Ollie, approached a bit differently, will learn self-control.

The a four-month-old Border Collie lives with a lovely, gentle young lady and her two children. He is a gorgeous puppy and she is working very hard with him.

learning self-controlIn most respects his behaviour is exceptionally good. He’s already house-trained and he doesn’t fuss if left alone for a while. He’s very responsive to any form of trick-training (he is a Border Collie after all).


How distressing it must be when the puppy you love and work hard with attacks you. He targets the young lady. He loses self-control and flies at her as soon as she sits down.

The puppy jumps up and grabs her clothes. He nips and bites he tummy through her clothes, her arms and her hands. The poor girl is covered in bruises. The more she tries to control him, the worse he gets.

The wild, out-of-control rough behaviour is the result of over-arousal, confusion and frustration; it’s become his learned way of reacting to human efforts to control and discipline him.

Almost immediately after I sat down and Ollie joined us, I got out my clicker. The young lady had already used a clicker and both she and then her twelve-year-old daughter were soon clicking everything that Ollie did that they liked. When he jumped up, they clicked as soon as he went down again. If he looked at someone and didn’t jump up, they clicked. When he settled, they clicked. Soon Ollie was working for clicks – and for the food that followed each one.

Ollie’s brain was in gear.

It was only at the end that he got rough. We had gone on for too long and he was getting excited.

People can immediately see the effectiveness of positive, motivational methods in teaching self-control.

It’s important though we don’t beat themselves up over previous methods when we don’t know there is another way. It’s not that commands and ‘control’ don’t work – but in order to do so they would, with dogs like Ollie, have to be a lot harsher to the extent that he’s overpowered.

Many old-fashioned trainers would still use this approach but, having met the young lady, I know she simply wouldn’t have it in her. Harsh training and the use of force simply isn’t ethical for anyone to use in my opinion.

Self-control v external control

We use motivation, positive reinforcement, choice and reward to teach self-control. Meanwhile, management must be used. The jumping and biting antics Ollie has been using can be very painful as well as upsetting.

Management in this case means a gate in the doorway so they can be together and also apart. It may mean introducing him to a muzzle for a couple of weeks, the kind he can eat through, while they work with him.

Because over-arousal is at the root of his behaviour, they should do all they can to avoid working him up whilst giving his as much mental fulfilment as they can. A lot of this involves him working in some way for his food.

Frustration and anger are the result of Ollie not knowing what is wanted of him. Their own body language can now make it obvious what they don’t want before he even starts. Anything to do with teeth or jumping up will now result in them immediately looking away and removing their hands. Immediately they will reinforce the desired behaviour.

Regular clicker sessions will teach him what they do want and also to use his brain. Then they will give him something to chew to keep him busy. When he loses interest in that and before he starts flying at them with teeth, they will need to use management.

I gave the lady a list of activities that will encourage Ollie to use his brain whilst not getting him too excited. An animal (or human) with brain in gear is going to be focused and have more self-control.

It’s when she tries to control him that the trouble starts. Self-control is what the young lady will now be teaching him.

Here is a short video she took before I came and very kindly gave me permission to use as it could well help other people. Many puppy owners will identify with this. You can see how there is a lack of communication – neither puppy nor human understand what the other is trying to say.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good sometimes. Every dog is different and every situation is different. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Behaviour and Support page)