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1 year old Collie scared of coughs and laughs!

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I have a lovely collie now coming up to a year.  She is a lovely family dog, our first collie, and a shock to the system! But we've worked hard on training her, and ensuring she gets lots of walks, and we're really pleased how she has turned out... except!  Except we made the mistake in the first couple of months of having her of keeping a stair gate so that she couldn't chase the cats.  Consequently she is deeply mistrustful of the cats, and while they do take it in their stride, she has developed an issue that she is taking out on them.

There are 5 adults in the house as my kids are all grown up and still at home, and if anyone sneezes, smirks, laughs or blows their noses the dog goes bananas, running round the house with real anxiety until she finds a cat and barks at them.

Its not the end of the world but very tiresome.  She seems more anxious when we are all home together, and is much calmer when there is just one or two of us about in the day (unless we sneeze!)

Does anyone have advice on 1) how to desensitise her to the coughs, sneezes and laughs and 2) stop taking it out on the cats!



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I'm not sure but I'll offer an anecdote of what we did to help my sister's nervous collie deal with groups. First, we put a safe space for her in a quiet room, and started to teach her to go there by asking her to go to her place when we saw her get worked up. Two rambunctious teens, a loud deep voiced man and a cat were enough to make her apoplectic even on a normal day. Eventually she knew that if she did get anxious or overwhelmed (door slams, one of the teenagers yells, cat bolts through room, people get too rowdy etc.) she would be able to offer her behaviour: go straight to her place, where she would get two nice rewards -- a chewy or 'licky' treat, and her own quiet space. Moving her crate into the utility away from everything seemed mean at first but it helped her to calm down immensely. 

To do something proactive about the coughing you can use counter-conditioning. I'm not an expert but Breagha was very afraid of car door noises so this is what we did. I would probably have a stooge 'cough'. Start when she is chilled out and when you think it will least affect her. Have your stooge cough as far away from her as you can in the room she feels most comfortable in. You need to see what is the least scary option - if she finds men more scary than women, coughing more scary than sneezing etc. and start with the least scary thing. If she freaks out, wait until she is calm and lower the difficulty by having your stooge cough/sneeze even further away/quieter. Breagha would be inside at the french doors and I would quietly open and close the car door outside, and if she even stood still instead of running away she got lots of calm reward. It took a long time. Stood outside the house with a person closing the door of a car at the end of the lane 35m away was a big, big improvement for us. Now the car door slams and she flicks her ears and that's it. If you use clickers, if the stooge coughs and she looks even a tiny bit toward them without anxiety,  or even if you see her ears flick the sound, without negative body language, click and reward her gently. Then start to click looking at the person, then moving toward them. And if she 'fails' i.e. gets anxious and searches for a cat, we trained 'if you see the cat go to your bed' as well, so that when the cat wants to go through the dining room the dog sees her and gets in her crate without being asked. You can also redirect it so if she 's anxious and searching for an outlet she can bring you a tug toy or something instead of bothering the cats if that's something you're okay with.

Does any of this help?

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