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.
Out of the blue?
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.
Avoiding stressful walks
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.
Change can be hard
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.