Dog afraid of the backyard
July 6, 2010 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Our dog has become traumatized by the recent fireworks (I'm in the US, obviously) and is afraid to go outside at night. Even when he is taken outside he doesn't do anything - this results in late night indoor poops. What can I do to get him going in the backyard again?

A acquired a 3 year old Scottish terrier a few months ago from my fiance's family. He's been an outdoor dog for that past year and a half and a country dog the whole time. We know he's afraid of thunderstorms - we've got that taken care of. But we now know he's also afraid of fireworks.

Since we live in the middle of the city, we've got jackasses continually setting off explosions as soon as it gets dark. Even now that the 4th of July is over this is still happening and will for at least a week or two more. At some point about a week ago, our dog began to refuse to go outside when it was dark and from what we've observed of him when he is outside it is the fireworks that are scaring him.

During the day he goes out and plays with our other dog like he does normally.

I've been able to lead him out into the back yard on a leash but all he does is follow closely at my feet. I've walked him out into the neighborhood and that seems to help - he'll stop and pee along the way. (He marks territory - unfortunately he does this in the house, too - another problem for another day.) But if I try and lead him back into our yard he balks.

Any advice is welcome - if there's any more info that might help let me know, too.
posted by charred husk to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Our dog is fireworks-phobic too, and we live in a city that has jackasses setting them off from Memorial Day until Halloween.

We just hang out on our back porch and backyard constantly (we do this anyway) and encourage the dog to come spend time with us. He'd rather be outside with us than inside and alone, and when he's outside he gets a steady stream of little treats, occasional pets, etc. When jackasses set off fireworks, we do not react in any way. Nor do we react to the dog's reaction (obviously don't yell at a dog for being scared, but also don't pet him and go "Oh, it's okay, la la la la blah blah blah" because sometimes dogs interpret that as praise for showing a fearful reaction -- you definitely don't want to reinforce fear.) This has sort of desensitized him to the explosion noises -- now he only cowers in terror during big fireworks shows or major thunderstorms. It took a while, though.

On a more practical level: Can you move his feeding schedule a couple hours ahead, so that he is less likely to need to poop when it's dark out?
posted by kataclysm at 9:09 AM on July 6, 2010

My mom's dog had the same problem. The vet recommended Rescue Remedy and, for when it got really bad, a prescription sedative. But not with stunning success, so I'm curious to see what the answers here will be.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2010

Can you hang outside from dusk till dark? Spend time out there having fun as long as you can, let it get dark while you're out there.
posted by TomMelee at 9:15 AM on July 6, 2010

I have read about warm blankets being used to help dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms - it helps provide kind of a warm "snuggled by momma dog" feeling. Perhaps try sitting right outside your door and snuggling your dog in a towel or spare blanket?
posted by carlh at 9:16 AM on July 6, 2010

Response by poster: TomMelee: "Can you hang outside from dusk till dark? Spend time out there having fun as long as you can, let it get dark while you're out there."

I've actually done that - as soon as he notices it is dark or hears the first firework, he runs to the back porch and sits there.

kataclysm: "Can you move his feeding schedule a couple hours ahead, so that he is less likely to need to poop when it's dark out?"

We feed twice a day, so that doesn't work well. The other dog is a bit of a problem for that, too.
posted by charred husk at 10:16 AM on July 6, 2010

I've not tried this, but I've heard good things about the ThunderShirt. Good luck!
posted by Zoyashka at 10:27 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Earplugs? I've never used them for dogs but they're commonly used for performance horses, so there ought to be something out there for dogs too.

With a dog who must poo but is intent on getting back inside, you can take a lawn chair out into the yard and take him out on a leash. Sit in the chair and read (or something) until he goes. It may take hours. It may deprive you of sleep. But he must go before he comes back inside, or he'll poo inside.

I've read that you can insert a (lubricated) Q-tip up a dog's anus to stimulate him to poo. This isn't something I would try without a long discussion with my vet. It may be helpful to try but definitely talk to your vet first.
posted by galadriel at 11:37 AM on July 6, 2010

Simple. Condition the dog to look forward to fireworks. Whenever a firecracker goes off, give your dog his favorite treat. Then he will see sharp noises as a positive thing. Eventually you can tone it down to maybe throwing a favorite ball for him something similar with another toy, and finally just praise.... *BANG*... "Good dog!" Don't overdo the attention, though. By coddling/calming the dog it sends the message that there is a reason to be coddled; i.e., fireworks are bad. You want to change that in the dog's mind to fireworks are a good thing!
posted by Doohickie at 11:59 AM on July 6, 2010

Also, is your dog crate trained? We always used to see that as a negative, but we tried it with our two most recent dogs (because the older one was having a tough time with housebreaking). They won't soil their den, so if you can get your dog comfortable with a crate, then close the door whean you can't be with him (when you're gone or asleep), it can also help the undesired "presents."
posted by Doohickie at 12:01 PM on July 6, 2010

carlh's idea with the snuggling works for crate training. Our new puppy was crate trained in less than a week after I spent a few nights sleepingon the floor next to his crate.
posted by Doohickie at 12:03 PM on July 6, 2010

Response by poster: galadriel, he's now afraid of the backyard even when no fireworks are going off. As for sitting out with him all night, I've cove pretty close recently and have the bug bites to prove it. It didn't seem to help.

