Why is my young dog sometimes weird about entering the house?
May 2, 2013 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Our two year old Husky has some sort of odd and inconsistent anxiety about crossing thresholds. Please help.

Maia (turning two this month) was quite skittish when we first got her at four months old. She was being re-homed because the previous owner who bought her from a breeder turned out to be allergic (or so he said, I suspect that he couldn't handle the challenge that is Puppy). We're pretty sure she experienced... something before we got her because she absolutely screamed when picked up. With a lot of gentle practice she's now fine with being lifted and shows no signs of her previous fear.

Fast forward to now and she's an extremely sweet, ultra-high-energy, very curious little dog. Standard husky puppy crazy but not neurotic or high-anxiety at all. Much loved, and we've worked through all the standard puppy behavior problems and really have no issues except this one thing.

So: the door to our porch/backyard is sliding glass and located in our living room. Our dogs are basically allowed to come and go as they please, and they're pretty good about only coming in and out when they have a reason (food, water, temperature regulation).

The problem is that sometimes (but not all the time, which is why this is confusing), Maia asks to come inside and then... won't come in. Just stands there. Occasionally whimpers a bit. When I close the door she's pawing at it again before it's fully shut. Open it again, still won't come in. This happens about 70% of the time she asks to come inside. The other 30% she just enters the house normally. Strangely, if Belle (her "sister" and idol) comes in, Maia trots right in too.

There are only two ways to get her to come in when she does this. One is to stand at the door and throw a treat into the living room to draw her in. This is totally inadvisable behaviorally as well as unsustainable, and only occasionally effective at that, so after a couple of tries we abandoned this experiment. Second method (that currently works 90% of the time) is to open the door and then go sit on the couch, at which point she kind of delicately pads inside, allowing us to get up and close the door. This is also bad, not just because she's "training" us, but also because it regularly gets into sub-sub-sub-freezing temps here in the winter and leaving the door open is ridiculous.

The times that she just wants us to come outside and play are really obvious because she's ten kinds of fired up. But the rest of the times are totally confusing. We can't figure out what she's afraid of and why she's only afraid of it some of the time. The contents of the living room don't change around. It happens regardless of who opens the door and whether Belle is inside or outside at the time. When going through regular doors she does tend to dart through (on a leash she'll go through behind me then dash through quickly). This makes me think it's "threshold" related but I don't know what to do with that. There's also the part where someone had her before us and we don't know what happened during that time.

Any ideas? Would love to figure out the "why" and a solution would be a bonus. My winter heating bill is bad enough as it is, and we're about to trade out the glass door for the screen door because bug season is coming. Happy to answer any questions if clarifications can help!

(Second pic: Maia stretching in front of the door in question last spring during Mud Season.)
posted by mireille to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried having her do a sit and maybe another trick, and then bring her in? I can sometimes "reset" my dogs when they're being weird by reinforcing that I'm not only in charge, but I'm in charge of keeping everyone safe.

What about training a door trick? If you have Mud Season, maybe train her to come in and sit/stand on a towel or mat, so that her focus is on that thing rather than the scary doorway?
posted by Lyn Never at 11:26 AM on May 2, 2013

Our dog developed an aversion to going through our sliding door after slamming into the glass one time when she thought the door was open. For our dog, it only lasted a short while, but if Maia is smarter than our dog (and she almost has to be, if you know our dog), she may remember the trauma for longer. Maybe if you go out of your way to show her that there is no impediment to her passing through the open door, say by passing through yourself, or by reaching through the doorway to touch her?
posted by Rock Steady at 11:27 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Looking at the Belle photo, it appears the floor is hardwood or laminate. Is that correct? I've known a few dogs who are wary of un-carpeted and/or slick flooring. They can and will cross it when they have to, but seem to be hesitant about it. Have you tried placing a small rug just inside the door to see if that makes any difference?
posted by 0 at 11:41 AM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Seconding the possibility that she might be wary of slippery flooring. One of our dogs often gets a little freaked out at our hardwood floors (though not consistently), so we have a little path of throw rugs in the rooms where he hangs out the most.
posted by scody at 11:48 AM on May 2, 2013

scody: Seconding the possibility that she might be wary of slippery flooring. One of our dogs often gets a little freaked out at our hardwood floors (though not consistently), so we have a little path of throw rugs in the rooms where he hangs out the most.

Yeah, that is also a possibility. If you do put down throw rugs, you may want to make them non-slip using the cheap and easy Martha Stewart method.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:59 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The slippery flooring is a pretty good possibility-- she's run inside more than once and gone careening an extra foot or two more than she probably expected. Hilarious at the time. Will try a non-slip rug tonight when I get home.

Definitely open to other theories too!
posted by mireille at 12:04 PM on May 2, 2013

Theory: dogs are weird.

Does she have a toy that she LOVES? Whenever my puppy is being a weirdo or doing something I'd rather he not, instead of giving him attention that might reinforce the bad behavior, I grab a tennis ball and just casually walk past him in his line of sight. He sees the tennis ball and suddenly goes into must-have-tennis-ball mode, and completely forgets whatever else he was doing.
posted by phunniemee at 12:09 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with phunniemee's theory - dogs are weird. They also sometimes have weird superstitions that don't make sense - like perhaps Maia sometimes can't come in until X happens, only who knows what X could be!

