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Fear of exiting the car - entering the house


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Lily is showing a new fear behavior that I am hoping others may have some experience with. I would just add this to the running thread that I've created for Lily, but seeing other car issues in the forums, it seems logical to list this separately so others can help, and be helped, by any discussion, without having to wade through my lengthy thread about Lily.

 

 

Here's the issue.

 

When we return home, especially from the park or somewhere fun, Lily acts afraid to get out of the car. She has to be coaxed out, often times switching from one side of the car to the other. she will sometimes "hide" on the floor of the car, something she's also done when she gets nervous when we have to take winding roads and she gets unstable on the seat. Then, when I get her out, she is afraid to go through the utility room (garage - utility room - hallway), and will try to slip back through the door back into the garage (and then back into the car). One day, she was so reluctant to come out, I left the car door open, the door to the house open, hoping that she would come in on her own and discover it was OK all along. 30min later, I lost patience and went to get her. I coaxed her out of the car and closed the car door. She still didn't want to come in, so I figured I'd give her a few more minutes. 15min later I went back and found her laying UNDER the car. This is a daily issue, sometimes easier than others.

 

There are two things I can think of, that might be happening here. 1) she has an issue where her excitement turns into fear (discussed here: Lily's progress), and maybe she's just excited o get home but then becomes overwhelmed. 2) We've had several thunderstorms in the 5 weeks that she's lived with us, and she is VERY scared of thunder. Sometimes, as the thunder begins, she tries to lead me to the garage, which makes me think that she may think the thunder is only in our house ("let's get outta here!").

 

If anyone has any ideas about how to work through this, I'd love to hear. I'm thinking we might try treating upon getting home, but 1) she doesn't care of treats when she's afraid, and 2) treats may increase excitement level, and she already hides or needs reassurance after getting too excited (often times after getting home). We tried exiting the car in the driveway once, and it worked, but not without some of the same timid hesitation.

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I can't help with diagnosing why or how her brain works that way, but maybe a couple ideas to help managing?

1.) Would you consider crating her in the vehicle? That would keep her more secure, possibly mentally as well as physically. Besides sliding around on the car seat, I'd want to be sure she was secured in the vehicle in the event of an accident. If you ever get rear-ended and the airbag goes off, she may well just bail the instant a door or window opened. So, this may be worth looking into both to calm her mind and keep her physically secure.

 

2. Can you leash her to get her out the car and to the house? That way she couldn't clamber around the floor boards and you would control how she goes between there and the house. If she does okay on leash, that may be a way to help her calm.

Just some food for thought! :)

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Thanks for the thoughts, Gloria!

 

I can't help with diagnosing why or how her brain works that way, but maybe a couple ideas to help managing?

1.) Would you consider crating her in the vehicle? That would keep her more secure, possibly mentally as well as physically. Besides sliding around on the car seat, I'd want to be sure she was secured in the vehicle in the event of an accident. If you ever get rear-ended and the airbag goes off, she may well just bail the instant a door or window opened. So, this may be worth looking into both to calm her mind and keep her physically secure.

No room in the car for a crate. I did get a pair of seatbelts. actually only meant to get one, but two came in a package. Each one clicks into the receiving end of the seatbelt. One is then clipped on to her collar or harness. The other is clipped onto the first seatbelt, so that if she unclips one of the seatbelts by stepping on it, she is still secured. She doesn't love this, but it's a must, because otherwise she tries to jump up to the front seat. She's accustomed to sitting pretty to get buckled in before we go anywhere.

 

 

2. Can you leash her to get her out the car and to the house? That way she couldn't clamber around the floor boards and you would control how she goes between there and the house. If she does okay on leash, that may be a way to help her calm.

Yes, we've done this when she's really being reluctant. I don't want to drag her out though, and add greater stress to the situation. Sometimes just clipping the leash on is enough to get her moving, but other times it is not and I'm just there on my knees trying to talk her into leaving the car. In any case, it is good to do to sort of hustle her along through the scary part in the utility room (I guess?) and prevent her from trying to crawl under the (hot!) bottom of the car.

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I too thought, is she leashed? You don't have to drag her out but use the leash to put some pressure on her initially and then in a matter of fact way, just walk her in the house.

 

Coaxing rarely ever works for really scared dogs. Show her what you want by using the leash. Be calm and quiet and just walk her out. Repeat. Repeat.

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I also think that's a good idea.

 

She's not a confident dog, and another possibility to throw into the mix is that she's having trouble making decisions to do things on her own. Anxiety can be crippling, for both people and dogs. It can take away the ability to make decisions and move forward, so maybe having the leash and your gentle encouragement could relieve her of the pressure of having to think and act for herself.

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Fear around change of environment is something I've heard of in a couple of other dogs, and it seems that being on a leash and being 'told what to do' is helpful with that.

 

The other thing is to not coax, be very ho-hum matter of fact about it. Try doing it with as few words as possible, and no soothing at all. Some dogs, (and people) get more anxious when somebody tells them not to worry.

 

No wild praise once inside the house, either. Keeping it low-key and matter of fact is reassuring, while heaping on the praise keeps them worried. With what you've said about her confidence, she might be interpreting the reassurance as evidence that there really is something to worry about!

 

You're doing a lot of great work on her behalf, Zach ~ keep it up!

 

Ruth & Gibbs

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oy...complicated, and very counter-intuitive.

 

After a long walk out at a different park (no play, just walk), we came home and as I came to the door to get the dogs out, she went to the floor on the other side of the car. I put a leash on her and held some tension, called her out, no go. I stayed calm(not exciting or sweet) for a few minutes, then tried to coax her, kneeling down so I wasn't intimidating, no go. I went to the other side of the car, repeat, no go. I finally started lifting her up and out and then she came out clumsily. We walked calmly in, and once past the utility room she was greeted enthusiastically by my wife and Zorro, I praised her and took off her harness. Lily was happy and wagging her tail, but then when we all started down the hall she turned tail and back into the utility room.

 

So, I guess we messed that up by being excited, and probably by my impatience at the car. I'll try again soon with no excited praise, and more patience at the car.

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Zach, I am really touched by the time & patience you are putting in to helping Lily. Thank you!

 

Is there a chance that something may have fallen and made a noise, scared her at some point, in the laundry room or hallway? These beasts remember Every Little Thing that made them jump. That theory makes sense to me, since it's happened w/my dogs.

 

Thanks again for doing all this for a wee beastie.

 

Ruth & Gibbs

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Having worked with a number of very frightened dogs, I agree with those who are saying do not coax her at all.

 

It is like sweet-talking a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms (I hope you don't do that). Coaxing and sweet-talking only reinforce the dog's concept that there is something wrong.

 

It is only natural that our first reaction is to coax and be sweet and reassuring saying "it's OK" and all of that. We are trying to be nice to the dog who is frightened. But it is actually counter-productive to do things that way.

 

With all of the scared and withdrawn dogs I have had, I simply act as if everything is completely normal. No coaxing, no reassurances, just happy cheerful voice and come on let's go now. No nonsense. If she won't get out of the car without being dragged, simply pick her up and put her on the floor of the garage, then walk her firmly into the house.

 

Once there, nothing exciting, no praise, no treats, just normal day and now let's have dinner (or whatever).

 

Eventually she will learn from simple repetition that there's nothing to fear. But give it time. Lots of time.

Good for you for working with this dog. It will all be worth it.

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