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New foster dog - 14 month male with aggression


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Hi,

 

We are desperate for some help. My wife and I have been fostering a 14 month year old male dog for a week now. In many ways he's great, he's quiet in his crate at night is always eager to be trained and loves a game of fetch. He came from another foster home that had a lot of dogs, and the fosterer didn't think he was getting the attention he needed and thought for the first 10 months of his life he'd just been left to his own devices. But the other fosterer didn't have the issues we're encountering. Although it had been noted that he has a strong herding instinct and watches everything very intently. His previous fosterer also said that he had no fear in having a fight with her other dogs, but settled down after that. Also, if relevant, he was neutered less than a month ago.

 

This is our first border collie, and in fact, the first dog we've fostered and we don't have any of our own. We both really wanted a BC, and we were prepared for the amount of exercising and mental stimulation it would need. But we weren't prepared for the behaviour he is exhibiting. We've also got a few books (Click to calm, Feisty Fido) and we've been watching some videos on youtube (e.g. kikopup).

 

Now, we do understand its just been a week but we would really like to know if what we're doing is right, and when we might start to see some improvement.

 

So the main issues seem to be:

 

- Barking - he seems to be on high alert mode almost all the time. When he first got here he would bark every time somebody walks past the window, even if he can't see them. We think we have controlled it a bit with trying to treat him when he hears the noise but doesn't bark. But some days this doesn't seem to work. We were told by the previous fosterer to have a 'bad bed' (mat in another room, 30 secs to 2 mins isolation) where he could be sent if he got particularly bad. We've used this a bit but don't know if it's working or not, or whether it's the right strategy.

 

- Aggression outside - this is the biggest problem. As soon as out of the house he's straining at the lead, looking at EVERYTHING and lunging at most things. Cars are particularly bad, but when he gets himself worked up, it can be people walking past him, children especially, as well as bicycles and dogs. We have a 'canny collar' which helps but we need to get him to burn off some energy and so take him to our local park and put him on a long lead. But if a dog is there, even 150m away, all hell breaks loose. He's barking, snarling, hurling himself into the air to get to the dog. Our only solution is to try and be at the park when nobody else is there, but this is rare. It's not just dogs but people (e.g. playing basketball) that causes him to get into a frenzy. We thought we'd give him a break from all the sights and sounds of the city and we've kept him in the house a couple of days, doing fetch on the stairs to tire him out and some tug in the garden but we know this isn't enough. We're trying to teach him the 'watch' command and also try and scatter his food on the ground in the park to distract him and calm him down. Is there anything else we should be doing?

 

- Jumping/biting/snapping - he does this a lot in and outside the house. We try and ignore the jumping, turning our backs and folding our arms, until he is calm which works a little. But just the last few days he's started to snap and growl a lot more when he doesn't seem to get his way. He'll jump up and try and bite coats, arms etc. No drawing of blood yet though. Or even if you're stroking him he can suddenly snap his teeth and lunge a little towards us. We're obviously reading his body language wrong but not sure exactly how yet. But he does get a little scary sometimes when he's like this.

 

Apologies for the length of this message but really hope somebody can help.

 

Thank you.

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I suspect that this dog is very stressed from the change in environment, etc. Stress can be a strong contributing factor to the behaviors that you describe. Several years ago, I adopted a Border Collie from a county shelter with similar behaviors, but thankfully she was never aggressive towards humans. I wound up working with a DVM behaviorist, who medicated the dog and told me to put her in a "cocoon" for a time. By cocoon, I mean isolate the dog from her triggers (things that set her off) to the extent that is possible. This provides time for the natural stress hormones (primarily adrenaline and cortisol) to be eliminated from her body. It takes weeks for cortisol to be eliminated. It took a lot of work on my part to bring this dog around and it wasn't cheap. Now, she is a very very nice dog and is well-mannered in public.

 

Anyway, this is a difficult thing and I think that you need professional help with the dog and I think that this is the responsibility of the rescue that owns the dog. They should be your first point of contact. Also, you need to consider your liability if the dog should harm someone while it is in your possession. Does this rescue have insurance that covers their fosters?

 

It sounds like you are doing a lot that is right with this dog. Hopefully the rescue can refer you to a trainer and cover the expenses.

 

Good luck to you!

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I don't know what kind of rescue you are fostering for (is it a border collie rescue or an all breed?) but I don't think the rescue did a good job matching the dog with you as a foster home. It does not sound like a dog that should be in a home with owners who have no dog training experience or border collie experience. It sounds like you have your heart in the right place but just from reading the post (of course I have never actually seen the dog) I think the dog needs a lot of training from an experienced person to make him safe and happy to live with. He is young and green, and has a lot of potential I am sure to make a great companion.


I agree that he sounds very stressed and may calm down a bit in the next few weeks. But the behaviors will not just go away on their own. I would be open and honest with the rescue about the type of placement he needs and ask if they have a more experienced foster home that can take him in. At the very least the rescue should help you out with an in-home trainer or group classes (if he can even handle that).

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I agree with what Waffles says above. You are on the right track, have obtained good books and watched good videos....the ones I would have recommended, in fact. But through no fault of your own whatever you are simply not prepared to deal with this dog.

 

This dog may have the potential to be a very good dog but clearly from what you are saying he needs some strong and correct intervention. As people who have never even had a foster dog before, let alone a border collie, you are not qualified to do this work with this dog. I recommend that you return the dog to the rescue.

 

Please don't take this the wrong way. It is not your fault. But you should not be having to deal with these problems with your very first foster dog. This dog needs and deserves to be trained by someone who has extensive experience with border collies, with foster dogs, and with the issues that he is exhibiting.

 

I hope that your next dog is much easier for you. Please feel free to use this forum as a resource.

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I second (or third :)) everything that's said above:

 

When dogs experience major changes in their life, they often experience stress and show it in a number different ways. Some of what you are describing could be contributed to that. Some of what you're describing might be behaviour that has been settled in due to lack of structure and interaction. Right now it's hard to tell which behaviour is part of what..

 

I'll go with everyone that says: look for help at the shelter, because it sounds like a mismatch. If you're determined to make it work, ask for help from a good trainer, because you will not likely be able to handle this on your own.

 

And in the mean time do your best to get him settled in:

 

I'd tone the training down a bit and let him focus on his new environment: explore the house with him by hiding some treats or toys, play tug, go for walks, let him just be a dog.

 

Anticipate what your dog is feeling, don’t just react after the fact. So for example: if you know there is a certain area where he's gonna go ballistic, I'd avoid walking there at least in the next few weeks until he's settled in.

 

I'd search for areas to let him run without (many) dogs and without many other stimuli like cars / bikes / many people. Also: exercise makes stress hormone levels go down, so taking him for a run in a safe area might do wonders

 

Put him in his crate on a regular schedule and give him time to rest.

 

Don't scold him too much, the change in environment is stressful enough, and he probably doesnt know half of your rules yet.

 

If you want to train anything I'd train on being relaxed. For example by going outside, to an area he's somewhat comfortable in and playing the engage-disengage game: http://www.clickertraining.com/images/content/the-engage-disengage-game.png

You could for example stand somewhere quiet 50+ meters away from where cars / people / kids / etc pass by, and play this game.

 

I hope it works out for you guys! And know that if it doesn't, it isn't your fault: you have all the best intentions and are doing your very best. Lots of great people with great advice here. So keep on asking questions if you need help. :)

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Thank you so much everyone for all your advice and reassurance. We really, really appreciate it.

 

It has been particularly helpful to have our own view confirmed that we should not be fostering this dog. We asked the organization (a dedicated BC one) for an easier case to begin with. The dog was at a previous fosterer for 3 months, someone who was a trainer, had five dogs of her own, and lots of experience with BCs. But for some reason (we're not sure exactly what) the organization decided to move the dog to us. In their defence, the report, which we also read, from the previous fosterer did not identify the issues we've come across. But the environment was very different. There was direct access to acres of fields at the back of the house, and we also wonder if the presence of other dogs was a distraction from any outside noise. Our house is pet free, and the front door also opens directly onto the street outside, so there are always noises of people walking past and talking which disturb him.

 

Not only are we too inexperienced to deal with the problems, but it has become clear that the environment we live is going to make the situation worse. We don't have a car, so it means that every time we want to exercise him we have to walk to the park and he is faced with all the triggers both on the journey to it and in the park itself. We'd love to just go to the park and go running with him, but as soon as he sees anything he is in a frenzy. And even if not, when we start running he actually jumps at us and nips us.

 

It feels that even though we could get a professional trainer in to help, its not going to be much help as the environment is so unsuitable. We very much agree that he deserves a more suitable home and more experienced fosterers. We've been speaking with the organization and they have been trying to find another fosterer. We said we'd give it until Wednesday (so two weeks with us) to see if there will be any encouraging improvement but I can't imagine there will be much.

 

There is another issue. We have two nieces that have just been born on either side of our family, and we need to see them both this weekend. They are far away so we've had to hire a car to go and visit them. Our thoughts were always that we would travel with him, with him in his crate (covered with a blanket if necessary) and stop frequently for walks with him on the journey. But we're thinking that this could actually be very cruel considering his current stress levels. We don't know what to do. We're considering finding a very good boarding kennel/spa (the cost is not a concern) and putting him there for the weekend. But this is yet another change for him which again would not be good for him. Any thoughts what the least worse option is?

 

Thank you again for taking the time to reply and help us.

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I think that it would be a very bad idea to take the dog on a car trip and then take it into a home with newborns, even if it was crated

Sorry, just to be clear, we wouldn't bring him into the house. We'd each take turns walking him while the other saw the baby. Both houses are in the countryside, so he would also be able to get a good run in the fields far away from other people.

 

But if this is going to be a terrible idea for his well-being then this is obviously a major consideration. The other option is for us to go separately, with each of us taking turns to stay at home with him. This wouldn't really be ideal for us, of course.

 

We just took him out in the car as a test run, and we are worried. He didn't appear very comfortable at all. He was hyper the whole time, staring at everything and did appear agitated, and he was also salivating a lot.

 

As I write this, it is becoming clearer to me that a car journey with him does not appear very wise.

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I agree with RemsMom. I'm not sure what the rescue was thinking when they sent a 14 month old Border Collie to an inexperienced foster. My guy has a good temperament and was a holy terror at 14 months.

 

Usangi, what were you planning on doing with the dog at night?

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What everyone else has said . . . except to add that putting him in a boarding kennel, no matter how good they might be, right now could just exacerbate his stress.

 

Very best wishes. This is not a situation you should be in. I applaud your dedication to this dog and to fostering and hope this experience won't dissuade you from trying again with a more appropriate dog.

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I agree with the advice given above.

 

With regard to your upcoming trip, it would be best if the previous foster could take him again - at least until the rescue can find another foster/situation for this boy. From your description, it sounds like he was less stressed in that environment even though the foster felt he may not have been getting enough attention.

 

Best of Luck.

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I hope this experience doesn't discourage you from fostering in the future. From what you have posted it seems like you and your wife would be great foster parents. I think I have a bit more experience then you and I have better resources (I have a car and I know four trainers that deal with major issues with rescue dogs on a daily basis). But if someone handed me a dog like yours I would have to send him back, there is no way I would feel equipped to handle his issues.

