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Ask Dr. Jenn: How Can I Help My Dog Overcome Her Anxiety and Fear of the Wind?

My 6–7 month old Chihuahua is afraid of the wind and won't go potty outside. What can I do to help her anxiety and train her to stop making messes on the carpet?

July 27, 2023 5 min read
Ask Dr. Jenn: How Can I Help My Dog Overcome Her Anxiety and Fear of the Wind?

I just rescued a 6–7 month old Chihuahua from a drug-filled home, with three large breed dogs. She’s now in my home where she is safe and loved. Katie is a very adorable and sweet girl; however, she naturally has some issues. What has encouraged me to write to you is that Katie is AFRAID of the wind. I mean all wind, she cowards down behind potted plants and hides from even a slight warm early summer breeze. With this anxiety and fear outside, she doesn’t relax long enough to either urinate or poop. She does it as soon as she comes inside. How do I correctly help her to overcome her fear of the wind and to stop making messes on the carpet?

First, congratulations on your new family member, and thank you for giving her a great home! Rescue dogs can come with their share of baggage and sometimes the baggage shows up as anxiety.

It sounds like there are two issues: fear of wind and house soiling.  First, we will address her fear of wind. For any dog with anxiety, I always recommend an obedience class. It may sound contradictory, but learning to follow commands such as sit, stay, come, and be rewarded with treats gives anxious dogs a lot of confidence. It makes them feel they have a job and a purpose.

Along with obedience classes, I recommend using counter-conditioning techniques. Counter-conditioning means changing the feelings and reactions to a trigger. In Katie’s case, the trigger is the wind. We want to change her response to the wind from fear and anxiety to more positive feelings, such as a sense of calm or excitement. With many dogs, the best way to do this is to offer a “high-value treat”. A high-value treat is something she does not get every day, something she is instantly excited about as soon as she sees or smells it. For some dogs, this is a piece of hot dog or lunch meat. Other dogs love cheese or ice cream. My dogs go crazy over popcorn. Whatever you choose, she should only receive this treat when you are working on counter-conditioning.

Counter-conditioning may sound like a lot of time and work. But if you work with her for short periods, just five to ten minutes a few times a day, you will likely see positive results within a week or two. It is important to start small, with just a small stimulus. Once she becomes comfortable, gradually make the stimulus stronger.

Start with using a small fan. When she is calmly sitting in your lap, turn the fan on to the lowest setting. Tell her she is safe and make her feel secure while giving her the high-value treat. You may have to do this multiple times until she starts to get used to it. If you don’t have a fan, have someone use a piece of paper to create wind in her direction.

On days when there is a slight breeze, pick her up and take her outside. Many dogs find it comforting to be wrapped tightly. You can wrap her in a blanket as you hold her or purchase a compression jacket, such as a Thunder Shirt. Again, make her feel secure and give her a special treat. Once she is comfortable in your arms, set her down on the ground. You may want to sit with her and keep her on a short leash so she can’t run and hide.

You may never be able to help her completely overcome this fear, but the goal is to reduce her anxiety and be able to tolerate a light summer breeze. If her anxiety is so severe and you are not seeing an improvement with the counter-conditioning techniques, she may need medication to help with her anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety is so severe that they can’t learn or even respond to the high-value treat. Some dogs need medication to reduce their anxiety enough so they can respond to the rewards. If you think Katie needs anti-anxiety medication, talk with your veterinarian about what medication is best for her.

Katie’s wind phobia may be part of why she is making messes on your carpet, but, given her background, I suspect she isn’t fully housebroken either. You can work on the two problems at the same time. If the wind is making her too fearful to urinate or defecate when outside, find a safer place for her to go initially. Do you have a garage or a shed that you could put potty pads on? This may be a good way to start. As she gets more used to the wind, you can start moving the potty pads outside.

When it isn’t windy, walk her on a leash outside until she goes potty. Once she goes, you give her a treat – not the same treat you are using to help her overcome her wind phobia, but it can be just as special – and give her lots of praise. After she has gone potty, she can be let off-leash to play. Do not let her run around free before she goes potty because she may get distracted playing and forget to go. It can also be beneficial to take her to the same spot outside every time. Although I normally recommend you pick up poop right away, if she is not getting the hint that she should poop outside, it can be helpful to leave a few turds where you want her to go.

If you catch her going in the house, give her a firm “NO” and take her outside. There should be no additional punishment and she will still get rewarded if she urinates or defecates outside. If you do not catch her in the act, it does not help to take her back to the spot and rub her nose in it. This just causes confusion. You need to clean the area up very well and use an enzymatic cleaner to remove the odor. If she is going in the same spot every time, block off access to the spot. If she is going in random places throughout the house, always keep her on a leash next to you. This may be annoying, but you should only need to do it for a few days to weeks before she catches on. If she is always in your sight, she can’t sneak away and have an accident.

If you cannot give her your complete attention while in the house, she should be in a small kennel until she is housebroken. The kennel can be a safe place for her and will help her control her bladder. Most dogs don’t want to urinate or defecate where they sleep.

Again, if you are not seeing any improvement despite all your hard work, set up a consultation with your veterinarian. There could be a medical reason for the accidents, or it may be that her anxiety is just too severe, and she needs medication before she can be fully housebroken.

Katie sounds like a very special dog, and I wish you the very best of luck with her. Please keep me updated on how she does with training.

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