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Concerning/Abnormal or Just Puppy Behavior?


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Hello all,

 

I have been lurking these boards for the past several years and I am now on my second Border collie. Like my first girl, new puppy is a working bred boy with some great dogs behind his pedigree. Different breeder/lines. I play agility, flyball, and disc (though, I am hoping to replace flyball with herding when my boy is old enough).

 

So far, things are going very well. He is attentive and willing to engage with me, and extremely handler focused. He is not as high drive as my girl was at his age, but he is coming along with the basics nicely.

 

My concern, however, lies in his behavior with other people/dogs. When we first brought him home at 9 weeks, he had a few fear reactions to other people and animals that he overcame rather quickly. I wasn't too concerned because it happened at the same time he could have been going through a fear period and it was the first time he was away from his first home. He is now 16 weeks old and has graduated from puppy preschool. He has had lots of field trips and outings. I try to make everything positive and not overwhelming and, for the most part, he has been great.

 

He isn't really a bubbly, outgoing puppy, though. He observes and thinks very hard about everything. He seems a little wary of other dogs, and has had an over-the-top fear reaction when he saw another dog when we visited an agility practice for some exposure (barking, growling, hackles raised). He has also shied away from people from time to time, and sometimes gives an alarm woof, hackles raised, when he sees a person who is "scary." These reactions don't happen every time. Sometimes he is fine with everything and everyone, and very willing to politely say hello to another person. Or, he will happily ignore dogs and has had successful greetings with others.

 

I am having trouble determining whether this on-and-off again wariness is normal for a growing puppy figuring out the world, or if I should be concerned. Some of his reactions just seem so intense for a young puppy.

 

Neither of his parents are reactive towards people and other dogs, and as far as I know, reactivity/fear/aggression does not run in his lines. My boy's litter was a repeat litter and I have been able to meet some of his older siblings, as well. They are even-tempered and wonderful!

 

I am a worrier, though. Is it normal for a puppy to go through this or is this behavior concerning? Any personal experience or insight would be greatly appreciated!!

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All I can compare with is our BC our first and she is 12 weeks old. Not outgoing towards other dogs and a little wary of them. People, sometimes she can be a little over friendly but it depends. Loud noises and strange things make her also wary and sometimes fearful.... for a while.

 

 

There are real experts on here they will have ideas.... but your dog sounds a little like ours. I think its a puppy thing and more exposure to events and people will help.

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I would not call this abnormal, rather he's a sensitive pup that will require you to continue being sensitive to his needs and upbringing. :) Your youngster actually sounds a good deal like my own young boy, Ben, who is now 10 months old. He also went through a couple of pronounced fear periods, also sometimes has notable reactivity to other dogs and also sometimes evades being petted. I know it can be disheartening and upsetting to deal with these moments, but I would say pay attention to these words you have said:


He isn't really a bubbly, outgoing puppy, though. He observes and thinks very hard about everything. He seems a little wary of other dogs...

 

Respect this. Honor this. Some dogs are just hardwired to be as you describe and that is okay. Not all dogs want to be social. They have their favorite people and favorite dog friends and everyone else is strangers.

 

My Ben is also a dog that observes everything and doesn't like to be surprised with new dogs or new situations. He wants his time to think. In my experience, some border collies are just selective in who or what they befriend, and they aren't comfortable with a lot of social interaction. If they feel overwhelmed, they may act out.

So, my advice to you is to just keep doing what you're doing. Provide positive experiences, protect him from the bad ones, teach him appropriate behaviors ... and honor his choice to avoid certain interactions. For my Ben, I'm working hard to teach him two main things: 1. I will protect him if something scary comes around, and 2. He is free to avoid and go away from any interaction he doesn't like.

He's not the dog I will choose if somebody wants to pet a dog, or if somebody's friendly spaniel wants to meet a new playmate. And that's okay. After all, I don't like to meet just everybody I come across and some people I don't care to meet at all. B)

 

Allow your dog to have the same choice. Just teach him acceptable ways to handle tricky situations. Train him with alternatives to reactive responses, such as coming to sit beside you or stepping behind your leg. Protect him when he's scared, support him when he's worried and be gentle in corrections of inappropriate behavior. I use "leave it" a lot with my boy and it seems to encourage him to just turn away from the thing that is worrying him. And I'm proactive in my responses if I see a dog or person coming that I feel he won't get along with. So far, it's working.

 

Anyhow, that's my advice from my own experience. Your boy may never be an outgoing, social kind of guy, but you can help him learn to ease and let go of his anxieties by protecting him, educating him and teaching him that you have his back. :)

~ Gloria
P.S.

None of my pup's siblings or any of his parents are like this, either. It's just his own personality.

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Thank you so much for the thoughtful response, Gloria. You have certainly given me a lot to think about. I feel like I am struggling so much with this because my older girl is a very soft dog. She has some noise sensitivities and lacks confidence. She can be a bit leery of novelty experiences. And while I love her so much and she is still a great dog, it was important to me have a more stable pup as my next dog. I tried stacking the cards in my favor, going with different lines and spending time with various relatives of my pup. So I feel like I have somehow failed a bit at that. They really are individuals in the end, though, and we work with and love the dogs we have.

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Thank you so much for the thoughtful response, Gloria. You have certainly given me a lot to think about. I feel like I am struggling so much with this because my older girl is a very soft dog. She has some noise sensitivities and lacks confidence. She can be a bit leery of novelty experiences. And while I love her so much and she is still a great dog, it was important to me have a more stable pup as my next dog. I tried stacking the cards in my favor, going with different lines and spending time with various relatives of my pup. So I feel like I have somehow failed a bit at that. They really are individuals in the end, though, and we work with and love the dogs we have.

 

 

As I see it, border collies are all a little bit mad. It just varies on in what fashion and in what degree. :P Seriously, though, you've done nothing wrong. Border collies are a sensitive breed. Noise sensitivities are not uncommon as well as other odd little quirks.

 

The thing to remember is that border collies were bred to have a certain amount of sensitivity. They are meant to work one entirely different species - sheep - in cooperation with another entirely different species - humans -, and do so while employing two different modes of communication at once. They communicate with sheep by body language, while we communicate with them by voice and whistles, and they do that on all kinds of terrain in all kinds of weather. It's not just that border collies are smart, it's that they are darned geniuses! And with genius sometimes comes a little bit of madness. ;)

 

Anyhow, what I mean to reassure you is that there is no perfect border collie. I believe that every last one of them has some kind of quirkiness about them. If we want an ordinary dog, we should get a golden retriever or lab. But we love border collies, so here we are. They are not the same as other dogs and never will be. But you are a forward thinking dog owner who is willing to ask questions and look for answers, and that puts you on better footing than a lot of people.

 

From what you have said, I think your pup is in great hands with you. At 16 weeks, he is very much a baby and has a long, long way to go. Keep doing what you're doing and you will see results. Just be patient and consistent. Pay special attention to the sort of things that trigger or upset him. Certain breeds of dogs may unnerve him - some BCs don't like the more forward, pushy types like boxers, bullies and Rottweilers - and some don't like very noisy situations. You say you took your boy to an agility practice: if there was a lot noise or barking or activity, that may have felt overwhelming to him. So, be mindful of those noisy, busy situations. Remember, border collies were bred for the farm, not the noise and bustle of urban life.

 

Your little guy has a lot to learn, but with your support, he'll get there. You can do this! :)

 

~ Gloria

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In my experience most males mature a bit slower, yes I am speaking of Border Collies.

I would pay attention to YOUR reactions before, during and after these meeting, new experiences, interactions.

Like Gloria said these dogs are wicked smart and extremely perceptive. If you are even the least little bit concerned or nervous or apprehensive the pup will pick up on it and be that much more concerned. He will think 'Wow must be something to be concerned about'

 

In the same way if you transmit "silly pup, everything if OK. We got this" then he is more apt to relax and take things in stride.

 

I find worried, anxious people more often than not have anxious dogs and calm confident folks have dogs that tend to be calm.

I had a young bc, a year old maybe, that I took to a dog walk charity event. He was great till he saw balloons tied to a table blowing in the wind. He blew a gasket - hackles, barking, trying to get away. Silly pup. I just let him calm down stayed there just speaking to him till he began thinking again. Then we walked up slowly till I could touch the balloons. He was not impressed but not wigging out. I let him settle then picked up the balloons holding them so they didn't move allowed him to investigate. His conclusion was "Oh they are no big deal" I feel like had I left and avoiding the situation he would not have learned or come to that conclusion.

I will also take a timid pup places with a very outgoing confident dog because they can take those clues from another dog as well.

I think there can be a fine line between avoiding situations and working them through it. It is very dependent on the individuals involved but I prefer to work them through 'scary' stuff if possible. I know dogs that bark, run and hide every time company comes over. ' Getting away' reinforces in their mind that people are scary and running away becomes self rewarding because they have never been taught people are no big deal.

In the same way I never want my young bc afraid of stock. When sheep stare or stomp I do all I can to ensure the sheep move away from the dog rather then the dog moving away from the sheep. If we call the dog off or he gives ground the sheep win. He looses confidence or worse we teach him to give in. If I help him through it - move the sheep with him, use an older dog to help him...then he gains confidence in himself and our relationship.

Again you have read the dog and figure out what is best at that time.

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As I see it, border collies are all a little bit mad. It just varies on in what fashion and in what degree. :P Seriously, though, you've done nothing wrong. Border collies are a sensitive breed. Noise sensitivities are not uncommon as well as other odd little quirks.

 

The thing to remember is that border collies were bred to have a certain amount of sensitivity. They are meant to work one entirely different species - sheep - in cooperation with another entirely different species - humans -, and do so while employing two different modes of communication at once. They communicate with sheep by body language, while we communicate with them by voice and whistles, and they do that on all kinds of terrain in all kinds of weather. It's not just that border collies are smart, it's that they are darned geniuses! And with genius sometimes comes a little bit of madness. ;)

 

Anyhow, what I mean to reassure you is that there is no perfect border collie. I believe that every last one of them has some kind of quirkiness about them. If we want an ordinary dog, we should get a golden retriever or lab. But we love border collies, so here we are. They are not the same as other dogs and never will be. But you are a forward thinking dog owner who is willing to ask questions and look for answers, and that puts you on better footing than a lot of people.

 

From what you have said, I think your pup is in great hands with you. At 16 weeks, he is very much a baby and has a long, long way to go. Keep doing what you're doing and you will see results. Just be patient and consistent. Pay special attention to the sort of things that trigger or upset him. Certain breeds of dogs may unnerve him - some BCs don't like the more forward, pushy types like boxers, bullies and Rottweilers - and some don't like very noisy situations. You say you took your boy to an agility practice: if there was a lot noise or barking or activity, that may have felt overwhelming to him. So, be mindful of those noisy, busy situations. Remember, border collies were bred for the farm, not the noise and bustle of urban life.

 

Your little guy has a lot to learn, but with your support, he'll get there. You can do this! :)

 

~ Gloria

I really appreciate your words! Thank you for the perspective. I am excited to see where our journey takes us!

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I find worried, anxious people more often than not have anxious dogs and calm confident folks have dogs that tend to be calm.

I have anxiety and some related issues and I definitely have to be aware of my own emotions at all times! Thanks for taking the time to respond! Good thoughts!

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I find worried, anxious people more often than not have anxious dogs and calm confident folks have dogs that tend to be calm.

 

 

I have anxiety and some related issues and I definitely have to be aware of my own emotions at all times! Thanks for taking the time to respond! Good thoughts!

 

I suspect also when you are worried that your dog will react to something, then you carry that tension and anxiety which travels down the leash to your dog who is thinking "my human is stressed, there must be something to worry about!"

 

I know that with my dog I was very stressed and had to really learn to relax and not panic when out and about and that really helped him.

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  • 3 weeks later...

My 4 month old pup is a lot like this as well. Just this past week he's taken to barking at strangers (and even some people we know) which he hasn't done before. He is startled easily by barking dogs and some loud noises, but for the most part he does ok. He's a funny boy. To be fair, the only time I've seen him not want anything to do with another dog was when he met a friendly rottweiler (but they are terrifying for a little puppy) and when he met a ferocious sounding pomeranian. He usually loves to meet new people, but he's been weird this past week. Really skittish, barking, backing up. What made me laugh is he barked at one of our friends and wouldn't let him come near him. I even shook my friend's hand to try and show him it was ok. However, a guy I really don't like who creeps me out came up 20 minutes later and Dallas was totally fine with him. I figure it's just a stage... hope it is anyway! I always feel a bit bad when someone wants to say hello to Dallas and he wants nothing to do with them. However, I recognise he's his own pup and if he doesn't want to meet someone he doesn't have to.

 

In general, Dallas isn't bubbly or outgoing either unless he really knows someone well. So he's super bubbly with myself, my husband, and our in-laws that we see every Wednesday and Sunday. He's pretty timid and shy overall, though.

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Another thing to be aware of is multiple stressors. If you've taken your pup to vet to get vaccinated, and while you were putting him back in the car a big truck flew by honing its horn, and then you slammed your finger in the car door and said a few salty words, your dog has just been exposed to multiple stressors.

 

This might make him more prone to be fearful or aggressive. It might not, he might not be a dog that particularly cares, but it's worth keeping in mind when you start to look for a 'why'. And sometimes there is no 'why'. Border collies are awesome, and a bit quirky.

 

Ruth & Gibbs

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