Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Understanding Why Your Dog May Be Afraid of Slippery or Hardwood Floors
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.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli
Kitty on December 03, 2019:
This is a good read! My Black Labrador female dog became afraid of walking on the laminate and cushion floor after I had her spaded. It seems she is coming around with the cushion floor but not having any luck with the laminate. When she realizes that she walked on the laminate to get to a mat, she will actually stay on the mat and cry. We have to put a trail of mats so she can walk and get back on the mats! It’s very trying but we are trying our darnest to get her to overcome the fear of laminate. I will keep coming back to this site for any new ideas. Thank you for sharing your own problems dealing with the same issue. If we could only overcome this problem we will become millionaires, lol. Good luck everyone and keep your experiences coming so we all can learn from each other.
Sandy on December 09, 2017:
I rescued my dog a year ago, she is 8 yrs old or so and is a golden retriever. All of a sudden she won't walk on my shinny hardwood floors and has become frightened of stairs even though the stairs are covered.
Jeff mcdougle on November 01, 2017:
My dog is not coming off my couch and is really scared of laminite floor and she has been fine with the floor before but it's just occurred
Michele on October 17, 2017:
This was so helpful. I was at a loss for what to do and so nervous. I have an 8 yr old toy poodle who is well trained and also indoor potty trained. well, indoor and outdoor. About 2 weeks ago she suddenly became horrified of the linoleum floors and for the first time in 8 years potty on the carpet and not in her potty room. I immediately made a vet appointment for the next day. We ruled out anything medical so now I am left with a dog who is terrified suddenly. It has been 2 weeks now and she won't go in there and I have video her many times because I want to help her through this. It seems to come and go. She eats in her feeding place which is linoleum but right next to carpet. I just don't know what to do. i am trying treat re-training now. Poor baby
diane on October 10, 2017:
hi ive got a 16 month old rough collie bitch.and i take her to all dog training from puppy stage upto now.i also show her but in tbe last 4months she has got a fear of walking on slippery floors.like lino wooden floors and tiled floors.i still take her training but wen she starts bowing her head and panting ant stressing it really upsets me.could u give me some advise on how to cure this
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 07, 2017:
Can you move the wee -wee pad closer to the edge carpet, until he feels better? You can perhaps get a large tray and cover with the pad to protect your carpet.
Debra on May 06, 2017:
I live in apartment and his wee wee pad is in bathroom on tile. After he hurt his leg he doesn't like walking on tile to go to bathroom. I have to take him in there and he will bark when done. If I don't stay on top of his potty now he will go on edge of carpet/tile area. He is 7 years old chuchihua,
student on November 30, 2015:
I am doing research and this really helped me find out stuff.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 28, 2012:
You are always welcome to Wetnose! I hope he is no longer scared of it! Best wishes!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on July 28, 2012:
I want to do a hub on Roscoe and mention his bit with the fear of the floor. Is it o.k. if I link this hub on Roscoe's hub?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 04, 2012:
Thank you for taking the time to read it. My female is a bit scared of it too since it is right before the door, I had to teach her that if she goes slow it is better than going fast and acting panicky. She got it, but I am sure if put a rug it would make life much easier for both of us.
wetnosedogs from Alabama on April 04, 2012:
It was a strange experience for me to find my dog suddenly scared of the floor. But the carpet did help. And comparing that to slipping on ice, I've had that happen to me. Makes sense.
SUSIE DUZY from Delray Beach, Florida on June 02, 2011:
Dogs get freightened by things that we do not understand.