Frightened dog is frightened... I'd rather she not be.
August 22, 2012 11:23 PM   Subscribe

So, my dog, Brandy, is having difficulties with our new place and it has me confounded.

We've been in our new house for a little over two weeks and for some strange reason, Brandy absolutely refuses to go into the back of the house.

For clarity, it's a one story house where the front door opens into a living room, that flows into a family room, which, if you walk through and go to the left will lead to the kitchen then to the mud room. Straight through the family room is a sun room that leads to the back yard. Brandy has no problems at all with any of these rooms (except the mud room, which is Mister's domain and cut off with a pet gate). Off of the living room and before the family room is a hallway that leads to the bedrooms. Brandy will not go into the hallway without much coaxing or unless she's on a lead. Even with coaxing and treats, she acts frightened and leaves as soon as she can (or as soon as she has the last treat in her mouth). We took her back there this evening on a lead and sat with her until her tail came out from under her legs, petting her and just hanging out. I took her off the lead, and she seemed to be okay with it. She walked back and forth from front to back a couple of times and I thought we'd made some progress. But when I tried calling her back about a half an hour later, she went straight into her kennel (this is par for the course when we try to call her back with us in the evening). So, back to square one.

I don't understand why she won't come into the back area. I'm not sure why I want her in the back area other than I don't want her to be afraid of anything in the house. Plus, I like having the pets in my bedroom at night. I dunno why, I just do. She had no problem at all sleeping next to my bed in our old apartment (which had no hallways). I can't think of anything that would be frightening her back there. There aren't any machines that make loud noises and we've done all we can to make it as accommodating as possible to both pets.

So, my question is, what can I do to make her less frightened of the back area? I thought of putting her food back there, but I have to feed her in her kennel or the cat will steal her food, and there really isn't a place for her kennel back there. Also, should I even try to help her get over her fear? or am I being selfish to want her in the back area? I have a feeling she would come back if she wasn't afraid because whenever we go back there, she comes to the edge of the hallway and lies down until we come back. She tends to sleep just at the hallway entrance too.

Just a reminder, we've had Brandy for just over a month. She's a skittish dog, but she seems to be coming out of her shell, I think that every obstacle we overcome will help, and this is one we can work on right now.

Just a data point, we don't have to drag her back when she's on a lead, she'll walk back without a fuss, but I can tell she's not happy about it, ears down, tail tucked, etc...
posted by patheral to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
Maybe it smells bad? Do you know the history of the house? Did something bad happen in that hallway? You might want to repaint and wash it down really well, there could be a bad smell lingering there.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:28 PM on August 22, 2012

Maybe it smells of another dog. If previous occupants had a dog that peed in that hall or a room off it, for example. So I second cleaning it, maybe with products specifically for pet odours.
posted by lollusc at 11:31 PM on August 22, 2012

Response by poster: The place was recarpeted, refloored (tiles in the kitchen, and parquet flooring in the family room, but carpet everywhere else) & painted for resale. As far as I know (from the realtor), the previous owner -- the one and only from what I understand -- did not have any pets.
posted by patheral at 11:37 PM on August 22, 2012

My first thought was some sort of feedback that you're not hearing.
Where is the electrical panel/ fuse box?
Is the house old enough to have knob and tube type wiring?
Both of those things can be enough to trick my brain into triggering a seizure, and I've seen animals react like you describe just before I hit the floor.
If no to both of those, the problem may not be in the house at all, but something coming from next door.
How close are you to the neighbours?
Could it be a sound or smell coming through the windows?
Try walking her around the outside of the house and see if you get the same reaction.
posted by whowearsthepants at 12:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

She's brought her own baggage.
That back area is enough like something she's had bad experience with that she is ready for whatever happened to her to happen again.

One rescue I owned hated all tile floors, and wouldn't follow you into a bathroom under any circumstances. She loved sitting in pickup trucks, and if you left the truck door open, you'd have to extract her from it at dinnertime. She hated any stair that didn't have a riser, like basement stairs. She was afraid of men, especially men with hats. She had a compulsion to escape. She was hand-shy, from slapped in the head with a hand. She was reticent about coming on command, probably because she had been called and then beaten.

