Q – Hi Angie, I had a question. I have a 15 yr old dog that does incredibly well for her age (never messes.)  As of late, she is having a hard time on the hardwood floors and now stays on the carpet and doesn’t want to walk on the floors. Her hind legs tend to splay out and she struggles to get her footing. On carpet she trots down the hall with no issues. Any thought on this?
-Neal : Cincinnati, Ohio

 

A – Hey Neal~  I’ve worked with many dogs that develop a fear of hard floors and refuse to walk on them.  It usually starts with them slipping and getting frightened – especially if a human “gasp” or baby talks them after they slip.  That basically verifies in the dog’s mind that something really scary just happened to them.  It’s very important to undue these fears, because if one fear is left undone, they quickly seem to start developing fears of other things.  It’s like once the dog knows that kind of fear exist, it defaults to it easier when other situations come up.

That said, if your dog is 15 years old, it would not be uncommon for her to have trouble when not on a surface she can grip to.  Does she have long nails?  If so, I would definitely make sure they are cut short.  Has she been checked by a vet for hip or leg problems?  Does she seem to freeze in fear and THEN her legs splay out because she is afraid to move a foot, or is she really slipping?  Try to step back and take a look at it as an outsider, just observing her, not feeling her fear.   If you feel her fear with her, you will not be able to get an accurate read on what her body is physically telling you because there is too much emotion involved.
Assuming age isn’t the issue, I put the dog on a lead, and calmly and respectfully INSIST they walk across the floor with me.  I say NO WORDS, no petting and no treats.  Just pull the lead, she will probably freeze.  Keep a firm pull (not jerking the leash) until she takes one step forward and then instantly release the pressure.  Then, she freezes again….apply firm pull…..release as soon as ANY movement forward happens.  Do that over and over.   The dog starts to understand that there is no choice but for her to walk with you across the floor.  In her mind, she will be thinking, “the pressure gets relieved when I move forward.  So, that’s what he wants”  The trick, however, is that if you decide to do this technique, you must REALLY decide to do it.  You can’t give up once you start.  You must out-will her and stay very calm and silently support her.  You can’t feel sorry or get weak because she won’t be able to trust you enough…… to trust that you are strong and are going to bring her through this fear.
Good luck and let me know what happens.
Angie