Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author
of the online dog training course “Brain Training for Dogs.”

Older Dogs may get spooked at times of something in the

Older Dogs may get spooked at times of something in the yard

Alexadry all rights reserved

Why Is My Dog Scared of the Yard?

Your older dog is suddenly terrified of going outside in the yard. She pants,
tries to hide, and is oblivious to your requests to come back inside. Anytime
a sudden behavior like this takes place in a senior dog, a vet visit is

All dogs over the age of seven should ideally have a geriatric wellness exam
twice a year. Shaking and panting may be a sign of pain. If the shaking and
panting occur only outside, it very likely is anxiety. Something may have her
spooked her, and it may be hard to determine what. If there have been changes
in the yard, consider that older dogs have a hard time adjusting to anything

Identifying the Trigger

It could have been that she heard a loud noise, or she stepped onto a piece of
glass and felt pain; she may now associate the pain with being outdoors.
Perhaps she saw something that scared her. Smells of other wild animals
(coyote, bear) can also be a possibility. There are also chances she may have
an eye issue going on, which may be exacerbated by the bright light.

If there are steps that lead outdoors, it could be she has arthritic pain.

Does My Dog Have Dementia?

Another possibility to keep in mind may be that she is starting to show the
first signs of canine cognitive dysfunction. According to Pfizer
Pharmaceutical, 62% of dogs age 10 years or older will develop signs of this
condition. Some dogs may appear ”disoriented,” get stuck in corners, and get
lost in familiar places. (More about this condition can be learned by reading
the list of resources at the bottom of the article.)

How to Help Old Dog Overcome the Fear of the Yard

If your dog checks out fine at the vet visit, you will need to work on the
behavior. This may take time and may require the intervention of a reputable
dog behaviorist in severe cases.

  • What you want to avoid is “babying” your dog’s fearful behavior. No petting, pleading, or talking in a soft high-pitched voice, this will only tell her that her behavior is what you want her to do. Your dog may think you are telling her: “You have every reason to be afraid of going outside and I don’t blame you!” Rather, ignore her fearful responses but praise lavishly when she shows initiative.
  • Try to not force the issue and give her time. You need to give her baby steps to avoid traumatizing her further. Don’t pull her outside, rather try to start associating the outdoor with something good again.
  • You can start feeding her tasty treats near the door that leads outdoors or leaving a stuffed Kong here. Then you can put treats more and more outside going out gradually. Use very high value treats that she gets only when heading outdoors. Lots of pats and praise for taking initiative.
  • As she gets better associating the outdoors with food, you can try to re-direct her attention from getting scared. Engage her by asking her a command, try to elicit play, toss treats all over the yard, make a path of treats that leads outside. Do anything to keep her from thinking about her fear. A dog cannot be fearful while thinking of playing or obeying a command. But if the fear is too intense, she may be unable to listen to you as her cognitive functions shut down, so you need to go more gradually.
  • Rescue remedy or a DAP diffuser may help calm her down a bit. Since her problem seems to start mostly outdoors a DAP collar may be your best bet.
  • Another helpful tool would be making her wear a ”thunder shirt” when going outdoors. The beneficial pressure points of this shirt appear to have a therapeutic effect on anxious dogs. Statistics are encouraging with over 80% of dogs showing significant improvement in symptoms when using Thunder shirt.

Your first step therefore should be a vet visit. Again, if all checks out
well, then suspect a strong conditioned fear response that you must work on by
making the outside again a happy place to be.

Scroll to Continue

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For Further Reading

  • 7 Signs a Dog May Have Dementia | LoveToKnow
    According to the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation (AKCCHF),
    dogs can get dementia just as people can. Once symptoms begin to show, a dog
    is …

  • How to Relax Anxious Dogs
    After working with animals for quite some years, I have learned to quickly
    identify dogs that are particularly tense by simply observing their body
    posture and facial expressions. Nervous dogs exhibit a series of signs that
    may not be promptly…

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Our 14 yr old Shih Tzu is scared to go out now at night to do
her duties. She will follow me outside then stop and then turn around to go
back to the house. She cowers as if I’m scolding her! What does this mean?

Answer: So sorry to hear that your 14-year-old Shih Tzu does not want to
potty at night. At her age, I would be concerned whether there may be
something medically going on. Perhaps it’s painful for her to assume the
position to defecate or maybe she has lost a bit of vision or hearing and is
scared to go out. Maybe something startled her. There are several

Question: We have a twelve-year-old Min Pin who has recently changed
behavior. We have a doggie door, and at night he has been peeing in the living
room, even pooping a few times. He also yelped like he was hurt, started
shaking and has become clingy and skittish. Thought he had thorn or glass in
foot pad. The vet did X-rays and found nothing. Could this be old age

Answer: I think your dog’s symptoms warrant further investigation by the
vet before assuming it’s canine cognitive dysfunction or perhaps some fear of
something. Peeing and pooping in the house may be due to pain from arthritis
or spinal issues. Abdominal pain may be another issue. Many possible medical
issues can cause the symptoms you are seeing.

Question: Will a fifteen-year-old Maltese dog begin having trouble holding

Answer: As dogs age, their urethral sphincters start losing tone and
begin to weaken, which leads to leaking. This is often seen in elderly female
dogs who are spayed, and is called urinary sphincter incompetence.

© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli


Pastos on November 08, 2019:

My dog is 13 years old and very active in unfamiliar places, but when we walk
near the house, she wants to go home right after doing her business. All her
life I would walk her without a leash, but now she just runs home and does not
respond to my commands (very uncommon for her). Could she be afraid? She is
excited to go out every time and she never payed any attention to other dogs
even if they bark at her. And she doesn’t seem to be in any pain. Should I
force her to stay outside, or adapt to her will?