Over the span of a couple of years, she got over her fear of steps, without any coercion from us. She never fully got over her desire to escape, but it got weaker and weaker as time went on.

Most of her other fear-based traits were never fully erased, especially the hand-shyness. Dogs *never* forget that. We just lived with them.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:29 AM on August 23, 2012 [12 favorites]

Brandy has had a ton of changes to deal with in the past few weeks. I would give her more time to another couple months of letting her explore the place on her own. She's probably just not sure she's actually home yet. Dogs are weird. It probably smells foreign to her.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:19 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hm. So, there's new carpet in the living room, too, and she doesn't mind that room? I was wondering about possible "outgassing" of a new carpet installation as one possibility. That could possibly be unbearably strong for sensitive doggy noses.

I'll note that one month in is still very, very early for many rescues to feel confident. My dog was afraid of a lot of stuff, including garbage bins, vehicle noise (would flat-out lay down in the middle of the street and refuse to move), every new person or dog (immediate belly-up submission), water (especially water hose), peeing or pooping at all. It took three months before I saw her walking with her tail up when we went out. She still fears water hoses, and won't go out in the rain on her own (though will put up with a deluge if it means a walk with us), but has become slightly more convinced that a bath doesn't mean certain death. Everything else she is completely sanguine and confident about these days, and that all happened at different points within the first year.

Also, dogs just hate change. I moved furniture in our bedroom recently, and my dog was not happy with this at all. It took her a couple of weeks to stop pacing irritably because things were not where she thought they should be. One thing that might help is putting a special rug, mat, pillow, or bed in your bedroom, that's already been established as being "hers." I have something like this in every room we hang out in, and notice that my dog really, really likes having "her place," and seems to feel most comfortable that way.

Aside from that, just sort of casually doing what you've been doing should be fine. Calmly lead her back to the bedroom once or twice a day, unleash her, give her a little treat (maybe on "her" rug or pillow?) and light praise, and let her go back to safer realms freely. Just keep it really casual and low-key, so it won't be confusing or alarming, and she may decide that everything is okay after all.
posted by taz at 1:21 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is Brandy a rescue? The hallway may remind her of The Place Bad Things Happened - an area she was penned up in when bad, or a place where something once startled her, or it could be that the lack of room in the hallway freaks her out.

She may not see the hallway as "this inconsequential non space one passes through to get somewhere" but instead "really narrow room with limited escape options."

Don't rush things - she's dealing with a lot of new place stress. But do lots of positive reinforcement and I suspect she will gradually adjust to the hallway not being a super bad place.
posted by zippy at 3:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

She may not see the hallway as "this inconsequential non space one passes through to get somewhere" but instead "really narrow room with limited escape options."

Exactly my thought. My rescue cats don't particularly like places without escape routes, even after a dozen years.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:15 AM on August 23, 2012

Yeah dogs, especially rescues, are superstitious critters and if they decide that not going somewhere is safer than going there then that's just the way things are. I agree that it's early days yet in her time as your dog and you are probably best just leaving her to to figure it out. Making her go somewhere that makes her anxious won't desensitize her, it'll just reinforce the anxiety.
posted by merocet at 6:04 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So, y'all are saying we should stop trying to bring her into the back area at all? My guy suggested leaving a trail of treats every evening so she would see that only good things happen in this hallway.

We have moved things around quite a bit since moving here since we didn't arrive with furniture and we're buying things as we go along, so there are changes made to the layout nearly every day - in all areas. That's going to be going on for a while... we've even got someone coming in to help with the back yard, which is Xeriscaped and not really dog-friendly. We put down big squares of indoor-outdoor carpeting -- the green stuff that looks like grass -- so she'll have somewhere to sit & walk but it's a huge yard and she needs more than that. So that's even more change coming her way. I can't stop the changes, or take out the things in her life that are making her skittish, but I want to help make her less afraid of them...
posted by patheral at 7:01 AM on August 23, 2012

Unless it's really impacting her quality of life, I'd recommend just letting her be as comfortable as she wants. She's in a new place, she doesn't like the back of the house, things are continuing to change around her. You're still not settled in the house, so there's no way that she will be.

