Why Is My Dog Suddenly Scared of the Slippery Floor?
Understanding What May Cause This Behavior
One of the most important approaches when dealing with sudden fearful or aggressive behaviors in dogs is ruling out medical conditions. According to veterinarian W. Jean Dodds, there appears to be a link between thyroid dysfunction and aberrant behaviors including (but not limited to):
- unprovoked aggression towards other animals and/or people
- erratic temperament
- fearfulness and phobias
So, it is understandable why often dog behaviorists recommend a vet visit as the first approach in curbing dog behavioral problems. Being fearful of slippery surfaces indeed may be a sign of undetected orthopedic problems. With health conditions ruled out, the dog's problems can be assessed from a behavioral standpoint.
Considering Your Dog's Fear From a Behavioral Standpoint
Now, why did your dog suddenly become scared of walking on a slippery floor? These dogs appear to dislike in particular walking on tiles, linoleum, or other slippery surfaces. One important consideration to keep in mind is the dog's age. Indeed, dogs go through a second fear period taking place when the dog is between six to 14 months. According to Sue S. Gelais:
''The Second Fear Imprint Period is similar to the one that occurred during the socialization period, but, it is much less defined. It occurs as dogs enter adolescence and seems more common in males. It is often referred to as adolescent shyness. Your dog may suddenly become reluctant to approach something new or suddenly become afraid of something familiar. This behavior can be very frustrating to the owner and difficult to understand because its onset is so sudden and, seemingly, unprovoked.
If you notice this behavior, it is important to avoid the two extremes in response: Don't force him to do or approach something frightening to him and don't coddle or baby him. To get through situations that make your dog fearful, be patient, kind, and understanding. Desensitize him to the object or situation by gradually introducing him to it and using food rewards and praise to entice him to confront the fearful object or situation.
Do not coddle or reassure him in any way that will encourage his fearful behavior. Do not correct him either. Simply make light of it and encourage him give him food rewards as he begins to deal with his fear better. Make sure you lavishly praise his attempts! This phase will pass.''
Of course, other potential causes of sudden fearfulness of slippery surfaces are most likely negative experiences, such as slipping on them and getting hurt. You may not visibly notice any signs of injuries, but the dog (being quite stoic by nature) may hide the pain for some time. But most of the time, more than pain, the dog is simply shocked by experiencing sudden poor footing; this is most likely seen in weaker-nerved specimens that are easy to startle.
To a dog, a slippery surface is difficult to understand. The dog may not understand precisely what is happening, and he will feel as if the floor itself is moving under him and he has little choice in stopping it from moving. They may feel like they are walking on a treadmill. This can be a frightening experience to a dog, and it can be similar to what a person experiences when walking over a street covered in ice, explains dog trainer Kevin Behan. The only way to make peace with the floor is by negotiating with it, simply by finding the right act of balance and careful footing to make peace with the floor.
These dogs may be helped out with a good program focusing on desensitization and classical conditioning. That is making the dog face his fears gradually and by associating the slippery floor with good things.
How to Help a Fearful Dog Overcome Its Fear of Slippery Floors
Cesar Millan in one of his episodes helps a dog fearful of walking on a slippery floor by simply walking over it. This method of having a dog face its fears directly is known as ''flooding''. Flooding can be effective in some cases, (think of tossing a child scared of water in a swimming pool), but it has good risks of aggravating fear at times and giving only transient, poorly reliable results.
In order to help a dog, I find it more effective and long lasting, to work on the dog's emotional state. This goes to the root of the problem and offers more reliable results. It typically undoes what the dog's mental associations have been in the past. So if a dog thinks that a floor is terrible, you want ot train now that the floor can turn out being the dog's best friend. This is mainly accomplished with a behavior modification program that takes some work to implement but that changes the dog's emotional state and therefore its response to the floor.
Feeding Exclusively in the Area
A good training method is to feed the dog near the slippery surface each day. Every day when mealtime comes, feed in the slippery area, gradually getting closer and closer to the areas the dog is terrorized with.I f the dog is reluctant to eat, throw a rug on the area, and feed on the rug, and then gradually fold the rug making it smaller and smaller, therefore encouraging the dog to be gradually on a larger and larger amount of floor.
Making a Trail of Treats
Another good option is to make a trail of tasty treats over the area the dog is terrorized of walking. Make the initial trail out of kibble and then make the treats higher and higher in value, therefore you would start the trail with five kibbles, then treats, then sliced hot dogs and then the end of the trail would be a food bowl with chicken livers or steak. The dog will be rewarded naturally with each step it takes, without forcing it over the surface.
Encouraging Slow Movement
Your best friend in helping your dog walk over slippery surfaces is slow movement and relaxation. Try to invite your dog on the slippery area with treats but only when he is calmer and most likely to go slow. Fact is, going fast and tensing up reduces traction considerably, and the more the dog loses traction, the more it will panic. Not only, dogs nervous of walking on odd surfaces by instinct tend to walk with extended toenails. While this helps get traction on dirt and mud, on a slippery floor this creates more havoc, so yes, you want a relaxed dog to start with.
Clicker Training With the Floor as a Target
If you are into clicker training, consider using the floor as a target. Click and treat every time your dog gets closer and closer to the floor or close to a sticky note you place on the floor. Keep sessions brief and end on a positive note by giving a bonus (a handful of treats) for taking initiative and throwing a party with lots of praise and pats.
Thinking Like Your Dog
One last consideration: Try to think like your dog. I had a client with a small dog terrorized of a certain area of the floor; as I put myself down at her level, I recognized that her fear stemmed mainly from the air coming out from under the refrigerator!
As seen, there are a variety of ways to help your dog overcome its fear of slippery surface. It is all about changing the dog's mind set. Just as Isaac Pavlov caused dogs to drool in anticipation of food upon ringing a bell, your dog will see shiny floors as a place to eat and get lots of praise and attention.
For Further Reading
- How to relax anxious dogs
After working with animals for quite some years, I have learned to identify quickly dogs that are particularly tense by simply observing their body posture and facial expressions. Nervous dogs exhibit a series...
- Signs You Own a Fearful Dog
A fearful dog startled, scared dog,pdell, morguefile.com An attentive dog expert will be able to read a dog's emotions like a book, courtesy of the many cues offered by a dog's body language. From the most...
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli