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This is my first post in the forum and I need some advice.

We adopted a 3-year old blue merle border collie about 6 weeks ago. He's a great dog, but is overly obsessed with going outside - we have a big balcony in the back from where he can see our backyard and the neighbors' cats that come and go, and we also hear/see the neighbors enjoying their own backyards.
He has elected this as his job: to observe any movement coming from the backyard. He doesn't bark or anything, he just stares obsessively, doesn't move, listen or react to anything we do (calling, whistling, loud sounds... nothing!). He's basically just a statue when he's out there. :-(
If we don't let him go outside, he hides under a desk and just looks miserable and depressive. It feels like he's upset and doesn't like us anymore.
He can do basic commands like sit and down, and we have recently taught him to shake. But he needs real interesting food as motivation or needs to think we're going to open the balcony door to obey.
He doesn't care for balls or toys, he eventually gets them, but only for a few seconds and then ignores them. We go for 2 or 3 long walks every day, but he's not interested in other activities like chasing us or playing outside. He is not very interested in us either, which we think will come with time, when he learns to trust and love us after being abandoned by his former owner.
We understand he's still adapting to us and his new life. We also understand the breed-specific interest about cats and herding. But we want to get him interested in other things and make him discover a new job and new interests.
Does anyone have any tips? Any help is greatly appreciated!
Thanks!
PS - Here's our Merlin! :-)
14052387_1772470836333890_470706724_n.jp

 

13743637_1749850671969974_1423662005_n.j

 

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First off, he is beautiful. And yes, it may take time for him be more interested in being with you. For a job, we use is a remote control car. We also use a quadcopter. We also go to agility class once a week and have built him some agility equipment at home. Maybe you can just work on new tricks with him. You can also take him to the pet store and see if he can pick out a toy. I would really consider agility or obedience class. Even if he knows the basics, it builds a bond.

 

Hope that I was able to give some ideas yo may be interested in pursuing.

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I think that the staring outside is a form of self-medication, like alcohol or drugs and that you can either let him continue to do it and hope that he eventually comes around or the behavior can become more deeply ingrained. You could try to turn the balcony into a game in which going out to the balcony is contingent upon him doing something, but if you do this you need a way of getting him back to you either with a terrific treat or keeping him on a line. So, the game might consist on him shaking, sending him to the balcony and then calling him back to shake again. repeat. Or feeding him the best treat ever when he returns to you. The purpose of the game is to make coming back to you more exciting than the balcony. This will be a process.

 

It is possible that he could become overwhelmed by an obedience or agility class now. I would try to find a nosework class or a really quiet tricks class instead. Keep things fun and lighthearted.

 

Training with food works better if the dog is hungry. Train before meals or ask the dog to work for part of its meal. But, I don't think that I would do serious obedience with this dog yet. Training could be as simple as rewarding him for making eye contact with you or offering any behavior that is not obsessively staring outdoors.

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What Blackdawgs said - Right now I'd work on training not as a means to achieving behaviors, but to open a line of communication between you. Let him get comfortable, feel safe, work out the routine and learn how to get stuff from you/learn.

 

Reward eye-contact, maybe even choosing to engage with you at all, do some shaping games, load a clicker or marker word type things for the time being. (

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Personally, I would be very concerned with the possibility of OCD with a dog who behaved as you describe. (Granted, I haven't seen the dog, and my reaction is based on what you said)

 

I know you haven't had him long, and what you are seeing might be exaggerated by the fact that he is in an adjustment period, but the inability to break away from watching the activity, and then not being able to function normally, would concern me greatly. That lack of ability to recover and act more normally is what I would consider to be a big red flag.

 

I would try some training, as posters have described above, but if I didn't start to see some significant improvement as a result, I would seriously consider consulting with a veterinary behaviorist who has experience with OCD.

 

Just some food for thought. Obviously, it is something that would need to be taken into consideration by a qualified vet.

 

I hope it resolves with some training . . .

