Chase and Attack Bouncing Footballs and Geese

Jasper is a wonderful Border Collie. He is beautifully suited to life as a house pet in his particularly lovely home environment. They have a big garden with a stream running through it, lots of lawn with rougher areas, two alpacas and a couple of geese.

chase and attack footballsAs soon as I arrived and walked through the garden, sun shining (at last), having said a polite hello the super-friendly Jasper leapt into the stream! I’m sure he has a sense of humour. They will play a game where Jasper hides the ball and the lady has to find it!

Jasper’s ‘Border Collieness’ breaks through just sometimes. Whether his attitude to the geese and alpacas is prey driven or herding gone wrong, something instinctive kicks in. He goes deaf to being called. It’s the same when he hears a football bouncing. He’s off!

Apart from being a talented escape-artist, the young dog has just these two failings. He will chase and attack the geese if he gets the chance. Jasper gets very aroused at the sound of a bouncing football; he will chase and attack that also. He flattens it – kills it!

Chase and attack and kill that football!

They have inadvertently taught him to chase and attack a football!

Their previous dog had loved playing with a flattened football and Jasper was introduced to this at a young age. It’s not surprising that the sound of a football bouncing gets him going. A dog’s hearing is so much better than our own that they often get no warning when he suddenly runs off.

He could then scare children if he leaps up at them to grab their ball. He is such a gentle and friendly dog, a complaint would be dreadful.

The geese are a different matter and he is drawn to them. Their flapping of wings when they are alarmed he finds highly arousing.

Rock solid recall.

The couple need Jasper on ‘remote control’ which means rock solid recall. Over time they can condition him to respond to a whistle followed by food, as the sharp sound is much more likely to interrupt him if caught quickly enough. He will build up an automatic response to the sound of the whistle.

They will also use clicker for work with both the geese and the ball – where, although he’s not actually clicking it himself, Jasper in effect works the clicker by behaving in a certain way, thus earning food. By looking away and staying calm he will in effect cause the click which will result in food.

They will start work well away from the geese with Jasper on lead. I suggested a squeaky ball if suddenly a goose flaps its wings. Squeak to get his attention. Then roll the ball the other way, thus redirecting his urge to chase onto something acceptable.

The aim is for Jasper to not only gain self-control around the geese, but also to have something alternative to redirect onto. something that is incompatible with the chase and attack on a goose.

Differentiate between inflated and flattened footballs.

Because he so loves playing with his flattened ball, they will differentiate between flat footballs and round ones. He’s such a clever dog this should be no problem. Any new football will now need to be flattened before he’s given it.

As with the geese, they work slowly from a distance where he doesn’t react, Jasper on lead. They can start by holding the ball, then putting it down somewhere out of reach but not moving. The clicker will mark and shape every little bit of desired behaviour like relaxing or looking away.

When he no longer is excited by the sight the stationery football and when he can calmly sniff it, they can introduce a small bounce from behind their trellis. And so on. A bouncing ball will become the signal for Jasper to run to them for fun of a different kind rather than chase and attack the ball. ‘Fun’ will be things that are specifically fun to Jasper.

For now, when they are out anywhere they think there may be a football, Jasper must be on a long line. This is so he is no longer able to rehearse his football chase and attack.

With a bit more brain work in other areas of his life, clever Jasper should be less in need of getting gratification from the behaviours they want to avoid.

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 Jasper because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. 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).

Dogs Fighting. Females. Change in Dynamics

The two females have had several minor fall-outs over the past year, but during the last few weeks things have escalated with the two dogs fighting in ernest.

Three big fights in three days.

Blood has been drawn and the owners injured splitting them up.

dogs fighting and she comes off worse

Meg

Once this door is opened it is hard to properly shut it again.

It is a huge shame. The couple has done so well with training their two lovely rescues. They can be taken anywhere. They have made great headway with the more nervous of the two, Border Collie Meg, now nine years old.

Younger Nellie is a mix of Collie and Labrador, a more confident and straightforward character. For the first two of her three years with the family they also had a male Lurcher.

It’s most likely that the dynamics began to change when the Lurcher who kept Nellie in line died about a year ago. Nellie, previously the younger and more carefree of the two dogs, began to try it on with Meg. Any fights, however, were still minor and infrequent and easy to break up.

The two female dogs fighting.

Recently Nellie has changed. They described her way of walking about near Meg as ‘strutting’. She would posture and stand over her, almost like she was goading her.

Unfortunately this wasn’t turning out to be a bloodless coup.

