To achieve peace, he needs opportunity to let off steam.
It’s ironic that Pax means peace!
In their efforts to get some peace and to calm their one-year-old Border Collie Pax, they have done the very opposite to what I would do myself.
Like many people do when troubled by their dog, the lovely young couple have cast about, trying all different things. None work.
Misguidedly, they have taken away from him the very things he needs to vent his arousal. He needs much more to do, not less.
They have removed all toys because they make him so excited. The curtains to the small garden are drawn so he can’t see the temptation of the hole he’s been digging or the tree roots he’s bent on excavating. Pigeons excite him.
I can see why they do this. Toys and digging send him wild, as do birds. They have been led to believe that removing access will calm him.
By the time evening arrives Pax, a working dog, is ready for action. His walk isn’t enough.
He demonstrated while I was there that he needs toys to chuck about and to ‘kill’. He needs to dig. This is the kind of self-generated activity he uses in order to help himself (like perhaps our going to the gym might help us chill after a trying day).
Yes, toys do send him wild. But, if he’s denied this outlet, the steam of frustration and arousal that has built up in him has to go somewhere. So, by the evening when they are home from work, they can’t cope with him. The only way they can get any peace is to shut him in his crate for ‘naps’.
I lent him a soft duck, a Kong Wubba and another toy. He charged around with them, jumping over the chairs. We opened the door to the garden. He picked up where he had left off with his hole-digging. He charged about. He hid one toy in the rubbish bin.
After a while, though, he was back with us and, with a clicker, the young man ‘clicked for calm’. Whenever Pax sat or lay down or whenever he briefly stopped panting, the man immediately clicked and fed him. He settled down.
Peace at last.
This is my take on providing ‘exciting’ activities by way of toys, holes to dig and rubbish to rummage in: There is a difference between the dog venting his own arousal levels in an excited way, and people doing exciting things with the dog that stir him up.
The first is an outlet that releases steam, the other builds it up.
Advice to remove all toys etc. to prevent wildness is to my mind merely ‘putting a lid on it’ and can only result in an explosion somewhere else. This is what they have been trying to cope with.
Each evening they have been driven to put him in his crate for either ‘time out’ or ‘naps’. I absolutely understand why they need a break and, in a way, it saves him from himself. When restricted he calms down – gives up.
I suggest now that when he gets too much for them and they are in need of some peace, they put him behind the kitchen gate so that the crate, where he sleeps, isn’t contaminated. ‘Time out’ should not be punishment. Pax is brimming with frustration and excitement and desperately needs an outlet.
When he’s behind the gate they will give him a marrow bone to work on. Chewing and foraging (and digging for Pax) are the best ‘decompressors’.
It’s like a pressure cooker. In a calmer dog the steam escapes gently as necessary. When the pressure levels are already too high as they are with Pax, it takes very little to get the steam hissing out. Too much build-up of steam and the lid blows off.
Attacks the lead
On walks, the build up of pressure results in him jumping and roughly grabbing the lead. Trigger stacking. It begins with the stress of having the harness put on. Once out, he may encounter a person (exciting) or another dog (even more exciting) or a cat (over the top exciting). Now the lid blows and he attacks the lead.
When he’s already highly aroused or frustrated, telling him to ‘Sit’ as they pass someone is unreasonable. How can he.
He has a couple of walks a day with a run off lead. The walks are less about as much exercise as possible, chasing a Frisbee. More about enrichment by way of the environment. (See Worshipping the God of Exercise Walks)
Another way to take pressure off Pax is to lay off too many commands. Training ‘tricks’ are great for the clever dog, but not when the dog isn’t in a receptive state of mind. For now, where possible, they will quietly let him work out for himself what works and what doesn’t.
It’s important to always reinforce his right choices and to keep reinforcing calmness. It’s a good idea to initiate regular appropriate activities even if he’s at peace. What, otherwise, is there in it for him to settle?
It will be hard for the first few weeks and their garden will suffer further (fortunately there is nothing in it to wreck apart from a patch of grass and earth with a couple of Pax’ holes). This will be the price of peace.
His evening walk, both on lead and off lead, can provide brain work, scent work and hunting. Pax can use his nose and his brain.
Their most immediate challenge is for Pax to be happy having the harness put on. This is the beginning of the trigger-stacking chain that results in his wild grabbing-lead behaviour on walks.
He has a lovely nature. He’s good with people and other dogs. He’s confident with no aggression. The positives far outweigh the negatives that are currently overwhelming them.