Training Classes, a Reactive Dog. Compatible?

Bay loves training classes

Ben

I have just come home from seeing three wonderful Border Collies.

They are all rescues and like so many, two are from Ireland.

So often Border Collies I visit, beloved family pets, also live a life of frustration, unable to use their clever brains or fulfill their instinct to herd. The loving hard work the couple has done has paid big dividends. The dogs are given plenty of enrichment in their lives including being regularly taken to training classes. Two of them do agility also.

Their main reason for my visit is for both Ben and Timmy to be less reactive to other dogs – most particularly Ben who will react as soon as he sees another dog in the distance.

Is dog training doing anything for Ben’s reactivity to other dogs?

Ben will soon be nine and has some Australian Shepherd in the Collie mix.

He adores the training itself but takes a while to get used to the other dogs in the class, even those he sees week after week.

Timmy

How can they mix training classes with changing Ben’s reactivity to other dogs?

It’s proven that the way to help a dog with reactivity to other dogs is to work with sufficient distance between them that the dog feels safe and relaxed.

Here is an excerpt from an excellent article by Tobin Foster PhD: ‘Letting another dog approach and greet a fearful (or reactive) dog is too intense!  Quick retreats at the first sight of an approaching dog is too brief!   Letting your dog watch another dog from a distance and for a long time (until he loses interest is best!) will produce the most effective results in most cases.’. Tobin Foster, PhD

Bearing this in mind, how then can Ben manage the classes?

We looked at ways of turning his training classes into a positive.

The lady will see if Ben can now join the final class. He then no longer has to run the gauntlet of other dogs waiting to come in to the next class as he leaves by the only door.

They can arrive very early, watching the other dogs arrive one or two at a time from a distance. Ben can also watch the dogs from the previous class leave – from a distance. The lady can be ready to retreat, putting more distance between them, if he gets agitated.

She can then work at pairing the sight of sufficiently distant dogs with food and happiness.

She can even point them out: ‘Look at that!’.

Now I suggest the lady experiments with walking towards and into the hall, lead loose, being ready to walk out again if Ben ‘tells’ her with his body language that he’s not happy – before he starts to bark if possible.

Fortunately the lady believes that her good, switched-on trainer will be up for this.

Timmy, too, barks at other dogs.

He barks at some dogs, not always and only when they get really close. It’s probable he has caught some of this reactivity from Ben.

Timmy is the most recent to join them and is also two years old.

He adores agility, but gets so fired up that he has nipped several people and gone for another dog. He now has solo lessons.

Just as it’s hard to make indoor training classes compatible with keeping sufficient distance, it’s hard to make agility, particularly when competitive, compatible with lowering arousal levels. Agility requires a dog to become fired up; lower arousal levels are necessary to stop him being so stirred up that he nips. Catch 22.

Tom fixates on the cat, waiting to herd her if she moves.

Tom staring at the cat

Tom staring at the cat

The third dog, Tom, is two years old and is a dream. He is however prone to fixate on the elderly cat, waiting to herd her whenever she moves.

They currently send him to his bed. I prefer to deal with the emotions behind the behaviour rather than simply controlling the behaviour. He goes to his bed willingly enough when asked but doesn’t stay there for long before he’s back staring at the cat.

Instead of simply sending him to his bed with the urge to herd or chase unfulfilled, our plan should help diffuse frustration a little.

They will also interrupt the staring a lot sooner to try to break the habit and before it gets to the stalking stage.

Going back to Ben, he loves his training classes once he’s been there for a while and has stopped barking at the other dogs. They are very keen for him to continue and, being a Border Collie, activity is especially necessary for his brain and breed.

Stopping the training classes and agility for now would be the easy way to work on resolving reactivity and over-arousal problems.

But at what price?

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for these three dogs. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)

Border Collie Being a Border Collie

Border Collie Holly has several of the more difficult traits in Collies without work that I go to, bearing in mind that I only go to dogs that need help in some way.  This won’t represent the majority of their breed out there.

A Border Collie, being a Border Collie, is bred to herd sheep isn’t she.

Border Collie wants her ball

Where is my ball?

