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Hostility toward other dogs

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Apologies for the lengthy post. We adopted Bailey (see below) from a local, semi-rural shelter a little more than a year ago. I love him. Dearly. He is an amazing dog, but the journey has not been without its challenges -- namely aggression toward other dogs, one of whom is our own. I'll probably wind up sharing too much information, but in reading posts here, I've learned that sometimes the key lies in the seemingly tiniest detail. I'd appreciate guidance in helping manage the situation, as well as insight as to what may be more common border collie traits. I'm new to the breed, but not to dogs, and I'm doing my best to respect Bailey's uniqueness and not generalize.


A quick summary of the journey: We adopted him late in 2012. Because he was recovering from heartworm treatment, physical activity was limited (which as a challenge in and of itself). He was pronounced clean, and we started morning runs together (usually an hour or so). I also worked at home, so we had plenty of time together (though I don't any more). This summer, the vet detected a faint trace of heartworm, so again, no physical activity for three months (which stunk for both of us), but I just spent more time walking him alone. He weathered it like a champ and couldn't be happier when we're running again, weather notwithstanding.


In corporate, bullet-point fashion, here are some details about him and us:

  • He loves our morning run. Loves it. He can go for hours (but I can't). And I love how he is constantly scanning and assimilating his surroundings, like some sort of furry cyborg.
  • We live on the edge of the country. Coyotes and deer are common. Our run takes us into a semi-rural area with plenty of fun smells (and sometimes risky encounters, as with skunks -- the coyotes have stayed away and I don't actually see them often).
  • He has a strong prey drive, keenly interested in birds and squirrels.
  • I walk him for 30 minutes every morning with our other two dogs - Sasha (spayed female Brittany) and Artie (neutered lab mix)
  • He urinates frequently on the walk, not so much on the run.
  • He want to chase cars, "stalking" them as they approach.
  • Our yard is not fenced, so I keep him on a leash.
  • He is highly food motivated.
  • He loves squeaky toys -- playing with them and fetching. Sometimes I'll be sitting, and a toy mysteriously winds up on my lap. I find Bailey staring at me in eager anticipation.
  • He hovers over my daughter's guinea pigs. It's calmed down a bit, but it's still there. He drools, pants, licks and occasionally nips. Not sure if he sees a snack or something to herd. When the guinea pig is out, he follows closely but never nips. Still, we watch him very closely.
  • He's fine being kenneled when we're gone. He sleeps with us at night, sometimes cuddling with me for a bit.
  • He rarely barks.
  • He pants in general a great deal (he does get warm, and being around the guinea pig tends to work him up). His ears are usually semi-erect, though often back (sometimes when panting or in motion), but there's no obvious sign of agitation or potential hostility beyond this.
  • His tail has been wagging a lot more over the last few months.
  • He has a zillion whiskers. Sometimes they frost over when we run in the cold.
  • He has a very high metabolism, and I had to switch to a premium dog food (Red Paw Perform) just to keep a bit of weight on.
  • He doesn't engage our other dogs in play. Ever. And he doesn't respond when our Brittany tries to engage him.
  • He is closely bonded with me. Also, he is very sweet with people. Not a mean bone in his body. Warm greetings, belly rubs and hugs abound.
  • While initially guarded about his "personal space," he is much more accepting now with respect to people. Still, he is uneasy being approached from behind, so we respect that. Unfortunately, other dogs don't get the hint, so those rump-sniffing exercises are something Bailey doesn't appreciate (and can set him off).

And that brings me to his difficulties with other dogs. Here's what happens:

  • He is incredibly anxious at the vet because of all the other dogs. I am extremely cautious and tend to schedule early appointments to avoid stress.
  • The local dog park is a disaster waiting to happen. I'd initially envisioned tacking him there for exercise and training. Never again. Just a powder keg.
  • Sometimes he initiates the aggression, sometimes he invokes it in other dogs, almost like he's emitting some sort of "jerk" pheromone.
  • He's hostile about 90% of the time. The others, he's just indifferent. There are a few unleashed dogs we encounter in our run. Two of them (one a male golden retriever mix, the other a female adolescent yellow lab mix) try to engage him and follow him on our run. He has no problem with that. A couple of others, however, will pursue and attack (or provoke him).
  • Fenced dogs can sometimes be worse in terms of provoking a response. Other leashed dogs can also be problems. Thankfully, I usually run him at 5 am, so not much other activity.
  • There's no accurate predictor as to which dog will upset him. At first I thought it might be color or sex. Nope. It almost seems to be in the other dog's demeanor. Friendly, confident dogs (as those mentioned above) seem to be fine. Any level of fear or wariness (not to mention hostility), and Bailey is off the rails. He's even chased other larger dogs off our property (but thankfully stopped at the border, no pun intended, as soon as his mission was accomplished).
  • As for causes, who knows? Maybe Bailey wasn't socialized well. Maybe something happened when he was a stray or at the shelter. Maybe he's just protective of my family -- and me. I'm not convinced the foster mom was completely honest or aware -- she said he played well with other dogs.

