Jump to content
BC Boards

Please help me save my dog!

Recommended Posts

Hi everyone! I am new to the board and have a big question that I hope you can help me with. I'm sure this will turn out to be a very long post, so please forgive me!


To start with, I'll just give a background intro...my hubby and I farm and about three years ago, we made the switch from dairy farming to sheep and crops. We have 2 boys, ages 5 and 7, a cat, 2 other dogs (a 14-year-old lab cross and a 3-year-old Chinese crested; have had both since they were puppies). When we bought our sheep, we bought a large flock (160) that were supposed to start lambing soon. It turned out we got talked into buying someone else's culls. My husband was helping his brother work construction, so I was lambing the sheep by myself, and I needed help. We decided to get a border collie...enter, Buddy.


The trainer who I'd taken obedience classes with for my Chinese crested raises border collies, so I called her, and it just so happened that she had a 1-year-old dog that had been returned to her that had been obedience trained and started on stock so was ready to go, versus buying a puppy that wouldn't be much help for quite a while. She offered to let us try the dog for a while to see how he would work out. The way I understood it, he had been purchased? given? to her neighbor who then eventually didn't want him anymore so passed him on to his dad, who then passed away, so the dog went back to the breeder and then to us. I later have found out he was mistreated in his previous homes (not the breeder's but the two other places). He seemed kind of nervous but bonded to me really quickly and has been reasonably helpful with the sheep and now with some cattle we have too.



The main problem is we've had three incidents of heel nipping/biting. After a few weeks, we made the decision to keep Buddy. I was always cautious around children, and he seemed to calm down pretty quickly with our own two. We'd had him a few months when my mother-in-law came over to see how to do chicken chores while I was going to be away. Buddy was herding her as we walked and nipped the back of her calf. She was really good about it; it wasn't a deep wound, more like a scratch. I talked to his breeder/trainer about it and worked with him more on obedience, totally stopped allowing him to herd people (I shouldn't have really needed this pointed out to me, but anyway...), etc. Also became much more cautious about allowing him to be loose around strangers to our place. My father in law had kind of liked to tease/antagonize Buddy when he'd come over, so I thought Buddy connected my mother-in-law to him, even though she had always been good with him. We had no further issues for a year. We had made an appointment to have him neutered prior to this incident and did go ahead with that. I also do not allow contact/teasing between my FIL and Buddy anymore at all.


My husband was really upset about this, though, and at that point, a bunch of family history regarding border collies came out...that my sister-in-law's border collie sort of "snapped" years ago and tore a chunk out of my nephew's (also her nephew's) face (prior to my meeting my husband), that my husband was "bitten" in the face (didn't break skin) by a friend's border collie (did not put dog down), and that some other friends' border collie took their daughter down and had to be put down. (We live in an area of lots of sheep, cattle, and working dogs!) Hubby really thought I should have Buddy put down or return him to the breeder.


The next incident was a year ago. My then 4-year-old son was going thru an ornery stage and would shuffle his feet to raise dust in the barn and yard and seemed to be kind of directing it at the dog. I would always stop him and had even said, "if you keep doing that, Buddy will bite you! He doesn't like it!" Then one night, I left the kids and Buddy out in the yard with hubby and was in the shower when all 3 rushed in yelling that Buddy got my 4-year-old. It turned out that my son was doing this shuffling thing, hubby wasn't watching closely, and Buddy nipped him on the back of the leg. Once again, the skin was broken but not a deep bite, more of a scratch again. Hubby again wanted to have Buddy put down, but I begged and pleaded. After all, I knew this was an issue but failed to prevent it so why should the dog suffer? I had another trainer come up and work with us (since hubby thought our original trainer/breeder is too sympathetic to Buddy). Honestly, it was a waste of time. He had a few good suggestions about exercise, etc., but he said after 10 minutes that he didn't think he'd be much help to me. He came expecting to see an out-of-control, dominant dog, and Buddy is anything but. He is actually quite well obedience trained and is by far my most obedient dog. I then went back to my original trainer/Buddy's breeder and took him to obedience and agility classes and had no further issues until a few days ago.