If she has no sheep to herd then Holly may find other things to round up – people, animals or objects.

Four-year-old Holly goes into herding mode when her stress levels tip over and this is mostly when the gentleman comes home from work or when she is even more aroused than usual.

She will then immediately begin to circle and nip the heels of the older lady in particular. She may also pick on this lady when they are all sitting down eating. Holly will, in effect, be making sure her sheep stays put! The dog puts her head on the lady’s lap but not to be touched. If the lady moves she will growl, show her teeth and snarl.

The lady is scared. Holly will know this.

Someone else will sternly command her ‘AWAY!’ which resolves the situation in the present but doesn’t prevent it from happening the next time.

It’s only a matter of time before she bites unless things are done differently.

A Border Collie, being a Border Collie, is bred to focus.

Hollie is bred to focus on and to control sheep. She is also bred to follow a human’s subtle directions.

So many Border Collies who are family pets have no substitute activity for their brains. They so very easily become obsessed with something of their own making.

I have been to many a Border Collie that fills this vacuum by obsessing over shadows, lights or reflections. One dog would stand all day simply looking at a wall, waiting for a flicker.

Holly’s obsession, like that of many another Border Collie, is her ball, or failing that, any throw-able toy. With this ball she constantly and persistently demands the attention of her humans. They must throw it over and over. She never has enough.

If her four humans don’t comply immediately, Holly barks. She has learnt that they have a breaking point and if she persists for long enough they will feel forced to give in.

My advice is to put all the balls and toys away in the garage.

Everyone, including Holly, will need to go cold turkey. They will have to put up with the barking until she realises it no longer works.

The constant throwing is like winding a large key in the side of a clockwork toy. The more you wind the faster it goes – until it’s over-wound and something snaps.

Perpetual activity – and their are four family members at her beck and call most of the day with the ball play – means also that she is sleep-deprived too which won’t be helping.

Just ceasing throwing the ball for Holly isn’t nearly enough. It needs to be replaced with other things – activities that will stimulate a Border Collie’s clever brain whilst also teaching her to be able to settle.

Holly is walked three times a day which sounds great but isn’t.

She is very scared of traffic.

She used to do another Border Collie thing – try to chase the wheels, but now she will hang back, cower away and have to be dragged and enticed for the five minute walk beside a busy road, necessary to get to the park.

The whole walk thing is an ordeal for her three times a day; each time she tries to avoid having her lead put on.

A Border Collie is the dog of choice for many trainers because it’s so clever and so receptive to training. It relishes the challenge, the directions and the brain work which compensates for the lack of sheep to work with.

As family pets, many are simply frustrated. Holly, I know, would far prefer to be working than to be cuddled.

She was so quick learn an alternative behaviour to all the barking at the toy cupboard where the balls had been put away. I taught her to settle on a towel, quietly and kindly. With the smallest gesture she understood what was being asked of her. Being quietly on that towel was a rewarding place to be.

There will be a lot more emphasis on reinforcing all the wanted behaviours and finding ways of giving her better things to do instead of scolding her.

Peaceful at last, on her new 'mat'.

Peaceful at last, on her new ‘mat’.

Being able to send her to her mat for a reward and with something to do at those tricky moments will solve the herding problem when the man comes home. They will get a gate for the sake of safety and all welcomes will be low-key now.

Holly is sure to revolt but they must persist.

Currently Holly’s walks are doing her more harm than good.

Exercise isn’t always the cure-all people think it is – read this. They will for now pop her in the car to get to the park whilst working on hear fear of vehicles. I suggest they take a chair and sit in the pathway beside their house, well away from the road. Holly can be on a long loose lead so if a vehicle is too noisy she can run away. Each vehicle she looks at can be associated with something nice. Food.

Over time she will be sufficiently confident to get nearer to the passing vehicles.

Another common Border Collie trait that I have found (not only Border Collies of course) is a particular sensitivity to bangs. One explosion of a bird-scarer sets up a lifelong sensitivity. Poor Holly now even retreats at the sound of a click, a door shutting, a child bouncing a ball and so on. Fireworks are a nightmare.

