Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about our dog’s anxiety. Her name is Tala. She is a rescue dog who came from a pretty traumatic environment before we took her. She was rescued from a drug house by a rescue group. We've had her for about 18 months now and she has very severe anxiety when it comes to going outside. Inside the house she is well-behaved, calm and peaceful.
Our problems begin when she needs to go outside to do her business. She leaves the apartment and begins shaking in the elevator going down to the lobby. As soon as we go out the door, she begins to hug the building, speeds out to do her business and races back to the door. If there is any hint of a loud, unexpected noise while we're outside, she'll immediately make a break for the door.
When we moved into our new apartment back in January, she was fine. She would go for very long walks with no problem. Somehow, that changed to the state she's in now where she won't walk anymore. She shakes and squats down on the ground until you end up dragging her to get her to move. Obviously, we don't want to do that. It's basically like having two different dogs depending on if you're inside or outside.
We've tried everything we can think of. We hired a trainer who, while being very nice and obviously caring about our dog, couldn't really come up with any solutions. We love our dog very much and will accept her no matter what, but we're sad she's not able to enjoy the most basic dog thing there is — going for a walk. We live in an awesome neighborhood with water all around and plenty of walking to do. We really want her to be able to enjoy that. Any suggestions you have are most definitely welcome.
It's unfortunate your dog came from a checkered background, but she lucked out to have finally found a good guardian looking out for her well being. You have a few things going on, so let’s unpack them individually.
When rehabilitating a dog from a bad situation, one of the first things we try to do is limit them to the things that trigger an emotional response. I know this is easier said than done, but each time the dog reacts negatively, she's essentially practicing that fearful behavior.
So when you do take her out, try to schedule it for times when it's less busy outside. A dog’s digestive tract for food averages eight hours. Sometimes adjusting your feeding schedule can help your dog need to go at less busy times. Many of my clients report that keeping a log of feeding times and eliminations can help determine how long a dog’s digestive process is, allowing you to modify feeding times accordingly.
If possible, taking her for a drive to a less busy area to go potty can help. Remember, this is a short-term adjustment just to help reduce or eliminate her to exposure to sounds outside that spook her.
I'd also schedule as many positive outdoor adventures as you can away from the busy areas that she has problems with. You want to build up a cache of positive outdoor experiences, and driving to a park or area that is quiet for regular walks and play time can do wonders. Try to do this daily if possible or at least multiple times a week.
Additionally, increasing exercise before taking her out in your neighborhood can be a great way to help her succeed. This reduces the energy she can devote to the fears; just make sure you don’t overdo it.
There are also several exercise options that can be done inside. Playing fetch or running around inside before heading out can help reduce her anxiety. This video will give you some good ideas. Just make sure she has 10 minutes to calm down and catch her breath before heading out.
You can also greatly reduce or eliminate her reaction to loud noises by doing some counter-conditioning. Make a list of the sounds that she is reactive to. You can probably purchase sound files of many of these sounds online. If there are any that are unique or you can't find online, record them on your phone and practice this counter-conditioning exercise at a progressively louder volume (going at your dog’s pace) until that sound is no longer a trigger for her fearful behavior. Work on one to two sounds a time. Once you can play them on full blast with no reaction, move on to the next one.
I would also teach your dog to focus on you. This is a great way to redirect a dog's attention. The way I teach this exercise can actually stop the production of cortisol in her blood.
If you start building up positive outdoor experiences, work on counter-conditioning, limit her exposure to the things that trigger her and increase her exercise before heading outside, you should be able to help her get past most of this fearful behavior.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
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Despite being a senior cat at 10 years old, Baby is full of energy and mischief. Here, she dangles from a bannister in her house in Gretna.
Karen Windle, copy editor
We’re Bruce and Ernie (left). We love sneaking raw bacon off the kitchen counter, lounging around the house naked, er, without our collars and making friends with deer. (The deer *love* to play tag, but for some reason we’re always “it.”)
Katy Glover, online editor
Buster can put a smile on your face like no one else, including those of neighbors who spot him dragging me along on a walk or run. Unfortunately, this high-energy guy recently has been sidelined by the doggie version of a torn ACL and subsequent knee surgery. He could use a little boost, so I'm nominating him for the OWH Pet Parade.
Julie Anderson, news reporter
At left is Clyde. He’s a dog. He’s 2 ½. He’s deaf. At right is Pieces. He’s a cat. He’s 13. He can hear. They would like very much for you to pick them!
Brad Davis, business editor
If you're an avid reader of the World-Herald, maybe you've heard of Cooper. Features reporter Chris Peters has written about raising Cooper. Here he is on the custom pallet bed his mom built for him.