Bite #3 happened under my watch and upsets me the most, just happened a few days ago. I was cleaning out some lamb pens in the barn, the kids were hanging around with me, Buddy was hanging around, a couple of bum lambs were also milling around there, and suddenly my youngest, now 5, was wailing that Buddy bit him. Again, a small scratch on his leg that broke the skin (not a deep bite, actually looks like a paper cut). I was so upset...this happened under my own supervision, and I didn't see any sign of interaction that looked like things were going bad. All 3 bites have been to the back of the leg, like a herding bite, but have slightly broken the skin. I don't know if my son got between Buddy and the bum lambs and Buddy thought he was herding or what. Of course, the issue is up again whether to have Buddy put down or not. The breeder had also previously told me that if it became an issue with my husband and we couldn't keep Buddy, she would take him back. The thing that is so hard about that, though, is that I feel Buddy is totally bonded to me, kind of a one-person dog. I do board him with her when we have to be gone, and he fits in well with her dogs, but I just would feel so terrible thinking that he is waiting and waiting for me to come back and get him, and I never come.


I am just so upset by the whole thing. I realize, looking back, that I really kind of pushed my husband into getting a dog and breed that he did not want, and probably I wasn't really prepared for the kind of needs a border collie has. Also, I probably should not have gotten a dog with emotional baggage from his past, and I haven't handled everything right, for sure! The first two bites happened when we'd wound down lambing season, and I think we were ready to crash, but Buddy was bored and frustrated because he didn't have as much to do. This time, we're in the midst of lambing, so I don't know, but then, honestly, our sheep have been with us for several years now and are so much pets now that I don't really NEED him to make them do what I need them to do. So even though we're lambing, it's not the challenge to him that it once was. All that said, though, I really, really love Buddy and want to keep him. I realize I've made lots of mistakes in this whole situation but I am willing to do whatever I can to work with this dog. I definitely want my kids to be safe, but I am willing to put in time and effort to make sure that can happen if you have any suggestions. Please be honest. If he's really a dangerous dog, I want to know, but if there is any hope that I can either work with him/train better, or maybe just handle differently, I would be so grateful. I am willing to do whatever...if it means he doesn't just "hang out" at the barn when the kids are there, I'm willing to do that. Whatever it takes to keep everyone safe and keep Buddy if possible. Thanks so much in advance for any help! I should also add that we've had absolutely zero issues with him hurting our other dogs, livestock, lambs, housecat, anything; in fact, he and the cat are curled up sleeping together right now. He also does not attempt to work stock without us present or harrass them in any way. He has come a long way in the time we've had him. I can do anything with him, carry him like a baby, give shots, whatever, and he is perfect. He is a much happier, calmer dog that he was when we got him. The only real issue we have are these 3 nips/bites. Thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm interested in what those with more experience will share, because I'm an amateur with Border Collies.


I'm surprised though that a few heel nips from a 1 year old herding breed dog would cause anyone to even consider putting the animal down. :( Maybe I just don't realize the seriousness, but this sort of thing was common in our Cardigan Corgi (who had cattle herding ancestors) for his first year or a little more. We broke him of it by the time he was truly out of adolescence, but it wasn't overnight. (Again, it may be that we were just slow in training it, not being as dog-savvy as some.)


I remember when my Cardigan Corgi was 1 year old we babysat a few children for a week while the parents were out of town. They whined that when they ran around inside the house in their socks he nipped their heels. It wouldn't have ever crossed my mind (or theirs) to call it a "bite", even when occasionally one did scratch the skin enough to get a bead of blood. I just said, "Put on shoes and don't run in the house." (And continued training the dog too.)


By 2 years the Cardi didn't give a heel a 2nd glance. He never nipped past that stage and was the mellowest of dogs--very happy-go-lucky, quietly friendly to all, never harmed a soul in his 12 years. He gently protected each of my 5 human babies--all born in his lifetime and after his adolescent stage. He licked baby toes and even snuck in a few licks to a baby nose. His teeth never touched them. The only time he ever growled at me was when I first brought my eldest baby home and was burping her--he thought I was hitting that precious BABY. Not at all a dangerous dog despite the puppy-stage nipping that took me over a year to correct when he was younger. Far from being dangerous, he was "bomb proof".


My present pup, an ACD/BC mix is presently being untrained from the same behavior. I wouldn't really call any of the scratches "bites" though, although it is something we feel is imperative she learn not to do very quickly lest someone else interpret differently.


Personally, I'd be careful when talking to those with worries (your husband, etc) to not call something a "bite" if it is really a puppy-nip. Not that it excuses the puppy nip, but words can be powerful.


I guess I'm just posting to assure you that for some dogs that heel-nipping isn't indicative of any long-term threat--it just needs training.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't have any direct experience, but 1 thing leaps out at me. Buddy and the kids/any visitors need to never be loose together. Buddy is tethered/crated out of reach of the kids, locking the crate if neccessary so the kids can't let him out.