I did notice however that after she had been calm and settled on her mat for a while I repeated a click that had sent her running behind the sofa earlier, from a distance, throwing her food at the same time. She ate it and she held her ground.

This is yet more proof that a generally calmer dog can cope a lot better with the things life throws at her.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Holly and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Separation Anxiety – or is it?

I was welcomed by two beautiful, friendly dogs, Border Collie Jack who is seven years old and Izzy, an eight-month-old Tibetan Terrier.Without Izzy, Jack has separation anxiety

Jack has become increasingly anxious since last March when the lady’s other Border Collie, Charlie died. She is worried about his separation anxiety. He cries and leaves a puddle of drool by the door when she goes out and leaves him. Because losing his companion was a major change in his life everyone has understandably assumed this to be the reason for his subsequent separation anxiety.

But is it?

Are we jumping to conclusions?

At around the time when the old dog died Jack had a frightening encounter with a Rottweiler a few houses down. There are, in all, eight dogs in this property that bark ferociously and jump at the gate whenever anyone passes their house. Sometimes the gate isn’t properly shut as was the case when the Rottweiler got out.

Where he used to be okay, Jack is now constantly intimidated by these dogs. He is walked past them nearly every morning. He is constantly reminded of them, hearing them from his garden and even from inside his house. I watched his reaction each time we heard barking.

How will this be for him when he’s all alone? I strongly suspect that Jack feels constantly a little unsafe and possibly it’s worse for him now without the backup of the older dog, Charlie. This anxiety isn’t simply separation anxiety. It’s as though these neighbouring dogs are increasingly ‘contaminating’ his area and to a certain extent the rest of Jack’s life as well. Every walker wanting to go on the nice walk has to run the gauntlet of these dogs and this is affecting other dogs as well.

Jack

Jack

I have found a similar thing here at home. There are a couple of Boxers lunging at a gate an then fighting one another that walkers have to pass. My own dog Pip ignored them the first few times and gradually became more reactive while I had to work harder, until he was anticipating them well before reaching the gate, whether they were out or not. Many passing dogs, having become aroused or scared by them, are already more aroused and reactive when it comes to meeting other dogs on walks which is spoiling things for a lot of people. (Before this could spill over into his attitude to other dogs he might meet I have stopped taking Pip that way altogether).

There were no problems when Charlie was alive and with questioning, it seems it may actually be Izzy he misses and not the lady – but why, we can’t say.

When the lady goes out alone leaving Izzy behind, Jack seems to have been fine. She shows Izzy and goes to classes with her so has to leave Jack behind. Whether or not it’s Izzy in particular she misses or just the company of another dog in general can only be guessed at, but when the lady goes out and leaves her at home with Jack, he has no separation anxiety. When she takes Izzy with her he stresses.

It’s therefore safe to assume there is a connection with Jack’s separation anxiety, being without Izzy and his feeling unsafe.

I am certain having watched Jack in the house that the separation anxiety, which he’d never previously, could well be influenced by the frequent sound of those dogs barking and his not feeling safe when alone – and Izzy’s company seems to to help him.

I am hoping the lady will be able to video him when she is out, both with Izzy and without her, just to make sure. 

So if separation anxiety isn’t the real problem, what is?

Maybe it’s those dogs down the road that are the real problem.

Izzy

Izzy

As it’s not missing the lady alone that makes Jack drool and cry when left alone but when she removes Izzy, it makes working on the problem a lot easier because we can be more specific.

We will work directly on desensitising and counter-conditioning him to those other dogs. We start by getting him to associate the sound of their barking from the house and garden with food that is so nice that he evntually gets to look for the food when he hears them instead of being scared.

Slowly slowly the lady will work outside her house, always keeping at a distance from those dogs where Jack feels safe, slowly slowly getting him to relax when he hears the dogs. Inch by inch getting nearer over a period of weeks or maybe months. This involves a loose lead, reading his body language and allowing him full choice as to whether he carries on or not. Each afternoon the lady always pops both dogs in the car and takes them for a run somewhere nice, so missing exercise won’t be a problem.

