I was a little wary when I arrived because I knew that sometimes Border Collie Patch nips people he doesn’t know.
When they walk in the gate he barks loudly. When that doesn’t work, he goes round behind them and nips their legs. Continue reading…
I was a little wary when I arrived because I knew that sometimes Border Collie Patch nips people he doesn’t know.
When they walk in the gate he barks loudly. When that doesn’t work, he goes round behind them and nips their legs. Continue reading…
Ollie won’t let anyone groom him. He absolutely hates it. The Border Collie has developed tangles inside his back legs and behind his ears which need to be cut out.
The only way a groomer can work on him is to muzzle him and then use force. The otherwise very friendly dog completely changes personality. He becomes aggressive, snarling and showing his teeth.
His last visit to a groomer was a year ago now.
Within a few minutes of being with them, I discovered two things that may be relevant. He had been jumping at me in a very friendly fashion. When his feet were on the floor I gently put my hand out to touch him behind his ears.
Immediately I saw his teeth. He growled, backing away.
Oh! I didn’t expect that.
It’s hard to imagine they could have stressful walks or any trouble at all with Badger.
The two-year-old Border Collie quietly watched me walk towards his house through the glass door. He greeted me with polite interest.
A Border Collie could be a challenge for a first dog and the family have done brilliantly. He is happy, well-trained and biddable.
Unfortunately Badger is becoming ‘difficult’ when they are out and meeting other dogs. It’s not all dogs and he walks with doggy friends. He seems to have been targeted by a few dogs and yapping smaller dogs increasingly upset him.
Recently a couple of off-lead German Shepherds went for him and, according to the man, he ‘gave as good as he got’. Rehearsing this kind of thing isn’t good at all.
A short while ago the stressful walks came to a head when he saw a smaller dog appear and ‘suddenly’ charged at it. This wasn’t really so sudden. It was against a background of the young man having come home after two weeks away and great excitement. He had the ball thrower and he was repeatedly throwing the ball.
All this will have increasingly wound Badger up.
Then, in full ‘chase’ mode, the little dog appeared. He charged after that instead. He did no damage, but the dog and owner were upset. Badger, whose recall is fine normally, won’t have even heard their calls.
This wasn’t actually out of the blue at all. It will have been the direct result of ‘trigger stacking‘.
There are a few things they can do at home. Badger should be in the best state of mind possible for being self-controlled and calm around other dogs when they are out. The more stable and unstressed Badger is in general, the better he can cope with the arousal caused by the proximity of another dog.
Like many Border Collies, he loves the movement of a ball. He continually drops it at their feet and those of anyone who comes to see them. Anything quite so repetitive over such a period of time isn’t natural. Anything that’s not natural will fire him up.
They will now save balls for when they see another dog, to gain his attention and to associate the other dog with something he loves. (We thought we had collected all the balls and he would find another!).
To fill the void left by no ball-kicking they will give him things to chew and to forage for. Already well trained, they will give him more activities that exercise his clever brain.
A big problem they are finding that contributes to the stressful walks is the number of off-lead dogs that suddenly appear.
Even if they can’t control other people and their dogs, they can control Badger. Reliable recall is key.
Stressful walks would be less stressful if they could get, and keep, Badger’s attention. If he is to be safely off lead they need to get him back immediately.
They will change to a whistle to get his attention, working at whistle recall first at home. They will condition Badger to come, without thinking, when he hears the whistle.
To change how Badger behaves and reacts towards other dogs requires his humans also to change how they behave and react.
They need now to help Badger associate other dogs with only positive and good things. If his human tenses up, so will he.
Negative things have a far greater impact than positives. Something scary has a much longer lasting effect than something good. That’s just life unfortunately.
To expect Badger to be relaxed and non-reactive when off-lead dogs rush up to him, particularly if they show aggression or are very noisy, is unreasonable. Unfortunately, each time Badger is (justifiably) forced to react by a dog being too close for him, he rehearses the very behaviour they don’t want.
There should be no more discomfort to Badger’s neck as they change to using a harness. They should avoid him feeling unsafe by no longer holding him tightly beside them while another dog approaches. Instead they should give him more space.
Comfortable distance, relaxed humans and only valuable, positive things like food and his beloved ball should now be associated with other dogs.
Unplanned and scary encounters will add to any dog’s wariness to the extent that he may eventually go for other dogs just in order to maintain distance. He’s given no choice.
People can avoid the tension of stressful walks by considering carefully where they go. They should avoid narrow alleys where increasing distance is hard without turning around. People don’t like turning round and going back the way they came. They also understandably don’t like to seem rude by turning away from a potentially too-close encounter with another dog.
Badger’s confidence needs building again as does his trust in them to respond appropriately (to him) when he’s feeling uneasy or vulnerable.
Stressful walks with their dogs can overshadow people’s lives. My advice here is to do all they can to avoid putting Badger in a position where he feels he may need to defend himself. To keep his excitement levels down so that he is more tolerant.
Meanwhile they can work on other dogs in more controlled environments – or at least in places where they can beat a retreat if necessary. So far he’s very good with the majority of dogs, but it’s going in the wrong direction.
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.
As 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blood has been drawn and the owners injured splitting them up.
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.
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.
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.
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‘.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 young man perceptibly made the point that touching Pearl is really for their own benefit and not Pearl’s.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?