Why Is My Dog Scared of Going Outside?

Dog scared of going outside!
Dog scared of going outside! | Source

What's So Scary About Going Outside?

There may appear to be nothing scary in a yard from a human's perspective but things may look very different to a dog. With noses containing more than 220 million olfactory receptors (humans have only a mere 5 million) and powerful ears capable of detecting sounds in the ultrasonic range, dogs are much more attentive to their environment than humans. So as humans we may be missing all the multi-sensorial stimulation dogs are exposed to. A few examples of what dogs may find to be scary in the yard include but are not limited to:

  • The neighbor's dogs barking
  • Your slippery floor before going outside
  • The stairs that lead to the yard
  • Distant sounds that you may not hear
  • Fear of the unknown and new places
  • Fear of windy conditions, rain, and thunderstorms

In many cases, the fear is unfounded and may stem from a lack of socialization and fear of the unknown. In other cases, the fear is known, such as when the dog runs back in at the sight of something it fears or as soon as a scary noise is perceived. In any case, the message is clear: The dog does not feel safe at all outdoors.

What Not to Do

If your dog is reluctant to go outside or is simply terrified, it is important that you take the right approach to training. There are however, certain techniques that, while effective with other humans, may make the dog's behavior worse.

1. Don't Flood the Dog

To "flood" a dog means to force the animal to face its fears in the hope of overcoming them. While flooding is a form of behavior therapy, it comes with substantial risks, and there are not many guarantees it will work. Tossing a child who's afraid of water into a pool fears water into a pool may make that child more afraid—and it's the same with a dog. While flooding may yield fast results when it works, it is also more traumatic and less effective.

In the case of dealing with a dog fearful of the outdoors, flooding would entail taking the dog outdoors and blocking the escape route so the dog is forced to face its fear. However, unlike humans who can rationally talk themselves out of a fear, dogs panic until their brains shut down. In such a state, the dog's cognitive functions (ability to learn) are impaired and there is no room for learning. There are better methods and we will see them below.

2. Don't Punish

Whatever your dog does, never punish him for being fearful. Doing so is totally counter-productive. Last year, there was a dog who was terrified of walking on slippery floors. When I asked the owner what he had done so far to help the dog overcome his fears, he told me he used to scold the dog for being fearful. When the dog ran over the shiny surface and slipped on the floor he used to tell him "bad boy"! No wonder this dog was terrified! Dealing with fear and then having an owner scold on top of that created the perfect concoction for terror!

3. Don't Carry the Dog Outside

Some dog owners may feel compelled to carry the dog outdoors if their dog is not too keen on visiting the yard. But doing so doesn't teach the dog a thing. In order for a dog to learn and overcome its fears, he must go out the yard on its own. If you carry your dog outdoors, you are causing two big problems:

  1. Your dog may become reluctant to be carried because he starts associating it with being taken out the yard.
  2. The dog is then placed in the yard, which is a scary event that may cause more fear and stress.

How to Help a Dog Who's Afraid of Going Outside

Your dog's fear of the outside may manifest in many ways. It may start as a simple reluctance to go outside accompanied by fearful body language (tail between legs, ears back, head carried low, uncertain gait). Then one day your dog may decide to put on its brakes and will not budge. What to do? As seen, pushing the dog outside and or scolding him will only make matters worse. Here are some tips to make the great outdoors an appealing place to be without overwhelming the dog.

1. Desensitization

Desensitization is a form behavioral therapy that is the opposite of flooding. Instead of forcing the dog to face its fears, which may be traumatic, the dog is exposed gradually to keep its anxiety and fear below the fear threshold. The threshold is an invisible line that separates fearful reactions from non-fearful reactions—or at least reactions where the dog is under better control. Often what makes the difference is distance. Therefore, if the dog is carried outside and put in the middle of the yard, he will certainly be over the threshold, causing him to panic, whereas, if the dog is placed in front of the opened door that leads to the yard, the dog would feel more relaxed and would be under the threshold.

Note: Threshold levels vary from one dog to another.

Through a process of desensitization, the dog is gradually exposed to the yard and its noises. This process takes quite some time and much care must be taken to make sure the dog stays below his threshold level. Dog owners must be able to recognize early warning signs of stress so as to make sure they're not asking for too much at once. If the stimuli the dog is exposed to is too intense, the dog may become increasingly sensitized to his fear. So, for example, you would take care to not practice desensitization when your neighbor is outside using a chain saw.

