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Darcy goes to the behavioralist


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Readers of this forum may recall that we have had some challenges with Darcy, our first dog and first border collie, now (nearly) 7 months old. These challenges included biting the children and resource guarding. After putting in place strict rules and procedures for the humans and an improved training program for Darcy (including The Relaxation Protocol for Dogs, Capturing Calm, frequent practicing of "drop it" and "leave it", etc.) things are definitely improved. Nevertheless, we kept the appointment we made with a board certified behavioralist. That appointment was today. Since some of you asked to keep you posted, here is an update.

1. The behavioralist felt that those specific problems are pretty normal dog behaviors that, while they need to be stopped, are responding well to our training. We all agreed that Darcy is not an "aggressive dog".

2. She also felt that Darcy is more arousable and high strung than the average border collie, though she says she has been seeing more and more of this in recent years. She attributes this to the fact that the dogs are being bred (where we live) more and more for agility and speed and less for well rounded herding skills and this is producing more and more dogs that are just a little too amped up as a side effect. She also said ours is not the first pup from our breeder to come through her doors. Interesting.

3. She advised us to greatly increase the degree to which we are rewarding desired behavior. Basically the "Capture the Calm" we have been doing, but a lot more of it. Lucky I just ordered 4 bags of dried liver treats.

4. She felt that loose lease training out and about is just too much for him. She recommended we keep our walks around the neighborhood and trails unstructured (long lead), and work on loose leash training only in our house and yard until it gets easier for him. Which is basically a variation on what some of you have already told me here.

5. Given that we have a busy household with the homeschooled kiddos always buzzing about, and given that Darcy is rather high strung, she felt medication (an SSRI) would smooth the way for Darcy over the coming 6 months or so, helping him feel better while we continue to teach him how to find and use his off switch.

6. She felt that under all the excitement, Darcy was very sweet.

So we will follow those recommendations. There is also a trainer who works out of the same office as the behavioralist who specializes in Border Collies that we will work with.

Overall, I am happy with the progress we have made with Darcy and look forward to more progress with the help of these professionals. Also, I do find it strangely reassuring to have confirmation that Darcy is more of a handful than your average pup. Makes me feel like maybe I am a competent primate after all. 

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go listen to the next chapter of Bones Would Rain from the Sky.

Stay tuned.

-Eric

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Thanks for the detailed and overall reassuring update!  I'm glad you are on the right track with Darcy and the help you've received sounds spot on.  It will be interesting to see if/how the SSRI helps in the overall program.

We'll stay tuned, and continued good wishes!

Amy

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Erikor I had a great result with an SSRI for a previous dog. She was aggressive towards our cats, and very wary. You could almost see her walking on tiptoes. The SSRI made her much calmer and even more playful, which I had thought I'd never see. Shoshone had been very badly treated before she came to us and didn't have any idea of playfulness, goofiness, etc that I'd loved in my previous dogs. The medication really changed that.

So glad to read that you found a GOOD behavioralist for him, as well. I love that she suggested amping up the amount of treats for Darcy. Very simple and easy to do. Also it means you got someone who's covering more than one base.

Good luck! I look forward to hearing more about Darcy's progress,

Ruth & Gibbs

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Sounds as though you have found a reasonable and skilled person to help you and I am really glad to hear that.

I don't agree with the medication, myself. I had two foster dogs who were on medication when they came who improved a great deal when I took them off it. But that is only anecdotal and you can find many other reports of it working well (as above) and of it not working well. It is a very individual thing, as it is with people. I would recommend just keeping a close eye on her to assess her reaction to it, but I am sure you will be doing this anyway. Best of luck and thanks for the update!

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It sounds to me as though you have found a very sensible behaviouralist.  I am firmly of the opinion that agility bred BCs are not bred to be pets, and have a range of issues with temperament/hyperarousal/hyperactivity.