As she walks the dogs separately each morning, he is parted from Izzy daily for about fifteen minutes and will get plenty of practice. We will work on getting him to actually enjoy Izzy’s short departures whilst also working on his not feeling intimidate by those other dogs. Even if my theory happens to be wrong, our plan of action should transform Jack’s life anyway.

The lady really ‘got it’ and could see how the methods of desensitising and counter-conditioning can be transferred to other things that Jack is uneasy about. The principal is well explained in this video.

Izzy, fortunately, is incredibly laid back and just takes life as it comes.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jack and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. This is a perfect example of how finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. An experienced and objective analysis is needed. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Fear Barking at Children and the Neighbour

The two beautiful Romanian dogs are a tribute to their family.

They are both now eleven months old and were adopted separately about eight months ago.

Charlie is a very small Border Collie type and Ylva a Whipetty mix.

Ylva

Ylva

Ylva is very playful whilst also being very laid back – an absolute dream to own. Charlie is adorable also, but more highly strung. I managed to catch him lying still just for a moment so I could take his photo!

Both young dogs are absolutely beautiful. They are lively, affectionate and playful.

We are dealing with Charlie’s increasing reactivity and fear barking along with his pulling on lead.

He barks at children, particularly a child that may suddenly appear. He shows reactivity with fear barking at people he doesn’t know coming to the house. People walking in on him in the doorway he finds very intimidating – the late teenage sons have some very tall friends!

There is a considerable amount of fear barking at the neighbour when he’s out in his garden.

However Charlie was pleased to see me when I arrived at the house because of some forward planning. No fear barking at all. I had arranged for him to be put in the kitchen when I rang the bell and then to join me once I was sitting down. He was curious and friendly.  It’s far easier on a wary dog to be introduced to a caller after they have come in and sat down.

Desensitising and counter-conditioning is the answer to the fear barking.

The neighbour problem and Charlie’s reactivity to small children is a matter of desensitisating and counter-conditioning him. I would usually use food but Charlie isn’t very food-motivated. However, like may Border Collies, he is very toy and ball motivate indeed.

I suggest a special, new, ball to bring out only when the neighbour is in his garden. Neighbour comes out and game starts. Initially it can be as far from his fence as possible but they can gradually move nearer. I’m sure it will be no time at all before the neighbour is joining in the ball game from the other side of the fence. When neighbour goes in, the ball disappears.

Charlie displays fear of children when out and may suddenly lunge and bark at them – even if they are standing still. Recently he caught the tummy of a small boy in a crowded place when the child suddenly ran from behind. Without warning Charlie grabbed him.

Fear barking at chldren

Charlie

This is what prompted them to get some help before it escalated further.

Just like the neighbour, they will now associate children with good stuff. Again, perhaps a special toy – maybe something with a squeak which he loves. They can play with him outside a school playground at playtime – at a distance he feels comfortable. On walks, when the person holding the lead sees a child, he or she can say to Charlie ‘Look – a CHILD’ in an excited voice, then throw him his ball and go off in another direction.

So far as loose lead walking is concerned it’s  largely to do with technique, teaching the dog that we have a much slower walking pace, using the right equipment, patience and some work. The current ‘no-pull’ lead is nonsense in my opinion. We want him to walk on a loose lead through choice, not by being physically restrained. Feeling physically restrained could be contributing to his reactivity to children.

Charlie is only eleven months old and the problem isn’t bad – yet. After the incident when the young boy was nipped, they will introduce him to a muzzle for those times when things may be too crowded or stressful for him.

I’m sure they have nipped things in the bud and with some work there will be no more fear barking and lunging at young children, people coming to the house or the neighbour in his garden.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Charlie and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

 

Barks at People but Only at Home

He barks at people coming into his home. He loves people when he’s out.

Border Collie barks at peopleBorder Collie Bud is friendly and relaxed with everyone when out of the house. He likes to say hello.

At home he is a different dog. When someone he doesn’t know comes to the door he barks and gets very agitated.

As he’s not scared of people per se, there has to be a protective, territorial element to this. On and off during the day he’s on look-out duty on the front room window sill, watching for passing people and kids – no doubt believing that his barking is the reason they move on. He’s chasing them off.

