to her guardian.

Knowing that Penny likes to jump up on guests when she is excited, I called ahead and had her guardian attach the leash to the leg of the couch so I could show her a simple trick to stop dogs from jumping up and getting too excited.

I told the guardian she needs to arrange for at least one guest to come by every day for a week or two to help Penny learn to calm down and not jump up on guests who visit.

While I was wrapping up the stop jumping discussion, I noticed each time Penny got close, nudged or climbed on her guardian, she immediately started petting her. Since we are reinforcing whatever a dog is doing when we pet it, I spent a few minutes going over my petting with a purpose philosophy with the guardian.

By asking for then recognizing desired behaviors before providing the dog with attention and affection, Penny will quickly learn to start offering desired behaviors instead of jumping up. This will increase her confidence and behavior as well as help her adopt more of a follower’s mindset.

Of course, we cant always give a dog what it wants. Sometimes humans need to say no or disagree with a dog’s actions. Many people do this verbally, some use leash corrections and even more people use force; things I avoid as they aren’t effective and often cause other problems.

To help Penny’s guardian disagree in non aggressive or harsh ways, I went over the four Escalating Consequences I developed years ago.

I made sure to emphasize the importance of timing when it comes to using these. For dogs, the timing of our interactions can be as important as the interactions themselves. Remember you need to reward or disagree with a dog within 3 seconds to be able to make the connection, but it needs to be repeated over and over too.

Next we headed outside so I could show the guardian how to help penny with her fear of going through the dog door. On first look, I wonder if the flap of the dog door couldn’t be a contributing factor. Many dogs will test out using a dog door by sticking their head partially though it. I have seen doors with solid sections like this one catch the dog’s head which usually amplifies the dog’s fear of the door itself.

I go over a solution to the fear of the door and offer a number of tips to help a dog learn to use a dog door in this positive dog training video.

Changing out the door flap and partially taping it up (but low enough where there is contact with the dog as it passes through) should make it easier for Penny to get over her fear of the dog door. But I wanted to dig a little deeper for this dog problem.

I borrowed the guardian’s clear phone case as it was a pretty close analog for the panels of the dog door. As Los Angeles’ top dog behavior exert, I have a reputation for breaking down problems into small steps is immensely helpful when rehabilitating a fearful dog.

In the video below I show Penny’s guardian how she can create a Conditioned Emotional Response or CER about a translucent panel that looks and is positioned near the actual dog door.

Teaching a dog that the dog door is a safe object is step one. Step two is training the dog that touching the door with her nose is not only nothing to be afraid of, its something that is rewarded.

Since its not associated with the actual dog door, we can remove a lot of the negative baggage from the equation. While we didn’t get Penny using the dog door in this session, it shouldn’t take the guardian long to get her dog to start using the dog door if she follows the steps outlined in the two above videos.

Another problem Penny’s guardian wanted me to fix was her behavior on walks; being over excited and pulling on the leash. To help Penny stay calm and balanced on walks, I spent several minutes offering positive tips for dog walking.

Stopping Penny from getting excited at the thought of going for a walk will be super important. Failing to do so will make al the other loose leash training tips I shared much harder to follow.

Because Penny tries to run out of the door (door dashing), I showed her guardian how to train a dog to stay until released.

Teaching a dog to stay is one of the more under taught commands in the dog world. I love it as it requires the dog to develop better control and focus while simultaneously keeping its respect for the human as the leader.

After developing a strong stay command, the guardian will be able to put Penny into a sit stay several feet away from the door before answering it.

By the end of the session, Penny was exhausted. But she was also starting to sit to ask for attention, jumping up less and seemed more relaxed and confident.

To help the guardian remember all the dog behavior tips I shared with her in this in home dog training session, 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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