Now with Artie, our black lab mix, things are a little different:

  • Hostility started when I was away on travel. They simply fought and scared the you-know-what out of my wife. They definitely reach the point of seeing red, oblivious to all else around them. Bailey is much faster and younger, so it usually winds up with Bailey clamped on Artie's muzzle until we can pry them apart. There's usually blood and some hair loss in the process.
  • It's sometimes hard to tell who instigates it. Initially, I think it was Bailey, but soon after, Artie definitely took his shots (last year, Bailey was outside with me on a lead as I was shoveling snow -- Bailey was a bit nervous and Artie went right after him). Artie also sometimes positions himself in a way that blocks Bailey's movement (such as at the top of the stairs), which would sometimes initiate a conflict.
  • About Artie: He is generally cautious around other dogs (but loves our Brittany). He is also my wife's dog, following her everywhere. And he is a semi-compulsive licker. He is generally goofy and happy.
  • The last incident happened last spring. In intervening, Artie caught me in the leg. As soon as they realized I was a casualty, both dogs stopped. Artie went to his kennel, and Bailey went full-on submissive to me, belly up and whining. We haven't had an incident since, knock on wood.
  • We've reached a state of uneasy peace. We know what signs to be on the alert for -- and potential triggers. They regard each other warily from time to time, but give each other space. Funny enough, they always get along when I walk them together (though Artie, who had never done so before, now emulates Bailey and lifts his leg).
  • Our vet thinks it may be a pack-order/dominance thing. Our Brittany is the alpha. She tries to break up the fights when they occur. And Bailey definitely didn't like it when, early on, Artie would try to mount Sasha in front of him.
  • We did engage a trainer with border collie experience (she owns two). She suggested a possible resource-guarding issue (with respect to my wife or me). It might also be that Artie (and other dogs) don't know how to react to the border collie communication style (such as the "stare"). They showed no animosity toward each other when she was here. We've also tried a few things she recommended (walking them together, feeding them in a certain order, heavily treating them both when kept alone and then peacefully reintroduced).

Again, sorry for the long post. I'd love any advice, guidance or insight. Things are still occasionally tense, but at least workable now. And if Bailey will never be comfortable around other dogs, so be it. At the very least, I want to make sure we're on the right path and, for certain, not doing anything to make matters worse.


Thanks in advance.



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I'll say 1 thing just quickly (Im supposed to be working). The guinea pigs. That's prey drive you're seeing. Keep them safe because if he grabs one it's game over before you can react, guaranteed. The pant/drool/stare is fixation and the nip is a precursor to grabbing the piggy by the back of its neck to snap it. At the very least it's terrifying to the piggies to be exposed. I have greyhounds and experience (bad), you should believe me :(. He's very handsome!

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Thanks so much, SF. I had a feeling he was regarding them as snacks. On the one hand, his fixation was a bit of a blessing when he was recovering from heartworm -- it kept him occupied. That said, we never leave them alone. The pigs seem unfazed at this point, especially when food is involved. And Bailey, well, he doesn't hover over them so much any more. He spends more time sleeping next to the cage and tends to get worked up only when we feed/water/interact with the little guys.

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I can't address all your questions, but I'll second the guinea pig warning. Don't let him do that. It may have been handy for you, but it's completely unhealthy for him. Even if the pigs themselves don't react, he's just frying his brain by staring and drooling at them. Don't build on a collie's tendencies towards obsessive behaviors.

Per going to the vet, have you looked into any of the calming remedies out there? There are various over-the-counter things sold specifically for soothing anxiety, so you might need to do something like that before you take him in to the vet.

Per the aggression, I can't offer much but things I've seen advised by others here. You're doing well by avoiding places like dog parks - keep it up. Some dogs just aren't social animals. If you have a problem while jogging, perhaps when you see another dog along your way, if you can't avoid them, try working on alternate behaviors such as stopping and having him look at you for treats, rather than looking at the other dog. Teach him how to focus on you when a stressful situation is coming on.

And that may be a key thing. If you can help guard him against those bad situations, and teach him to trust you'll take care of him under stress, perhaps you'll see a lessening in the aggression. A friend of mine has a pretty dominant male Aussie, but she taught him that any time he feels stressed by another male dog, he is to come sit right next to her. He likes that so well that now, even when he's off leash, he'll see a potential problem and instantly come over to her and sit pressed against her leg, sometimes even on her foot. He knows she'll keep the other dog(s) away so that he doesn't have to defend himself or guard her.