I do love the idea of amping up the treats, but a small word of warning - liver treats are very rich, and in my BCs cause some very memorable and smelly, nay stinky, gas.  This may not be an issue for you, but if Darcy suddenly becomes a gas machine, those treats may be the issue...

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So glad you found someone that sounds competent! I agree with most though I do have an issue with medicating a pup, or a dog for that matter..go with your gut, and hopefully amping up the positives will negate the need for medication. I love the *unstructured* walk idea, let him be a puppy!

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On 11/20/2020 at 2:51 PM, erikor said:

...I just ordered 4 bags of dried liver treats.

I haven't been on this forum in a while but when I checked in saw your post.

I just shudder when I read about people giving their dogs tons of liver treats, so a word of warning: Liver is high in vit. A, which is stored in the fat and can build up to toxic levels with serious results, including arthritis and liver disease among others. Unfortunately by the time most symptoms appear the levels have already been high for a very long time (and most can't be completely reversed) and the vit. A has a very long half-life, making it very difficult to rid the body of it.

Raw feeders generally include liver at about 5% (some a little more) plus 5% other secreting organs of the total diet. Secreting organs are very nutrient dense, especially in the "letter" vitamins, many of which are stored in the body), which is why they have to be limited. If you're feeding commercial dog food then it already has a certain amount of vit. A in it already so be very careful about feeding a lot of liver on top of it.

Liver treats are very high value for most dogs. What I'd do is cut them into tiny training bits and reserve them for the big rewards. Find something else for the bulk of your training treats, especially during this period when you're doing a lot of training and therefore lots of treats. If you're looking for high value freeze-dried treats, lung would be a much better option. And there are plenty of other very desirable treats available too.

Otherwise it looks like you're on the right track. Meds can be a godsend for some dogs, but as with humans sometimes it can take several tries until you get the right one. I'm sure the behaviorist told you that the meds rarely work on their own without training as an adjunct. But it looks like you've got that covered too. ;)

It was also interesting that the behaviorist has noticed the increase in highly strung border collies as so many of them now are coming from the non-herding sports breedings. I've been seeing and remarking on it for years, but it's interesting that behaviorists are recognizing it as well. I only adopt rescues now (started out with working border collies) but if I were ever to purchase another dog it would definitely be working bred.

Oh, and just wanted to say that the idea of capturing calm with puppies is so often overlooked! Too often puppies are paid much more attention when they're being active and quite possibly naughty so in essence that's the kind of behavior that gets reinforced. With every new dog or puppy that comes into my home I make a point of quietly and calmly praising (w/out food rewards) whenever s/he just decided to lie down and take a break on their own - even just tired out puppies. I firmly believe that this helps them understand that you value this kind of behavior from them as much as you do the active types.

Please keep us posted on your progress with Mr. Darcy.

 

 

 

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Thank you all for the kind and supportive comments!

I will take it easy on the liver treats--we have other types too to throw in the mix (all of which are less than 1 calorie per treat which is good because we are going through treats like they are going out of style). For relaxation protocol time I use small pieces of hotdog and cheese.

I was watching him pace around tonight and thought, "someone just needs to take the weight of the world off this poor pups shoulders". I gave him a hug and a good belly rub which seemed to help some. I am hopeful that more calm capturing will help too. And maybe a little pharmacology. I guess scotch is out of the question (at least for him).

I will keep you posted!

-Eric

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23 minutes ago, erikor said:

...we are going through treats like they are going out of style...

You can get creative with your treats if he's food motivated. My dogs love Cheerios as training treats. They're even better if you store them in a tightly sealed container with other things that are smellier, like cheese and probably your liver treats. They seem to absorb a fair amount of other scents.

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^^^ This. Cheerios, any of the 'chex' cereals, any bland cereal with little sugar can be mixed into a 'trail mix'. Include some smellier treats ~ if you're near a Costco or something similar they often have large bags of dog treats that can be chopped up a bit and mixed with the cereal. And for some dogs, mixing with cereals makes it easier on their digestion.

 

Good work!

Ruth & Gibbs

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