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Timid Scared and Reactive

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Hi Everyone !

I am new to this sight and my husband and I are new Border Collie owners. Our BC is an 8 month old beauty names Luna, after my favorite Harry Potter character Luna Lovegood!

We got Luna when she was 9 weeks old from a breeder/farm in Maryland. We did tons of research before we decided on a BC. We were prepared for her energy level, her intelligence, her need for a challenge and her need for a job. Once she was cleared by a vet we got into puppy training (puppy school if you will!) and she mastered a 7 week course in 3 weeks (I am sure you are all not surprised owning BC yourself!) My husband and I work with Luna everyday on command, on her jobs, getting her energy out. We have always followed through with everything we learn from her training. And then our sweet loving BC started to change...

Luna went from being super friendly to everyone and every dog while on leash to very reactive on leash. It started slow and now has exploded in our faces. But she doesn't only get reactive with other dogs, its bikes, trucks, pumpkins on the street, trash cans, trash bags, her reflection,ect. The issue truly boiled over when Luna was at the dog park doing one of her "jobs" (playing fetch) and there was a puppy at the park as well. Now usually, as in up until now, Luna just ignores the puppies or playful dogs all together and just keeps "working" but for some reason this day was different. She corrected the puppy after he bite her ear too hard and caused her to yelp, but then she started circling him and going after him. I corrected her behavior she stopped, but then 3 seconds later did it again. She did this 4 times before I decided to call her over and take her home. The next day she was at doggy day care for 3 hours while my husband and I did a ton of errands and they again told us she had gone after 2 other dogs in the same fashion.

We have decided to ditch our old trainer and get a new one who specialized in behavior and have worked with him once already.He told us that she is timid and scared, that when she gets reactive the hair on her back is indicating she is afraid. We never knew that. We have had 3 instances where Luna was on leash walking fine and off leash dogs have attacked us (she was fine 2 of the times and the 3 he did draw blood and we filed a notice with out town police) But I guess I assumed that maybe she had let that go by now? (those happened 3 months ago now) I guess I am wondering if anyone else has had this happen to them ? Or know maybe what else we can be doing for her? Or really just anything that can help us, we are worried about her especially since we live in such a dog friendly area we went to take her everywhere with us like we used to again!

So back information: Luna has 2 jobs right now, "fetch", "hike" (she carries a lightly weighted backpack sometimes and we go for power walks or literal hikes) we are working on 2 more currently, having her put her toys away (still training on that one, she puts it away and then immediately takes them all back out lol) and to "search" for treats and toys throughout the house. One big change is we moved from Mystic CT to Charleston SC due to my husbands job. We know now from our trainer that moves can be super stressful for dogs, has anyone else experienced a move with a BC and how long did it take until they felt comfortable in your new location? (we have been here for 3 months now)

Thanks everyone!!! :D

I have attached a picture of our little nervous nelly!


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It sounds to me like the attacks and the move happened near the beginning of the second fear period and may have set her up to be fearful of many things as a result.


There are some things you can do to help her, primarily desensitization and counter-conditioning to the things you know she's afraid of, including the Look at That game, aka LAT. There are a number of detailed instructions on these in past posts if you want to search, and also lots of info online.


If your trainer hasn't suggested doing something like this, I'd ask why not and seriously consider looking for another trainer who does. You need to be working towards building her confidence, I'd say ASAP, as this fear period can last until 14 month of age.


Best wishes helping her through this.

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My 17 month old was attacked once - at 4 months old. She's reactive and fearful of dogs, and at about 8 months - yeah, everything. EVERYTHING. Dogs people bikes plastic bags - anything weird or unusual. Now, it's just dogs. We've been working on it consistently. It's up and down, the progression isn't linear, but it's happening and I'm hopeful. 'Let things go' is really not something BC are known for, you know? Tenacity and obsession and fixation are wired into them.


Definitely do talk to a trainer. I know LAT was horrible for my dog, but it helps tons of dog. BAT is an option. Counter conditioning, desensitization, there's a lot out there. You've just got to stick with it and be prepared for setbacks and backslides and employ a lot of consistency and be patient.

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How old was she at the times of the attacks? If they occurred during her second fear period, it will be more upsetting to the dog - and you are seeing the result. If they did happen during her fear period, it is less likely that "she will let it go".


I agree with the suggestions above.


I strongly recommend that you read past posts here about fear-reactive dogs - to get advice and to get ideas of what may work for your situation. She could become 'dog-friendly' again, but it will take time and commitment. I would recommend NOT taking her to crowded situations until you can get a handle on her behavior (oh, I see from the OP that you may have stopped that already.)


There is also a strong philosophy among many board members here of "protect your dog". Again, searching the archives should prove helpful.

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Thanks everyone this has been really helpful! A behaviorist came yesterday for our second session and he said most of what you all have been saying as well, the attack happened during a fear phase and that along with our unexpected move to SC (at 6 months of age) has thrown her for a big loop. He also told me that I am just as anxious as she is (tense shoulders, and just all around nervous, which I was surprised to hear but it is dead on, I am just as worried as she is) The behaviorist took the leash for a while as we walked and she became a different dog, we even had a big black lab get loose from their yard? house? we aren't sure (IDK why this has happened to us so much!!) and charge at Luna and the behaviorist and he stayed perfectly calm, and Luna was calm, relaxed, they greeted each other and started to play! IT was incredibly ! He also taught us about the "look at that" game and much much more.

To clarify my post from above just a little, we have had much less of a problem with her being dog friendly off leash than on. We had those two incidents i stated above with her off leash, but she does have a little "pack" of dogs she plays with regularly where we live and does fantastic with them. The behaviorist is also wondering if the daycare was observing her behavior correctly at the daycare and plans to make a visit with luna to observe her there in the future.

Like you were saying CptJack we are seeing some improvements just from the two weeks of behavior training, but it is not linear we have good days and tough days. GCV-Border we are seeing some improvements though, she is not as "bossy" and I m taking mush more control of our walks and I can see her body language get more and more relaxed as we walk each day.

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  • 4 years later...

I understand this post is now old, but I couldn't help but make a comment. 


First of all, you mentioned you take the dog to a ''dog park''. I am british, and this concept of a ''dog park'' is foreign to me, but I assume you mean that it is a fairly small space where many other dogs congregate. That kind of environment to ANY dog can be extremely intimidating, and to a border collie, even more so. They are highly intelligent, thinking all the time, and an environment like that can feel very intimidating and over-powering to them. Don't forget, they were bred to be up on the highlands in Scotland and Wales in the middle of nowhere - not to be in a city, constantly surrounded by dogs and people with no respite. 

Secondly, you mentioned a 'dog day care'. Now, again, not sure what you mean by this, but from my own research it constitutes as a place where dogs are kept in an enclosed space, unable to get away from each other for a long period of time. I would NOT recommend this kind of environment for ANY dog, but especially not for a nervous or highly strung dog. It's a toxic environment. 

Dogs are not children.  They do not feel safe in an enclosed space all together. You'll either make the dog aggressive or extremely nervous or else just very distressed.  Don't do it. Not to any breed of dog. 


bottom line  - if you live in a place where you cannot take your border collie for proper walks ie not just sitting in a so called ''dog park'' where your dog feels overwhelmed by its environment, and you work all day and have to send your dog to a place where its shut in an enclosed space with a load of other dogs - then DON'T get a border collie. In fact, I would advise against getting any dog at all. 

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