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deadlywarbler

Adolescent reactivity, changing behavior and an anxious owner

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Brix is now 10 mo. old and her behavior is starting to change a lot. She has become very reactive to her environment. It's no surprise since we moved when she was 9 mo. old to a house that had neighbor dogs on either side, a very reactive and aggressive cat as well as a host of noises and yard animals like occasional rabbits and squirrels. To make matters worse we have huge sliding glass windows looking out on the yard.

 

The big issue has been the cat. Her reactivity starting shortly after being attacked by the cat. Now all cats are an issue to be barked at at best or lunged and growled at at worst. I've worked so hard to introduce her to just about everything since the day she came home and she didn't show any reactivity to anything outside of the normal puppy timidness.

 

Barking is a new issue and I'm working hard to keep that calmed down, but the approach on how to do that is still unclear.

 

Just the other day she showed her first sign of defensive behavior and nipped at my girlfriend's hand when she tried to grab and move a bone we had given her. This is the first time she's done that

 

So naturally I'm concerned and quite anxious about these changes. I'm not sure how much of it is a normal phase for this age. I tend to want to make every little thing an issue, mainly because I've been around a lot of bad behavior dogs and I vowed to do everything I could to avoid it. In a lot of ways it feels like the months of training I did with her have no affect at all.

 

Can you all share some of your experiences with getting your BC through adolescence?

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Have you considered a professional trainer? Sometimes they can notice things about your dog that you cannot. Particularly with guarding issues I wouldn't mess around and would seek professional advice.

 

Also if this is a sudden change it wouldn't hurt to take her to the vet, because some of the behavior could be caused by a medical reason.

 

There are a couple other post on these forums that deal with barking issues. I cannot link them now as I'm typing this on my phone, but I will when I am at a computer. Unless someone else beats me to it.

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I did recently take her to the vet, but she checked out fine. The change hasn't bee super sudden, so I'm not thinking it's medical. I think it's circumstantial since her environment changed so much in the past month. I wish I could have made that move when she was more secure.

 

I am planning to seek out a local trainer to help with things. I am also reading Control Unleashed to try and get some tools for working with her excitability. The book is essentially describing her behaviors to the T. I guess I just want to know of others had their pup go through this phase and came out the other end ok.

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On top of CU, try Focus, Not Fear by Ali Brown and Mine! by Jean Donaldson.

 

Dealing with these sorts of behaviours is pretty normal, especially for herder owners, but it can be frustrating and not without its setbacks. You'll need consistency and lots and lots of patience. Understand your dog's thresholds and have back up plans for how to manage them when out in public, should something screwy happen.

 

A quality trainer will be able to help you with your timing and observation skills. Pet dog owners almost always have mediocre-to-poor timing when it comes to these issues. You will have the occasional bad day (and sometimes you'll have a slew of them in a row), so it might be helpful to keep a journal of where you're at with her now, so you can see patterns and so you can refer back to it to see how far you've really come.

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I don't have any specific training advice but do have encouragement. I wrote recently about how well my dog had done being uprooted and taken travelling, as a youngster he was reactive and found the world a scary place, children and diesel trucks horrifying things, flags and manhole covers were going to eat him. He is now 5 and I can take him anywhere, and as long as I am with him he appears to navigate the world with confidence.

I would also agree that if you are struggling contact a good trainer but make sure they are comfortable with the peculiarities of border collies.

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Some of this is just a very normal part of a dog's development from puppy to adult. Reactivity pretty much always shows up at some point. Generally starting at four or five months, your puppy is suddenly much more aware of the world - hearing and eyesight are developing into the finely instruments of the adult dog and she is more aware of herself as an independent creature.

 

That said, the reactivity to dogs and cats needs working with. There are a variety of methods people recommend but the one that I personally use is to find a suitable cat and dog candidate and incorporate them into my training with the dog for long enough to develop, if not comfort, quiet acceptance. Easy enough to say when you live on a farm with thirty dogs and twenty cats, I know. I will say this - kindness, calmness, patience and perserverance are the four things you will need to deal with the issue. I have always found that any sort of negative reinforcement makes that scenario worse. YMMV.

 

The bone thing. Yeah. I'm from the school of thought that says if you give a dog a bone with meat on it and then attempt to take the bone away, you pretty much get what you ask for. A dog's teeth touching your skin (not in accident as can happen in play) is most often a warning - they don't mistake the pressure - they know what they are doing with those things. A warning with teeth is still not okay - but it's normal and not necessarily a sign of bad things in her personality. Gentle corrections are in order, I think.

