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Hello BC Community-


This is my first post. I have read hundreds of yours. I was hesitant to start a new post. I suspect that what I am experiencing is not unique, yet I simply have not been able to find a thread that matches exactly what is happening with Ryder. Since I am nearing a heartbreaking decision of perhaps having to re-home, I decided to take a risk and throw out my case study to see what I can learn from your expertise.


The DOG: 9-month-old Border Collie x Golden Retriever (three-quarters BC). I purchased him from a 'breeder' and have had him since he was 4-months of age. Whip smart (of course), highly responsive, very affectionate (a cuddler) with his herd, super-glued to his alpha (me), high drive, high energy, not seemingly timid or anxious. Beautiful- RED bc markings. Obedient in low-to mid stimulation environments (sit/stay, down/stay, "bed", "watch me", loose leash, plus a few tricks).


The BEHAVIOR: 'Aggression' toward humans he does not know only in certain, specific but unpredictable situations. Aggression expressed as fierce growling/barking, rushing, leaping to shoulder height and 'porpoising' (bumping with nose) if especially aroused. He has not (yet) bitten nor snapped nor shown any nipping behavior in play. Behavior first started at about 5-months when people would pass our front yard. But over the past few months, it has spread to other areas (a vacation rental, a lakefront picnic spot, a sand dune area where we had been hiking/picnicking, a campsite). Most interesting to note- the dog does NOT exhibit this behavior in new situations. If he is entering new space anywhere (a new neighborhood walk, a park, a new hiking trail, a cafe, a Saturday market) he does not show any aggression or anxiety toward strangers and can be approached and touched with growling, crouching or showing any distress. Also, once the 'intruder' has been introduced into the herd, he accepts strangers easily with no further signs of anxiety or aggression. Last, he has recently begun to show high reactivity to cyclists.


The ENVIRONMENT: We are a family of two adults; two older kids and one elderly Golden Retriever. We live in an urban neighborhood (lots of pedestrians, cyclists). I am not inexperienced with animals and started Ryder on basic obedience early. He has never been allowed to wrestle with our kids, resource guard, lie on furniture or show any dominant behavior with our family. He has had an average amount of socialization for a family pet (likely not too much, not too little). I'm sure he is not getting as much exercise as a full BC needs but he gets more than the average pet. It consists of a 45 minute jog each morning with 2-3 additional frisbee sessions a day. This is normal routine but we also take the dogs to the river (he loves to swim) at least once a week, take them hiking whenever possible, etc.


Last- I have interviewed 8 trainers and paid for a two hour consult with one (worthless). One camp (positive only) tells me I must ALWAYS do what the other camp (pro-correction, strong leader, pack leader types) tells me I must NEVER do (and vice versa). Aggression towards humans is a dead serious issue and I am terrified that I will do the wrong thing and make the situation irreparable.



  • Has anyone experience this very specific type of stranger directed aggression ( a term borrowed from James Serpell)?
  • What are thoughts on use of the e-collar (maybe even Vibration only stim) in a situation like this in order allow the dog off-leash freedom while maintaining safety for all involved? If yes, any favored resources for HOW to do e-collar training the RIGHT way?
  • Do you think this is a TRAINABLE issue or one that realistically will need to be managed (on leash, making sure to avoid triggers/situations the dog can not handle) the rest of his life?
  • Last, if this behavior (fierce protection of his herd against intruders) stems from hundreds of years of selective breeding and is part of this dog's deepest breed imperative- is it FAIR or RIGHT to ask a dog like this to be forced into the job of urban family pet? Or, is the most loving thing to do (yes, it would break my heart) to look for a home where this behavior would be an asset (e.g., livestock guardian) versus an unacceptable liability?


For anyone still with me after this lengthy missive, THANK YOU. I would be extremely grateful for any counsel this group would be willing to offer.


Jennifer & Ryder


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I am sure others will give longer more detailed responses but I found the end of the post confusing. Border collies and Golden Retrievers are not livestock guardian dogs. They were not bred to guard. There is no reason a border collie/golden mix can't be a pet companion in an active home.