Bud may think that when he barks at people coming into the house he can chase them off too.

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Whose job is protection duty, anyway?

A guard dog is unlikely to be a good family pet. Guard duty is the job of the adult humans.

If people are not at home, a worried dog should be somewhere well away from the front of the house. When they are at home they need to help Bud to feel safe. The response of a ‘protector’ would not be to just leave him to bark or else tell him to shut up. I myself thank my dogs, call them to me and reward them for coming away. I may need to investigate.

It’s not surprising that a dog that barks at people going past may well be even more concerned when, from the window, he can see a stranger actually comes into the house.

Bud barks madly when the doorbell goes. If it’s someone he doesn’t know, they will shut him in his crate before letting the person in and he will continue barking at them. When let out, it takes him a while to settle. He has air-snapped at the children and nipped adults a couple of times. If the children have friends they have to go upstairs and keep out of the kitchen.

Barking at people coming to the house is a common problem; sometimes the dog is fearful and sometimes angry that they are invading his territory. He may even be protective like his humans are resources belonging to him. With Bud I feel it’s a mix. He isn’t wary or protective unless people are coming into his house.

Where ‘stranger danger’ is concerned, having had guard duty lifted from him he can learn to associate people coming to the house with something he especially likes. He can be taught to do something incompatible with barking at people. The kids can play the ‘doorbell game’. One rings the bell and another feeds the dog, over and over, until the doorbell now predicts food not danger.

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A Border Collie is a sensitive dog and things can easily become ‘too much’.

Bud’s nipping occurs when things get too exciting or arousing.

There are many ways in which they can cut down on Bud’s stress levels and this should help him to be more tolerant of day-to-day things like people coming to the house and excited children.

They can help him to self-calm rather than stir him up. Chewing is one such way. Unfortunately, he has been doing so much chewing on bones that he has already, at eighteen months of age, worn his teeth down. This proves just how badly he is in need of something to de-stress himself. We looked at various other calming activities that should help him, but his humans not winding him up would help a lot!

The man can cut down on some of the rough and tumble and chase games that men so love and do brain games and hunting games with Bud instead. Not so much fun for the man but much better for the dog.

A child that becomes too excited may end up bad-tempered or in tears. What about a dog?

In every other respect Bud is a brilliant dog. He has been well and lovingly trained. His barking at people coming into the house, however, isn’t a purely a matter of ‘training’. To get him to behave differently when people come to the house, he needs to feel differently about people coming into the house. This also involves feeling he can trust his humans to protect the home.

Bud’s humans will now do all they can to let him know he’s ‘off duty’ and to keep him from becoming unnecessarily stirred up.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bud. I don’t go into detail. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression or fearfulness is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Herding Behaviour When Indoors

Two Border Collies

Molly and Ben

Sometimes what our pet dogs were originally bred for can make some aspects of modern life within the confines of a house hard for them.

Border Collie, Ben, is one such dog. From the first time their baby granddaughter came into their house the very friendly, well-socialised dog became extremely agitated. Now that she’s a toddler he is even more distressed.

He whines and paces around her, he pants and sometimes barks and they feel might nip her if he got the chance. In addition to what seems like a version of herding behaviour when in her presence, he continues to whine and stress all the time she is in the house, even when he’s shut somewhere else. It’s like he is obsessed with her. Obviously they are never left alone. The little girl is unfazed and their other Collie, one-year-old Molly, loves her.

Sitting with the two very friendly and relaxed dogs who had calmed down after their wonderful welcome of me, it was hard to believe that six-year-old Ben could be any different, until they tuned into an animal programme on the TV.

At the sight or sound of an animal Ben whines and runs about. He paces and crouches. He will then get into more of a frenzy and lunge and bark at the TV.  I saw this for myself.

I started to work with him with the TV on and instead of the usual trying to stop the behaviour, I concentrated on showing him what he could be doing instead each time he looked at the animal. He reacted calmly for a couple of minutes or so before becoming aroused, not helped by Molly who was now joining in by barking at Ben.

