Any insight into dog's fear?

sweebyApril 26, 2011

One of our dogs, a 2 year old female chocolate lab, seems to have developed a bit of an odd fear. She seems to be afraid of a certain doorway...

The doorway in question leads into a small, semi-dark hallway connecting my husband's office (where she sleeps and spends her evenings relaxing with my husband) and the kitchen/family room area, where she also spends a fair amount of time. This hallway is about 12 feet long, with a bathroom on the left and pantry and closet on the right. She is allowed into all of these rooms, and to my knowledge, has never been traumatized about going into this room or that one or been injured by a closing door. All of the floor is tiled, with the office having a different color tile and a slightly different elevation (about 1 1/2" higher) than the hallway and kitchen. (Could this elevation difference be a problem for her? She does have a bit of a knee issue, but gets around pretty well, and seems to have no trouble climbing our other stairs.)

The behavior we've seen is mostly from the office into the hallway. She'll hesitate in the office doorway and needs to be coaxed through into the hallway. Turning on the hallway light doesn't seem to matter, so I don't think it's a fear of the dark. My husband thinks closing the bathroom door may help, though she sometimes wanders into the bathroom to be petted while Hubby uses the facilities.

If she's playing with our other dog (5 y.o. male Aussie), she'll pass through more easily, sometimes not hesitating at all.

Can anyone think of any reason why she may do this? And more importantly, what we can do to help her overcome her fear?

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Is there anyone else in the household?
durn kid who could have jumped out & hollered "boo!"?
repair person left alone in the house who's been afraid of dogs since childhood who shook a wrench at her & stomped his feet & yelled?

or maybe she was in the room one day when thunder clapped or a branch hit the roof.

The only other thing I can think of is that dogs do sense more than we do;
on the Grieving Forum, people have written about their dogs or cats "seeing" something/someone that we can't see.

Whatever it was, I think if you keep reinforcing positive results, she'll eventually recover.

I wish you the best.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 9:52AM
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Could it be an eye issue? Labs as well as many breeds have specific eye problems.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 10:18AM
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Try putting a carpet runner in the hall and a small mat in the office doorway. Just make sure neither slides.

With knee/leg problems, she may have slipped making the transition at one time. The carpets will help her traction.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 1:48PM
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No kids or repair folks... I'd consider a ghost unlikely as the house doesn't have that much history. Now our *CAT* may have scared her one day -- They don't get along terribly well, and the cat can be a bit of a 'swipe first, hiss later' witch when Reilly noses her...

Eye issue? The two floors are very different in color, and turning on the lights didn't seem to make a difference... Would there be any other signs of eye problems we might use to test the theory?

I was wondering about the knee/leg problems... She came up 'lame' one day a few weeks ago, about when this phobia started. Her 'lameness' seemed similar to when she had her knee problems (tendon/ligament slipping out of the groove). But the tendon in that knee wasn't out of place - Hubby knows how to check/repair now. We checked her foot, leg and knee carefully and couldn't find anything. Brought her in to the vet the next day and he X-rayed her knee and hip and saw no issues and concluded she had probably just pulled a muscle. So it could be that whatever it was that caused the injury (and she seemed to be in a lot of pain) happened there...

This morning, when I went to let her out for her morning potty break, I watched her carefully at the doorway. She approached it cautiously and stood there, waiting. I called to her from the end of the hallway, she looked at me, looked down, did a circle with a sniff test, then paused just a fraction of a second and trotted through...

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 3:00PM
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You said you had 2 different tile types? Do they have different finishes? Shiny versus matte?

A relative of mine had a lab that developed this same kind of fear, but in older age. We suspect it had something to do with failing eyesight. The floor in question was linoleum and very shiny. I wondered if the dog thought it was wet, or had trouble focusing because of the reflective quality.

IMO if she had an injury about the time this phobia started, you can probably guess it happened in there and know that you will never know exactly what happened. I like the idea of putting down some rugs or runners in that area for a while to help her feel more comfortable. Then maybe in a few weeks you can start removing them.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 3:20PM
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She came up 'lame' one day a few weeks ago, about when this phobia started. -- Very possible that is where she got hurt and now is hesitant.
As for symptoms of eye problems they would vary for various problems. Is one floor dark and one light in color? Do her pupils look normal? Any cloudiness noted in her eyes?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 8:54AM
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Hubby says injury incident was a few weeks before the phobia, so I guess that wouldn't explain it...