I have an almost three year old border collie. I adopted her from a rescue 18 months ago. I'm glad I didn't know about all of her fears because I may have not adopted her and missed out on one of the sweetest dogs ever. When I adopted her she was afraid of almost everything. I can't tell you the number of times I cleaned up a puddle on the floor because she peed all over herself from fright...or the number of times I carried her away from a situation that she was so terrified she wouldn't move. I soon learned to manage her and her fears so she didn't go over threshold, and that wasn't easy. Just two weeks ago I walked into the training center and was confronted with a two year old little girl wanting to come and pet my dog. My dog is terrified of small children and I had to finally yell, "Stop!" before a parent came running to pick up the child. The parent looked a bit alarmed and I had to explain that my dog was terrified of small children. Really, who lets their toddler run up to a strange dog?

I guess I am trying to say that there are a lot of wonderful dogs out there that are in desperate need of a foster home that you will be perfect for. I think you would have been able to handle my rescue without any problem.

Take care and good luck. I think you and your wife will be great foster parents to a needy dog.

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Hello everyone. Thank you again for all your advice. We had a rather traumatic day yesterday but the long and short of it was that our foster dog has now been taken by the rescue and rehomed with another fosterer, who has more experience with border collies and lives with direct, I think even private, access to acres of fields outside her house.

 

Yesterday morning we decided to take him on our road trip. It was just a day one so even though a fair bit of driving, we knew we'd be coming home in the evening. He bounded into our hire car and into the crate we had set up in it. But, and this is something noted by someone else who had transported him, he was fixated on everything that moved and the journey just seemed to be so stressful for him. Not only though was he fixated, but he barked uncontrollably at everything. After about half an hour of this, my wife burst into tears, we pulled off the motorway and she rang the rescue centre and said he had to go today. We took him home, and the rescue were great and found a place quickly. This just meant us driving for another 1.5 hours to hand him on. Again, he barked all the way there.

 

I have to say, we felt relieved waking up this morning. But we also feel sad that he's been moved on to yet another place and that we couldn't seem to help him. But the new fosterer is interested in adopting him if it turns out well, so we're really hoping it does.

 

We're going to take a little break from fostering. But it hasn't put us off completely. I'm still keen on a border collie (my wife less so), but we both agree that if we do foster or adopt we need to be very careful about who we accept, and we will probably look for an older, mature, one.

 

If we're back in border collie world then I'll be back here, and hopefully gather enough experience to be able to contribute more.

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I'm sorry no one suggested covering the crate so he couldn't see what was going by. It may have helped.

 

But it's probably better in the long run that he went to this new foster home. With some luck he'll be more settled there and will find a permanent home there.

 

I'm just sorry your first fostering experience was so frustrating. But I'm glad you haven't been put off fostering entirely. With a better match it can be a very rewarding experience.

 

Best wishes and hoping the next time goes better.

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I'm sorry no one suggested covering the crate so he couldn't see what was going by. It may have helped.

 

But it's probably better in the long run that he went to this new foster home. With some luck he'll be more settled there and will find a permanent home there.

 

I'm just sorry your first fostering experience was so frustrating. But I'm glad you haven't been put off fostering entirely. With a better match it can be a very rewarding experience.

 

Best wishes and hoping the next time goes better.

We did actually try covering the crate but it didn't make any difference, the noises still really bothered him and he barked as much.

 

I've seen some pictures of him in his new home, and the environment does look much better.

 

In regards to getting a better match next time, I'm just about to start a new thread about this, and more generally having a border collie in the city.

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In regards to getting a better match next time, I'm just about to start a new thread about this, and more generally having a border collie in the city.

 

Not sure exactly why, whether it's genetics or past experience or what, but some dogs don't do well in cities.

 

I'm more suburban than urban, but there's a 2 lane highway up the hill just behind my house. It's not terribly heavily traveled but there's a grade so trucks have to change gears. I had a foster once who just couldn't handle the noise from this road, or even when in the back yard of my house the sounds from the street in front of the house, also not extremely busy. I ended up sending him back to the rescue and he was assigned to another more rural foster home where he did much better and was able to make enough progress to be adopted. I'm not sure how long it would have taken for that to happen with me, if ever.

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