Start there. Buddy may never be a dog you can trust around others. If you want to keep him, this may be the only way. As hard as this is to consider, Buddy may not be the right dog for your family. If your husband is not on board with keeping Buddy, you're looking at a long, hard slog being the only one who wants the dog.


Good luck to you, and thank you for looking for more answers. I hope someone else has more specific advice for you.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Those sorts of bites (to the BACK of the leg) are not herding behavior. They are caused by fear, anxiety and/or tension. This is critical to remember when treating Buddy because intimidation or harsh training techniques will make him worse.


Based on the fact that this dog has bitten multiple times but has not cause serious damage, he seems to have decent bite inhibition. In other words, he does not want to cause serious harm. This is great news for Buddy, it means he might not be as "dangerous" as your husband thinks.


Dogs don't just turn on people (unless they have a medical condition like rabies). The Border Collies your husband knew that caused serious harm didn't snap suddenly, their owners and the people bit missed important warning signs such as growling, body posture, escalating fear responses, etc.


For example, my friend's dog came close to biting a man in the face. The man was about 250lbs, very tall and intimidating. He was trying to be friendly and pet the dog, but he (a total stranger) walked over to the dog, leaned over him, spoke loudly and grabbed the dog's head (to pet him). Leaning over a dog is a threat, grabbing his head is also a threat and this was a stranger! http://flyingdogpress.com/content/view/42/97/ If I was a dog I would have snapped at him too!


If you want to keep Buddy and help him I would recommend speaking to a qualified behaviorist. http://dacvb.org/


No one can give you a quick fix. If you want to help Buddy he will need a mix of management, training, behavior modification and possibly even medication. You also need to get your husband on board. Unless the entire family is willing to work as a team, your chances of success are not good.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you so much for the replies already! It is a relief to hear that at least a couple others feel like it is not such a major issue to warrant putting Buddy down.


Buddy just turned 3. The first incident was when he was a year and a half old, then 2, now this one at 3. The first, with my MIL, was definitely just a herding heel nip that was a bit rough (and not appropriate, but definitely not an attack). I wasn't actually present the 2nd time when my son provoked him (maybe not intentionally but had still been previously warned), and then this time, I think, looking back, that Buddy was upset that the two bum lambs were milling around outside, and wanted to herd them back into the barn, and my son just happened to be there. All nips have been to the back of the legs (my son has growth issues and is medically treated for them, so the nips have been to the back of his thighs but would be calf area on an adult). Since they have drawn blood, hubby considers it a bite. I have never seen Buddy actually act confrontational or threatening/growling to anyone. Probably, honestly, the main issue is my husband's view of border collies and his reaction to this kind of stuff, plus his family's view of border collies and that they are "mean" dogs and cannot be trusted. He is not super tolerant of any dog misbehavior. I just feel a lot of pressure to not have any nips or mistakes. He is sure that Buddy will "lose it" someday and remove someone's face or something and then we will have that on our conscience. He asks me if I trust Buddy, and deep down, I guess I still do, but maybe that's stupid since he's already messed up three times. I guess I just see it as a typical issue with border collies that needs to be trained or managed and not a threat of a really aggressive dog.


When Buddy has nipped like this, I just told him "No" firmly and removed him from the situation--took him to the house to his space, which is the laundry room/mud room. He also has a crate there but is not actually confined to it unless company is coming and will come in through that room. We either use the laundry room door or a gate to keep him in the room so he's not in direct unsupervised contact with the kids in the house. The breeder he came from has a lot of dogs, and they all mark, and he tends to do that even more when he's excited, so he is not a free roaming house dog at this point but sleeps in the house, etc. He's just confined to certain areas unless he's directly supervised by me. He is not kenneled outside, and most of his outside time is supervised/spent with me doing chores, walks, etc. He is kind of nervous, and really loves his crate. We started that probably six months ago or so and he seems much more secure and chooses to spend most of his lounging time in the crate (door open).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry, a couple people posted while I was replying. I also appreciate the viewpoints of those who mentioned that Buddy needs more management, training, maybe meds, etc. Are the meds something I could talk to our regular vet about? Are they required to report these kinds of dog bites and could that mean problems for Buddy? Just want to add I'm not planning to just medicate him only; I will definitely work on the other things, too, just wondering what is available to help him. Do you think any of these behaviorists will consult long distance? Thanks so much for all the help already!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just to be clear, Buddy is now 3-4 years old. You've had him 2-3 years. During that time he has nipped the heel of an adult he wasn't familiar with once shortly after you got him and your son twice. The first time with you son, your son had been warned that his actions may result in a bite from the dog. The second time, it's possible your son got in the way of the dog while he was doing his job with the sheep.


