Agoraphobic Dog Takes First Walk Outside

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Judy Huddleston (left) proudly sits beside a happy Jack and Lynne Marshall.

A dog who was absolutely terrified of going any further than his backyard has finally learned the joy of taking adventures thanks to some positive reinforcement.

Eighteen-month-old black Lab Jack was so petrified of going out the front door of his Melton, UK home that he would howl, tremble, and even play dead to keep from going out.  But thanks to a pet psychologist, he is now learning to love walks.

“We don’t know what caused Jack’s phobia but we think he was spooked by something when he was a young puppy,” said owner Judy Huddleston. “When we would try and take Jack outside he would be visibly distressed. He would refuse to move while howling and crying.  The family and I were beside ourselves as we wanted to Jack get outside but nothing we tried worked.”

Jack had no problem going into the backyard to take care of his business, but he could not get himself to go out the front of his house.  At first Huddleston thought it was just a strange phase he was going through, but after a year of being a couch potato, she realized she needed to get him some professional help.

“I tried a puppy trainer and all different family members had a go at helping but nothing would make Jack budge,” she said. “It got to the stage where Jack was petrified of going near the front door. He was growing into a healthy dog and he needed to experience going outside.  It broke my heart that I couldn’t even take him for a walk.”

So she and husband David contacted behavioral specialist Lynne Marshall, who uses positive reinforcement (the addition of something positive, like a treat or praise, after eliciting a desired behavior that will encourage the behavior to be repeated).

“Jack was one of the most extreme cases I have dealt with in terms of anxiety,” Marshall said.  “His story really touched my heart and I just thought it was so sad to have a dog that as unable to go outside into the street.  He was totally restricted to being in the house and the back garden. He had never experienced the sights and smells of going for a walk.”

Her method was simple enough she used a technique called shaping – she used small bits of cheese to get him to come closer to the door.

“We played in the back garden with his ball and I rewarded him with cheese whenever he got the ball,” Marshall explained.  “I used this behavior to entice him through the front door and into the street.  Before we knew it we were in the local park and he was loving it.  Jack is how he should be – full of life and wanting to go out for lots of walks.”

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