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Help Needed w/ Dog Reactive Behavior Modification

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Hi everyone, I have been lurking around for a while but this is my first post. In July 2013, I adopted an 8 month old puppy from a BC rescue group. I was looking for a running partner, and I did a large amount of research before deciding to adopt a border collie. My family has owned numerous Shetland Sheepdogs, and I am very familiar with the needs of high-energy herding breeds. I have been fostering and volunteering for a local animal rescue group for a number of years, and I am very familiar with basic training.

As soon as I met my dog, I instantly fell in love. He is a classic black and white semi-rough coat BC with extremely long legs. He was fostered with two small dogs (under 15 pounds). At home, he behaves wonderfully. He is not kept in a crate, has never chewed anything that isn’t a toy, and has never had an accident inside. He will sit and wait for hours until I give him the OK to eat. I do tons of activities to practice self-control, such as throwing his favorite toys and telling him to wait before he can retrieve it. He knows sit, down, wait, leave it, paw, and touch (as in touch my palm). He pulls on the leash, but a gentle leader has helped to improve that behavior. We walk 3.5 miles in the morning, play Frisbee mid-afternoon, and run 3.5 miles at night (he doesn’t wear the gentle leader so that he is able to breathe). He absolutely loves all people, and is quite the cuddler. All that is known about his past is that he ran away from home, was picked up by animal control, and was reclaimed by his owner and then neutered. The following day, his owner adopted a second border collie that was in the same shelter, and then the next day surrendered both of the dogs. He is also terrified of long, skinny objects for an unknown reason (i.e. brooms, hoses, yard-sticks).

However, he turns into an entirely different dog on the leash, and he seems to be suffering from an extreme case of leash reactivity. Before I adopted him, his foster mom would take him to the dog park where he did OK. He tends to be mouthy in play, but as soon as another dog corrects him he is very respectful and ceases that behavior. He always chases, and does not allow himself to be chased. I was told that when he arrives at the dog park, he barks and whines at the other dogs while approaching the fence, but once inside, he circles the pack for a few minutes and then will join in. I have yet to take him to a dog park, simply due to the fact that I want to be in full control of him before I allow him to play with a stranger’s dog. When we are outside and see another dog, he starts whining, barking, and his hackles rise. He will turn and chomp on his leash. His pupils are huge, and he takes on an aggressive stance. Luckily, if we are walking with another dog he never has turned his aggression on that dog. During these episodes, I can get him to sit but usually cannot get him to do anything else or remain quiet and calm. I had him evaluated by an animal behaviorist, and he believes that my dog is suffering from fear aggression caused by a lack of socialization. He also noted that my dog is the most dominant BC's he has ever seen. My dog was “bullying” the behaviorist’s submissive dog who was placed in a down stay during the evaluation, and he would go up and nip at him, then retreat over and over again. It is almost as if he gets so excited and doesn’t know what to do when we see another dog that he loses all ability to give off proper dog body language. The first thing he does when he sees another dog instead of smelling them is nip at them in an attempt to play.

I have successfully introduced him to multiple dogs using slow introductions. I foster dogs and kittens, and after meeting them through the crate and going on a walk he is always fine with them. We recently spent a month over the holiday staying with my parents and their sheltie, and he did great with her. She is considerably smaller, and he played with her more gently than he plays with his toys when he is alone.

In hopes of better socializing him, we completed obedience class in September 2013. He spent the entire class whining and being extremely anxious. He normally takes treats gently, but in the presence of other dogs nips them out of my hand. He already knew all of the cues we learned in class, and was able to successfully perform them in front of other dogs. During “lecture” time, he would whine and whine and I was getting phone calls between classes from the instructor saying I needed to get him to stop because he was a distraction.

He also can hear dogs walking down the street multiple houses down, and will bark out of the windows at them. He has also started to bark at people with strollers, bike riders, and people wearing heavy coats. For now, I have been calling him to me and running through obedience cues and giving him treats when he starts to react inside.

He has recently started taking an anti-anxiety medicine, and I am curious about any behavioral modification programs or tips that have been successful for people with dogs with similar issues. He is a great dog, and he is very willing to please. I would love to help him feel more comfortable in the presence of strange dogs, and I am open to any suggestions. I have attached a picture of him for anyone curious about what he looks like. Thanks!


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Others will have better and more complete answers, but to me, it sounds like your pup can be over threshold in situations where he sees other dogs while on a leash. You may have to desensitize him to these situations by increasing the distance until he can focus enough to take a treat. In many other threads, I have seen that "Click to Calm" and "Control Unleashed" (the puppy book) can be very helpful with behaviors such as these.


Good Luck.

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go for the Click to Calm or Control Unleashed, choose one and follow the protocol. I suspect that your dog had some unpleasant experience(s) while in close proximity to other dogs. You'll want to re-condition him and that will take some time. Either book should help a lot.


