Our dog Oz has always had difficulty walking on our kitchen floor and down our inside front stairs. The kitchen floor is tile and the front stairs are hardwood. To turn a particular corner in the kitchen, he crouches and then launches himself like a rocket. He will walk up the front stairs but not down.
We noticed this when he was a puppy and mentioned it to our trainer. She suggested that he had probably slipped and fallen. If so, we did not see it happen. I do not think she gave us any suggestions for addressing it. This was 8 years ago, many years before I studied dog behavior. I remember thinking, well if he’s scared because he fell once, he’ll get over it as time passes.
We initially dealt with it by guiding him by the collar or placing a reassuring hand on his back and walking with him. We eventually put carpet runners in our kitchen (yep, in our kitchen) and hallways and between the area rugs. This has worked for him and also our house is laid out in such a way that there is more than one way to get to just about anywhere he wants to go. We have a vacation home and Oz gets very excited as we pack. I have often wondered if he loves it so much because it is fully carpeted! Anyway, now that I have studied and worked at AnimalSense, I know that this is a fearful behavior and we could have worked with him to probably cure it.
When Ozzie’s first trainer asked if he had slipped or fallen, she was suggesting that he had “learned” a fear of the kitchen floor. This did not seem like the right answer at the time.
We never saw Ozzie have a traumatic experience with the kitchen floor and he was not unsupervised as a puppy, so if that is the cause of his fear, he did acquire it quickly with maybe only one fall. He may also have developed the fear at the breeder’s house, but we’ll never know.
If we had understood dogs better 8 years ago, we would have used mealtime and treats to try to help Oz become comfortable with the kitchen floor. A fear such as this might be overcome by feeding a fearful dog on a rubber-backed rug at whatever distance from the smooth floor the dog is at ease. Gradually over a period of time, you would move the food closer to the smooth floor, working up to moving the dish onto the smooth floor with the dog still standing on the rug. Finally, work the dish out onto the floor so that eventually the dog is standing completely on the smooth floor to eat. When using a program such as this, you would always be alert to the dog’s body language and never insist that the dog walk on the floor if he is still afraid.
If a dog who was not previously afraid of smooth floors suddenly becomes afraid, a physical examination by a veterinarian may be wise. Dogs with orthopedic problems including hip dysplasia may experience pain when walking on smooth floors.
I will add this to the list of things I want to work on with him though, but only if he is OK with it. There is no reason to cause him undue stress at age 8 (senior citizen status for a Rottweiler) when we are all fine with the way things are.