NellieEverything began to escalate about six weeks ago, leading to the dogs fighting seriously.

In the past week it had become so severe that they were considering re-homing Nellie.

After the second big fight in one day they had kept the dogs separate. A couple of days passed and all seemed calm, so, hoping things would now have gone back to ‘normal’ they let Nellie into the room where Meg was lying on the floor near the lady.

Nellie came into the room, walked towards Meg, walked around her….then she attacked her. Unfinished business?

The very distressed lady phoned me that evening. Nellie had taken a hole out of Meg’s head and Meg had turned on her. Restrained and unable to get back at Nellie, she had bitten the lady instead.

Why was this happening now?

There had a build-up of events over the past four weeks. They needed to visit a sick mother who lives a long way away and who was hospitalised. The well-behaved, beautiful dogs always go with them everywhere.

They are selling their house and estate agents were showing people around. They had also made several long trips and stopovers in the short period including one to the West Country and another to Scotland. Then there was the snow. Nellie became very excited indeed in the snow.

Added together it was all just too much.

I am sure ‘too much’ pushed the dogs over the edge, Nellie in particular.

The dogs fighting will actually be a symptom of other things with two probable main causes.

Where before the dogs could tolerate a certain amount of stress/arousal without it resulting in full-blown dogs fighting, it seems now to take a lot less to trigger something serious. Attacking Meg is fast becoming Nellie’s default reaction to arousal.

One of the causes is undoubtedly stress levels. The other looks like a ‘battle for supremacy’ between the two dogs as Nellie tries to take over.

I had both dogs in the room together. The lady with instructions to act relaxed, sat holding Meg on a longish lead down one end of the room. The man then walked in with an Nellie, also on lead, and sat down the other end of the room. I sat opposite where I could see both dogs. Everything was set up for them to be calm.

Whenever she moved about, Meg was clearly finding Nellie’s presence distressing with her lip-licking, paw lifting and yawning. Nellie however looked blase – she is calling the shots and almost baiting Meg.

I tried to get as much information as possible about the more serious fights. Two common denominators seem to be that multiple people or dogs had been present, or they had recently been on walk (when Nellie comes home from a walk she actually seems more stirred up than when she left).

Nellie and Meg have great lives. They are dearly loved. They have previously had time spent on training and they aren’t left alone for long periods; they have plenty of exercise.

Like many people however, their owners hadn’t realised that stress from arousal of any kind can last in their dogs for several days.

It then gets to the stage where eventually one small thing can push things over the edge, with Meg and Nellie triggering fights. See ‘trigger stacking‘.

What do we do now?

It’s vital Meg and Nellie have no further opportunity to rehearse the behaviour. No more dogs fighting. Control and management is key. Fighting simply needs to be impossible. It must be removed from their repertoire altogether for some time.

Management will include dogs being on lead when in the same room and not too close – and only when all is calm. They can tie the leads around their waists if they need hands free. They can sort out a couple of anchor points on which to hook the leads. The dogs will be trained to be happy wearing muzzles. They will get a dog gate for the kitchen doorway. At present Nellie goes happily into her crate but a gate means the dogs can swap rooms. We don’t want either to become territorial.

Less arousal and more enrichment.

In addition to management, less arousal and more enrichment sums up the areas to be worked o

With their clever dogs, the couple will go back to training games, searching activities and more enrichment that doesn’t involve too much excitement. One necessary bonus in all this is that the dogs now have more time spent on them individually.

With more brain work and focus upon their humans, they should become less focussed upon one another.

The very worst scenario is that the dogs will always need to be kept from getting at one another and only walked together if there are two people. However, over time, with some hard work and keeping arousal down, I have high hopes that some of the time they can eventually be back together.

Their humans now recognise the trigger situations and the devastating effect of mounting stress levels.

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 Meg and Nellie and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression 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 Help page)

 

 

Repetitive Behaviour. Working Dog. No Job.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. Oscar is a dog, like many of our dogs, living in a world that he’s not been bred for. The couple do all they know to give him a good life, particularly by way of long daily walks, but it’s not enough unfortunately.

Oscar resorts to a ritual of repetitive behaviour.

The way to improve his life involves lots of changes. They want a family pet that is affectionate, reliable, companionable and to be trusted around children. Oscar’s primary needs are different.

There are so many things to deal with from his diet through to feeding his clever brain. Each little change links to the next so it is impossible to simplify things and extract just two or three things for them to concentrate on. It’s complicated.

repetitive behaviour

Oscar getting no reaction during his ritual

Oscar is a beautiful Border Collie, age five. They have had him since he was a year old and they were already his third home.