For what it's worth, I think the dominance thing is a very over-used excuse for "I don't like and don't understand what your dog is doing. Your dog must be dominant and that's a bad thing."


The basic concepts of behavior change are pretty simple - every being, even a border collie, has a 'threshold'. On one side of the threshold, the dog is calm. On the other side of the threshold the dog is not calm. Sometimes the threshold is distance - too close leads to poor behavior, increasing the distance leads to a calm dog.


You can get either book through Amazon, there are probably some used copies available.


Good luck - he looks and sounds like a wonderful dog!


Ruth and Agent Gibbs


Keeping the dog under threshold means the dog is feeling pretty safe and is able to respond to you. Usually that means keeping a good distance between the dog and whatever is making it fearful and working with cues the dog already knows. You gradually decrease the distance, stopping and retreating a bit when the dog gets fearful, going closer as the dog tolerates the scary thing. This is a gradual process, done over time.


The books do a step-by-step thing that is much more detailed and helpful than what I've written, but I wanted to give you a taste.

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3rding the suggestion of Control Unleashed; Puppy Protocol by McDevitt.


The term "dominance" is so often used as a catch-all for problem behaviour with people who are either lazy or don't know any better. Labeling something (like nipping and poor social behaviour) as "dominance" is precisely 0% helpful because it doesn't give you a clear path to addressing the actual problem behaviour. Rather it points the finger at an ambiguous, nefarious force which some people believe can be addressed by making sure you eat dinner before your dogs do.


Your pup sounds like he has very poor self control but is otherwise a pretty normal BC. I'm a huge proponent of working on a dog's self control and autonomy. His reactive outbursts indicate that he's waaay too close to the trigger. Once he goes over threshold you lose the learning opportunity and have to transfer to damage control mode. Increase distance. Actively avoid triggers. Develop a solid understanding of the distances at which he can be successful.


For the window barking, it is likely to continue unless you restrict access. Close the blinds, close the door, or consider the film that you can stick directly onto a window to cloud the dog's view (it need only cover the lower portion of the window where the dog may have access).

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+1 to he's over threshold and something along the lines of Control Unleashed (puppy version) will be very beneficial.


One of mine is leash reactive and has a very low threshold. Be warned, it takes a lot of time and effort to make even a little headway. It can also be difficult to keep him below his threshold in certain situations. You will make a lot of mistakes as you figure out where his thresholds are, and that's ok.


I would avoid the dog parks completely...too much uncertainty even for a dog who isn't stressed. Also, what instructor calls between classes to tell you to fix your dog? Isn't that the point of going to a class?? To have them help you? Yeesh. Anyway, very cute pup! Love love love the ears!

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I have had similar issues with my dog, Dublin. We have been working on this for several months now and often she does great, but sometimes still she gets over her threshold.

With Dublin, she's so EXCITED that she can't control herself. Unless the dog is barking aggressively along fence lines, she mostly just wants to meet and play with the other dog. If the dog is barking aggressively at her through the fence, then she can get hackles raised etc. I suspect it's mostly fear with her, because she is such a submissive dog.


I actually took her to a special one on one session with a behaviorist for this. Essentially what I have to do with her is reward her heavily for self-calming behaviors and then reset/start over when she starts to approach her threshold. You have to REALLY monitor them.


As I am walking towards another dog with Dublin, I am watching Dublin. I say "yes, yes yes" (or whatever cue you use to indicate that the dog is doing the right thing) as she is doing self-calming behaviors like relaxing her lips, blinking her eyes, turning and looking away from the other dog, shaking (like they do when wet) and we keep moving toward the other dog as long as she's being calm. The SECOND she starts to get over the threshold I turn around and we walk back the opposite way and reset for about 15 seconds. Sometimes I even block her from being able to see the other dog with my body and wait until she looks up at me. Then, we start over doing the same thing. If possible, I move a little further away from the other dog as we pass. But, at times this can't be helped (there is one dog in a yard next to a very busy street and I cannot move out into the street so we must pass fairly close to his yard). Some days Dublin gets it on the second try (and gets LAVISHED with praise after we pass the house) and there are other days it can take six or seven tries. (she still gets praised when we successfully pass the house).


Anyway, this has been several months of work and there is progress, but it is slow. There are several houses we had to walk on the opposite side of the street that we can now successfully pass right by with little to no reaction from her. These are mostly dogs that are friendly at the fence line. The more aggressive the dog toward Dublin, the harder I am having to work with her. Ironically, dogs who are also on-leash she's pretty good about. She still gets excited and we still have to reward her self-calming, but it's nothing like dogs behind fences....especially aggressive fence barkers/lungers.


Hope this is helpful.

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