Posts Tagged ‘border collie as a pet’

Updates on Working with a Fear Aggressive Dog

27 May

It is hard to believe that Whiskey, our Border Collie, is 2.5 years old now.  Putting the time, money, and energy to help a dog with fear aggression is a lot for a family to take on.  Now I wish I had some video of how bad he was when he was younger to see how far we have come because our hard work is paying off.  One thing, however, is that different things may work for different dogs and having a large number of different things to try and consistency in using your arsenal of techniques is vital.  The first thing you must have is a strong relationship of TRUST with your dog.  He has to know that he can trust you 100% of the time and that you will protect him, everything else builds from this.  This means that you have to be careful about choices you make in his treatment because certain choices can take away that trust and then the other things you do will not be as effective.

Building trust means that you understand dog psychology, dog signs of stress, and in particular you can read YOUR dog for stress and step in when you see your dog in stress and stop the situation.  Examples of signs of stress include tail between the legs, ears back, certain “looks” in their eyes, yawning, shaking (both literally and shaking off like they are wet), whining, growling, movement away from stressful situation, sniffing of ground or looking away in avoidance, and more.  One of my kids hugs the dog all the time, he tolerates hugs from this child because he is part of our pack but he often shows signs of discontent during the hug and I have to tell my child to keep the hug short.  There used to be so many situations that would trigger all of the above signs of stress but now we are happy when he is able to do a shake (like he is shaking off water but he isn’t wet, I will refer to this as a wet shake from now on but this does not mean he is wet) to calm himself rather than growl and lunge, it is a much better way for him to deal with the stress.  We reward him and tell him “good dog” when he makes choices to use these calming signs rather than let his stress build to aggression.  He has been able to get this point, however, because he knows that I will not put him in a bad situation.  For example if we see another dog or a small child, he knows that I will take him in a direction that walks us a far distance from the stressor rather than keep us right next to them.  Before, he would lunge, growl, bark, or try to bite at the dog or child because he did not trust that he would be safe and felt the need to act on it.  Now, he trusts that he will be safe so he can relax.

Medication is another item that helped a lot.  We had him on just Prozac and it helped a little.  We added Trazadone and it helped quite a bit and then we doubled the Trazadone and got even better response.  For him, he just has so much anxiety, he needs the medication.  We tried not giving it to him to see what would happen and he just started shaking terribly and hiding, he was a mess.  On the medication, he is calmer, wants to play, is loving, and acts like a normal dog with the exception that we still have some fear issues but they are much less severe and we continue to work on them.

Positive training Vs. E-Collar Methods – At first we tried Sit Means Sit as they promote a lot of videos of curing any dog with problems.  We signed up but Whiskey was more than they bargained for.  If it had been the person who created the company instead of a Franchise Owner, we may have had more luck.  I have seen people successfully use the E-Collar with what seems like fearful aggressive dogs BUT with that said you must remember that you are dealing with a dog who has FEARS.  Using a negative tool on a fearful dog might be a bad idea unless you are one of the few experts with tons of training who do this for a living and would take the dog in until he was fixed.  If you just get a package with 3 lessons and some group classes (what is typically sold by Sit Means Sit) this is not a fix for a dog with severe Fear Aggression for even the most dedicated owner!  Whiskey learned a lot of obedience but he is a border collie and knew a lot of obedience before we started and obedience was not our goal.  We want him to be able to play with other dogs and not eat small children and bunnies.  Sit means Sit is not designed to do this, at least not the one locally.  We did learn a lot in general and I do think there is a place for the E-Collar for working with Fear Aggressive dogs, I will get to that in a minute.  After spending almost a year without much progress, we moved on to positive only methods (the ANTI-ECollar people).  I wrote about a lot of things I learned in other blog posts so I won’t repeat that here but that was money well spent overall.  It continued to build trust between Whiskey and I.  It also helped condition him to relax during stressful situations and in combination with the trazadone that was started during that time, we really started to see progress.  Overall, I would recommend this approach if done with someone who really knows their stuff and helps you do it with your dog as a first approach rather than the E-Collar.  I did, however, say I felt E-Collars could help and what we found is that in certain situations where positive training was just NOT working no matter what we did, a negative reinforcement was the only option.  This is not a good first line of defense though since it does not build trust.  Right now, Whiskey still has a problem charging our fence outside when the kids in the next yard over play ball, run by quickly, or if dogs walk by on the street.  We tried over and over with positive reinforcement to stop this but could not get anywhere.  It was also hard to time and be consistent with positive reinforcement in those situations which did not help.  He really needed to have the positive reinforcement EVERY time and it was not feasible with life to catch him EVERY time (you might be in pj’s, cooking dinner, not have cookies on you, just can’t stand out there and do it, etc. etc.)  so we put on the E-Collar and as soon as he charges the fence, the button gets pushed and he is now choosing to ignore the kids in the yard (that was easier for him than the dogs walking by).  He will also sometimes ignore the dogs, he may still whine, or will get a toy for you to throw to distract him but he is coming up with alternatives for you and if you call him when he does charge (when we forget to put the collar on him), he comes in the house right away.  Gradually, these situations will no longer be an immediate trigger for him as we continue to condition him to relax and not get into a state of flowing adrenaline when he views these situations.

