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My 15 week old male border collie barks agresively at visitors and strangers


Jambuel
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Hi, this is my first time as a dog owner.   Initially I wanted to get an older dog in a few years when the children left home (they are young teenagers) but a friend of mine's border collie had puppies unexpectedly and I agreed to take one thinking the children would enjoy his younger years and then he'd be my companion and walking buddy later.

A week before we were to bring him home I broke my ankle and we couldn't put off taking him because his owner was quite old and needed homes as soon as possible.   This meant that I couldn't be the one to initially train him or be the leader etc.   That role went to my husband for the next few months.  As he works away from home during the week I had to rely on the children walking him etc.  This hasn't been too bad but from the start he has barked at any visitors we have, during the summer we've had friends stay and at first he'd bark on and off for about half an hour then he'd be fine and happy to be around them, this happens with visitors too.

We have a fenced off area where he is secure and safe and cannot wander the whole garden but he will constantly bark aggressively at visitors, we try reassuring him and stroking but he is fixated .  Today he was in the other part of the garden with me when the post lady tried to come in, he was uncontrollable and I think he may have bitten her if she came through the gate.    I'm still on crutches and not able to run after him etc.    I am training him with a clicker, to fetch and recall etc and this is going well but nothing is working with the barking.  I need to find a way to control this as I work from home normally and don't want him to scare off my clients.

We live in rural France and the locals and vet tell us we should hit him as that's what they do here but I do not agree with this at all.   I've been reading a lot on border collies so I'm under no illusion that they require a lot of work.    I just need some advice on how to deal with this.   Apart from this, which I think may be down to fear and maybe territorial too, he is a lovely affectionate dog who is slowly becoming more obedient in other ways.   He has a crate in an outhouse and also a kennel outside to sleep in, it's still very warm here and we haven't brought him into the house yet as we have an intollerant cat and I wanted to wait until I'm fully mobile again so I can be in charge.  He is good during the night and rarely barks then even when you can here other local dogs howling etc.   He isn't too bothered by tractors but if a car pulls up he's on the alert.

I would be grateful for any advice anyone can offer.

Thank you

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Apologies in advance for the short reply, but I have limited time. Just wanted to give a little feedback. I am sure you will get excellent replies from others.

Even though you are on crutches, keep him on a long line - and tethered to you - when outside. Long line can be 20-30 feet. If he starts to act up, you can reel him in. No one, even with a healthy ankle, is fast enough for a baby border collie. This is a management technique, not training.

Agreed - do NOT hit him. Work on building trust.

Has he been outside your yard during walks with your children?  When he was younger, getting out and about (appropriate socialization) would have been helpful to introduce him to strange items, humans and sounds so he is not so reactive as he matures. It sounds like he would benefit from densensitization techniques.

Until he is comfortable and more social with unknown people, I would put him in his crate, or a closed off room, so he does not get agitated with your clients when they come. Again, this is a management technique until he can be trained. It also protects you from the repercussions if your dog was to bite someone.

"but he will constantly bark aggressively at visitors, we try reassuring him and stroking but he is fixated." Again, I wouldn't let him see visitors until he is socialized better. He is just practicing inappropriate behavior. Also, by stroking him, you are reinforcing his behavior - whether good or bad. Yes, he may be scared, but don't feed into that. At this stage, best to prevent the behavior with management. Be proactive and try not to put him in situations where he will act out. i.e. if a friend is visiting, put him up before the friend arrives.

Is there a dog behaviorist (not a dog trainer) that you can consult? It is so hard to give advice on behavioral problems online since one can not 'see' the behavior and the nuances associated with it. The best advice would come from a professional who can do a home visit to observe first-hand.

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The children take him out on a lead for walks around the local area, and with my husband.   They have visited neighbours and sometimes he barks at them but only for a short while, nothing like he does at home.   If I'm in the house he can't actually get to visitors because he has an area fenced off.  For example yesterday a friend pulled up on the drive and I first knew because he was barking but when my friend came to the fence I gave him some treats to give to the dog and he calmed down quickly as we just talked, occasionally barking again when my friend paid attention but not for long and he responded to me telling him to be quiet etc.  This has been the case with all friends, he eventually settles down and very friendly with them.

When we are not outside with him (either with him in his area or ours) he is very quiet and usually finds a shady area to sleep, sometimes in his kennel and sometimes in his crate.  We haven't locked him in his crate as I thought this would seem like punishment that they don't understand.  Maybe this is something we need to do.

We have taken him out to the river and lake etc. but keep him on a lead if people are about, if there is no one around we let him off and so far he's been very good.   When he was younger in the holidays we even took him to cafes and he was good and slept under the table, I'm not sure he would do that now.

I don't know of any trainers or behaviour experts and living in France there would be a bit of a language barrier for me.

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Welcome to the Boards.

I'm sorry to say I'm not very good with the barking thing. But one thing I've been told is to click and treat each time the dog takes even the tiniest break between barks to reinforce the non-barking moments in the hope of prolonging them. Considering that he stopped barking at your friend when you gave him treats, I'd be hopeful that this might be effective with him.