It was obvious that they will need to put Molly behind a gate and work in very short sessions with Ben. They will start by making things as easy as possible, maybe the TV on mute or an animal image paused. They can slowly, over time, build up from there.

What is interesting is that the dog acts in such a similar way with the little girl. They can be using much the same sort of approach around the child as they do around the TV.

Border Collie lying on carpet

Ben

They will do repeated very short sessions.

I deliberately don’t describe exactly what we did because the specific strategies may not work in all cases and if wrongly interpreted may make matters worse.

Molly must be out-of-the-way and they can start when it’s easiest on Ben – when the child is sitting still in her high chair (they can’t sit her in front of the TV of course, because an animal may come on!). One grandparent can be with the child and the other bring Ben in on a long and loose lead, attached to a harness, so they have complete control over him all the time and so that he’s comfortable also.

Gradually, as Ben settles, they can have the child walking about, holding one grandparent’s hand while the other grandparent works with Ben.

Interestingly he’s only like this with the child when they are indoors. Out in the garden or off lead on a walk, he takes no notice of her.

There is one other big thing that I feel majorly affects Ben’s anxiety and stress around the TV and the baby, and this is both dogs’ lack of self-control. When they go for a walk, there is frantic and excited barking – to see who can rush out through the door first. Multiple commands go on deaf ears. Molly also is a big jumper at people. Again, commands do no good.

So, before they get to work on TV and baby, a calmer, more controlled environment needs to be created. With patience, the dogs will learn that the back door isn’t opened until both of them are quiet and hang back a bit – and this need not be done using commands at all. At present their noise and jumping is rewarded with the back door being opened. It now simply has to be the opposite!

All this arousal needs to be reduced in order that Ben’s stress levels are as low as possible before they embark on their work with him. Getting the background stuff in place can initially seem a lot for people to do, but these things have to be put established first so that they can make good progress with the lovely, friendly Ben.

They need also to work on doggy ‘remote control’! In addition to coming immediately away from something when asked, both dogs should also be trained to go to a bed or mat when asked so they can be sent away to settle down if necessary.

It would be great if, one day, the little girl could be watching the TV with both dogs lying peacefully on the floor nearby or in their settle places. Border Collies are so clever and trainable that with hard work and patience they should get there in the end.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ben and Molly. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Fear of Sounds and Won’t Walk

Worried Border CollieThey have had Max for nearly four weeks now. After a life where he was alone for many hours a day followed by several months in rescue kennels, the five-year-old Border Collie has a great deal of adjusting to do and his new owners, knowing already some of the problems they were taking on, are giving him their all. He really wasn’t doing well in kennels.

Initially they were walking him down the road or putting him in the car to take him to open places and he was only somewhat worried by sounds and bangs. It was manageable. Over the past month this has intensified until now he may often refuse to go out of the door at all. On a good day he won’t go further than about fifty yards from the house to his favourite sniffing and marking spots. He will no longer get into the car.

A sort of ritual has developed. Max frequently goes to the front door obviously asking to go out, and they will probably jump up, pleased to do his bidding. I watched as they put his lead on – he was excited and happy. The lady then opened the inner porch door and he was with her, then she opened the front door and he put the brakes on. The next thing they do is to cajole and entice him in every way they can. This is quite heavy reinforcement for refusing and may even put pressure on the sensitive dog. Upon his refusal and until she spoke to me a few days ago, the lady would then take him straight out the back into the garden for a game instead.

We experimented with the man going out of the front door ahead for a minute, then the lady following but with no lead on Max. He followed her happily outside and sniffed about. We tried then the man going out first and the lady taking Max out on lead. He refused to go out of the door. Next time, with the man outside again, the lady carried the lead. The dog was reticent but after one call joined them. He doesn’t like that lead, although he’s initially really eager to have it put on. Is it because he feels trapped so that if he does hear a sound he won’t be able to freely dash back in? Is it because he feels that with someone holding the lead he loses control and choice?

