It’s the weirdest thing for a pet owner! The happy dog he’s had for a few years now suddenly develops a fear of walking a nondescript hallway no one would find scary. And yet, there he is – a big strong animal who wouldn’t mind chasing the neighbor’s cat into the nearest tree adamantly refuses to take a few steps across a hallway. Why does this happen and what can you do about it?
Most common places or things that dogs are scared of in the house
Being afraid of objects is not the most common fear you’ll find in dogs, but if you check out some forums you will find plenty of people faced with this problem. It might sound silly, but it is a real problem, both for the owner and especially for the dog.
In most cases, the problem refers to one particular part of the house. A specific hallway the dog is scared of, like the one from your bedroom to the top of the stairs, while he is not bothered in any way by the entrance hallway.
In other cases, it only looks like the dog has a problem with crossing the hallway when in fact he is scared of the doorway and refuses to go through it.
Some dogs develop an aversion towards a specific corner of the house and won’t go anyway near a specific wall, not even if you put his food bowl in front of it.
It’s not just places a dog might be afraid of, but also common household objects, particularly appliances.
Have you ever seen a dog hiding under the bed every time you use the vacuum? Nothing in the world could make him get out until you turn it off and put it out of sight. You might think it’s the noise, and perhaps it is, but the strange thing is the dog doesn’t even notice when you use the washer or the coffee grinder.
Why do dogs develop sudden fears?
The one thing these phobias have in common is that they appear out of the blue, at least apparently.
In some cases, after prolonged observation and a lot of nerve-wracking you might determine what triggered a sudden fear, but you have to keep in mind that by definition phobias are irrational. There’s no logic why someone is afraid of trees, rain, or falling asleep, and still, there are people who suffer from such crippling phobias.
When a dog is afraid of flies, people usually assume the animal was probably stung by an insect and is afraid it might happen again, but what did the hallway ever do to him?
When you’ve had the dog for some time and know him well, it is correct to assume something bad happened to him in that hallway. Not something you’d define as bad, but certainly a negative experience for the dog. Maybe that thing happened while you were away and, sadly, the dog has no way of telling you about it.
Why are dogs suddenly afraid of doorways?
Why would a dog suddenly refuse to go through a door he’d used many times before? There can be plenty of explanations.
Maybe someone closed the door abruptly, unwittingly hurting the dog. Even if the dog wasn’t actually hurt and there was no significant pain he might develop such fear as a reaction to the shock of that incident.
Another possibility to consider is that of the dog developing separation anxiety. Maybe that’s the door to your study and the dog knows that once you close it you’d be holed up in there for hours and he’ll be all alone. It might very well be that he’s not really afraid of the object called door but of what it stands for. This is particularly true for dogs who are usually confined to a single room of the house while the owners are at work. Most dogs hate being left alone and by refusing to go through a door the dog is somehow trying to prevent you from leaving home.
One possible explanation is that you might have changed something in the hallway or the room the dog is suddenly afraid of. It could very well be that the dog doesn’t want to go by a certain item. If you bought new furniture for the hallway or changed the lighting, this might be the real trigger of the dog’s sudden phobia. The mind works in mysterious ways and maybe it’s just the shape or the color of a certain object that elicits bad memories.
And hardwood floors?
If you’ve recently moved to a new house, your dog developing a fear of a place might have something to do with that.
Or if you’ve recently installed that splendid hardwood floor that cost a fortune and you’re super proud of, it could very well be that the dog is less than happy with it, in which case you should have consulted him first. No, seriously, a dog usually becomes afraid of walking across a floor after an incident like slipping when he was hurrying to welcome you when you got home the other day.
This can happen even if you’ve had the same floor for years now. Maybe the dog didn’t watch where he was going or perhaps he’s simply getting older and is not that steady on his feet. A sudden movement might have caused a sudden pain in the joint somewhere, a pain the dog is not familiar with and was not expecting like us humans. At a certain age, one is not surprised by the knees starting to ache, but the dog has no concept of old age and the damage it does.
In case you have new floors it might be that the dog is afraid of the sound his paws make while walking on it or he hears a disturbing echo, which your ears won’t even register.
How to train a dog to be less scared of hallways or doorways?
In most cases, you’ll probably never learn the answer to why your pet is suddenly afraid of a place or object and the only thing you can do is help him overcome this fear.
Whether it is a doorway or a hallway the dog is afraid of the easiest way to deal with the problem is to train him by luring him with his favorite treats. If it’s a serious fear use the treat you know your dog simply cannot resist.
- Make a show of cutting his favorite meat, burger, deli ham into small pieces, let him get a whiff of that sweet aroma, and take the bowl to the scary doorway.
- Tell him that if he wants that juicy treat, he’ll have to go through the door and cross the hallway.
- The dog might take some time to consider the offer, but in 99% of the cases he will give in to temptation.
- Repeat this exercise as many times as necessary over several days until the dog stops thinking about the dreaded doorway and simply dashes for the treat.
In case your dogs slipped on the floor consider putting small rugs, creating safe islands for him. Many pet owners who used this trick reported the dog never had any problem with that hallway after that.
If there’s a particular room in the house that the dog is afraid of, try to think if there have been recent changes to it to understand what’s bothering the dog. If you’ve just repainted the whole house, there’s nothing you can do, but maybe you could try putting the furniture back as it was or bring back the old carpet he used to sleep on. And, in any case, you can also use the trick with his favorite treats to help him forget about his fear.
Why is a dog fearful all of a sudden?
There are many things or places your dog might become afraid all of a sudden. If it’s just one problem and for the rest, the dog seems perfectly fine, there’s no reason to worry.
However, you need to bear in mind that a sudden behavioral change in your dog might indicate an underlying health problem. There are several diseases known to cause anxiety in a dog, such as hypothyroidism, encephalitis or pre-diabetes. If you’re concerned about the sudden change in your pet’s behavior you should see a vet to rule out any serious health issues.
In some cases, the anxiety your dog starts suffering from can be blamed on his getting old and starting to lose his sense of smell or vision. You might not find any direct link between a sudden fear and old age, but put yourself in his place. The dog is certainly aware something has changed and since he has no explanation for that he will become anxious, and the sudden change you notice is simply a sign of the dog’s anxiety.
Unless you find a shrink that can speak dog language, in most cases you’ll probably never know why your dog has developed a sudden phobia. Do your best to understand what triggered this sudden fear and see if you can change the setting, like putting carpets on the floor or rearranging the furniture the way it used to be.
Even if your dog’s behavior is driving you crazy, remember that most phobias are irrational. The dog has no control over his feelings and if he is punished for refusing to go through a doorway or dragged by the collar such course of action will only reinforce his anxiety.
Be smart and use the old trick with the juicy treat. That never fails!
¹ Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash
² Photo by Emery Way on Flickr
³ Photo by Ryan Beltz on Unsplash
⁴ Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash
⁵ Photo by Darren Richardson on Unsplash