Like several other people have said, the back of the house might be reminding her of someplace or sometime when something bad happened to her. That combined with the newness and the unfamiliarity would make her not want to hang out back there where she feels uncomfortable.

If this turns into a long-term problem in the future, once everyone's settled and the house feels like home and it doesn't smell like strangers, then you'll have something to deal with. Otherwise I'd just let her be.
posted by billybunny at 7:11 AM on August 23, 2012

Response by poster: Forgot to answer these questions... whowearsthepants -- the fuse box is in the mud room, and it's not knob & tube wiring. Brandy absolutely loves the side yard and the back yard on that side of the house, so there's no problem with the neighbors or smells from the neighbors.
posted by patheral at 7:13 AM on August 23, 2012

Sometimes what works best with dogs with a fear issue is to leave things alone, the more of a deal you make the back of the house, the more stressed she will be. It could be noise related, smell related, lighting related, there is really no way to know. You could try putting a DAP diffuser back there, but really, I would just stop making a big deal about it for a while. Something is worrying her about it (and it doesn't have to be emotional baggage from a previous life, lots of dogs have issues like this who have never had a bad experience in their lives), your focus on dealing with this, while well-intentioned, is likely making it worse. Leave it alone for at least a month or two.
posted by biscotti at 7:24 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd just let her do it in her own time, though using a pheromone diffuser and treats to help her feel good about the place can't hurt if done with patience, remembering 2 weeks in a new place isn't very long. Is she OK once she is in your bedroom? If she relaxes once she is in there and that becomes a safe happy place at the end of the scary hallway it might work to slowly lead her down the hallway to the room each night, not forcing her but calmly talking to her until she is in the safe zone of the bedroom. Honestly I think letting her deal with it in her own time with love and reassurance from you guys will help her realize the Hallway of Doom is not so bad.

I am wondering if there is one of those sonic pest devices down that way one of my dogs hates them with a passion as I think they hurt his ears.
posted by wwax at 7:50 AM on August 23, 2012

The first few days we had our new puppy (Awwww) she really didn't like going down the hallway in our house. It was tall and narrow and she just didn't like it. I got down to her level and looked down the hall and I can see how it would be kind of intimidating.

We would throw treats and toys down the hall for her to chase and walk down there with her (making sure that we acted very nonchalant) and she got over it after a few days. She is still a puppy so she tends to be more adventurous than an adult dog.

Does Brandy do okay once she gets down the hall and into one of the rooms that it leads to?
posted by VTX at 8:04 AM on August 23, 2012

Response by poster: Does Brandy do okay once she gets down the hall and into one of the rooms that it leads to?

She only does a little better once she's in the other rooms. The hallway off of the living room/family room is short and leads into a longer hallway (like a T) that goes to the other bedrooms. The master bedroom is at one end, then a small bedroom, which we've made into a walk-in closet, then a bathroom, then my honey's man-cave which is next to what is (for now) the storage room. The master bedroom also has a door into the sun room (which I mentioned earlier). We've tried bringing Brandy through that door a couple of times, thinking it was the hallway that frightened her (both doors are sliding glass), but she zoomed right back into the front area.
posted by patheral at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2012

+1 for just giving her time to figure it out on her own. To help her out you could have a special treat that she only gets for braving the hallway, leave one out for her every night and just let her take it when she's ready. Very sweet looking dog!
posted by Beacon Inbound at 10:07 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I took my rescue dog to a class for fearful dogs and there were a few ways we were taught to help them gain confidence and conquer fears.