A dog that has aggression towards humans (if that is what this is), should not be off-leash in public, regardless of the training tool used.


I would re asses the trainers in your area and find one that has a reputation for working with more difficult behaviors, not just basic pet/obedience behaviors. From your post, I am having a hard time envisioning the problem. Trying to fully understand the situation (what the dog is doing, what his intentions appear to be, how you/your family fit into the equation) is really difficult over the internet. A good trainer should have references from clients who experienced similar problems to yours, they usually also have their own demo dog they can show you.


Lastly, if the dog is going nuts at the fence in your yard, work on calling him off (recalling him back to you). Stay outside with him and work on down/stays as people pass by (will probably have to get as far away from the fence at first). I wouldn't leave him outside alone to practice the undesirable behavior either, if that is what is happening.

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Thank you for the reply.


Re: breeding. I am not a geneticist, but...I am believe the assumption that two breeds 'blend' and one ends up with attributes of a Golden commingling with characteristics of a BC may be a faulty one- although that was the marketing of their breeder. From what I am experiencing now of this hybrid, it appears that one ends up with EITHER a breed-characteristic Border Collie OR a representative GR more often than a merger of the two temperaments. Thus, my dog is 'pure' border collie in drive, temperament, instinct. For job of laid-back family pet in an urban environment, I know (and LOVE- had two growing up on a working farm) border collies sufficiently to likely have steered away from that purebred for this role. Not that it can't be done, it's just not the job I would choose for a pure border collie that has had hundreds of years of selective breeding for behaviors such as the ability to recognize an intruder (someone new or different to herd) and drive to protect.


I completely understand difficulty over the internet, but I read many exchanges where folks attempted to describe a behavior and others offered advice and/or shared similar experiences. Perhaps I can try to better describe the behavior. When Ryder has been in a place for a certain amount of time and a human he does not know enters his 'territory' (walks by the front yard, walks by the campsite, walks by the picnic blanket), he barks aggressively, runs at the person and will jump at them. Twice he has also bumped them with his nose. No teeth. No snapping (yet).


He does not display human directed aggression in situations where he has not claimed territory. For example, I can take him to a cafe, a neighborhood walk on leash, a new swim hole, a new hike- and he is absolutely fine with strangers. Basically indifferent but will accept someone he does not know approaching and petting with NO visible reaction of aggression/fear/anxiety. While he is not anywhere near as friendly as my Golden Retriever, he will wag his tail and sometimes lean in to the person for a snuggle.


I will absolutely continue to seek professional help. The dilemma I face stems from the fact that professional trainers I have interviewed (9 of them) have experience with 'aggression' issues but may have little to no breed specific experience. One might say that breed is irrelevant but others argue passionately that it is very relevant in understanding a behavior and in how to respond. Trainers are also equally divided between 'positive only' and 'correction/leader-of-the-pack' schools. I was hoping to get feedback from the BC Community which training approach worked better with border collies.


Thank you again,



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How is this dog contained/restrained so it is able to "run at a person and jump at them"? Is he on a leash? Tied to something? Behind a fence or some other barrier? Loose ? (I hope not)


I live in a neighborhood in which it is very common for dogs to be kept behind fencing that is close to sidewalks. I can not tell you how many dogs, I've watched turn into aggressive jerks over the years (my dog was attacked by one) because they are allowed to aggress at a fence or the end of a tie out. Dog acts like a jerk and "intruder" goes away--well the "intruder" was just passing by and was going to leave anyway, but in the dog's brain he drove the "intruder" away and his crappy behavior was reinforced.


So without giving specific training advice, I am going to tell you to manage your dog in a way that makes him unable to guard space and things and is unable to "run at a person and jump at them".. From what you described, this is not a breed thing. Currently, I am watching a neighborhood lab mix that is being allowed to charge a fence adjacent to a sidewalk and is becoming increasingly, scarily aggressive.