My dog sometimes doesn't follow me inside after our walk, as if she's waiting for permission to enter but me saying "come on, come on, come on!" in a sweet voice isn't enough permission. I have no idea what she's waiting for. So I close the (screen) door, and do something else inside, then come back and open the door for her 30 seconds later...and, without fail, she enters. Could you try that? So, when you open the door, welcome her in, and she doesn't come, just close the door and go do something else for a moment. Then come back and open the door. Maybe you can teach her that when she wants to come in, she gets 10-15 seconds with the door open, and if that doesn't work, she'll just have to try again later when you've done your other Important Tasks.
posted by violetish at 12:18 PM on May 2, 2013

Maybe decals would make the sliding glass door less invisible?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:47 PM on May 2, 2013

Was also going to suggest decals or something on the glass
posted by Eicats at 12:51 PM on May 2, 2013

I have an old dog that does this, and it’s almost certainly because of the slipperiness. He will walk the long way around the patch of floor in front of the door.

When dogs have a weird experience with something they will avoid it. I used to have a dog that would walk down the hall, stop, turn around, and back past the floor vent. Considering how bad dogs are at backing up this shows she was going to extraordinary lengths to avoid that vent which must have caught her or scared her at some point.
posted by bongo_x at 1:14 PM on May 2, 2013

When my dogs did this I always assumed that they wanted me to come outside, not that they wanted to be inside.
posted by GDWJRG at 1:17 PM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sometimes our dog refuses to go through a doorway or up the stairs unless we do first. I think it's him respecting our dominance. What if you lead her through the doorway?
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:29 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dog is wary of our front door sometimes, but no other doors. It started when her foot was once caught by the closing screen door. Once bitten twice shy.
posted by ellenaim at 2:04 PM on May 2, 2013

One of my dogs does this to punch my buttons and show he is in control. Drives me crazy and just shows he's winning the dominance war in our house. I end up shutting the door and letting him stew outside instead of playing his games. Usually the next time I open the door, he comes in. I don't know that this is what is happening in your situation, but I throw it out there for others who may look for an answer to this issue.
posted by cecic at 2:14 PM on May 2, 2013

Does she maybe have any vision issues? It could be that the difference in light levels (light outside, dark in house) are disturbing her. Longshot, but anything is possible. That's sometimes why horses won't go into their stalls.
posted by monopas at 2:25 PM on May 2, 2013

I am sure something bad in her background is triggering this fear, and that it is inconsistent because she hasn't experienced it at your door or at your hands.

I strongly recommend making coming through that door a fabulous experience for her. Save her most high value treat and praise her plenty plus give her the treat when she comes in. (Don't toss it or leave her to come in -- hold it out and give it to her with plenty of praise as soon as she comes in.) Then up your expectations -- she gets the wonderful thing when she comes in promptly. Then when she's very good, treat intermittently and, eventually, very rarely.

Making a feared experience a wonderful one is usually the best and most effective way to remove the fear. (I did this with my dog, who used to be very afraid of men, particularly tall thin ones in baseball caps. Guess who now expects all men to have a treat for him and greets them joyously?)
posted by bearwife at 2:51 PM on May 2, 2013

The trauma explanation makes sense. When our cat was a kitten, and I saw her eyeing an open door to the outside, I quick slammed it. Unfortunately, she made a dash for it at the same time, and the door slammed against her middle. I thought I'd killed her, but she was just shaken up. Anyway, she never ever tried to escape again, even if the door was wide open, since it would have meant passing the dreaded door threshold. In our case, the fear was a good thing, so we never tried to cure her of it, so I can't offer any suggestions on that.
posted by Transl3y at 3:58 PM on May 2, 2013

One of my dogs does this. The thing that makes the difference is whether her paws are wet, which makes her more likely to slip on the floor. If her feet are dry, she steps in fairly confidently. Maybe that's what gives your pup the sometimes factor, too.
posted by donnagirl at 4:28 PM on May 2, 2013

My dog's don't do this and never did. I just came in here to say that your dogs are gorgeous. I want to hug your puppy up fun time. That is all.
posted by Pecinpah at 4:42 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a fearful rescue dog who has always done this, ever since we adopted him a few years ago. It's just one of his anxieties. It is inconsistent -- sometimes he comes right in; sometimes it seems to be triggered by people talking or moving inside; sometimes he just seems to freeze. The pattern sounds very much like your dog. He'll scratch to come in, but then freeze and hover just outside the door. As with much of his fearfulness, it's slowly gotten better with time and patience and routine. We have a special whistle and command to get him him which helps mostly. Sometimes his little brain just won't let him inside and we need to go out and walk in with him, or put a leash on him and walk him in.
posted by Cocodrillo at 6:10 PM on May 2, 2013

Seconding i_am_a_fiesta. Dogs (and particularly Huskies) take pack hierarchy very seriously, and as the alpha, you've got to do it first. This may seem to be a nuisance, but it's way better than the opposite (where the dog is convinced HE is the alpha)

So you'll have to put in a bit of work training them to use the door, but on the plus side, they won't go bolting into traffic when the front door is opened.

Teaching your dog to consistently come to you on command would be a good problem solver as well. Don't be afraid to get a little bossy, either (taking them in and out the door at random times, simply because "you say so.") Dogs, especially in a new environment, thrive on strong leadership.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:22 PM on May 2, 2013

I really have no idea. I am a cat person. But both of your dogs are completely beautiful!

With any creature it is a matter of getting used to an environment and trusting those in it. Be good to your pups and they will become more comfortable. And if they don't, love them anyway.
posted by ainsley at 10:24 PM on May 2, 2013

My dog sits outside the dog door and whimpers. I open the door...he won't come in...what is he thinking? I have no idea. I go back to my seat....he whimpers...I say "cookie cookie"....he flies through the door. It is over till next time.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:53 AM on May 3, 2013

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