 

I know some people get into the dominance thing and train their dogs to be okay with food being snatched from them in order to protect children and what not from being harmed. I take the stance that a dog has every right to protect its meaty bone and it's my job to make sure no one snatches it - children, adults, other dogs, etc. I think what I am saying here in relation to the bone thing is, if you have not worked at taking her food from her as part of her training, this behaviour is very normal dog stuff and should be expected and is not indicative of anything in and of itself. I mean ... she's a dog ... it's a meaty bone.

 

I have found that the only way to deal with reactivity is not to engage in it yourself. Find calm ways of issuing warnings, reinforcements and encouragement and remember that reactivity is based in anxiety, not aggression - so the worst response is anger at it. I have seen lots of people yelling at their dogs for barking at other dogs and wonder if they realize how silly that seems - it just seems like no one is in charge and everyone is yelling.

 

When puppies start barking at everything that move I deal with it by teaching them to speak so I can teach them not to speak. I give the bark a word they can understand and then it is easy to get to the next step which is NOT to bark. I did find over time that a gentle, "ssshhh, no speak" works better than a (ahem) barked command. I also found if I touched them during the command to stop barking, it comforted them and they got it - in some ways it felt like I was saying (and they were accepting) a transfer of responsibility. You let ME worry about that dog/cat/car/vacuum - and you go back to being a dog.

 

Sounds like you're stressed about it - and I understand that - sudden changes in our beloved pets is hard to deal with. Just a cautionary tale that may help ... pretty much every sheepdog that has even been trained here on our farm has gone through a period - 9-12 months - where they are not quite fearful of the sheep, but they are wary of them - it is *one* of the reasons why (I am told) they aren trained on sheep until they are past all that - around 14-16 months for most youngsters. Again, YMMV.

 

Good luck.

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Some of this is just a very normal part of a dog's development from puppy to adult. Reactivity pretty much always shows up at some point. Generally starting at four or five months, your puppy is suddenly much more aware of the world - hearing and eyesight are developing into the finely instruments of the adult dog and she is more aware of herself as an independent creature.

 

That said, the reactivity to dogs and cats needs working with. There are a variety of methods people recommend but the one that I personally use is to find a suitable cat and dog candidate and incorporate them into my training with the dog for long enough to develop, if not comfort, quiet acceptance. Easy enough to say when you live on a farm with thirty dogs and twenty cats, I know. I will say this - kindness, calmness, patience and perserverance are the four things you will need to deal with the issue. I have always found that any sort of negative reinforcement makes that scenario worse. YMMV.

 

The bone thing. Yeah. I'm from the school of thought that says if you give a dog a bone with meat on it and then attempt to take the bone away, you pretty much get what you ask for. A dog's teeth touching your skin (not in accident as can happen in play) is most often a warning - they don't mistake the pressure - they know what they are doing with those things. A warning with teeth is still not okay - but it's normal and not necessarily a sign of bad things in her personality. Gentle corrections are in order, I think.

 

I know some people get into the dominance thing and train their dogs to be okay with food being snatched from them in order to protect children and what not from being harmed. I take the stance that a dog has every right to protect its meaty bone and it's my job to make sure no one snatches it - children, adults, other dogs, etc. I think what I am saying here in relation to the bone thing is, if you have not worked at taking her food from her as part of her training, this behaviour is very normal dog stuff and should be expected and is not indicative of anything in and of itself. I mean ... she's a dog ... it's a meaty bone.

 

I have found that the only way to deal with reactivity is not to engage in it yourself. Find calm ways of issuing warnings, reinforcements and encouragement and remember that reactivity is based in anxiety, not aggression - so the worst response is anger at it. I have seen lots of people yelling at their dogs for barking at other dogs and wonder if they realize how silly that seems - it just seems like no one is in charge and everyone is yelling.

 

When puppies start barking at everything that move I deal with it by teaching them to speak so I can teach them not to speak. I give the bark a word they can understand and then it is easy to get to the next step which is NOT to bark. I did find over time that a gentle, "ssshhh, no speak" works better than a (ahem) barked command. I also found if I touched them during the command to stop barking, it comforted them and they got it - in some ways it felt like I was saying (and they were accepting) a transfer of responsibility. You let ME worry about that dog/cat/car/vacuum - and you go back to being a dog.

 

Sounds like you're stressed about it - and I understand that - sudden changes in our beloved pets is hard to deal with. Just a cautionary tale that may help ... pretty much every sheepdog that has even been trained here on our farm has gone through a period - 9-12 months - where they are not quite fearful of the sheep, but they are wary of them - it is *one* of the reasons why (I am told) they aren trained on sheep until they are past all that - around 14-16 months for most youngsters. Again, YMMV.

 

Good luck.

 

Man, this one post was a wealth of information and honestly very reassuring. It's just good to hear it's a normal part of a dog's development. I'll keep working with her consistently.