He is extremely easily agitated and aroused. Things that wire him up include noises outside, animals and sounds on TV, bangs and young children.

He tries to bite when they brush his long hair. He paws persistently and painfully for attention – which he always eventually gets in some form. When the phone rings he goes mental. These are just a few of the daily challenges the retired couple face with Oscar.

Staring the dog down

Unfortunately, the man believed in advice that dominating him by staring him down would make him respect them and change his behaviour. This, to my mind, will have made things worse and actually caused him to bite those few times. He has only gone for people who have challenged him like this – the man, their son and another man they met when out.

The start of the sequence – staring and licking his lips

I saw how arousal affects Oscar and causes his repetitive behaviour during the three hours I was there. People talking or his simply being ignored triggers the start of a ritual.

He runs to the window and starts to stare like he’s seen a fly to chase – he’s an obsessive fly-chaser. He then starts barking and scratching at the door. This is the start of a repetitive behaviour sequence. It results in the man getting up and letting him out – every time.

However, it’s not as simple as just letting him out. He is told ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ before the door is opened otherwise he will jump at the man, barking.

Once out, Oscar’s ritual involves running exactly the same circuit of the small garden, across a little path and then back to the door again. The man then gets up again and lets him in. This earns a ‘Good Boy’.

By the third time of exactly the same sequence in a short time it was obvious Oscar couldn’t possibly need to toilet again. I could see this was a repetitive behaviour – a ritual that probably gives him some control over his own life and over those around him.

Breaking the cycle

I asked the man not to get up. Let’s see what happens.

This triggered lots of frustrated door scraping and loud barking and we braved it. Oscar stopped briefly. Immediately I quietly said ‘Good’ and dropped a tiny bit of food. He went back to scratching and barking and I repeated this process many times. Eventually he walked away from the window.

‘Good’, then food.

A short break to lie down. ‘Good’.

He then went and lay down. ‘Good’ and more food. Any more chatting to him would simply arouse him again.

A few peaceful minutes would go by then Oscar would be back to the start of the routine of repetitive behaviour again, scratching the window and barking. The man, on automatic, started to get up. I stopped him.

This happens repeatedly when they are sitting down in the evening, punctuated by barking at TV and pawing for attention.

His very failure to get the man to engage in his routine of repetitive behaviour was now frustrating in itself.

Understandably, when he is peaceful they breathe a sigh of relief. Let sleeping dogs lie!

Oscar is generating all his action by pestering and getting no reinforcement or action in return for being calm and non-demanding. This needs to be reversed.

Clever brain

I gave them a list of suggestions of things to exercise Oscar’s clever brain and enriching activities that include scenting, sniffing, hunting and so on. I shall go back and do clicker work. He will love the problem-solving.

Oscar has long walks but this isn’t enough – in fact, when he returns he is sometimes more aroused and demanding than when he left. This indicates that even the walks should be done a bit differently.

The first challenge is to bring his stress levels down as low as possible. Only then will they make significant headway. Robbed of his rituals of repetitive behaviour, he needs other things added to his life to bring him enrichment and action.

Unfortunate incident involving a child

With lower general stress levels, Oscar should be better able to cope with the things that scare or intimidate him like staring men and little children. Very unfortunately a child came from behind him and hit him with a stick when he was lying beside them in an outdoor cafe. Before this he had no problem with children. Unless and until they manage to change how he feels around them – yet more work for them to do – he should be muzzled when kids are about just in case. The law never takes the side of the dog even if he’s provoked.

There is a lot to deal with. Oscar, born on a farm in Wales and now living with a retired couple in a bungalow, is bred for a different kind of life. They are very committed to doing the best they can for him. It’s not by chance that Border Collies are the dog of choice for trainers who work hard with their dogs and get them to do amazing things.

Here’s a strange thing. After a couple of weeks in kennels when they go away he is a lot more relaxed. It does him good. Is it because the rituals of repetitive behaviour that he himself creates to make ‘things happen’ in themselves stress him? Is it because the usual triggers such as TV and telephones won’t be there? In the kennels he has an enforced break.

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 Oscar and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 fearfulness or aggression 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)

Barking at the Door. Anxiety? Something Else?

At last, after going to several dogs reactive to visitors, here were dogs that were pleased to see me!

Two Border Collies greeted me, two of the most polite, chilled and friendly dogs I’ve met for a while. Absolutely beautiful.