Doohickie, that might not be a bad idea, but as I mentioned he's just afraid of the backyard now fireworks or no. Also, we've yet to figure out what he actually likes and feels comfortable with - he's shown no interest in any toys and even seems reluctant about accepting treats.
He isn't crate trained, either. We might go that route if all else fails but I'd rather train him out of fearing the back yard.
posted by charred husk at 12:13 PM on July 6, 2010

We go through this pretty often with our dog (just last night, even), who is also afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks (and the toaster oven, but that's another story). If she is outside when it thunders or when she hears fireworks, she immediately tucks her tail between her legs and runs for the house. She'll often associate the location where she heard the noise with the fear for several days afterward.

Obviously every dog is different, and you know what's best for your furry companion. Here's what we've tried and had decent success with*:

- When the scary noise (ie. fireworks, storm) is happening and we need her to do her business at night, we try to wait for a lull in the noise. Then I rush her outside to her usual spot and tell her to "go pee". She usually tries to turn around and go back in the house, but I just keep walking her around the yard telling her to "go pee" until she does her business. Immediately after she goes, I take her back inside. I don't know about your dog, but mine won't even look at food when she's scared, so going back inside is the best reward she can get. She has caught on to the fact that the faster she does her business, the faster she gets to go back inside. Our dog is a territory marker too, so in this situation it helps to walk her around the neighborhood a bit as she'll be more tempted to go.

- Once the scary noise is long past (ie. we're walking the neighborhood on a sunny afternoon), if she's still scared, I basically make her tough it out. She'll get scared and tuck her tail, but I don't take her back inside right away. We work up to spending a little bit more time outside, walking a little bit further (in your case spending a little more time in the back yard) past the point where she gets scared each day. Within 3 or 4 days, she is over the associated fear and happy to go on walks again. My dog ordinarily loves going outside to sniff things, so you may need to figure out what your dog loves the most (digging? sniffing? chasing a ball?) and do that in your backyard so that the dog gradually learns to reassociate fun things with the backyard, instead of terror.

- To avoid indoor late night poops, try going to a long walk as close to nightfall as your dog will tolerate to hopefully get everything out of his system early. You don't say when you're feeding him, but it may help to feed him earlier in the day too.

(*We normally walk our dog on a leash in the backyard because we have no fence. This may not work as well for you if you dog isn't used to going on a leash.)

Reading over this, I know it must sound like I'm an awful pet owner to do such a thing to my dog, but I love my dog to bits. I've just learned that giving in to her fear doesn't help either of us. I never make her tough it out mid-thunderstorm or mid-fireworks show - this only makes her fear worse. If I'm trying to get her to go and she seems too terrified, I take her back inside, wait 15 minutes, then try again. I only ever have her tough it out when there is no scary noise, no (perceived) threat to her. Allowing her to hide when there's nothing to be afraid of only reinforces that she should hide from nothing.

I would also definitely recommend getting a crate for your pup. Our scaredy dog LOVES her crate. Her natural instict is to find a small, dark space to hide when she's scared so her crate was a natural fit for her.

Best of luck to you and your scardy dog!
posted by geeky at 12:54 PM on July 6, 2010

It doesn't sound like you've been doing this, but dogs look to their owners for guidance on whether or not a situation is safe, and when we see something that is frightened, we tend to be hard wired to provide comfort. So try to be aware that if you are reacting to the dog being scared by trying to make it feel better (petting, saying calming things,etc) you might be reinforcing that the dog should, in fact, be scared.

I only mention it because I got caught up in that, and my dog is now convinced that thunderstorms are going to come into the house and kill us all, because I didn't show sufficient indifference to the scary noises when he was a pup.
posted by quin at 2:10 PM on July 6, 2010

One thing that helped our very skittish dogs was to go outside on the 4th. We had an impromptu training session with a clicker (you don't really need a clicker though, just treats that your dog goes NUTS over.)

Our dogs love training, and while initially they were alarmed by the firecrackers, their greed and excitement for treats and doing tricks for treats got them to ignore the firecrackers after a few minutes.

After a while, it seemed that they forgot about the firecrackers altogether, or at least didn't go running and barking everytime they heard one (they did give a "what was that?!?" kind of look every once in a while.)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:03 PM on July 6, 2010

Try what Cesar did with Kane. Don't give up, if you relent the problem will never get fixed.
posted by bbxx at 4:59 PM on July 6, 2010

This is called gun shyness. Here's one approach to breaking it.
posted by Menthol at 5:29 PM on July 6, 2010

« Older Weathering the relationship doldrums   |   Traffic in 2.4Ghz Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.