I've also been told that teaching a dog to bark on cue can help them to learn when it is and isn't appropriate.

Perhaps most importantly is this really sounds like reactivity and not knowing how to react when he encounters people he doesn't know. I really think the Look at That protocol might  be the ticket for your dog. It's outlined in Leslie McDevitt's book Control Unleashed (the puppy version is said to have better instructions), but there are tons of sources online including videos you could access. It's helped me a lot with my dog reactive dog.

Best wishes and I hope your ankle heals quickly.

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He can calm down if we keep him separated, eventually.   But his barking is very allarming to people.  He did it with the vet and tried to bite her who was very annoyed and said we had to stop that happening as it would be a major problem for us, she stipulated she wasn't allowed to hit him herself (again the farmers around here beat their dogs which I would never do, one even advised us to use a stick and not your hand) so getting help locally with behaviour isn't very promising).    He calmed down after a short while though and giving injections and examination went smoothly.

At the moment it is unpredictable how he will act outside the home, so we will make sure he's restrained.  I've seen people say train them to bark so that you can train them to be quiet but that isn't as it sounds.  I can lock him out of the way but it's not solving the problem and if we have unexpected visitors I can't be prepared in advance.

I will try putting him in his crate every time this happens but would welcome any other advice.

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I can’t answer at length right now, either. However, I am so glad you have the compassion and good sense to reject the advice of the locals who told you to hit the pup. Hitting would cause more serious problems and would very likely make the barking and reactivity permanent.

 

 

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I agree with the advice you have had so far. Never, ever, hit the dog. Also, do not pet to try to reassure or calm him - you are simply from his perspective telling him that he is being a good dog for barking and that of course is reinforcing behavior you do not want. Use the crate a lot. If he won't settle down, put him into the crate, away from the thing or person he was barking at, or covered if it cannot be away. Leave him in there 5 minutes, let him out and pop him right back in if he starts again. Don't yell, hit, or do anything else that is punishment. don't say anything and don't be rough, just calmly put him into the crate.

My attitude with this sort of thing is to imagine that it is not really me doing this, it is simply how the universe works. If he behaves badly, he goes into the crate. If he is good, he doesn't. Just action and consequence, no crime and punishment. Implacable and impersonal law of universe, like gravity.  If you have this attitude and are absolutely 100% consistent with it (which means EVERYone else in your family must do exactly the same thing 100% of the time as well) he will realize that there is no way around it. I use this "law of universe" technique for many things I train a dog not to do.

I also second the suggestion of the Look At That game, which I have used myself with a dog-aggressive dog, and it worked well.

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If he can't get to visitors and everyone is safe, you are at an advantage.  Just have a bucket of treats ready to go.  Have visitors ignore him (do not talk to him or make eye contact).  When visitors show up, toss him extra special treats.  He will associate visitors with getting treats.  As he gets better, specifically toss him treats when he is quiet, praising him for being calm/quite and giving him a gentle lie down command if he starts to bark or bounce.

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1 hour ago, Liz P said:

Have visitors ignore him (do not talk to him or make eye contact).

This is a really important part of the process. If they don't interact with him, he'll have less reason to react and that will free up some brain capacity to respond to the treats for desensitization. As long as he's over threshold he won't be able to respond as well, or maybe not at all, to the food rewards to begin creating a different emotional response.

 

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Thank you for your replies and advice.   I've started putting him in his crate for time out when he is disobedient, I haven't had the chance with visitors yet because I haven't had any.  The next time the post lady came I had him on a short leash on the lawn away from the gate, he still barked but not as bad and each time he stopped after me saying 'quiet' I gave him a treat.   

He is very clever and has worked out what 'quiet' means as sometimes he'll bark, whilst looking out of the corner of his eye at me and when I say quiet he does then runs up to me for a treat.  

I understand about consistency and how important it is to do the same everytime he misbehaves and I continue to stress this to the children and my husband and they try but they are not always prepared or forget and it's so frustrating and difficult.  I am with him all day during the week though so it's mainly me in charge and I try to get the kids to play calmly with him, not easy with a hyperactive eleven year old boy but he's learning too.

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Having spent a few months on crutches once myself, I strongly disagree with the advice to tether the pup to you, especially if you are non-weight bearing on your injured leg.  Leashes can get tangled around crutches really easily and it wouldn't take much of a pull to cause a bad fall.  If you are partially weight bearing and can use both legs for balance it may not be as hazardous, but still, it's hard enough to maneuver around on crutches without having a dog and leash underfoot. 

Other than that, I agree with the advice you have gotten from others here.  Just one thought to add about your dog barking at the mail carrier. I've read that one reason dogs are so particularly avid about barking at mail carriers is because it works.  The mail carrier approaches, the dog barks ferociously, and the mail carrier leaves!  Ta Da - in the dog's mind he's successfully made the person retreat, and the dog gets to reliably practice that success every day.  Of course we don't know what's really going on in the dog's mind, but this theory makes sense to me.  Mail carriers have schedules to stick to, but if yours is patient and cooperative, maybe you can convince her to remain still and ignore your dog until you can quiet him, and then she continues on her way only when he is being quiet.   

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