Things aren’t always all they seem. In ‘behaviour speak’ the clue is in the A and C of the ‘ABCs’ – the Antecedents preceding the Behaviour, and the Consequence – what happens as a result. Leading up to going, they do just what Max wants in terms of when they try to take him out – going when he indicates at the door and putting his lead on. Then when the door opens he completely changes. Tail stops wagging and he refuses. What are the consequences? Immediately following this is persuasion and lots of effort and attention to encourage him go out with them. When they give up he is immediately rewarded with fuss, food and fun in the garden.

A and C are things we can change. They will no longer try to take him out when he is asking, but when they decide. They will experiment with leaving the lead outside and putting it on after he is out. They will experiment with putting his lead on, calling him casually out of the door and coming straight back with no further attention given if he refuses. On the occasions when he does go out to his favourite sniffing and peeing places, they must come back in well before he has had enough – while he still wants to stay outside. Coming back must then be boring!

The fear of sounds wasn’t so bad when they first got him home and may almost be a separate issue.  It needs first to be dealt with in the garden where he reacts less intensely as he can always run back in and also with noises on a CD. With some hard work and lots of repetition he will be taught a self-rescue strategy of running to his people for pieces of chicken instead of running indoors or dropping to the ground in panic. They aren’t really sure that his panic attacks are always due to sounds as they often can hear nothing themselves. Walks will have to be very near to home until this is firmly established. Bit by bit each new place he goes to has become ‘contaminated’ until the whole world away from home is a dangerous place to Max.

Max’ new owners are, understandably, very concerned about getting him out on walks – for his own good – and their very concern will be exerting pressure on him. It’s very natural for any beings to resist pressure. The Border Collie needs exercise, stimulation and interest but any forcing him out will do a lot more harm than good.

About six weeks later: ‘He is now happy getting into cars, visiting other walk areas. Getting him to walk from house.  Have got a long training lead, he appears to be more relaxed on this than with the previous 2m length lead, we can still bring him close when required.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max, particularly where fear issues are concerned, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Freddie is scared of bangs and TV

Can TV be Causing Dog’s Problems?

As I sat down they turned off their TV (as people do).

Freddie was friendly but restless whilst doing some quite determined nudging and nosing for attention before sitting and scratching and chewing himself. The vet wants to investigate further but for now he is on anti-histamine tablets.

After about twenty minutes he settled down, to stretch out peacefully on the floor.

The daughter, on her way out, popped her head round the door and remarked how calm Freddie was. This is quite unusual in the evening.

The five-year-old Border Collie was picked up as a stray in Ireland three years ago and thanks to the care of his loving owners he has fitted into their life really well. He is friendly and gentle, gets on really well with their two cats and is great with other dogs.

Freddie watching for animals on TV

TV has been turned on

Freddie’s two problems are that he is very reactive to animals on TV and he is scared of bangs. He hates the wind because it makes things clatter about. On walks he frequently bolts on hearing a gunshot or bird-scarer. He is a shaking mess with fireworks. Indoors he will suddenly begin to spook at something he has heard outside, inaudible to the humans.

In order that I could see how he was with animals on TV, I asked them to turn it on. Although there were no animals yet, within a couple of minutes he was no longer lying stretched out and relaxed. He was becoming increasingly agitated and beginning to chew himself. Then he looked at the TV, saw an animal, crouched, growled and then launched himself at it.

They turned the TV off again.

It took another twenty minutes before he was once more lying relaxed on the floor. The couple were amazed. It was such a graphic demonstration of the amount of stress TV was causing their dog, and like many people they have it on all the time they are sitting down in the evening.

We had tried turning the volume off, but by then he had seen the animal. I believe that the mere sound of the TV tells him that at any minute these beasts may be invading his room. It is possible that high background noise of the TV that we ourselves can’t hear may also trouble him. The TV makes him feel unsafe in his own home.

What can they do? They understandably didn’t feel that watching no more TV was an option, and besides, that would never address the problem. He needs to be desensitised carefully at a level he can handle, and counter-conditioned to accepting it. He already has a crate in the room, out of sight of the TV and where he happily goes at night, so to start with they can have the TV quiet and as soon as he shows any reactivity they can call him into his crate and give him something very special to chew – something like a favourite bone that he never has at any other time.

