For most dogs, getting out to walk, relieve themselves and play is the best part of the day. It's something they look forward to constantly, and they will rarely miss an opportunity to get out for fresh air, sniffing, listening and socializing. Especially since their integration into urban life has meant they spend far more time cooped up indoors than outdoors.
However, while that excitement is unmatched for most dogs, some have less positive reactions when it comes to going outside. And when a dog shows signs of fear, anxiety, or depression, it's very important to address the problem as soon as possible. That fear comes from somewhere. Knowing how to identify the cause is the first step in helping him overcome a problem that has consequences for both his well-being and your peace of mind.
In this article, we will explain the most probable causes, how to recognize them, and what you can do to solve them.
Because if your dog doesn't want to go outside, chances are there is a problem.
1. Bad memories / traumas
One of the learning processes in dogs is classical conditioning. You may be familiar with it through Pavlov's famous experiment with dogs, where a dog learned to salivate at the sound of a bell, after associating it with the arrival of food.
In the same way that this is used in different types of dog training, it can also apply to bad experiences.
If your dog has had an unpleasant experience outside, they may have developed a negative association. For example, a scare from a vehicle, a bee sting, a loud noise, or a slip on a wet floor. If so, the memory can be a source of anxiety.
Dogs are very intelligent animals and, like us, they remember these events. But lacking our logical sequence, they often generalize these negative memories, which generate irrational fears of things they cannot avoid.
To avoid the traumatic event from happening again, they prefer to avoid the risk altogether and stay inside as much as possible.
2. Unfamiliar environment
Have you recently moved?
Dogs don't like sudden changes. In fact, an environment completely different from what they're used to can be a very stressful situation. The repertoire of sounds, smells, dogs, and people in a different neighborhood can contrast their curiosity about what's happening outside with the fear of facing the unknown. And that's a very common cause of a dog not wanting to go out on the street.
If your dog is not familiar with a new environment, they will need time to adapt to it. That's why, if you have the opportunity to take them to your new home before you settle in permanently, you will have taken a big step. But you will need to make an effort to provide support and security to your dog as they explore their new world.
3. Unknown Weather Phenomena
Bad weather can make a dog not want to go outside. And we're not just talking about cold or rain, which are more or less common phenomena with a relatively easy solution - a coat, dog boots, or drying with warm air upon return. We are talking about more extreme situations, such as snow, strong winds, or thunderstorms.
If your house is well-insulated and quiet, your dog may have no idea about weather changes and may not enjoy going for a walk in bad weather.
4. General Sensitivity
Another reason why a dog may not want to go outside is hypersensitivity. Sudden exposure to new things can cause anxiety in dogs. In fact, some breeds of dog are more sensitive than others. For example, the Border Collie, Water Dog, and Belgian and Australian Shepherds are known to develop fears of relatively common things in the city.
These dogs are more sensitive to stimuli and can develop excessive stress. That's why it's essential to offer them appropriate training and familiarize them with all the elements that are part of their life in a human and urban environment, but without exposing them too much to new stimuli.
5. Sensitivity to Sound
Loud and unexpected noises are a fairly common source of fear in dogs. Dogs have a very sensitive hearing and can hear frequencies well above our abilities, at much lower volumes, and at much greater distances.
The urban world is full of unexpected noises. From conversations between humans, the passing of cars and other vehicles, a festival with fireworks, or the constant noise of nearby construction, these are things that your dog may never have experienced before.
And when the house is a quiet, safe, and peaceful space, street noise can cause nerves even in the calmest dog.
6. Feeling overwhelmed
Puppies and young dogs can feel overwhelmed the first few times you try to take them outside. They have spent most of their short lives protected by their mother or breeders, and it is quite normal for them to experience some sort of anxiety when they are first taken home. These emotions disappear as they acclimate to their new way of life, but that sudden exposure can be too much for their young brain. All those new things they see, hear, and smell outside take a bit longer to overcome. Their natural instinct will be to flee. Although this can slow down their education, it is important to be consistent, patient, and give them time to adapt.
7. Poor socialization
Speaking of puppies and young dogs, one of the best things you can do for a dog is to give them proper socialization. The first 16 weeks of life are crucial for a dog's social integration with other animals and people. Otherwise, they may not learn the basics of body language or play, and may encounter fear later in life.
The vast majority of times, a dog's prejudices towards a certain type of person (a child who moves roughly or an adult doing sports, for example) is because they didn't have the opportunity to socialize with them when they were young. And that usually makes them fearful. Early socialization of a dog is key to turning them into a healthy and balanced adult.
8. Incomplete or inadequate previous training
Positive reinforcement training seeks positive reinforcement of desired behaviors. However, it can lead to behavior problems such as poor obedience if not well conducted, by instilling the mere interest in receiving a reward.
