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Puppy's fear of the outdoors needs to be addressed

| Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dear Dog Talk: I'm having housebreaking problems with my puppy. I have a 6-month-old toy poodle who freezes when he goes outside with or without his leash. He plays dead and is extremely afraid of the outside. A half-hour later, he has not done anything. I bring him back in the house, and he quickly goes in the house.

I am reading your book, "Dog Talk," and I have said "Nhaa!" (in dog language) when I catch him soiling in the house. I bring him right outside, but he freezes and just stays in one place. Treats do not work. I have even cooked bacon with no results.

I don't know what to do with this behavior, and your book does not address it. Can you help•

Dear Doggie Agoraphobic: This is not an uncommon problem. However, it is a challenging one.

Your puppy truly is frightened. When dogs truly are apprehensive, they lose their appetite, even for bacon.

This fear of the great outdoors is a more common behavior with puppies that join the family when they are around 4 months old or older.

Several years ago, I started a controversy in the "Dog Talk" column when I wrote: The best time to bring a new puppy into the home is at 8 weeks old. Many breeders took umbrage with this opinion, and I got a multitude of e-mail giving me reasons (many plausible) as to why I was wrong.

Although I can see the validity of some of the breeders'arguments, I abide by my original opinion.

I don't have solutions to each and every dog issue. My readers and clients sometimes ask me questions about problems that I never had with a dog that I lived with or with an owner whose dog I helped them to train.

When I'm confronted with issues like this, the best approach that I can take is to ask myself what I would do if I owned your puppy.

In this case, I guess I would just spend as much time as possible outdoors with the puppy. He needs to confront his fears in a not-too-intense way in order to get over them. Take him to parks and into town. Take him everywhere.

Be careful not to inadvertently reinforce his fear in an attempt to reassure him. By this I mean don't console him with verbal sympathy: "It's OK puppy. Don't be frightened. Nothing is going to hurt you," etc. He will interpret these tones as praise for the frightened way he is feeling.

Do not growl at him for feeling fearful. Doing so would only make his fears worse. Say nothing. When he shows signs of "loosening up," praise and encourage him.

One thing that I would do differently with the immediate housebreaking issue is not spend a half-hour outdoors waiting for the puppy to urinate and/or defecate. I'd give him five minutes and then put him in his crate. I'd wait 10 minutes and then take him outside again. I know this is an exasperating process; nevertheless, if he were my puppy, I would not give him the opportunity to come into the house and soil.

So, the only time I would not be spending long periods of time outside with my "agoraphobic" puppy would be when I wanted him to quickly "do his bidness."

Other than that, spend lots and lots of time outside with the puppy. When the weather gets better, take him camping.

Dog Talk Readers: If you have ideas on this issue or experience overcoming it with your dog, I'd appreciate your input.

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