Our walks have changed dramatically.  We used to be able to even see people or dogs, now he ignores people, ignores children, and even ignores dogs if we walk around them (he watches them for about 15 seconds while we walk around them but then looks forward again).  He does still react negatively if someone comes up on him abruptly like a jogger and doesn’t give us space because he thinks he is going to be hurt – not sure what to do about that yet but we will have to work on some conditioning of that.  He also does not attack the door when UPS drops of packages and is quicker to accept people in the house.  He even went to one of our regular guests on his own and asked to be pet by her when usually he doesn’t want anyone but family to touch him.  We will continue to work with having people in the house because that is one of our biggest problems that limits his life and our life.  We don’t like locking him up and he doesn’t like it either.  Once he is tired from a walk, he does VERY well strangers walking around as long as they aren’t small children being unpredictable.

I also really want to work on getting him together with other dogs but I need to find a trainer who will do that with me.  We may use the E-Collar for that and consider Sit Means Sit for that again since it worked for that in the past.  However, I need to make sure I keep his trust so that is why I hesitate a little.  He is also listening better with our cat.  If she shows herself, he knows he is not allowed to go near her and will listen to me to get away – if I am not there, that is a different story – which is why he stays crated when I am not home.

That is our update for now, sorry for any typos or crazy sentences – too lazy to proof read 🙂  I will keep you all updated.


So you want a Border Collie Puppy – here is everything you need to know

09 Aug

I read a ton of information on Border Collies before deciding to get one.  I didn’t read enough!  One big piece of the puzzle was missing, maybe it was there in small doses and I missed it because it wasn’t stressed enough but after I got our puppy and started reading more I found out more information that I wish I knew about – but I am getting ahead of myself here.

I am formerly a Golden Retriever owner.  We have owned 3 Goldens (still have one).  Our first two dogs, Seigel and Tukey were both bought up north, one in New Hampshire and one in Vermont.  They were bought from people who owned the mother and father dogs and had litters and sold the puppies.  They were not big breeders.  We did not want to go the big breeder route because we did not want to spend the money that a big breeder charges and we did not want to sign a spay/neuter contract since we thought we might also like to breed our dogs.  However, I did study up on the breed and we did do testing on the dogs hips for hip dysplasia.  Seigel’s hips were fine and certified and Tukey’s were not perfect but not terrible (she never had any hip problems through life).  Wait, why am I telling you all about Golden Retrievers???  You thought we were going to talk about Border Collies.  Please wait, there is a reason for this discussion about Goldens.  With our healthy dogs, we did have a litter and Seigel also fathered another litter as a stud.  We provided all the puppy parents with crates, food, and information about their new dogs.  We tried to be very responsible about our breeding and the pups were great and all had wonderful temperaments.

