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jfrzr 08-21-2014 06:55 PM

Afraid of backyard - help!
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Hi there!
Mitty, my German Shepherd mix, has suddenly become afraid of going in the backyard. He has always been sensitive to sounds, but he has not had a problem with our noisy backyard until a week ago. We moved in a few weeks ago, but while we were renovation our house we brought the dog over quite a bit and he was well acquainted with the house and yard when we moved in. Our backyard is fully fenced (8 foot fence!), and it backs up to house with a basketball goal that kids are frequently playing at (it's sort of a house for troubled kids/kids waiting to go into foster care/etc. so there's a lot of people in and out). When my dog hears these "neighbors" talking or playing basketball he freaks out. The backyard is where he uses the bathroom, so it's pretty important he gets over this fear! We don't have much of a front yard, and he won't go on walks because he's scared of traffic.
I've tried giving him treats every time we go in the backyard and trying to distract him and playing with him when people are outside, but nothing has helped. If he hears people he absolutely loses it, and I can't really distract him. I don't want to cause him anymore stress, but I hate letting him immediately inside every time he gets nervous. I feel like I'm teaching him to avoid the sounds rather than get used to them.

I think his background in pretty important:
We got him 4 months ago (although it feels like forever!) as a rescue. He's about 2-3 years old, and was found in an alley with a man's belt duct taped around his neck as a collar :-( At some point he's had a home because he's just too smart. He knows many commands, is house broken, etc. He bonded with me immediately (feels like we've always been together!), but it took a couple months before he fully trusted my husband. He's definitely on the anxious side and will not go for walks because of passing cars. I first noticed he was nervous about certain sounds when we were at a park that he loves and was very comfortable with. He was having a good time when a car backfired and he went absolutely nuts. He raced back to the car and went crazy trying to get in. Since then I've noticed him afraid of similar sounds. If he hears one he immediately wants inside.

He's the perfect dog, and I love him so much. I hate that he's so scared of these noises, but he has to get over it. The backyard is the only place for him to go to the bathroom. Does anyone have any advice to help him get over this fear??

SuperG 08-21-2014 07:41 PM

Great looking dog and how nice of you on the rescue....wish I could offer some help. Always so nice to hear people have such high regard for their dogs...Mitty has the best chances of getting over it with your concern and caring.

I'm sure somebody in this forum will be able to provide some form of a solution from a similar situation.


Bear L 08-21-2014 07:58 PM

Does he have a doggy buddy that can help him make the backyard more fun?

meli_ssa4 08-21-2014 08:51 PM

This sounds like our 2yr old female. She absolutely hates passing cars and noise. It took forever to get her use to our backyard and deck. We did the treat thing to lure her out and just played with her favorite toys. Since her nature is to always want to be with us we just left the door opened and we went outside and basically waited for her to come out looking for us. She eventually would come out and we would immediately praise her and give her treat and start playing with her. It took awhile but now she loves the backyard. We had to feed her in the front yard for about a week before she would even go out our gate. But now that isn't an issue anymore.

Unfortunately everything we tried for the walking has yet to work. The only way we can get her out of the yard is on her prong collar. But she is completely anxious the entire time and very aware of everything going on around her.

Blanketback 08-22-2014 10:52 AM

OP, have you tried just sitting out there with him? I would set up a nice spot for both of you, grab a good book, and try to get him used to the sounds. Only you can know if this would work or not, if he's overwhelmed or not. But I'd try it - even by getting one of those cheap screened gazebos, and hanging up some curtains, doing whatever - maybe a covered crate would make him feel more secure? It must be very loud with the basketball is he with thunder and fireworks?

Shade 08-22-2014 11:05 AM

I found with my fearful poodle that not making a big deal of fear was key for her. I used what she was afraid of and made it the best thing possible while respecting her boundaries. If she was scared of a fire hydrant I'd give her a loosh leash and walk myself right up to it and touch it, talk to it, show her with my actions that it wasn't harmful. If I saw her backing away from something I'd step in between so she knew I was in between her and the 'threat' at all times blocking it from getting to her

I'd try leashing him and walking around the backyard treating him heavily with very high value treats for following you and hopefully eye contact. I'd feed him in the backyard, only play in the backyard, train him in the backyard - everything he likes in life happens in that area. Hopefully as he realizes that nothing hurts him there he can learn to relax

Also make sure your own energy is nothing but positive - think sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and walk with your head up. Sing songs softly or hum if it helps, they read our energy so well so if you tense or are waiting for something to happen it can cause it to escalate

Mitty is one handsome boy :wub: I wish you well in your journeys with him, remember to treasure the small victories :)

jfrzr 08-22-2014 04:41 PM

Everyone, thanks for your feedback!

Shade, I like your suggestion of doing everything in the backyard. I think it's key that my husband and I spend as much time as possible in the backyard with him. I always try to remain calm and assuring when he starts freaking out, but it seems like once he's worked himself up there's no undoing it.

He is terrified of fireworks, but he is not the least bit scared of thunder. I'm constantly surprised at things he is scared of/not scared of. The other day my husband started the lawn mower with him in the yard, and Mitty hardly noticed!

Meli_ssa4, if you were from the southern US I'd say our dogs are related! :-) Have you tried walking your dog at night? Mitty will walk a little bit at night when our street is quieter and he can't see so far ahead. Last night we went out, and he walked the farthest we've gotten! So we're making a little progress there.

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