So, if other dogs on your runs sometimes pursue and provoke him, your job is to run them off. Stop, and if need be, get big, get loud, get formidable, let those dogs know that you won't tolerate that - and their owners can maybe clue in to the same. Protect him from harassment and he won't feel quite so obliged to protect himself. It's rude and potentially dangerous behavior on their part.

Hope this helps!

~ Gloria

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Thanks so much for the advice, Gloria. I'll definitely limit Bailey's exposure to the guinea pigs (and vice versa). To Bailey's credit, he has calmed down in this respect over the last few months or so. He checks in occasionally, but he really gets worked up now only when we're feeding or interacting with the pigs. What's interesting is that he tends to obsess mostly when I'm home. When I'm at work, he apparently just curls up in his kennel or on the landing by the stairs. It also seemed like his interest waned when we starting playing a lot more fetch (even in the house) and using his squeaky toys.


As for the hostility situation, I appreciate that. It's funny about the dog park. I had initial visions of our doing all sorts of things there, but in realizing he may never be comfortable there, I've let that go. It's not fair to Bailey, and there are plenty of other things we can do to bond. It's just too much for him to handle. I'll check into calming remedies, too. What's interesting is that he is calm in the exam room. He loves the vet and has no issues with being poked/prodded. It's the other dogs.


Good call, too, on the jogging. During a walk, with the other dogs, it's not as big of a deal. I have time to react. When we run, however, it's usually dark, and a fenced dog sometimes lies in wait and barks at the last possible moment. Bailey wants to go after him/her (and, well, a sudden bark like that often scares the you-know-what out of me). And when Bailey reacts so quickly (he is very fast), it almost yanks me off my feet.


Side rant: Our typical run takes us out of our subdivision into a more rural area. It annoys me that some dog owners there think it's "the country." It isn't. It's a block away from a phalanx of cookie-cutter homes. The aggressive dogs are enough of a problem (again, advice much appreciated here), but even the friendlies are problematic. They get in the way. They follow us home (and I've driven them back to their homes on many occasions). They almost get hit by the heightening morning traffic. Drives me nuts. One of these dogs even has a tag that essentially says, "I'm a country dog, and it's okay that I roam. Don't call my owners. I'll find my way home." Uh, okay...

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One of these dogs even has a tag that essentially says, "I'm a country dog, and it's okay that I roam. Don't call my owners. I'll find my way home." Uh, okay...


The owners are idiots, seriously. I wouldn't call the owner; I'd call animal control. I had neighbors like that once. They felt that dogs should be allowed to roam free--to the extent that they told me and another neighbor that if the roaming dogs got after our sheep we could shoot them. Yep, they loved their dogs so much that they wanted them to have the freedom to roam. And if they ended up dead for any reason, well, they'd just get more. It's crazy making.




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Julie and Gloria, you're right. The owners are idiots. I can forgive the occasional slip. Things happen, and Lord knows, I could just as easily wind up being the one apologizing for some unforeseen incident. It's the prolonged indifference that upsets me. No, that's not quite right. I think these people do care about their dog. They're just misguided and naive, almost as though they're allowing the dog to realize his true state of "dogness" by roaming free. And really, it's just dangerous. Their property is bordered by cattle pasture to the south and larger homes as well as a huge park (where the aforementioned dog park is). And then there's our development to the west, with a school and a zillion beige homes on tiny yards. There are hills. There is a fair amount of traffic. There are blind corners. I worry about the dog getting hit.


I've thought about calling animal control, but I'm afraid that they'd put him down (our local shelter definitely euthanizes). And this is a good dog. Before I started running with Bailey, this dog would come and intervene on my behalf whenever an unleashed aggressive dog came my way. He's get the aggressor to back down just standing between us, calm as can be. His owners don't deserve such a good pooch, and I'd hate to punish him because his owners are so misguided. I'm at a bit of a loss (though on the plus side, I haven't seen him much lately, so maybe they've wised up; I hate to think of the alternative -- that something terrible did happen to him).


As for Bailey, thanks for the good wishes. He's definitely happier and more well adjusted in the home. In our time together, I've felt the joy inherent in the strengthening of our bond. When I get up in the morning, dreading another run in the cold, dark, brutally windy winter, I see his joy in anticipation, and it's infectious. And when his breath frosts over his whiskers and fur, yet he still trots merrily along, I realize we all define our bliss differently. Come what may, I'm happy to have Bailey realize that bliss -- and that I can share it with him.

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