2. Counter-Conditioning

While desensitization is a powerful behavior modification program on its own, adding counter-conditioning on top of it, will double the effectiveness. Counter-conditioning means changing a dog's physical and emotional response to a particular stimulus. If your dog does not like the outdoors, he may have been conditioned to act fearfully. In counterconditioning we are changing the dog's emotional response and attitude towards the outdoors, flipping it upside down. In other words, we want to change the negative associations and create positive ones. So if yard=fear, we want to shift it to yard=fun! No need to worry, dogs do not need a math degree to understand this equation!

We will see desensitization and counterconditioning at play in the steps below.

Tips for Making Your Dog Love the Yard


The following tips are a mix of desensitization and counterconditioning meant to help your dog overcome his fears. If your dog does not show signs of improvement in the first week or two, or if the behavior worsens, consider consulting with a veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB).

Items needed:

  • High-value treats
  • Food bowl
  • Tape recorder
  • Access to outdoors
  • Toys

Exercise 1: Outdoor Noises Are Great!

1. Identify what makes your dog fearful. If you know your dog runs for cover the moment he hears a noise, try to replicate that noise. It would be a good idea to record the noise and then play it at a low volume (desensitization).

2. Add some counter-conditioning. To make this process more effective, try to feed your dog while the recording is playing or give tasty treats every time you push the "play" button and the recording starts (counterconditioning). Do this until your dog starts looking at you for a treat the moment it hears the recording of the noise.

Note: Make sure you give the treats when the noise is playing and put them away when you stop the recording. It must be crystal clear to your dog that the noise is what brings the treats out and when the noise ends, the treats end too!

3. Ramp up the desensitization and counter-conditioning. Open the yard door and do the same exercise, only instead of using the recording as a prompt for treats, you use the actual noises to give treats.

Keep your dog inside with you at first, at a distance from the door where the dog won't be overwhelmed by fear. As soon as you hear a noise, toss a treat. You can even put the noise on cue after a bit, for instance, you can say something like "good noise!" With time, the noises will become a friendly reminder to get a treat and the dog should start being desensitized.

Important: Continue the exercise outdoors if you can get your dog to come out. Below are ways to train your dog to love the outdoors.

Exercise 2: Feeding Station

A good way to make the outdoors less intimidating is to put the food bowl near the door and then gradually move it outside.

Note: If your dog will not take food, you are working over the threshold. A dog's ability to take food is often a good indicator of a dog being sub-threshold.

  1. Start feeding next to the door when the door is closed (if your dog is uncomfortable, feed a few feet away from the door).
  2. Feed a few feet away from the door, but this time with the door open.
  3. Feed closer to the door with door open. Keep moving the bowl closer as your dog adjusts.
  4. Feed with the food bowl facing the outside but with your dog still inside.
  5. Gradually move the bowl farther and farther outside.

Exercise 3: Trail of Treats

Leave the door open and make a trail of treats that leads to outside, the end of the trial should contain increasingly high-value treats which ends with a pile of treats or a valued bone or pig ear. Do this frequently, and once your dog is outside, make sure your dog sees a bunch of toys scattered in the yard.

Exercise 4: Outside Is Play Time!

If your dog is play oriented, scatter lots of toys on the lawn and entice him to come outside with squeaking toys or bouncing balls. If your dog is shy, sit on the lawn and try to call him in a happy voice, using an irresistible toy. If it helps, tie it on a string and move it erratically like prey. If your dog comes outdoors, praise lavishly, have a fun upbeat play session, and then invite your dog back inside.

Once inside, make the day boring. In other words, make sure your dog learns that all the fun is outdoors and indoors nothing really great goes on. If you have another dog, let your fearful dog see how much fun he is missing.

Exercise 5: Use Clicker Training

If your dog is clicker-trained, make a target to click-treat and gradually move the target more and more outdoors. Give jackpots for when the dog steps outdoors.

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Comments 36 comments

cloverleaffarm profile image

cloverleaffarm 4 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

I have never heard of a dog afraid to go outside. Great information. Voted up.

Squirrelgonzo 4 years ago

Food For Thought! Kudos!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

cloverleaffarm, yes, unfortunately there are several scared of that as odd as it sounds!

wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

my dogs are not afraid to go outside, but my male dog developed a fear of my kitchen floor! I put an old piece of carpet down and he is fine now. Maybe he slipped on the floor one day when i wasn't home. I'm assuming. it just came sudden. Just wanted to comment since one thing you mentioned was a slippery floor.

angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States

I thought my dog was the only one scared of the the outside. Also of the dark. LOL

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Yes, many dogs are scared of slippery floors, I even made a hub about it, and putting a rug was part of the way to help!

Ky Canine 2 years ago

Suddenly to say the least! Austrailian Shepard scared to death to go outside. Husband used chainsaw on Saturday. On Tuesday, barks to go out - when you open the door - he backs up like he's seen a ghost!