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Hi Everyone!
Thanks so much for the nice words and advice. This is really a great forum! :-)
We do hope the fact that he's not yet crazy about us will change with time. We see some improvement and we want to give him time to get used to us. Any ideas on how long it can take a dog to get used to new owners? Tough question, I guess it depends on too many things... And the fact that we don't know much about the first 3 years of his life doesn't help much. :-/
We have enrolled Merlin in an obedience class, we've been to 3 out of 4 classes now. It has helped us to understand more about the best way to train him, but he was already able to do sit, down and stay. We are still struggling with "heel" when outside. The "come" works when we're home, but not at all when we're out for a walk.
I like the idea of agility classes to create a bond, but haven't found any close to where we live. We'll have to look for it again.
As for the balcony obsession, I did some research on OCD, but it's hard to tell whether he has it. I see it as a kind of addiction, and that's why I want so hard to find something else - anything else - that he can take as a job. The worst thing is, I don't even think he's happy when he's outside. He often has his tail between the legs, even when nothing is going on and he just keeps staring... :-(
I have to admit I often use the balcony as a treat to teach him some good behaviors (sit and wait, walk slowly beside me, etc) and it works like a charm. He now patiently walks very slowly across the living room and patiently waits while we open the door until we tell him it's ok to go outside. This is tremendous progress for him!
We've had some improvement with calling back in when I started to offer cheese and turkey breast. He now comes back in 75% of times when called, but is desperate to go back outside again. He comes in, sits or shakes as commanded very quickly, swallow the treat and run back outside. As Blackdawgs said, this is a process, so I guess we have to be patient. Just the fact that he comes back in and has some interest in us is also tremendous progress. :-)
Thanks again for the messages! We'll stay positive and we'll keep working with him...
Julia
PS - Here's a pic of Merlin staring at a cat. Yes, he even forgets to keep his tongue in his mouth... ;-)

14052264_941409292636048_936866138_n.jpg

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It can take awhile for a dog to settle into their new home and become comfortable, don't be surprised if his character is still changing in 3 months time or even longer. We often foster and if we have a nervous dog, or one that has some hang ups we let them just be dogs, with no demands, and just get a feel for what the dog is ready for. We had a young dog with us for 6 weeks, he arrived crawling on his belly so scared of people he would not take pate from my husbands outstretched hand, at the end of his stay he was a typical young energetic border collie full of confidence, all we did was give him space and a safe non threatening enviroment. He went to a home in Germany and we were really concerned about the flight, (2 hours) he got of that plane and has never looked back. If you want to read a really great rescue story go to the rescue dog section and search for Kelso. D'Elle fostered him and it is a great lesson on the power of patience and love.

If it was me I would really limit his time on the balcony as it does sound like a border collie obsession. Many have them, my older dog is obssesed with tennis balls, sometimes they all just have to go away for a couple of weeks so he can refocus.

I would also say don't worry about heel at the moment, it is actually a very difficult thing for a dog to learn, a nice loose leash walk is a more important skill, but even that is not a priority, remember he has only been with you 6 weeks and you have plenty of time to learn skills. Sometimes teaching silly tricks is a better way to bond and learn to train than a life skill, if the trick goes bad or the dog feels to much pressure, you can just abandon the trick and try something else and you have not caused any longterm problems with an essential life skill.

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When I initially adopted my rescue Border Collie, she did prefer to be outdoors and she did obsessively watch squirrels. I recall posting something about this on the Controlled Unleashed yahoo group years ago. I did allow her to partake in the squirrel watching to some extent and she eventually came around. As I said, I think that this is a form of self medication.

 

My dog was very sick for the first 6 weeks with the shelter plague. As soon as she recovered, I started taking her to classes, pet stores, etc and this was *A*HUGE*MISTAKE* I overwhelmed her and think that it contributed to her reactivity towards other dogs. I really recommend giving your dog quiet time, enjoying quiet activities together, and removing all training pressure (by training, I mean formal obedience--forget about agility classes for now--some of those dogs are nuts and will drive your dog nuts). There were times in which I did nothing (from a training standpoint) for months and I waited until she told me that she was ready.

 

Because these are Border Collies, I think that there is a tendency to do too much with these dogs--I see this a lot with sports dogs, both rescue and dogs from breeders. On Monday the dog goes to obedience class, on Tuesday the dog tracks, on Thursday the dog goes to agility, on Friday it does barn hunt, blah, blah, and some dogs get fried. Training animals requires tact, knowing when to apply training pressure and when to back off.

 

As for your balcony game, you need to increase the time that the dog spends with you. Instead of feeding one piece of turkey, feed several pieces over a period of say 15 seconds initially, gradually increasing the time that the dog spends with you, send the dog back to the balcony and immediately call it back. Repeat. Turn it into a game and have a huge party when the dog is with you. You have to become more valuable than the balcony.

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My dog was very sick for the first 6 weeks with the shelter plague. As soon as she recovered, I started taking her to classes, pet stores, etc and this was *A*HUGE*MISTAKE* I overwhelmed her and think that it contributed to her reactivity towards other dogs. I really recommend giving your dog quiet time, enjoying quiet activities together, and removing all training pressure (by training, I mean formal obedience--forget about agility classes for now--some of those dogs are nuts and will drive your dog nuts). There were times in which I did nothing (from a training standpoint) for months and I waited until she told me that she was ready.

 

Because these are Border Collies, I think that there is a tendency to do too much with these dogs--I see this a lot with sports dogs, both rescue and dogs from breeders. On Monday the dog goes to obedience class, on Tuesday the dog tracks, on Thursday the dog goes to agility, on Friday it does barn hunt, blah, blah, and some dogs get fried. Training animals requires tact, knowing when to apply training pressure and when to back off.

 

I just want to agree with.

 

They are dogs who are *willing* to work, yes, and they're willing to do it very young, injured, stressed, and when mentally and physically fried. With a lot of dogs, you can rely on them showing you some really overt and easy to see signs of 'tired' or not ready. BC will give you signs too, but frankly it often looks different. Many seem to stress high, not low. Which means that instead of acting 'sad'., they act more and more frantic and wild. Or they get obsessive.

 

Ie: If my small sheltie/beagle/chi agility dog can't manage something mentally or emotionally or physically, I'll know it. She'll scream if she's hurt, she'll stop if she's tired, she'll shut down and walk away if she's not getting it/able to get it. She'll <i>leave</i> stressful situations. I have watched my BC continue to run with torn paw-pads, broken nails, seen her continue to work in situations that were mentally frying her and the only real stress signal I get from her is that she gets... tense and frantic in doing it.

 

The best thing I ever did for my young, highly stressed, BC were sit at home for a good four months, train stupid tricks, and bond - which let me read her better and allowed me to get into her head, better, and therefore support her better in more challenging circumstance. Which led to her trusting me more.

 

Don't push. He's a BC, but he's still a dog. His job really can be unloading the dryer for you.

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Hello again!


Thanks a lot for the nice messages!


It's *very* reassuring to read that it can take him longer to get used to us and to show his real character. And it's also a relief to read that I can (and should) relax for now.


I've been torn between wanting to relax and just letting Merlin be, and on the other hand feeling a pressure for doing something and not letting him get used to the behaviors we want (and need) to correct so badly.


It's been pretty overwhelming for me, and I guess for him too. He is my first BC and I did some research before deciding to adopt him. I was ready for so many "problems" you read about having a BC, but I wasn't ready for this constant obsession and a dog that has no interest in us. I had this image of a dog that would be constantly asking for action, play and attention. But I get the opposite: a dog that is very little interested in what we can offer him. This is quite frustrating...


Last weekend, because Merlin had been showing less signs of obsession, we relaxed and let him stay in the balcony for hours, most of it on its own. Big mistake, I can see it now. :-( He became more hyper than ever...


We've been keeping the balcony door shut most of the time since yesterday, except for a few times when we let him go out as a treat for doing something good, and he stays outside just for a few seconds and then we call him back in and shut the door again. He looks at us as if he despises us, but he will get used to it.


Autumn is starting to show its colors and we live in Montreal, Canada, so soon it will be too cold to spend time outside anyway. We wonder whether the long months of winter when he will not be allowed to go outside will do him good or not...


The hard thing about relaxing and letting be, is that he keeps going back to that balcony door, even when it's closed, to take a look outside. It's hard to get him focused on us. When we praise him, he instantly thinks that means we're going to open the door as a reward.