 

I agree about the bone... She's never guarded food or bones even once, but this was a bit more heightened a situation because it involved barking at the neighbor dog, so she may have been more wound up that usual.

 

In the recent past I have yelled at the dog for barking and then sat back and wondered, "what am I doing? I know better than this!" It's so reactionary, just like getting frustrated when she goes after the cat. I am guilty of a little of this, but have since quit it. It's very hard to stay calm, or even use positivity when she's doing something very wrong, but I agree it will help in the long run by not making a situation worse by introducing my own anxiety into the picture. Do you literally click/treat her when she barks?

 

I will be looking into a local trainer here in town and hope she has experience with border collies. I could use the help anyway. I am stressed about it, but then I keep high expectations so... I am still really enjoying my pup, I was just recently fearful of these changes happening so fast.

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I don't use clickers.

 

So, yes, I treated her and gave her positive verbal reinforcement with the bark (she was 7 weeks old when I started which helped a lot - she had yet to find her voice) and gave it a name: "speak". When she was reliable about speaking on command, I started asking for "sshh, quiet" (which I started with "NO (speak)") which was easy as after every bark there is a quiet time which you can pounce on.

 

I took a page from the stock people and used my voice modulation to indicate something close to "slower" or "easy" and went with a calming approach.

 

I found, with one dog I once had who was a barker, that if I paid attention to the initial bark, if I acknowledged that something was bugging him, then he would stop. Like a "thanks for letting me know, but now I know, so you can stop telling me" and I would genuinely look at the thing that was bugging him or go investigate it with him and then I could assure him it was okay and he didn't need to keep barking at it. Worked over time.

 

Truthfully, I am not sure how I would approach it with an older puppy - but I would definitely be thinking about ways to give the bark a name so I could give the counter-command context. When they get upset and start barking from anxiety, it must be hard for them to understand exactly which behaviour you are upset with. Is it the barking, the pulling that comes with it sometimes, the loss of attention, the anxiety itself, etc.

 

I think if you can get the dog to bark on command, you can get them to not bark.

 

We have one stock dog who is very talented and was working much younger than most of his littermates. He is known as "the barker" because all the way home from the main yard to where he lives, he barks. Non stop. Gleefully. He never barks when he is not supposed to - but he does love to bark. May sound dumb but maybe your dog needs the equivalent of a "digging spot" - you know where you give a dog who loves to dig a spot they are allowed to dig up and train them to only dig there (current puppy LOVES to dig and has a digging spot because digging is like barking - part of the kernel of "dogness" - and I could not see an upside to trying to train it out of her). Maybe there is some place/scenario where barking is not only allowed but encouraged and your dog can learn that you can bark here but not there - like a gazillion other things they have to learn in context.

 

Good luck and remember the standard disclaimer: this works for me, I have had a lot of dogs and I know what I know - but I am not a qualified expert, your dog is unknown to me and all of this may not be correct for your situation.

 

But yeah, it all sounds very normal to me :/

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That said, the reactivity to dogs and cats needs working with. There are a variety of methods people recommend but the one that I personally use is to find a suitable cat and dog candidate and incorporate them into my training with the dog for long enough to develop, if not comfort, quiet acceptance. Easy enough to say when you live on a farm with thirty dogs and twenty cats, I know. I will say this - kindness, calmness, patience and perserverance are the four things you will need to deal with the issue. I have always found that any sort of negative reinforcement makes that scenario worse. YMMV.

Good advice, and I would be sure to set up your environment so that she can't practice things you don't want her to repeat when you can't address them. So consider curtains or window cling film or blocking her access to the windows.

 

Mine had a similar issue with squirrels and would stare obsessively out the back door at them whenever he could. I used frosted cling film on my windows so he couldn't see them to reduce that behavior so I could work with him.

 

 

 

 

I know some people get into the dominance thing and train their dogs to be okay with food being snatched from them in order to protect children and what not from being harmed. I take the stance that a dog has every right to protect its meaty bone and it's my job to make sure no one snatches it - children, adults, other dogs, etc. I think what I am saying here in relation to the bone thing is, if you have not worked at taking her food from her as part of her training, this behaviour is very normal dog stuff and should be expected and is not indicative of anything in and of itself. I mean ... she's a dog ... it's a meaty bone.

I train my dog to be happy when I approach him when he has a coveted item, not because I am concered about dominance but because itrs a safety issue.

 

My MIL had a dachsie who had resource guarding issues, and she is a dog-loving softie who decided she wouldn't bother the dog when he was eating.

 

One day, when she was gardening she did not know Rufus had a dead squirrel that he had been guarding from the other dog, and when she walked close to him, he jumped up and bit the crap out of her leg. Yes a dachsie, through a pair of jeans, left a nasty puncture wound on her THIGH. He them was so wound up he redirected on the other dog and really injured her too. My poor MIL was traumatized, the other dog had a ton of stitches and drains and Rufus lost his life that day (and almost at the end of my FIL's shot gun, luckily we convinced him to take Rufie to the vet).

