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Why Is My Dog Afraid To Go Outside – Fear & Other Factors

Going outside, and especially going on walks, is supposed to be one of the highlights of your dog’s life. It’s understandable to be worried if your dog suddenly shows no interest in going outside or even acts scared when you try to coax them outside.  You’ve probably even asked yourself this question; why is my dog afraid to go outside?

Dogs are afraid to go outside because they have some natural anxiety or have a negative past experience with going outside. Some dogs are prone to sensory overload making going outside a tough experience for them. Factors such as age, genetic makeup, and poor socialization may contribute to their anxiety about going outside.

Before you can start teaching your dog that going outside is good, you need to figure out why your dog is afraid to go outside in the first place. Don’t worry; we’ll look at some of the most common reasons and talk about what you can do to help. 

6 Reasons Your Dog Is Afraid To Go Outside

Here are some of the most common reasons your dog might be afraid to go outside. Even if these reasons aren’t the explanation, they can give you some clues on how you can help your dog overcome their fear. 

Your Dog Is Naturally Anxious

Some dogs have a high level of natural anxiety. One of our dogs is like this because she developed a health issue as a puppy and missed some critical socialization markers while being isolated for treatment. Other dogs are born with higher anxiety or might have developed anxiety with a previous owner. 

It’s important to slowly take things a little more slowly with a naturally anxious dog and provide lots of positive reinforcement to help them overcome their fears and get more comfortable. 

They’ve Just Moved To A New Place

Dogs can often react to moving with some temporary anxiety and unwillingness to explore. If you’ve just adopted your dog or moved to a new home, it’s a good idea to give them a few days to adjust. They’ll likely start going outside and exploring more on their own once they are used to their new home. 

Your Dog Gets Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can be a symptom of more generalized anxiety, or it may be its problem. If your dog is alright going outside when you’re with them but refuses to go into the yard on their own, this might be the culprit. 

Separation anxiety is a complicated issue and takes time and patience to overcome. We’d recommend talking to your vet for an official diagnosis and support. They can recommend safe techniques to decrease your dog’s separation anxiety and may also prescribe medication to help your dog overcome their fear.

Your Dog Has Had Negative Experiences Outside Before

Unfortunately, since many dogs are rescued and adopted from shelters, your dog may have had negative experiences you don’t know about. Those experiences can make your dog reactive and afraid to go outside. 

It can also happen on your watch, especially if another animal attacks your dog while they’re outside. 

In either case, you should be patient and work with them slowly but without allowing any misbehavior. If you act like they are safe and being silly for worrying, eventually, your dog will believe you.  

They Might Be Sore Or In Pain

Dogs may also refuse to go outside not because they are anxious but because they are in pain. Leg and paw injuries are the most common cause of this kind of resistance. Usually, you’ll be able to see if your dog is limping or struggling to walk. 

Don’t force your dog outside if they are showing signs of being in pain. Instead, make a vet appointment to get their injury properly diagnosed and treated. 

Your Dog Might Be Afraid Of Electric Fences

If you or your dog’s previous owner have ever used an electric fence, your dog may be afraid of the fence. That’s because dogs often accidentally shock themselves on the fence several times before they know where the boundaries are. Those shocks can be startling and painful, leading to fear if your dog doesn’t understand why they’ve been shocked. 

Worse, if your dog is startled outside their electric fence, the fence can prevent them from getting back into your yard and to safety. That can cause serious separation anxiety as well as bad associations with being outside. 

Why Is My Dog Afraid To Go Outside At Night

Your dog might be afraid to go outside at night because one or more of their senses are starting to fail, making it harder for them to pay attention to their surroundings at night. 

There are additional reasons your dog might be afraid to go outside at night, including all of the reasons your dog might be afraid to go outside during the day. 

However, if their fear seems to be night-specific, you should watch for symptoms that their eyesight might be failing or for signs of deafness.

Your dog might be afraid to go outside at night because one or more of their senses are starting to fail, making it harder for them to pay attention to their surroundings at night. 

If you live in the country or anywhere coyotes and other wildlife frequent, they may also be a cause. Small dogs especially may not want to go outside after dark if they’ve smelled or seen a coyote near your yard. 

What Do You Do When Your Dog Is Scared Of Going Outside

The key to getting your dog comfortable going outside is to make it a pleasant experience for them again. That means you can’t just force your dog outside and expect them to feel better about the situation. 

The first thing to remember is that your dog needs your patience and compassion right now. Consider getting indoor dog potty pads and other solutions to keep you and your dog comfortable while you work through this issue. That way, you’re less likely to get annoyed or frustrated if your dog cannot overcome its fear right away. 

Next, consider what situations make your dog afraid. It could be that a particular combination of stimuli is to blame more than the outside itself. For instance, your dog could be afraid to go near the door if they’ve been caught in it before or if there’s slippery flooring on either side of the door. 

Anger is rarely going to help your dog right now. If you feel yourself starting to get frustrated with their anxiety, it’s a good idea to take a step back and give yourself a minute. Your dog will likely know that you’re upset, but they’ll also appreciate that you aren’t necessarily upset with them.

How Do I Get My Dog To Go Outside

One of the best ways to get your dog outside again is to get them on a leash to go outside. The leash helps tell your dog that you’ll be with them, which can give them another layer of security. 

The first time you might not even try to take your dog outside. Just get the leash and see how they react to you putting it on. Have some treats handy to encourage your dog and tell them that this is a good thing. 

If they react well, go ahead and walk to the door as soon as your dog starts getting anxious; walk back inside, still with the leash. This will tell them that the leash isn’t bad and helps them learn that they are safe with the leash and with you. 

Keep doing this until they aren’t anxious going to the door or even standing in the open door. It may take repetition over several days or weeks to get this right. 

Eventually, your dog will be more confident going outside with you on the leash. At that point, you can start working with them to go outside without the leash in your yard, assuming you want them to go outside on their own. 

What Does It Mean When Your Dog Doesn’t Want To Go Outside

Your dog doesn’t want to go outside because they might be reacting to something that happened last time they were outside. Your dog might be overwhelmed with all the scents and information they get when they are outside as well.

Unfortunately, without knowing your dog and its specific circumstances, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. That said, a vet or a dog trainer may be able to help you narrow down possible causes of their fear or anxiety with more detailed information about your dog. 

How Can I Reduce My Dog’s Anxiety

Patience and positive reinforcement are two of the best tools you have to reduce your dog’s anxiety. You should also make sure they have a safe place in your home, like a kennel or dog bed, where they can go to process and feel safe without being bothered. 

Treats, verbal encouragement, and petting can all help your dog feel safer and more confident. 

In extreme circumstances, your vet may also recommend long-term medication to help your dog manage their anxiety and re-learn that they are safe and don’t need to be afraid. 

Things To Consider

Anxiety in dogs doesn’t always have to have a cause. Not only do many dogs come with only partial histories from shelters and rescues, but dogs can be just as prone to anxiety and other kinds of mental disorders as people can. Your dog being anxious doesn’t necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with them. 

That said, taking care of an anxious dog can be a lot of work. Anxious dogs often need stricter training and more careful management from their owners to thrive, especially if they are out in public often. 

When you realize that your dog is dealing with anxiety, it’s important to give them a little more time, attention, and training. The extra time will help your dog overcome their anxiety while also bringing the two of your closer and keeping you both safer when your dog is outside or in public.