It was hard to imagine one of these dogs barking at the door, disturbing the neighbours.

When looking at a problem, I ask myself ‘what does the dog get out of it’?

Barking at the door – what’s in it for the dog?

What can Forrest, aged two, get out of standing at the front door and barking? What does the younger Luna get out of wrecking things? Often the answer is that because of the dog’s state of mind the behaviour simply helps him or her to feel better – to vent.

barking at the door when left

Forrest – my treat box is beside me!

These two dogs are quiet dogs. There was no barking when I rang the bell and they greeted me calmly.

Before ten-month-old Luna arrived there was no barking at the door. Forrest never barked when left. Puppy Luna was more of a challenge.  She would cause wreckage including digging in the carpet. The dogs also had access to the garden where she would dig and then bring the mud indoors.

They tried various things including, more recently, crating her. This seems to be when the barking at the door began.

It seems that, from the crate, she would whine – maybe bark. The assumption is that she is either bored or unhappy at being left.

I wonder.

In the crate she was, unlike previously, separated from Forrest who had free run of the downstairs. She may well have wanted to join him. Even when they abandoned the crate the two dogs were now left in different rooms. Luna continued to bark and whine.

The noise however that has got the neighbour unhappy is Forrest’s barking at the front door which had only started since they began to confine Luna due to the damage she was causing. This also coincided with when the dogs were no longer left freely together.

Things may not always be what they seem.

That dogs barking when left alone are suffering from straightforward separation problems is an obvious assumption to make.

Could it be that Luna’s crying when unable to join him started the whole thing by unsettling Forrest?

Could it be that the very neighbour who is worried by the barking has himself actually taught Forrest to bark at the front door?

Both dogs can hear him doing things down the side of his own house. They can hear when he’s about. Forrest, with access to the front door through which people enter, barks.

What has the neighbour (who, incidentally, loves the dogs) done?

He has come to the front door with Forrest behind it, let himself in, no doubt made a big fuss of the dogs – and then taken them for a long walk!

It is very likely that Forrest’s barking at the door eventually brings the neighbour round. The result is a walk.

Bingo!

I asked the question, does Forrest bark after the neighbour puts the dogs back after the walk? They think not, but will check. If the answer is no, it adds weight to my argument.

Luna

Luna may be different. She is a young dog and inseparable from her humans. She is only ever alone if they are out, so she could well be anxious, particularly if separated also from Forrest.

Separation could be the cause of damage but so also could boredom and frustration generated by Forrest barking at the door where she can’t join him. It could be a mix of all three.

We try the most likely and obvious things first. (We will look at separation distress of some kind if Forrest is still barking later when he realises barking at the door no longer results in a walk). They have a camera and have watched him on their phone and that’s all he is doing – barking at the door. No pacing or other signs of distress. This is what they tell me, they haven’t recorded it.

He could of course get worse before things improve. If barking has always resulted in an exciting walk, he’s not easily going to give up trying!

Changing the environment.

Keeping Forrest well away from the front door is essential as is leaving both dogs together. If nothing else, the barking will be more muffled in the kitchen. Giving Luna plenty to do and to chew will help any boredom and chewing will help any stress.

If we are very lucky, leaving Forrest and Luna in the kitchen with no access to either back or front door may be different enough for Forrest to be less persistent at barking at the door as a way of getting a walk. Of course, the neighbour could spoil that very quickly by entering the house while Forrest is barking! I suggest he doesn’t walk the dogs at all for a couple of weeks and after that only enters the house when it’s silent.

Looking at the overall picture of the dogs’ lives.

The dogs are a great tribute to the way their family care for them. There are however a few other things they can do a bit differently that should help any underlying stress which may or may not be compounding the problem but would be good for them anyway. I like to take a holistic view.

These include getting Luna used to not following them everywhere by sometimes shutting doors; by changing diet, by providing more brain work and less physically arousing stuff.

They give their dogs at least two wonderful long walks daily, one being immediately before they leave them – which is never for very long. The walk is meant to tire them out physically, but would it be better to have the kind of walk that would relax them? The dogs, off lead, have the environment and all its smells – what more could they need? See Worshipping the God of Exercise Walks.

So let’s see what happens.

They family will first get the dogs used to being left together in the kitchen for short periods with something nice to do, like a stuffed Kong each. They will film and record them this time. It will be interesting to see how Forrest reacts after a few days when he can’t get to the front door and realises that barking from the kitchen, away from the front door, never results in a walk.