 

Thats a dramatic example, but shows how easily it can happen.

 

I recommend desensitizing the dog to people coming near her when she has a prize as outlined here:

 

 

http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/resource-guarding/

 

 

 

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I know some people get into the dominance thing and train their dogs to be okay with food being snatched from them in order to protect children and what not from being harmed. I take the stance that a dog has every right to protect its meaty bone and it's my job to make sure no one snatches it - children, adults, other dogs, etc. I think what I am saying here in relation to the bone thing is, if you have not worked at taking her food from her as part of her training, this behaviour is very normal dog stuff and should be expected and is not indicative of anything in and of itself. I mean ... she's a dog ... it's a meaty bone.

 

 

I don't see this as a dominance thing but as a safety concern, especially if there is any possibility ever of the dog being around a child or other clueless human being and having something it would rather not share.

 

And, of course, there's always that possibility.

 

Teaching a dog to give something up willingly doesn't have to be adversarial. My dogs all happily give me anything they have, because I've taught them that when they do they get something even yummier from me (most of the time).

 

It's called trading up. You start with something of fairly low value, maybe a toy. The dog has it and you have something better (a treat). You offer the dog the better thing, and as she's dropping whatever's in her mouth to take it, say "give" or whatever you want your cue to be. Praise profusely, then give her back the original object or food. When she's willing relinquishing whatever it is she had, repeat the exercise with her having something more valuable. Do this often, with different things, at different times of day, etc. until you can work up to the dog being happy to give you her food bowl or a raw bone. She trusts you now that she knows she won't be losing it forever, so it just becomes a fun game that includes extra tasty tidbits along with her meal or bone.

 

At the same time, it helps to teach the dog to wait for her meals and whatever else you give her. She can't have them till you give a release cue.

 

Once the dog's reliably giving you things you ask for, she'll do it whether you have something else to give her or not, oreven if you don't give it back -- such as in an emergency situation.

 

Emergencies when a dog has gotten something it really shouldn't have are another reason why I don't think it's a good idea to just allow your dog to have things without ever being disturbed. You really don't want her refusing to give up that potentially lethal cooked turkey bone she grabbed when no one was looking.

 

All this says to the dog that you're in charge of everything. Everything she wants comes from you, with your permission. In that sense it's dominance, I guess, though I still don't thinks it's a useful way to think of it. It's no different really than the way you raise your kids.

 

All this said, once I've trained my dogs to willingly give me what they have, most of the time I allow them to eat their meals or chew their bones unmolested, aside for the occasional proofing. I agree that they should be able to eat and chew in peace.

 

And I also believe that regardless of how well the dog is trained, children should also be trained to leave dogs alone when they're eating. Just another added level of precaution.

 

One other thing -- it's really never a good idea to punish a dog for growling or a controlled nip. There's a very real danger of teaching a dog that it's dangerous for her to offer a warning and subsequently offer no warning and go straight to a more dangerous bit.

 

Growls and soft nips are warnings. Communication from your dog that something's making her feel uncomfortable or threatened. Don't ignore those communications, and definitely don't suppress them.

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I should add a caveat: I handle my dogs' food all the time. I have been known to pick up a half eaten bowl of something (realizing I forgot to add something, or gave the wrong bowl, etc.) and I handle them while they are eating. I do not encourage resource guarding. I agree it can be a problem. They are also trained on "drop" and "give" and "let go" and I have safely fished any number of things from canine jaws with not a lost finger :)

 

That said, I believe some things (meaty bones as an example) are alike to a gift or present and once the dog has them I expect them to be protective of them and act accordingly.

 

My puppy will growl and nip back at me if I try and take her meaty bone. I CAN take it and she will NOT bite me - but she is warning me that the bone is important to her and I choose to believe that sometimes it is okay to let a dog be a dog.

 

So the original poster should consider all this other info on resource guarding, certainly. This board will out the idiom of "to each his own" with great efficiency :)

 

Cheers.

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Do you literally click/treat her when she barks?

 

In short, no.

 

Though, you can and should feed her when in the presence of a trigger (ideally far enough away that she's not going over threshold) whether she's barking and carrying on or not. This is classical conditioning, and food you're providing is not contingent on her behaviour. It works on her subconscious to change the way she feels about something.

 

A clicker is an operant training tool. You can definitely use operant conditioning to address reactivity, as one compliments the other. But you would use the clicker to mark a more appropriate behaviour than barking, like focus, Look At That, etc. Most of the time people use CC to start and move to OC as their dog's threshold grows.

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