Bill Aikman 2 years ago

Haha really interesting! My Shih-Tzu is super scared of going outside too for some reason, but these are some great tips. He's also afraid of the vacuum machine in our house, as well as whistling o.O You can see my pup in the hub "Dog Gets Pranked" :)

Daybreak4at icloud .com 2 years ago

My deAr 22months puppy is afraid of some outdoor situations ? People's hands stroking him or a sense of unfriendly Dogs he darts between my legs for sacurity?? I got him at 10 weeks old Has he got a bad memory he's not aggressive in any form and he's never been scalded with me I love him and I'm worried for his nerves

alexadry profile image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA Author

Please see a reward-based trainer to help you out. Your dog needs help to increase his confidence levels. See my hubs of counterconditioning and desensitization. Kind regards, alexadry.

nancy 17 months ago

I have a pug, he used to go to the park with me but now he wont walk there at all, he is all happy in the back yard but once i try to walk to the park he gets so terrified!!!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 17 months ago from USA Author

It could be something happened there that scared him, perhaps a dog has intimidated him?

Brynn Thorssen profile image

Brynn Thorssen 16 months ago from Colorado Springs, CO

lol ... my dog is afraid of EVERYTHING. Going out, then when you get her out she's happy and afraid to come back in. Afraid of her food dish, afraid to come to anyone for food, afraid to stand next to people .... so, just basically, terrified of her existence. Most of the time it's not a big deal but occasionally it is incredibly disruptive and/or annoying. Any suggestions? (And yes, she's a shelter dog.)

alexadry profile image

alexadry 16 months ago from USA Author

Welcome to the fearful dog world! I don't have enough space here to share some suggestions as there would be too many to list, but if you take a peak at some of my hubs, I have over 30 on fearful dogs. Of particular interest may be "exposure therapy for fearful dogs" "using food for behavior modification" "using the jolly routine for fearful dogs" and "exercises to build confidence in dogs." Otherwise, from my profile, you can go to my Pinterest account where I have a fearful dog board with all my fearful dog hubs in one place.

Charley 15 months ago

Hi, I have a similar problem in a way - my mother's dog is perfectly fine going outside into the back yard, but is absolutely terrified of going for walks. He gets on with it when out but it's as though he's going as fast as he can just to get it over with, he doesn't seem to have any enjoyment from it he just seems scared of being there and fearful of other people and dogs. He gets so nervous that he defecates :( It's a shame because in the house he's a lovely dog but just always seems highly strung. How could we start making him a happier, more relaxed dog?

alexadry profile image

alexadry 15 months ago from USA Author

Dear Charley, here are some tips to help your dog out. Best wishes!

Fmj 14 months ago

Great advice...if you have a dog that is food motivated and trainable with treats...or likes to play. We have an ex bait dog who is neither of those.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 14 months ago from USA Author

Not necessarily. If I can give a dime for every dog owner who says their dog is not food motivated or toy motivated, I would be rich! When I meet that dog then, owners are surprised how easily I got his interest. However, for very severe cases, calming aids may be needed along with the aid of a professional.

AndreaS 13 months ago

My 6 yo lab suddenly will not go outside. We went on vacation and we believe our pet sitter left her outside so she wouldn't have to walk her. She's been going downhill ever since (2 months). It's the door that scares her. If she knows she is going for a ride or going to see her dog friend, she has no fear and willingly goes outside. There are no long walks, no playtime outside, will not spend anytime with me outside, does it get the newspaper, won't do anything! It's tiring, frustrating and I feel very badly for her. Can she ever get back to being herself again? I feel like she needs a new home.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 13 months ago from USA Author

A new home won't do any good to a dog who is fearful, and most homes have doors. Try to look for a professional to help you out. If I had this dog, I would try to desensitize and countercondition to the movement of the door.

Brenda 5 months ago

Tried to take my dog out but he heard banging when he was out and just lay down and would not move he just wanted to go inside and the same when he hears the bucket men he start to shake and his touge hangs out can you please help me

JoelC 5 months ago

Hello we have a 1.5 year old German Shepard who since a output was extremely hyper abs loved outdoors and was very protective of our yard and would bark fearlessly at night, would chase after her ball whenever thrown be it morning or night. But suddenly on 5/15/16 she became extremely fearful and has been crying almost non stop. A toy she really liked got ripped (we wrapped it up and it still works), whenever she barks she is half-barking half-crying... Its pretty darn heartbreaking but we dont know what happened...