Progress! ‘I’ve waited to message as I wanted to be sure but we are now into the 3rd week of sticking to the routine and both dogs seem calmer and happier when left. Keeping regular checks but fingers x all seems ok.’

 

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 Forrest and Luna and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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. 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)

 

Touched and Cuddled. Some Dogs Like it. Some Don’t

African Wild Dog (Wikipedia Commons)

Pearl came from a ‘farm’ in Wales. At six weeks old she was driven from there to the house the young couple bought her from. There were lots of dogs there. I have my suspicions about what kind of farm that was – a puppy farm very likely.

They say she’s a Border Collie, but doesn’t she look like an African Wild Dog! Look at those huge upright ears and the colouring.

The 9-month-old Pearl is a puzzle behaviourally also.

Pearl doesn’t like being touched.

doesn't like being touched

Happy face

Pearl doesn’t like being touched whilst seeming to invite it.

She approaches the young lady who assumes it’s because she wants her to pet her, and then growls and bares her teeth when she does so.

Unfortunately, the couple feel the way to touch the dog is vigorously, kind of ruffling her with both hands. The man gets away with it – Pearl tolerates being touched by him – but not by the young lady, not even being touched gently. This understandably upsets her.

Pearl used to just growl and occasionally show her teeth.

They then had some very unfortunate advice from a trainer over the phone.

“Grab her by her scruff and remove her!”.

The couple admit that things have gone downhill from then, even though they only did it the once.

Pearl started snapping too and although it’s mostly at the young lady, it’s other people also. Family members want to fuss her. Looking as she does, people everywhere want to touch her. When she reacts, telling them in clear ‘dogspeak’ that she doesn’t like it, she is scolded. NO!

How confusing this must be.

doesn't like being touched

Pearl

The real puzzle is that she seems to be asking to be touched – or that is the conclusion they jump to. I however don’t think so. She wants to interact but she doesn’t want hands.

If she were to go to another dog, put her face against him and look into his eyes, what might she be saying? It would be inviting interaction and maybe play, certainly not hands on her or even paws.

Below is a still from a short video the young lady sent me of Pearl baring her teeth as she touches her. I see a dog exercising great self-control.

It is evident to me that, like many dogs, Pearl particularly doesn’t like a hand coming from above. Her first signal is to momentarily freeze. She did this with me, even though I was just very briefly touching her chest (with her consent). I immediately stopped.

Their reaction to ‘aggression’ is to be firm and shout NO. They have had the wrong and old-fashioned advice. To stop is to ‘give in’ and she ‘needs to know who is boss’.

The dominance approach can only make things a lot worse.

The young man perceptibly made the point that touching Pearl is really for their own benefit and not Pearl’s.

Pearl’s reaction to the young lady touching her

I suggest they no longer ruffle her at all and no hands-on play. The lady’s daily routine is to touch her vigorously, particularly when she comes home from work. This is when the main trouble starts.

The evenings deteriorate into Pearl jumping on her – ‘demanding’ to be touched. Then Pearl shows her teeth, growls and maybe snaps when it happens.

Now they will resist nearly all touching and any done will be brief and not on the head. No vigorous ‘ruffling’. They will no longer go over to touch her when she’s lying down.

I showed the young lady how to clicker train Pearl to come to touch her hand. In this context Pearl will learn to like hands. Let the dog initiate the touching and find it rewarding.

Another aspect to it all is that, because she’s left alone while they are at work, the clever young dog may not get sufficient stimulation. Instead of ‘fielding’ her puzzling and demanding behaviour in the evenings, they will now initiate frequent short mentally stimulating activities. Activities that don’t get her stirred up unnecessarily and don’t involve too much physical contact.

They have already taught her lots of words. They have worked hard with her and I am sure there is a strong genetic element to her behaviour. She’s just not born to be a cuddly dog. They can accept her for who she is, a dog who likes at most being touched gently and briefly. Instead they can spend time doing with her the many things that she does enjoy.

You never know, in time and as her confidence and trust in them grows, she may enjoy short petting sessions.

Later: “We have cut right down on touching and made a big thing to everyone about not touching her. We will play games instead …. Pearl will lick our hands when she is happy which we like her to do and I try to encourage new people to play the clicker game with her or hide a toy to stop her anxiety our family and friends have noticed how much more relaxed she is in the house because of this. It’s very early days but already paying off. She wont let me (the lady) scratch her chest anymore and doesn’t want me touching her still but its just the way she is and I’m used to it now”.

 

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 Pearl. 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 or any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

 

 

 

 

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)