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Fearful Border Collie Mix Puppy

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Hi Everyone!

I have a five month old male Border Collie/Cattle Dog mix puppy. He is having a lot of trouble functioning on walks in the neighborhood. While he loves the dog park, and he walks almost perfect loose leash when we are on hikes in nature or at a pet store, he is a complete mess on walks. He is afraid of every noise: cars passing, cars starting up, dogs barking in the distance, motorcycles in the distance, garage doors opening, children playing, phones ringing inside houses. I always thought I had a quiet neighborhood until I experienced poor Charlie's reaction to it. When he meets people and other dogs on the street, he is happy to meet them. He loves dogs and people. He just can't handle any noises. He bolts immediately, trying to run home or forward or backwards or sideways or any direction he can and he is starting to damage my shoulder. He likes nature and the dog park because they are quiet (doesn't mind dogs barking at the dog park). We practice with short walks, and I don't reinforce his fearful behavior with comforting attention. I've read a lot online about desensitization programs for dogs with major phobias, but I am just wondering if anyone has experience with Border Collie puppies growing out of this behavior. I just want to make sure I am doing what I need to to help him cope with his fears and not just build on them until he can't go on walks at all. icon_frown.gif Poor guy. Any advice? (PS, I have read that both Border Collies and Cattle Dogs are known for sensitivity to noise, so there must be someone out there with experience to help!)

Thank you,

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Hi, Sara, and welcome to the Boards.


You didn't mention how long you've had this pup and if he's always been this way.


As you're already aware, some herding dogs can be very sensitive to noises. I've had 2 fosters who couldn't handle the traffic noises of a not-very-busy 2 lane highway up the hill from my house that I'd rarely been aware of before them. And once they tuned into the sound of cars and the occasional truck on that road, other sound sensitivities just seemed to pile up on top of it. I had to send both back to the rescue because they were worse at my house than they were at the quieter rescue facility's setting.


But if this is a new thing -- or if you've just recently acquired the pup -- it's also possible that he's entering a fear period, where he may suddenly be afraid of things that never bothered him before.


Either way, some basic desensitization practices should help. You want to change the underlying emotional response, which right now is fear, to a more positive association with the noises. Keep taking very short walks, and make sure you take along a good supply of the highest value treats you can find -- cooked chicken breast, a can of spray cheese, liver treats, for example. As soon as you hear the noise (or as soon as he reacts if he hears it before you do) get his attention any way you can and rain the yummy treats down on him. Lather, rinse, repeat, over and over again.


Teaching him to look at you is a good default behavior, and the "Look at That!" game from Leslie McDevitt’s book Control Unleashed (I hear the puppy version is better) would probably be a real help. There's lots of info, including YouTube videos to be found on the internet.


If this is a fear period thing, yes, he'll grow out of it with the right support from you. If not, it may lake longer, but will be worth the effort you put into it as you gain a more confident dog.


Good luck!

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Just wanted to add to GentleLake's wonderful desensitization advice...


Remember when you are working on desensitizing a pup it's best to work from a distance the pup is comfortable with. Let's say, for example, you want to work on passing cars. You probably don't want to start on the sidewalk or road where he may panic and try to run away when a car goes by. Maybe try to start further away (your front porch?) and work from there. You want to be far enough away from the stimulus that he's aware of it but you can easily distract him and reward for focus on you. Remember, if he goes into a panic then you're too close to whatever is scaring him.


Five months old sounds like just the right age for one of those frustrating fear periods. Since there's so much that's weirding him out right now (and it could be a tall order to try to tackle desensitizing everything you listed individually) you may want to concentrate on general focus games. I'd train a reliable "watch me" or "focus" if you haven't yet. Also, the "Look at That" game is great because it encourages the dog to recognize a stimulus and then turn it's attention back to you. Basically, work very hard with him to make it so that when he sees something that gets him excited, scared, nervous, whatever... his first instinct is to look at you for guidance. Puppyhood is a great time to start working on focus. It takes lots of patience because at that age they have the attention span of a fly, but it will pay off in spades down the road.


Best of luck and let us know how it goes! Oh... and pictures, please?? :D


(EDIT: After posting I thought it might be worth mentioning... I've heard handlers say that concentrating too much on focus games can be counter intuitive to building a sense of independence in a working stockdog. I do not know if that's how people on this board feel, and I don't mean to speak for anyone, BUT I just wanted to mention it in case you are planning to eventually train the dog on stock.)

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I should also add that if he's already over threshold when he hears a noise -- IOW, if he's already too worked up for you to get his attention -- you'll have to start by training him to "look" at things that don't cause a reaction so that you can teach him the "look" cue.


Again, there are some good explanations on line, as well as in Control Unleashed.


Camden's Mom's additions are excellent!

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I don't really have much experience with super noise sensitive dogs. You said he likes other dogs. I wonder if it would be worthwhile to ask a friend with a confident dog along on your walk (maybe even tether them together?) to show him a more appropriate response, in addition to the desensitization.

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