So, when we decided to get a Border Collie, we did not think twice about going with a small breeder who just had the mom and dad dog.  (See, this is the reason for the story about our Goldens.)  This as it turned out was a big mistake!  You really can’t go wrong in most cases with Golden Retrievers.  They are bred for their temperaments.  This is NOT TRUE for Border Collies.  Now that I know better, I would NOT suggest buying a border collie from someone who isn’t highly involved with the breed or is a large breeder.  We thought that getting our puppy from parents who were not doing actual sheep herding (but were pets instead) might increase the chances that he would have less herding instincts.  However, a breeder should know how to evaluate the temperament of a new puppy.  Border Collies, as we have since learned, can often be fearful.  If you get a fearful Border Collie, you have a REAL problem on your hands.  (See my blog about Journal of a Fear Aggressive Border Collie).  It was obvious from the beginning that this puppy had issues but the breeder lied to us or was very unaware of what a fearful puppy is.  When we went to see him, this puppy went off by himself away from the other puppies.  He kept going on to the man’s feet and lying there.  Normal puppies should be running around playing, not clinging to someone.  The breeder told us that he was tired from being at a horse show all day and being handled by many people.  He took him and put him on a towel and got him to play for a minute so we thought, “okay, the breeder would know that this behavior isn’t his normal self and that he is just tired.”  So, we trusted in that and took the puppy.  The breeder said he never had any problems with any of his puppies (this was the bitch’s second litter).  The bitch, however, was reserved and didn’t want to meet us.  She was standoffish although once we were throwing a tennis ball for her, she was willing to play.  A good breeder would NEVER have bred a bitch that is standoffish.  After getting Whiskey (our puppy), we have learned how the genes of temperament get passed down and in a breed like a border collie that are already bred to be watch dogs and working dogs, this can create a bigger impact in the puppy’s attitude, fears, and overall temperament.

So, the moral of the story above is if you getting a border collie puppy, it is worth it to get it evaluated for temperament before you fall in love with it and commit to keeping it!  We try to be positive and think that if we hadn’t taken him, Whiskey would probably be put down since we have invested thousands of dollars and hours to helping him get better and the average pet owner would not do this.

Assuming you get a puppy with a sound temperament, what else can you expect with a border collie?

Here is a list:

  1. Your day will be filled with MANY tongue licks!
  2. Expect to have conversations with your border collie, full conversations that go back and forth.
  3. Expect him to look you in the eye.
  4. Expect him to bark at you A LOT to tell you that he needs something, especially when he is bored.
  5. Expect to walk him at least twice a day.
  6. Never expect him to walk in a straight line on a walk.
  7. Expect him to be “wired” and on the “hunt” while walking – looking at everything with great intensity
  8. Expect him to be the star of the obedience class
  9. Expect him to want to do obedience training everyday that you have to buy “Teach your dog 100 words,” and then start watching You-Tube videos to find more things for him to learn
  10. Expect him to be OCD.
  11. Don’t get him chasing after a laser pointer, you will regret it.
  12. Expect that he will love sprinklers.
  13. Expect that he will ask to play and play and play and will NOT take NO for an answer.
  14. Expect to be throwing a tennis ball while watching TV.
  15. Expect company in the bathroom.
  16. Expect a dog that loves to be comfy and will sleep behind the cushions of your couch.
  17. Expect a dog that will try to herd things so you might as well get him a remote control car to herd and sit back and laugh.
  18. Expect a dog that will only need to be told to go to his bed or place once at dinner and then just remembers on his own and does it.
  19. Expect a dog that really wants to please you.
  20. Expect a dog that will handle you having a sick day well.
  21. Expect to find a job for your border collie to do so he doesn’t make up his own jobs to do.
  22. Expect to have the cutest little face in the world staring back at you with a tilted head when you talk to him.
  23. Expect a dog that will probably love swimming (especially if introduced as a puppy).
  24. Expect a dog that is so smart he will “over think” things as he tries to guess what he should do next.
  25. Expect him to grow really fast in the beginning and then really slow down his growth around 6 months.

So, is a border collie the right dog for your family?  Not if you have young children (that isn’t an absolute but the chances of a problem with a border collie and young children from what I have read and seen in my own pup is great and I would just suggest another breed if your kids are under 10).  I also wouldn’t suggest it if you have cats.  They are high prey dogs.  My cats are scared to come downstairs since we got our border collie.  He has tried to chase them and I don’t know what he would do if he “caught” them.  We have an understanding, they stay upstairs and he stays downstairs.   You also have to be committed to your dog and doing things with your dog all the time!!  Almost anything you read will say this, if you don’t get up and think, “What can I do with my dog today?”  EVERYDAY – don’t get a border collie!  They are HIGH MAINTENANCE dogs!!!  But, if you love having a dog to do sports, training, agility, etc. with everyday – a border collie would love to be your pal!