My dog won’t leave the house… Ask a Trainer
Another great article By Nan Arthur, CDBC, CPDT, KPCTP
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Dear Trainer, I have a newly adopted dog and she is wonderful in the house. She loves my other dog, she “flirts” with the cat and has been pretty easy to train, but if I try to take her for a walk, she completely falls apart. I have to carry her out the door to even get her outside and once there, she shakes, cowers and does everything in her power to get back in the house. I would really like to take her for walks with my other dog but at this point, I would have to force her to even move. What should I do? By the way, she is just about a year old and was a stray so I don’t have much information about her background. Signed, Agoraphobic Dog Mom
Dear Agoraphobic, The good news is that your new dog is doing fine in the house and getting along with everyone, including the cat. Whatever might have happened to her to create her fears, keep in mind that behavior is just behavior, not good or bad, and it’s time to move forward and work on helping her come out of her shell, or in this case, her house.
Where to start
The place to start is at the front door (or the door you normally exit with your dog). Place your dog on a long line and go to the front door. You can find long lines at most pet stores. Look for about a 15-20 foot length. You will be stepping outside, but your dog will remain in the house with the front door open.
Bring a chair for you to sit on, just outside of the door. This will change the picture for your dog since you are sitting. Dogs are very smart at calculating what humans are going to do, and she might think you are going to pick her up if you are standing outside while she is wearing her leash. Your job in all of this is to give your dog the choice of coming outside on her own by reinforcing all efforts and attempts of her moving toward and eventually over the threshold.
Using a marker
The first thing to consider is how to get the information to your dog that she is on the right track. Using a marker signal is ideal. A marker, such as using a clicker or a word, such as, “Yip,” can indicate to your dog what she was doing correctly. Once you mark or click her correct response, she gets a really yummy food treat. Be sure to follow every marker signal with a reward so you dog learns that she can “make you,” mark her and the treat will follow. For more information about clicker training, the rules of using a clicker and where to buy clickers visit: http://clickertraining.com/what_is_clicker_training
Before you start, have lots of really high-value treats cut into pea-sized rewards and put them into something that you can dip into and grab a few at a time, (a treat bag or fanny pack is the easiest). High value treats include: Turkey dogs, cooked chicken or turkey, cooked hamburger, or even things like little pieces of steak, cheese, or anything your dog would love.
Next, you will position your chair outside of the door where you can watch your dog and her movements. Hold the long line or have someone else hold it for safety reason and observe your dog. If she looks at you, mark or click and toss her a treat. At first try to toss the treats right to her so she gets into the game without any pressure to move toward the door, but eventfully, after she realizes what great treats you have, toss them a little closer to you so she has to step forward to eat them.
Raise the bar
Stay at the just looking outside level until your dog is consistently looking out the door. Now hold out for more actual movement toward the door. Be sure to mark or click even shifting her weight forward, as that might be all she can do in the early stages. When she can do that a number of times, hold out for a little more, such as a foot moving forward.
Continue training for no more than 10 minutes at a time, and when you stop, tell your dog, “All done,” toss one extra treat to her, and stop training. Put the chair away, close the door and take off her long line. Your dog should be a little disappointed that you stopped doing this fun game so when you come back and train some more, she should be pretty excited. You can train a few times each day, but spread the sessions out and only do short trials; from 2-10 minutes each time.
The end goal is to have your dog, on her own, step out of the door. When she is able to do that, begin to add a verbal cue, such as, “Outside,” just as she is stepping over the threshold. Practice many times with her just going out the door before trying to do more, but once your dog is successful going out with your verbal cue, you can move your chair a little further out (2-3 feet from the original place) and begin to toss your treats near you so she has to come all the way to you to get her reward. You can close the door once she is out if she is doing well and hasn’t been running back into the house during training, otherwise just leave it open.
After your dog is able to come out of the house on her own, use that time to hang out and play in the front area. Don’t try to walk just yet, as you are only working on her trusting you and feeling comfortable being outside.
I would suggest that you work with a positive reinforcement trainer that can help you transfer to walking on leash as there are a lot of considerations to ensure you don’t make a mistake and set yourself back in your training.
If you go slow and allow your dog to work through her fear, you should be able to build back the courage for her to feel safe outside. Good luck! Nan Arthur, CDBC, CPDT, KPACTP