Traditional training, based on negative reinforcement, is not good for dogs' mental health. The reason is that pain and intimidation to teach or dissuade a certain behavior generates learning based on fear and avoidance. Because of all this, adopting a dog with incomplete or inadequate training can have lifelong consequences.
Holistic training puts canine well-being at the center and treats each dog as a unique being, with their own personality, interests, and motivations. Only then can their needs be covered globally and given optimal quality of life.
9. Pain or injuries
Physical pain is the biggest deterrent for everything. If you're reading this article, we know you want the best for your dog. But if your dog doesn't want to go out, forcing them can be harmful. Observe their behavior and examine them carefully. This is more common in older dogs. Additionally, some large breeds are more prone to bone and joint diseases, such as German Shepherds and hip dysplasia.
Start with the paws and feet. Broken or overly long nails can make walking painful. There could also be a splinter or piece of wood stuck in the pads.
If your dog shows signs of lethargy, take them to the vet. Physical problems could be behind your dog's pain when getting up or walking.
10. Anxiety in older dogs
Just like with humans, aging takes a toll on a dog's mind. They tend to develop anxiety issues more easily than younger dogs because, among other things, they can no longer do things they used to be able to do.
And age can exacerbate some of the previous points, as canine cognitive dysfunction will affect their memory and make it harder for them to understand their new environment.
Not being aware of the cause, exposure to a new place can increase their anxiety level, as they don't know how to process it properly. Although it takes time, they usually overcome those fears with regular exposure, although some older dogs may need adaptation sessions.
11. Vision problems
When a dog suffers from vision problems, it's likely to manifest as a fear of the unknown. Cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye conditions make it difficult for dogs to see.
Being unable to see, their sense of smell and sound become isolated, causing great insecurity that can be treated, however. The key to overcoming this problem is to show them that there is nothing to fear.
12. Other fears
It's also possible that the cause is much simpler and doesn't have great depths. Does your dog have to go down stairs or step on hot cement before getting to the grass? Does it have to enter an old and noisy elevator? Is there someone or something that intimidates it?
Remember that a bad experience or an uncomfortable situation may be enough for your dog to develop a fear. Facing that obstacle every day will become stressful, and your dog will want to avoid it. Look for other ways out, or help it overcome its fear by motivating it with rewards and a little patience.
Depression is a disorder characterized by the desire to be alone, great sadness, mood decline, loss of interest, loss of pleasure, general inhibition, sleep disorders and appetite disorders.
Its most common causes are:
- Changes in routine
- Loss of a loved one
- Major stress
- Absent maternal care
- Traumatic experience
- Untreated anxiety
14. He doesn't want to wear the leash
Another reason why a dog may not want to go out for a walk is that he doesn't want to wear the leash. Some dogs may resist having the leash put on because the material is uncomfortable, they've had a negative experience with it before, or because it's part of a game where the owner chases them to put it on. In this case, you may need the help of a dog trainer.
How can you help your dog?
To help your dog successfully overcome his behavioral problems, you can get in touch with dog trainers or ethologists.
Counter-conditioning involves teaching the dog to enjoy what scares him the most by redirecting the physical and emotional response he has learned. For this, it's most common to do scent work and play.
If, for example, your dog is afraid of all the cars passing by during his daily walks, you can go to a place where cars pass by, stand at a distance that doesn't bother him too much, and put treats on a scent mat for him to search for, or play with him and his favorite toy. This way, he'll associate cars with a positive activity, see that there's nothing to fear, and gradually start to ignore them.
Working on obedience
You can teach him the command to walk without pulling on the leash in a quiet place, and then ask him to do it in places where he is afraid. Reward him when he listens to you, and this will reinforce the behavior of walking without pulling, and he will associate the situation with a more pleasant experience.
There are also items and products designed to mitigate dog behavior problems in a passive and non-invasive way.
- Thundershirt: an adjustable, continuously attached vest that puts light pressure on the dog's body, similar to a hug, which helps him feel more secure. Now, the vest will not solve the fear or stress on its own, and it will be important to detect its causes in order to do specific work.
- Adaptil: Adaptil is a collar that helps dogs to be calmer thanks to its canine calming pheromones, which mimic the "safety messages" emanating from the mother.
When a dog doesn't want to go out for a walk, there is a problem. The key is to identify the causes of the fear and work to make them feel more secure. Fear of going out can seriously affect their well-being. Dogs are outdoor animals, and they need it, so it's important to address the problem as soon as possible.
After figuring out the triggering factor, work gradually to help them overcome their fears. But one of the fundamental principles for achieving a stable and self-assured dog is to teach them to manage their emotions and develop a bond of trust with their owner.