Has Buddy tried to nip at other times? You mentioned the three times that he actually did nip, but has there been times where he's gone to nip and you caught him in time to stop him?

To me, it sounds like Buddy had a reason to nip each time...not that its acceptable, but it wasn't just 'out of the blue' and it doesn't sound like he was 'attacking'. But if its something he tries to do frequently, he may not be the best dog to have around children.


I haven't had much experience with heel nipping specifically, but to me it sounds like you have a well behaved dog who isn't quite sure where your youngest son fits in the 'pack'. If your five year old tells Buddy to lay down, will he do it? Or does he just ignore him? I would work on getting Buddy to see your son as a leader, not as someone to herd or give correction to.


I wouldn't even consider having this dog put to sleep. As for re-homing, that would depend on how strongly your husband is against keeping the dog and if you really feel your sons are at risk. Is Buddy comfortable around the kids normally? Or is he always on edge around them?


ETA: Posted at the same time. I would definitely continue to supervise him around everyone else.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's my tuppence. In *all* your mentioned cases of dog bites, including your husband's stories, I'd wager the fault lies more with the humans than with the dogs. Border collies can be reactive towards movement and pressure, and can bite defensively/fearfully if they feel overwhelmed.


In my book, Buddy hasn't done anything wrong. Granted, the first time he was engaging in inappropriate play behaviors, heel-biting at moving legs. A dog we used to have did that when she was young, too. But you addressed that problem, so I don't even count that nip as an "offense."


The second time he was being antagonized by a child. I've seen that foot-shuffling thing used by brat-ish kids to tease dogs many a time, and I hate it. Of course the dog is going to react by nipping, and of course the kid is going to insist, "I wasn't doin' nuthin'!" Not Buddy's fault, just a bad situation.


The third time, as you describe it, I wonder if the 5-year-old may have done something accidentally that hit the same trigger the other child tripped, when Buddy was trying to mind those lambs. Shuffling feet, dog feels threatened, dog doesn't know what to do about it, dog nips. But he's doing it from behind, he's not attacking.


To me, the solution is simple. Don't have the kids and Buddy loose together when you can't give your full, 100% attention.


My dear, you must remember that you have no way of knowing exactly what was done to Buddy, before he came to you. You know he's got issues, but it's NOT Buddy's fault and it's not yours. You have done far, far more than a lot of people would think to do, to help.


I'm sorry about your husband's past, but I suspect his stories all stem from dogs as misused and misunderstood as Buddy. The FIL's behavior certainly backs up that thought, if he thought teasing Buddy was funny!


Border collies don't, as a general rule, just "snap." Something has to provoke overt aggression, unless there is something truly screwy in their heads, and I don't see where Buddy is anything but a pretty nice dog.


3 nipping incidents, none of them serious, none of them overtly aggressive, and none of them more than a single nip, does not constitute a death sentence, in my book. If that were the case, my hubby's weird old (rescue!) Corgi mix would be dead several times over.


This is not a vicious dog, that I see. Nor do I think he's done anything that he would tell you was unprovoked. Just don't let Buddy and the kids mingle in situations you can't fully supervise.


Just my thoughts! Best of luck with Buddy.


~ Gloria

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree that it sounds like in the right circumstances (no kids, few strangers, etc.), the dog could go through life fine and happy. My dog Buddy lives with me, and I live alone. I know all his triggers, and I simply avoid them: no strangers coming at him fast, no crowds when he's in a room, no small children running willy-nilly. (Most of his rules are dog-based at this point, but he was awful with humans for a while.)


However: it sounds like the husband in this case is already giving the dog three strikes, and it sounds like the house is more chaotic and unpredictable than the environment I can create because of my lifestyle. If my Buddy had been placed in a more chaotic household, or been put through the wrong conditions in his most reactive days, I have no doubt that he would have bitten and then been euthanized.


It's going to be a big commitment to keep this dog and not have him in situations where he's likely to nip. Does this sound possible?



Link to comment
Share on other sites

First off, there is a fabulous behaviorist named Patricia McConnell, who has written some books "The other End of the Leash", and "For the Love of a Dog", as well as training booklets, who happens to have Border Collies and sheep! Check out her website www.patriciamcconnell.com. I agree with one of the other posters who recommended finding a behaviorist at www.dacvb.org. You need to figure out the cause of the behavior before you can truly fix it.