alexadry profile image

alexadry 5 months ago from USA Author

Is this dog spayed or not? Sometimes female dogs that aren't spayed exhibit a false pregnancy and get very attached to their toys, as they are perceived as their pups.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 5 months ago from USA Author

You can try having a friend/family member mimic the banging noise at a very low volume from a distance and feed high value treats. Noise, treat, noise, treat, noise, treat. Make it a fun game as outlined in exercise 1. Here are some more details on a similar program:

Brigitte 5 months ago

My dog is scared of wind, rain and all the noises outside even though I conditioned him to it as a puppy. He simply can't settle when he is outside. The worst is the sound of the rubbish removal truck. His whole body shakes and he is desperate to go inside even if I'm outside playing with him. I will try your method and hope it will go better soon!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 months ago from USA Author

Also, look up my "hear that" method by googling alexadry hear that method. It has helped many owners!

Paula Fitton 4 months ago

Hi, I have 2 Northern Inuit dogs,one,5yrs from puppy and no problem but this gorgeous,big,powerful,almost 3yrs bitch,has refused to leave front door since I rescued her 3months ago. I train her every day and have done everything you have suggested,I get her into garden where she's spending a little more time,but NOTHING will get her to go on a walk.She dashes' in n out of front door with tons of encouragement but that's it, now I just don't know what to do. PLEASE PLEASE can you help me PLEASE,it's breaking my heart and she's so big she needs the exercise. Once she was pushed out and nearly had the person on the floor desperately trying to get back home,the other dog adores her and she cry's when he goes out,but she'd rather run upstairs than follow him on a walk. Thankyou Paula Fitton Lancashire England.

John 4 months ago

Our 3yr old dog Nessa gets real nervour and anti socialable when my wife or I take her out for her daily walk, but when my 10yr old daughter is with eighter of us when we walk our dog she is a totally different dog, she becomes somewhat fareless and our neighbors all seem amazed. Although some look at us as if we beat her but I assure them that is not the case and we so ashamed to the point that we don't want to walk her. Please help her.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 months ago from USA Author

It's great that you have a helper (your daughter) to get this dog to walk with no fear. Keep walking the dog with your daughter and provide lots of praise and treats on these outings.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 months ago from USA Author

It's a starting point if you got her to stay in front of the door. For very severe cases though, you may need to work along with your vet and a trainer. In some severe cases, dogs may need a calming aid or even medications to take the edge off and to implement behavior modification.

Tanya 3 months ago

my shepherd mix a few weeks ago started screaming when we take her outside she refuses to go out to potty and sometimes she goes no problem. i dont know what to do?

SocaliJae 3 months ago

I have a 13 year old Belgian Tervuren, I rescued her 10 years ago (she was abused), she has alway loved her walks i would take her at least 2 miles per walk 3 times a day, and short walks just so she can relieve herself, two weeks prior to the 4th of July she is now refusing to even walk half a mile, if she does walk she won't leave my side and very rarely relieves herself! i live in an apt. so she does not have a yard that I can step out into for her to go (not sure she would anyways), we are now going on July 24th a month and she is still not wanting to go! I am unsure what to do, I am considering trying to find her a home with someone who has a yard so she is not uncomfortable or get infections due to not going? Unsure how to clear this up, I have tried running with her, it worked for about 5 walks then she stop, she searches for places to hid instead of places to go potty! I get that it was due to the fireworks but they are pretty much gone at this point yet she seems to be hearing what I am not!? When I attempt to get her go further she acts like she is being abused, shivers, won't let me touch her or if she does she flinches, not sure if this is due to her past? We did move in November so this is a new area for her, I am unsure if she just doesn't like the area or if there is a scent that brings up a past for her? I don't know what to do for her, I have never had a dog that would not go potty when taken outside, I am puzzled!

Norma Moy 2 months ago

Our bit bull is scared to go out side she won't come out of her room my husband would carry her out we see her running around the yard we just don't understand I don't like our baby girl that way it makes me sad

Debbie 7 weeks ago

i have a 9 month old Sheltie pup. When I first got him he was great going out to potty, about at 5 months the brakes went on he will have no part of it. I also have to other shelties . I called the vet because he's a pup and I feel so bad he's missing all the outside fun and run time I do have a fenced in yard also she started him on a calming med he was improving but I went on vacation and have to start all over he didn't move the whole time I was gone

jmcbr 4 weeks ago

this is so funny but if i were you id get help

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 weeks ago from USA Author

Yes, any changes like a vacation can bring things a few steps back, so you'll have to re-start and hopefully you can get back and pick from were you left. Do you have a trainer helping you? Good luck!

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    Adrienne Janet Farricelli (alexadry)1,687 Followers
    1,247 Articles

    Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

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