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It sounds like management and prevention at this point is going to be really helpful. Time and religion too.


He needs to be on a leash so he can't reach strangers at the campsite, picnic site. No one else should be subjected to someone's loose, large dog jumpin in them in a public campground,park like that in an agreessive way.


Same goes for the front yard. No alone time outside where he can practice this behavior. Work on calm behaviors (sit/down/stay/recall) both at home and at campsites, etc. engage with him before he reacts. Get him using his brain and not just reacting how he has been. Practice by having someone you know walk by and get the behaviors down in a more controlled setting then work up to waiting for strangers to come by.


I too have been rushed at while on a sidewalk by all breeds of dog. They are left outside unattended and the dogs will run/rush/bark until we disappear down the road. It happened last week with a Bernese Mountain Dog, outside alone with just an underground fence. He scared the crap out of my young dog and continued to run the fence line growling and barking until we were gone. Every breed of dog can develop his behavior if it's allowed.


I also wouldn't be lookin for someone with border collie/golden retriever experience. You want someone with the knowledge to properly work with the owner and dog on these behaviors.

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Thank you for the response.


To clarify- Ryder has never been allowed to charge a fence. We have no fence. Before this problem behavior emerged, all our family (including my Golden) would enjoy sitting on our front porch and front lawn during the summer. Our Golden likes to greet pedestrians (without leaving the front lawn which sits atop a slight rise). Ryder as a puppy also enjoyed greeting passerby's and chewing on bones and 'hanging' on the front lawn with all of us but he was kept tethered. Once the aggressive barking started, this privilege was immediately (happened two times only at 5-months of age) revoked and Ryder is not allowed to be in this space or given the opportunity to charge strangers.


Because the behavior originally happened ONLY on the front yard, the first time his 'sense of territory' moved, it came as a surprise. It happened (when Ry was 6-months) at a lake front at a vacation rental. Fine for the first hour (happily accepting or even greeting strangers)- then suddenly rushed a family coming down for a picnic. Needless to say, he was not allowed off leash again that trip.


Still, the behavior only happened after he had been somewhere for a finite period of time (never somewhere new). But last weekend we were hiking in the dunes, no one was around, Ryder was off leash (again, he had NEVER rushed or shown this behavior when off leash in new territory before- and he has been on probably 25 hikes thus far in his life), saw someone far in the distance, and took off after far away hikers. Ryder was kept on leash the rest of that trip.


That said, please understand, that despite best and responsible efforts, sometimes errors can occur. We live in a pedestrian, urban neighborhood. I have two kids who constantly have friends in and out of our house. Despite vigilant and rigorous effort, it is not realistic to expect that at some point, a dog will not bypass the owner's effort at management (e.g., a door will be left open as a kid runs in or out of it, bolts out of a car before a leash can be put on despite consistent training at sit/stay). I have no ambiguity nor question that I must physically restrain Ryder at all times now, but...that does not mean I can eliminate all risk that he will find opportunity. It also presents a huge obstacle to providing sufficient EXERCISE that is necessary to begin to work on his behavioral issue.


Re: breeding, I do not know of or have I ever heard of a Golden Retriever (to pick an example) who growls, lunges or snaps at a human absent experiences of abuse or trauma. I don't believe border collies are naturally human aggressive dogs. I don't know that Ryder's behavior is 'aggression' in the same way that other dogs may be aggressive. But, I do know that there are breed characteristics in Border Collies (e.g., sensitivity, reactivity to sudden movement they can not control, alertness to 'other'-someone or something that stands out as different) that run strong in this dog. I've spoken to a trainer who works exclusively with border collies for livestock work who described Ryder's behavior as adaptive and 'successful' for dogs bred as livestock guardians. So, I'm just trying to figure it all out.