Chris Peters, features reporter
At left is Daisy. Her best friend is a reindeer, who comes to visit a few weeks each year. She complains a lot to the non-magical beings she lives with, for obvious reasons. At right is Diaz. He's a handsome boy who doesn't care about that. He loves walks and belly rubs, all people, most dogs, one cat, and zero racoons and opossums.
Rich Mills, copy editor
At the Ducey Farm in Dundee, we have the blackshirt gals who guard the back yard (Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt), and the chickens who help me garden (Brooklyn and Penny). They produce eggs and inspire pillows for the cutest and most fashionable dogs in the world (Phoebe, Gigi and cousin Tyson), who love to bark at the feral cats (Bunny and Butterscotch) who live outside and have matching tails!
Marjie Ducey, reporter
Gator likes eating snackies, expertly posing for pictures, getting floof everywhere and borking (not barking) at neighbor dogs.
Cory Gilinsky, features (and Sarah Jarecki, civilian)
Gracie the border collie and Beau the red heeler like long walks and frequent car rides, especially to drive-thrus that give treats.
Deb Shanahan, metro desk editor, and Kent Sievers, photographer
Isabel doesn’t enjoy her humans (especially the little ones) a lot, but sometimes likes a good chin scratch. Mostly she enjoys being left alone to sit on top of the piano and watch the birds outside.
Kevin Coffey, music critic
Izzy is 6 months old. She likes to chase her tail (and often catches it), climb up couches (and people), and bother Zake. Zake is 15 years old and unsure of Izzy. After all, Izzy has the high ground.
Zach Tegler, copy desk
Jameson may be named after whiskey, but this five-year-old gal is all sweetness. At first skittish after being rescued from a farm in Oklahoma, now her favorite hobby is stealing hearts — and covers.
Laurel Foster, online
We say Juni found us after my wife was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. This little Havaton brings our family joy, love and snuggles every day.
Jeff Robb, news reporter/data geek
Laika is, hands down, the happiest dog at the dog park. She is named after the heroic Russian cosmonaut dog, one of the first animals in space. Ciara loves to pray. When she joins our family in prayer, she sounds like Scooby Doo. She is fiercely loyal and protective.
Susan Szalewski, copy editor and news reporter
Lolo was adopted seven years ago in Louisiana. She's a mutt, and we think she's part nutria, otherwise known as a swamp rat.
Hunter Paniagua, digital sports coordinator
Minerva is a very hard worker. Two-year-old "Minnie" likes to spend her time cleaning, inspecting boxes and bird watching. (And looking adorable.)
Brandon Olson, digital content hub editor
Molly, a rat-terrier Chihuahua from NHS, loved everyone she met. She was an excellent high jumper and cuddler and gave us joy for 17 years. She died in April.
Betsie Freeman, features reporter
Nellie is a 10-year-old tabby cat who is more like 5 years old at heart. She enjoys sleeping in fresh, warm laundry, eating, chasing lasers and listening to stories with best friend, 4-year-old Sam.
Ashlee Coffey, Momaha.com editor
This is Oliver. He has three legs and a bullet permanently lodged in him. (We didn't put it there). He pretends like he's surly and tough but deep down he's very snuggly.
Roseann Moring, political reporter
Loves tuna, SBH and
A fireside nap
Sarah Baker Hansen, features, and Matthew Hansen, columnist
I'm Sasha. I was a stray in Oklahoma (where my ear was somehow torn) before a shelter rescued me & treated my heartworm. I just tested negative for heartworm, yay! I really like to play dead & get belly rubs!
Alia Conley, news reporter
Slugger, owned by the original Pet Parade Petitor in Chief and saved by Big Red Rescue in Omaha, chases his tail faster to his right than to his left. He ate a hole in the blinds to watch his owner come and go.
Steven Elonich, online editor
Toby is a 4-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix with a big personality. Given the protective tendencies of his breed, he’s very serious about watching over his property — and his owners. Until he isn’t.
Dave Elsesser, features editor, and RyAnne Elsesser
Toothpick loves biting bare legs, gazing longingly at birds outside and dipping his paw into bags of Spicy Nacho Doritos so he can lick off the Doritos dust (which his owners know is gross and bad but are powerless to stop).
Erin Duffy, news reporter
Boston Terriers, Willow, 8, and Dexter, 6, have a closet full of costumes, sweaters, scarves and even some pajamas. They only sit this nicely for photos because there are LOTS of treats involved – but really – they are crazy little puppies!
Tammy Yttri, copy desk chief
Nine years ago, we found Zed roaming the earth (it was a ruff life). He’s a good boy. He likes his toy lobster, pepperonis (which we call pupperonis) and keeping up with his fans at Zedwin.org.
Graham Archer, digital editor
Hi, my name is Zeus, I an eight-year-old American Eskimo looking to get back in the game. They say I am fixed, but I think my only problem is you aren’t in my life. I love long walks and treats. I want someone to chase squirrels with. Won’t you paw right?
Chris Machian, photographer