First was lots and lots of treats. There was a german shepherd in my class who had been very abused and was terrified of most people and objects. He was probably the toughest case in the class. We used a bunch of different objects that dogs are sometimes scared of - strollers, wheelchairs, boxes, moving toys etc. The job was to walk the dogs around the object and give it lots and lots of treats and praise EVERY SINGLE TIME they even glanced at it. The comfort level for all dogs was different so some dogs could be walked closer to the object than others but we were never supposed to force a dog closer to the object than they seemed comfortable with. So the german shepherd would sit on the other side of the room while the instructor slowly wheeled around in a wheelchair. And every time he even glanced at it, lots of treats and praise. She slowly would get closer (inches) over time, within his comfort level.

So maybe you could try something similar with your dog by reinforcing her with lots of treats and praise every time she looks at or gets closer to that part of the house. You could also put treats nearer to the place over time and let her come to them, never forcing her. Lots and lots of praise and happy sounds whenever she gets a little closer, but no pressure to do anything she doesn't want to. When I first got my dog, he was scared of everyone but me and didn't want anyone to touch him. I made sure to take him out a lot on walks (which he loved) and friends and family came over to my house but I always told everyone who came around us to totally ignore him - not even look at him. The plan was to let him come to them. And as he got a little braver I would give them lots of treats and tell them to just hold out their hand and let him come get the treats if he wanted to. Very slowly, he started to come and get the treats and now he even will let people pet him and will even let a few select people cuddle him, which was impossible at the beginning. He also thinks that every single person he sees everywhere is a treat-dispensing machine and is no longer scared to go up to anybody (though he is still cautious sometimes about letting some people pet him). This is an ongoing project that has taken awhile and required me to have very strict control over his environment for awhile, so that I could make sure that he wouldn't be in any scary situations that would set him back, but it's really paid off for a dog that was totally unsocialized and had never even been outside in his entire life, much less been around people.

The second thing is regular, basic obedience training. My trainer always says that it helps dogs with their confidence. From my own experience, my dog seems a lot more relaxed (he can seem anxious at time - pacing and barking) and less fearful after just 15 minutes of training so I think there's something to this. I also kind of think that dogs like having "jobs" to do and when I'm running through the sit-stay-come-down routine, he really likes being able to do it and that it somehow satisfies his doggy brain and makes him feel calmer.

Anyway, good luck! I also agree that she may just need some time to settle into a new place. She's a very pretty girl!
posted by triggerfinger at 6:00 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, I've enrolled Brandy in obedience classes, but they don't start until October. I can't really afford a D.A.P. diffuser, but I got a collar that's supposed to do the same thing? We'll see. Until then, I'll leave it and just keep on keeping on. The main problem I have with Brandy being on edge is that she puts Mister on edge. Mister's usually a pretty chill cat, but he's been through a lot of changes too (one of which is having Brandy invade his space) and now I have two tense animals on my hands. I figure if I can get Brandy settled down (she's the more hyper of the two), then Mister will settle down too.

Thanks, everyone, for your advice.
posted by patheral at 7:39 PM on August 24, 2012

Response by poster: Just an update (in case anyone's still reading). Brandy followed me into the back last night -- without prompting, coaxing or anything! She just followed me back, walked around with me, then went back to the front area after a moment. So, thank y'all very much for your suggestions to just leave her alone and let her find her own pace.
posted by patheral at 11:00 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to leave so many comments, but I think I figured out what was keeping Brandy in the living areas. I changed the filter in the AC/Heater a few days back, and the old filter was GROSS! The return for the AC unit is right in that small hallway so it could have been smelling pretty bad to her. That and we usually have the front area open (windows, sliding doors, etc...) which means the output probably wasn't that strong up here where the back area is pretty much buttoned up tight since we're not back there as often. Since I've changed the filter, she hasn't had a problem with the back area at all. She even slept in our room last night. Go figure.
posted by patheral at 9:04 AM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Congrats Patheral. And Brandi.
posted by Jezebella at 7:58 PM on August 27, 2012

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