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As was pointed out, Border Collies are not guardian dogs. They are motion sensitive and reactive. Nonetheless, you now have a dog that has the potential to be a liability and it must be controlled in public at all times. You said that your kids are older--make them understand the implications of you dog getting loose and chasing someone. One of my friend's arm was broken by a neighbor's Golden Retriever that jumped on her. Does it really matter why the dog jumped? The bottom line is that her arm was busted by a dog.


Personally, I think that you should stop over analyzing the why and work on the behavior in front of you. Unless you want to use a shock collar, the dog needs to be on a leash at all times while outside (and even a shock collar is a type of management). It may be that after training, the dog still can't be off leash in public. Your dog is going thru adolescence now--certainly a contributing factor and there have been some unfortunate episodes in which his behavior was reinforced. Also, consider that the animals used to create your "hybrid" may not have been the cream of the crop.


Personally, I would choose a trainer that has experience with this type of problem, and I suppose that you will have to make a philosophical decision on the type of trainer.

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I get the feeling that you may think we are judging your dog ownership skills. It sounds like you are doing a great job at recognizing what is happening and managing it to your best abilities. None of us are perfect and mistakes happen to everyone. I know I am only trying to offer helpful suggestions based on what I have read.

I agree that it seems you are over analyzing things. Since you seem to have a good understanding of when he is going to react, then now is the time to work on this. He doesn't need to be exercised extensively to train with him. Border collies love to use their brain and that will tire him out more than physical exercise.
Take him places you know he reacts or just start in your front lawn. Have him on leash, have a treat pouch full of the smelliest treats he loves. Wait as fair back from the sidewalk as you can, and as you see someone come by.. ask for a sit or down. If he knows stay already then ask for that. Reward heavily with treats (but silently as your verbal praise may excite him more) as he stays calm then reward him with his release word once the person is gone. Repeat, like a million times!
Start as far away as you can so you can see the trigger but be underthreshold enough to not lose his cool. Eventually you get closer as he gets better. If he loses it, then back in the house to calm down. If you're out somewhere, then I would just say 'let's go' while turning around and walking away from the trigger. Try again once he is calm at a farther distance.

You want to reprogram him so that his first instinct is to be calm in these situations instead of exploding. Eventually you shouldn't have to ask for a sit/down or whatever behavior you want. He will start offering them then eventually hopefully just walking calmly by.

My young dog was also reactive at that age, though not aggressively or at people. She loved to stalk cars and stand on her hind legs when they would pass. I would always get up on a lawn away from the road when a car approached. I asked for a down. She had to stay down until I released, I sometimes asked for other behaviors like shake, twirl, play dead (I am sure people thought we looked weird!) just to keep her mind engaged on me and not the car. Now at 2 years old we just go for walks. She completely ignores cars. She was also very excited to see strangers on walks. Now she doesn't even notice people walking by.

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You have gotten good advice, so I won't add to that.

I would like to point out, however, that you seem to think that border collies are livestock guard dogs, and they most decidedly are not. If you have had a so-called border collie trainer tell you that border collies are livestock guard dogs, steer far away from that person because they don't know jack.


When it comes to your kids, I know that is a challenge.

The thing to do is sit your kids down for a serious talk. Explain to them that if the dog gets out and bites (or even frightens) someone, the dog will be impounded and may even be killed. Tell them that they are old enough to take responsibility for making sure the door is never left open. When I was a kid we had an Elkhound who was an escape artist. We all knew that if there were the slightest opportunity or crack or moment of inattention he would bolt out the door. I was a kid and had kids over to play. I was perfectly able to take responsibility to make sure the dog did not get out and your kids can too.


Best of luck, and do let us know how it is going.

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Hi there ~

I'd like to offer a couple of things I haven't seen posed here. Well, first I'll echo the bit that BCs are not livestock guardians, they are bred to herd, which means to control the movement of livestock. This can translate to reactivity to many kinds of movement, whether it's people, other animals or vehicles.

But the one thing I don't see mentioned here is FEAR. He's 9 months old? That's still very young. It's not at all uncommon for a sensitive border collie youngster to go through fear periods. The stimuli may not make a bit of sense to us and we may never figure out how or why it develops, but it just is.

So, what if you approach this from the perspective that perhaps your youngster is experiencing fear or anxiety? You've said that he is fine meeting strangers and it's only after he's been settled into area that he gets reactive to people who approach. I wonder if perhaps it's that, once he gets familiar with a location, whether it's a campsite or beach spot or your front yard, he is upset by strangers intruding into what has been his "safe" or comfortable place?

No, it may not make sense and like I said, you may never figure out what caused it. Maybe nothing did. I have a pup who's almost 7 months old and somewhere between 4 and 5 months, he suddenly decided he was terrified of strange dogs coming near him. He would scream if they got near him, snap if they tried to sniff him - it was awful! And nothing ever happened to cause it. But time and patience - and maturity, most of all - are slowly alleviating the problem. He may never be a social, friendly guy, but so long as he learns to just chill and not worry, I'll be happy.

So if there's actually a pattern of your pup reacting to people entering his "territory," even if he's only been there 15 minutes, I'd really look at the possibility that he is anxious or frightened by them. Does it seem to matter how the people approach? You mention reactivity to bicycles - is he also reacting to people who appear suddenly or are moving fast? It's not at all uncommon for border collies to be freaked out by sudden movement like bicycles, skateboards or joggers and people who pop out of nowhere.

Dealing with it as a fear/anxiety problem, rather than an aggression problem may be worth looking at. You can't punish away fear, you can only help a dog through it. And minimizing the situations that cause it are a good place to start. Keep him on leash, keep him on a long line, and wherever possible, distract him to return his attention to you - perhaps offer treats if you can catch him before he triggers.

That may be the trick, seeing the situation setting up before he reacts and working to redirect and distract him from it. He may not need "training" so much as reassurance and a choice of better behaviors - such as turning to you for comfort - to help him grow out of this. Fear and aggression can be very close cousins, but fear is a particularly tricky one.

Anyhow, just thought I'd offer food for thought. :)

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I want to echo Gloria's thoughts that it could be fear. I do have a fearful, formerly very reactive BC who looked like Cujo in the presence of other dogs. In the case of fear, it becomes a best defense is a good offense strategy and the intent is to drive away the scary thing--it is also an information seeking strategy--is the scary thing friend or foe?


As a general rule, I do not allow strangers to interact with my dogs because you never know how someone will react and potentially cause an unwanted situation and because it puts a tremendous amount of social pressure on a dog. In the case of a fearful dog, unwanted encounters could potentially push a dog into this type of defensive-offensive behavior.

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This is sort of long, probably won't answer all of your questions, but hopefully will be helpful since we're dealing with many of the same issues.


Lucky is a BC/Lab (?) mix that we adopted when he was 8 months old. We didn't really know anything about him when we got him, and when we picked him up in NYC where he was being fostered, he was great when we walked him on busy streets with lots of people and some dogs around. BUT - when we took him home, it turned out he is very reactive to other dogs. It sounds similar to what your dog does - he barks, growls, sounds very menacing, his hackles go up and it was hard if not impossible to get his attention.


He also does a similar thing with approaching people - either ones he knows or strangers when I have him on a leash and people approach. He barks, makes scary noises and jumps up. Not just putting front paws on the person's chest/shoulders, but leaping up to make his nose to their face contact. It's more common when he is on a leash, but he will jump up on people coming into our house when he is off leash as well. Right now, it's not aggression - he just sounds mean. But I do think that it could turn aggressive if we don't address it. When we have him in situations where there are lots of people around, he does it less - I guess he has less to focus on so it's less of a problem.


One other thing, he resource guards me or my husband in our house when we are in specific places or when we touch each other or other people. If my husband touches me or I touch him, Lucky rushes over making his scary growling noise.


The jumping and the people resource guarding have been the biggest issues we've been dealing with with him. He has no issues with resource guarding food or toys, but I've deliberately worked with him on that. We worked with a 'balanced trainer' - someone who uses a combination of positive reinforcement and leash or vocal corrections. She was great and we got several methods for dealing with his reactivity when working with her. In general, we don't have him around other dogs, but when we do, we know how to redirect his attention away from the dog and back to us. It involves lots of treats! We don't do any on leash interactions with other dogs. Her big insight with him is that his reactivity to other dogs is probably mostly about resource guarding me when other dogs are around.


We did start using an e-collar with him, and truthfully, it's been a great tool for us. We trained him (with the trainer) specifically for a recall with the vibrate function. That is the ONLY reason we use the vibrate function (which for some reason is the one that he notices the most). We push vibrate, say 'Come' he runs to us, he gets a tasty treat. We live in a rural area, but are close to a (not very busy) road. We put his collar on, he hangs out with us in the yard. If he seems to be interested in something on the other side of the road and goes toward it, I say "Lucky No - here" and he stops and comes back to me. If he doesn't respond the first time, he gets the vibrate. He knows he has the collar on and it's been great for him to have freedom in the yard. We never let him out in the yard unless we are out with him.


We use the e-stim (aka shock) function on the collar to get his attention when he is reacting to something and we can't get his attention. We've used this way less recently as well since we both are aware of things that he will react to and use our other tools (look at that, u-turns, structured walk, etc) when we are out with him and see something he will react to.


If you try the e-collar, definitely work with a trainer who is experienced using them.


We are still working on the jumping and people guarding, so I'll be following this thread to see if you get other good advice! My current approach on the people guarding is to ignore his behavior. He is a very attention seeking dog, so my current theory is that he is trying to get attention and if we stop giving it to him he will stop. It's a theory.


For jumping on people, we did a lot of place work with the trainer and it sort of worked, but it also sort of made him more anxious because he was by being held back until he did a behavior (quiet and down) which was totally the opposite of what he wanted to do (go say HI!). He knows hand touches so I'm trying to redirect him and train him to go to people and do nose to hand as a greeting instead of nose to face. The difficulty there is getting people to cooperate.


One last thing is that we noticed a BIG improvement in his behavior when a) he'd been living with us for a full year, B) he turned 18 months old and c) we took him on a long road trip and in the end we came back to the same place (our house). It think it was the first time in his life he went on a long trip and didn't end up in a different place with different owners.

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It has often been hard to learn to read Zag:


At night he will grumble if we get out of bed in the dark when he is laying on the floor. We use to think he was growling at us, but I realized it was the only way he could tell us he was there. When we came back to bed he would get up so we wouldn't step on him. Not all growling sounding noises from him are aggression based!


He "HAD" to jump the cat a month or so after we got the cat. He didn't harm him, but scared the liver out of both of us. It was necessary (in Zag's mind) to let the cat know he could kill him if he wanted to. There was no warning what so ever before he did this and it was amazingly fast.


On the other hand, the neighbors had a guest Portuguese Water Dog at their house. Zag saw him and wanted inside, now. (Fear, I believe.) His new "thing" with meeting large dogs is to observe them awhile then attack them from the side and go for their neck. I wonder if he knows in advance that they won't attack back, that they will ignore him.


With other animals it seems the most important thing thing to Zag is "who is the boss?"


I have always put him in the crate when guests arrived. He gets to come out after my company has greeted us and everything is relaxed. I have to tell people, "Don't bend over to pet Zag." He will jump up and kiss their nose without jumping on them. He will do this to company, but not to friends.


I have never seen an ounce of aggression towards people, but I always put other peoples' comfort above my dog's desires whatever the situation.

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 1 year later...

Hi, My pure breed Border Collie is EXACTLY the same.  I have had 5 Border Collies since a kid & the last two have been like this.  I actually don't discourage his behavior towards strangers because one day I might need him if the wrong kind of stranger approaches me!  I just control the situation & calm him down accordingly.  He is 6 months old now & has started going crazy at Skateboards & Cyclists so I am now training him not to with a lot of patience & we are making progress.  I see this post is older now. How are you getting on?

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