On the flooring, the tile in the office is a nearly black slate-look, and the tile in the hallway is a light tan limestone look. Interestingly, she only balks on the way *out* of the office, not on the way into it.

As to her eyes - No cloudiness or watering. And she's as good as ever playing fetch...

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 1:11PM
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This does not sound like a phobia or a fear. It sounds like she is hesitant because something "happened" there that made her uncertain of the area.
She might have had a mild seizure there (common in labs) she might have slipped there, do you have cats....she may have even been startled by a bug or someone standing near there if she was not paying attention.
Contrary to popular belief most dogs do not have great eye sight. Sight hounds do, but not other breeds...she may have bad eye sight and just the play on light either startled her once or is playing tricks on her eyes right at that area making her uncertain of herself.
My suggestion - you can get a runner to put down in case she did slip just to make it a bit more stable. The other thing you can do is to put down some food right there and use it to coax her into going to the area she is uncertain of, playing with her or interacting with her there and then watching to see if she relaxes. Good luck

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 8:38PM
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Definitely get her eyes checked out too. We had a fairly old girl once who seemed to go blind overnight. Once we started thinking about her recent behavior, we recalled an episode a few weeks earlier when we parked the car at a favorite off-leash area and started walking down the path as usual. Instead of her racing off, leaping and pronking as she normally did, she stood beside the car and would not follow us no matter what... just sort of cowered there looking after us but not moving a muscle. She wouldn't even walk away from the car when we put her leash back on. We realized that we had been walking directly into the setting sun and she probably could not see anything but a fuzzy glare.

So eye problems can definitely cause strange behavioral problems.

Hope you figure out what's wrong.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 10:21AM
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It sounds like she's hesitant because of the injury or from slipping and even 1 1/2 inches can make a dog slip on a smooth floor if they have a stablility problem with a leg. a rug in the doorway has worked for me when I had a dog who was slipping from a small step down like this, it just gives them a more stable footing but make sure the rug is not going to move or slide on the floor either. she may have slipped there before she did the injury as well but the injury would have made her even more apprehensive about that doorway. I would also leave the hall light on when your husband is down in the office so she can see the doorway better

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 9:17PM
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I had a Boxer who absolutely hated going down the hallway all of a sudden. The only thing I can think of was the cold air return grate was there. If I did take him on leash he would squeeze as far as he could to the opposite side of the hall. And it took a lot of coaxing to follow me.He also did not like the back entrance as it was darker.In every other way he was fearless.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 8:46AM
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Well, I took your advice and moved a carpet runner from upstairs into that hallway. Of course, then she hesitated to step onto the runner! ;-)

But that does appear to support the idea that the hesitation seems to be caused by the visual change from surface A to surface B. So I sat down on the runner with the dogs' favorite Kong chewy (both dogs love it) and played with our Aussie while inviting the lab to join in. After a few seconds she did (lavish praise and attention). So then I let the Aussie outside and called the lab back and forth across the runner, praising her each time. She still hesitates a bit, but not nearly so much --

So what I've learned --

- The visual seems important. Is this something I should get checked out by our vet? (I'm thinking so) But what could it be and what could he do about it?

- Also, without the runner, she's seemed a bit unsteady on her feet on the slippery tile. I've seen her feet slide out to the sides one or two times and heard what sounds like that same slipping a few more. Is that her 'normal lab doofiness'? Or possibly a sign of something else?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 1:30PM
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I don't think this is visual at all, the fact that she has had an injury from a small drop down would not be unusual for an old dog, e.g. arthritis can cause pain or stiffness so that an old dog may have trouble with that type of situation. since she's a young dog and you say she has a "knee problem", that is not normal so I would suspect a cruciate ligament weakness which is usually hereditary and often makes the leg slip out from underneath them, or something like patella luxation, again it's usually hereditary and it's not uncommon in labs. the likely hood that it's an eye problem and a stability problem are small and since you know she has a stability problem with the slipping, that's likely what's causing it. she doesn't want to slip and hurt herself again so she's cautious. what exactly did the vet say about her knee?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 8:14AM
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