We'll try to spend more quality time with him (curtains closed) and try more silly tricks, so there will be way less pressure on him (and on us!). Hopefully he will get over that door and understand that that are other interesting things inside.


I'll keep reading the forum for more experiences.


Thanks again SO MUCH for all the comments. I hope to be able to pay back one day when I have enough BC experience...


:-)

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Block his view out of the door. There are inexpensive cling film window covers at places like Home Depot, which is a large chain hardware/lumber/garden store. Don't know if you have those in Montreal, but you probably have something similar.

 

Merlin is getting just enough of a taste of his 'fix' that it's increasing his obsession, rather than it dying away. That's really working against you.

 

Keep going - it does seem like it will never change. One of these days, though, you're likely to realize that Merlin is a lot closer to the dog you wanted than he was.

 

And consider getting him an anti-anxiety med, such as clomicalm. It might make a difference, there's very few side effects w/this particular drug, and if it doesn't work, you can take him off it. You'd need to give it at least a 6 week trial. It's also pretty inexpensive, or at least it used to be.

 

Work on teaching him to 'settle'. Get him to lie down in his favorite inside spot, and leave him there. Do this of course when there's not a lot of activity from the humans.

 

Thanks for taking him in - he's gorgeous, and he's lucky to have found you.

 

Ruth and Gibbs

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I agree that this could be becoming an obsession.

But, he is doing this because it makes him feel good. He is likely depressed and this behavior is causing the release of happy juice into his brain.

If you take this away from him cold turkey and without providing him with an alternative, he may develop an even worse behavior.

You need to give him a substitute that also makes him feel good.

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Welcome to the Boards.

 

You have had good advice so far.

My two cents' worth is not to let him use the balcony for obsessive staring at all, rather than using it as a reward. I say this only because it may very well become an ingrained obsession and that is really something you do not need.

 

My Jester, who just died in June, wanted nothing to do with me for the first several months that he was with me. He hid in the farthest, darkest corner of the house and only came out a couple of times a day to see if I were still there. A person could come to my house, stay for hours, leave, and never know I even had a dog. It took about two years for him to come fully into his own, but he became a very outgoing, friendly dog, who liked everyone and was liked by everyone he met. I just gave him his space, interspersed with very regular bonding activities like walks, hikes, and training. Not saying your dog will take that long to bond with you, but if it takes a long time, don't despair.

 

With Jes, he'd spent his life as a yard dog that no one paid any attention to. Maybe something like that is in your dog's past. With my Kelso foster dog, mentioned in this thread, he came to me at 2 not even having any concept that it was possible to have a relationship with a human being. Now, he is a happy-go-lucky dog with his own family. Your dog may have tried bonding with people before, only to lose them and now he is unwilling to try again. He will come around in time.

 

Be patient. Encourage bonding but let him come to you. Don't allow him to use the balcony as a way to avoid you, but at the same time give him space and time to come around. Maybe give him a great big crate with nice bedding in it and see if he wants to use that as a safe den that he can retreat to at times. With Kelso it was the laundry room. He would not come out. I let him have it at first, because he was virtually catatonic and needed the security, but after a while I blocked it off so that he was forced to be in the same area as the rest of the household members. I did not force him to interact, but spent hours and hours (and hours and hours) just sitting quietly on the floor near him.

 

Don't overwhelm your dog with activity, but make sure you do something that is just for/with him a couple of times a day- walks, training, etc.

 

And stick around with this forum---you will find a lot of support and ideas here. Good luck! He is beautiful. I want to see you and him have a successful relationship.

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And consider getting him an anti-anxiety med, such as clomicalm. It might make a difference, there's very few side effects w/this particular drug, and if it doesn't work, you can take him off it. You'd need to give it at least a 6 week trial. It's also pretty inexpensive, or at least it used to be.

 

Based on what you describe, that is exactly what I would be looking into at this point.

 

Proper use of such meds also involves training, but the meds can help normalize brain chemistry that can enable the dog to learn.

 

Of course, only a vet can diagnose and prescribe, but I would be very actively seeking out a vet to work with to try to get my dog some relief.

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