Regarding giving Buddy up:

Buddy's breeder would take him back - as a good breeder should - and he sounds like he does well there. Many working dogs are happiest working or having something to do, so they really adjust well to a new place if they have a job. You may be assuming he is wondering when you will come back, and perhaps some dogs do, but we don't know that for sure. I have a friend that boards one of her BC's with a herding trainer for a month or more at a time and she (the dog) seems perfectly happy there and doesn't seem to suffer emotionally at all .You say that Buddy is totally bonded to you, and that's not surprising considering that your husband doesn't totally trust or like him, and believe me, Buddy knows that. Is it fair to Buddy (and your husband) to put Buddy in that situation? It seems that this is stressful for your marriage and for Buddy.


Regarding keeping Buddy:

Do you have the time, energy, commitment to working with a behaviorist and Buddy, and the kids? In your situation, I think punishment will not solve the problem, and could make it worse if fear is a part of the problem.

Is Buddy totally comfortable around your kids? Does he normally greet them happily, enjoy being around them? Will he fetch balls for them? He sounds like he might be a little shy, and not totally at ease with them, and if that is the case, then strange, alarming movements like shuffling around (or the stiffer movements of an older person) could set him off. I used to have a happy, outgoing rough collie (like Lassie) that loved people, totally trustworthy around kids in normal situations. However, he would want to chase and nip joggers and rollerbladers. So his nipping was definitely herding behavior - set off by motion - still not acceptable, but manageable. In order to get my current BC used to kids (since we don't have any of our own), whenever friends with children came over, we had the kids throw a ball or frisbee for him, since he LOVED fetching. So now, he LOVES kids - whenever he sees kids, he wags his tail and wants to take a ball over to them. Basically, he learned to equate kids with something that he loves. You can try having your kids feed him (under your supervision) give him yummy treats, do some obedience with him with fabulous treats, throw balls for him (if he likes to fetch), do fun things with him, so that when he sees the kids, he feels happy. I agree with others that at this point he shouldn't be around the kids when they are around the sheep. FYI, my breeder does herding demos, and has kids from the audience come down in the field while the BC weaves ducks around the kids. Some kids even try to pet the dog while she is working and she is totally 110% trustworthy.


Best of luck with whatever you decide to do. BC's definitely are high maintenance dogs, so don't beat yourself up if you feel that giving him back to the breeder is in everyone's (including Buddy's) best interest. More power to you if you decide to throw yourself into turning him around!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you all so much! I can't really express how much it helps to hear your comments and know that Buddy isn't such a terrible dog. At this point, I just feel like I'd really like to work with him and keep him here, no matter what it takes. I will definitely not be (and haven't since the most recent nip/bite incident) letting him loose when the kids are around if I'm at all distracted with chores or whatever. To this point, he has been 100% perfect when leashed around the kids. Other than the three incidents I've mentioned, we haven't had any other close calls or anything where he's been attempting to bite or herd the kids. I will definitely be getting some of the books mentioned. I am so attached to this dog that I would still like to put in the time and effort to see if we can make this work. It is great to know that the breeder will take him back if needed, kind of as a safety net, but I am still hopeful, especially after all of your thoughts. I know it won't be easy, but I'm willing to work hard at it. I think hubby will be OK with it. We don't agree, of course, but otherwise don't have much for issues between us in our marriage so I think he will let me make the decision on this. I don't think I'll have to look for an apartment for Buddy and me or anything. ;)


Again, thank you all so much. There is a wealth of info on this board and thru all of your experiences. I don't have much to offer in the way of advice or anything so probably won't be posting much, but I will definitely hang around and learn! You are the best!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone made an earlier comment about shuffling feet and one of my girls just did this yesterday to Star so I thought I'd share. I don't know why Sadie (my daughter) shuffled her feet at Star (I don't think she's ever done it before). Her tone of voice was playful, but Star clearly did NOT like it. She pinned her ears, tucked her tail, and backed up. I corrected Sadie and made her go be nice to Star and apologize so Star would learn it wasn't a mean gesture. But it's clear Star thought this shuffling was a hostile action. I don't know why Star disliked it so--and I bet you could shuffle at Seven (the hound mix) all day long and she'd just look at you thinking, "Uh, whatever." If Star were a different personality, or had some questionable background, I could see where this is a situation in which she might have nipped at the ankles (she's never bitten or nipped though)(and, a part of me says I would have told Sadie it served her right). I hope you're able to resolve this, I know Star has taken hold of our hearts and it would be tough if we had an issue that my husband did not want to work through.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...