I strongly suspect that the raw skin condition due to his constant biting and scratching will also resolve itself as his stress levels reduce. With Freddie in a generally calmer state, they should more easily be able to work on the bang problem when they are out – starting by merely sitting on a bench somewhere he is reasonably comfortable, attached to a long line so he can’t bolt, and feeding him – ready to return to the car before things get too much for him.

Avoiding things altogether will get them nowhere, but he can make no progress, not even accept food, while he feels unsafe.

They will take their time and he will learn to trust them to keep him safe.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Opening Window, Panic Attack

Border Collie Jasper panics and obsesses over windows opening, flies and shadows

Jasper

Suddenly a large fly was buzzing around the room and Jasper lost it! He barked, flew all over the place and jumped at us all.

When the lady goes to open the window to let a fly out he has a panic attack – after barking and leaping about, he jumps up onto the sofa, eyes darting, drooling.

It is the opening of windows that seems to be causing Jasper’s distress. It may be the noise, it may be reflections – perhaps both.

He is somewhat obsessive with shadows and flies, but knowing that a buzzing fly is usually followed by the window being opened to let it out is what really sets him off.

I demonstrated how to begin to desensitise him to the window opening, expecting it to be a slow and gradual process. However, this evening, a few hours later and to my great surprise, I received this: ‘We have already been able to open and close the windows in the living room and kitchen without a peep from Jasper!’

Border Collie Jasper is 18-months old and lives with a young lady and her mother. The young girl has worked really hard and done a wonderful job with him. He was well socialised right from the start and she has spent time, love and effort training him.

Jasper and Pixie

Recently they got 8-month-old Pixie, the most tiny Chihuahua Yorkie cross you have ever seen and who is quite a barker. This will be influencing Jasper. The two are kept apart much of the time for fear of the little one getting hurt, but for the few minutes I saw them together Jasper was wonderful. He lay down so Pixie could get to him – it’s Pixie who is the rough one!

Jasper just needs a bit more mental stimulation and a bit less stressful stimulation – it is a fine line. Too much ball throwing on walks is seldom a good thing – he needs to sniff, wander and explore.

I demonstrated how relaxed and settled he became after about fifteen minutes of using his wonderful brain and clicker. We worked on a strategy to divert him from obsessing on shadows.

Where Jasper is fine with other dogs when he is off lead, he’s not so good on lead – and he is a big puller.

The young lady will now be using wholly positive techniques to get her lovely dog to walk near her because he wants to and not because he has to. She also now knows how to work on his fears when, trapped on lead, he sees another dog.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jasper, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

Elderly Couple, Young Border Collie

Five months agoLass is doing really well. No more jumping at cars and she walks so well now I visited Lass and the elderly couple she lives with. This is the story back then: http://www.dogidog.co.uk/?p=14900

Lass is now a year old. I have to admit I was dubious as to whether they would be able to cope with a highly intelligent and active Border Collie – the dog of choice for fit, experienced dog trainers who enjoy the challenge of a highly driven and intelligent dog.

The lady who uses either sticks or a buggy to move about  does a lot of the work with Lass. She has found creative ways to stimulate her clever dog’s brain whilst the man does the walking.

Like most puppies Lass needed to learn not to jump up, to walk nicely on lead – particularly as her humans aren’t too steady, and to come back when called. Back then, at seven months, she had selective hearing, chased cars and had a fear issue with the on-site tractor .

We have worked together for the past five months and they have kept regularly in touch which I love, making great progress with their beautiful young Border Collie. Today I received this message:

Five or so months later Las is doing brilliantly: “Lass is doing really well. No more jumping at cars and she walks so well now even with me and my stick. John can let her off lead and the recall is amazing one call and she comes. She plays over the fields with a couple of dogs when John calls her she comes straight back…brilliant. Getting close to the tractor too and will sit in the trailer now so getting there.
She is a year old in a couple of weeks and she is so much calmer now. She does still jump at times but people just say “what do you do”and she sits down we are so proud of her. We can stop and chat with friends and she just sits and waits for us. She is doing well with her staying too. John is getting further and further back. And he always walks back to her as you said. We must thank you for your help with Lass we have learnt so much”.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lass, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).