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Reactive Border Collie


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Hello,

This is my first time posting in any type of forum, but I’ve found all of the posts on here super helpful. I’m hoping you guys can help me with my issue. 
 

Backstory:We have a 9 month old male neutered Border Collie, Braden, we got from a reputable breeder who focuses on a working line. He has gone through basic and intermediate obedience training and a tricks class (that was for fun :) ). I work with him everyday and he is listens to commands pretty well, walks off leash well, has a strong recall and has been socialized with other dogs, people, and situations since we got him. He is great with people, doesn’t really react to noise, fireworks or thunderstorms, and doesn’t chase anything (if he starts to go after something he listens to “leave it” or “keep going” really well).

Here is the issue: He is reactive to new, larger (anything bigger than a small dog) dogs, unless he has met them before and likes them. He is fine if new dogs don’t get close enough to sniff, but if they do get close or they bark at him, he air snaps and shows his teeth. Off leash he is a lot better with new dogs. At first I though it was due to “overly excited” dogs, but he does it to any dog that invades his bubble and especially to high energy dogs if they are in the vicinity. I normally try to read the situation and don’t force Braden to meet any dog but I would like him to be “civil” or at least not react the way he is reacting. It’s usually a problem if we take him to a public place and have no choice but to walk super close to a table with a dog or someone with a dog, etc. If there is enough distance I can say “keep going” and he will ignore the dog. But there are instances when the other dog is pulling on the leash to get to Braden which makes him react by barking or air snapping even if the dog doesn’t get near him. He is getting pretty good with the “settle” command which I use sometimes to calm him down and I’m starting to teach LAT (look at the dog) to reward him and hopefully shape good dog interactions, but is there anything else I can do? 
 

Side note: I met with a trainer and they said they believe he is resource guarding and is insecure. He was also attacked twice by dogs that escaped their house. They didn’t get to bite him, but they did pin him down and tried to bite him. I made sure he had good dog interactions after those incidents but it doesn’t seemed to have helped. 
 

Sorry for the long post. He is a great dog and this is literally the only thing that I need to work on and I feel stuck.

Attached is a picture of Braden (he is the Tricolor one, the other one is my Border Collie/Lab mix - the best dog ever by the way!)
 

 

 

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Sorry to hear that you're going through this. I have a reactive dog and it can be pretty stressful if you live on an area where avoidance isn't really an option. Border collies can be very particular about personal space and who is allowed into it.  I'll let the more experienced members offer advice but I'd like to share a mistake that I made. Orbit, my 13 year old was very rough and vocal and communicative with other dogs as a youngster. It made me uncomfortable that he would growl at other dogs. I discouraged him from doing so and now he doesn't growl anymore, he just snaps. I really wish that I had been more interested in making him more comfortable and secure at the time, rather than so concerned that he appeared aggressive. Good luck.

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If you are working on settle and LAT you are on absolutely the right track. I would advice changing the intensity. Stop entirely taking him to anywhere that you will come in close proximity to dogs.  Work with him on the Settle and LAT when there is only one dog, at a distance from you, and reward heavily.  If you have a friend with a dog, or someone from your class, who is willing to help, have them just walk their dog at a distance from you, with no one else around - maybe in a park. Do this over and over. Do this for a long time. Maybe daily for two months and during that time, never take him anywhere that there will be close-up dogs. No exceptions. Once he is good at that distance, let the person and dog walk closer. Once he is good at that distance with that dog, add another dog or else use a different one, and go back to a long distance away. In other words, work up to this slowly and when you add one hard thing (like another dog) make it easier for him (like moving the dogs away farther). 

This could take a long time or happen fairly rapidly, who knows. But the problem now is not that you are doing the wrong training or need a different or additional technique, but that you are overloading him while trying to train him.

 

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My dog has some issues with meeting strange dogs as well. She used to bark at dogs approaching her, not a aggressive bark, more of a woo woo please don’t come closer bark. With LAT training this now rarely happens.

I second what D’Elle says: for now avoid meeting dogs. This is what I did when I started LAT. I didn’t do LAT in such “formal” settings as D’Elle describes, but used dogs I encountered on walks -but at a safe distance. I made sure that I chose dogs that were on leash and avoided off leash dogs. This meant lots of turning around and going back the way I came when I was walking my dog - felt a bit rude and weird in the beginning, but after a while it feels a lot better than having an unpleasant encounter. At the beginning stages I would cross the street and played LAT. Sometimes I would follow them at a distance (feels a bit weird, but really helped!). My dog absolutely loves LAT, it’s really sweet, we don’t do it as often now, but it’s sweet to see her first look a bit worried, then I ask her to sit and she looks super excited and focused. It makes it fun for me too.

There were times when I couldn’t avoid other dogs, mostly because of rude owners. Lucky for me, my dog absolutely loves her tennis ball and I used this to walk past other dogs when I had to. Scary dog? What dog? Ball! The world disappears when the ball comes out. I used to always carry a little shoulder bag with a ball in it. Nowadays though, I don’t really need it and only bring it with me on weekend walks, because with corona EVERYONE walks at the weekend so there’s lots of (rude) dogs about. Plus whenever my mother dogsits, I ask her to bring the ball bag so she doesn’t have to watch out for certain dogs so much.

Another strategy I use is the “there’s a dog in your face”, also from Leslie McDevitt. Basically it’s rapid fire treats while the strange dog is close. 
I was surprised how well this worked. There’s a small schnauzer in my neighbourhood whose a bit of a bully (his owners don’t seem to notice), my dog hates him with a passion even if he is own his lead - we couldn’t turn around and had to pass him, instead sat her down and stuffed her face with treats: she didn’t mind him at all!

Molly is doing really well now and I can easily have her off leash again around other dogs. (I don’t mean a dog park, I mean strange dogs we encounter on hikes on forest trails and such- just passing by). However, I know she will always have trouble with certain types of dogs and I have to keep an eye out and protect her. She doesn’t like dogs that want to wrestle, dogs that don’t break eye contact, “intense” dogs, huge dogs, dogs that keep sniffing her butt, tense dogs, hyper puppies, most labradors and shepherds.

Mostly rude dogs in my eyes anyway, usually with clueless owners. I don’t mind avoiding them. 
I used to feel bad about it, mostly because people would be a bit disappointed that my dog doesn’t want to play - not even with most mild tempered dogs. She is just not that interested. I felt like I had to apologize or explain, that I had somehow failed as a dog owner because my dog wasn’t “happy-go-lucky”. Once I began LAT training I felt more in control, saw my dog for who she really is and loved her for it.

I also had a session with a dog trainer/ behaviour expert (can’t think of the proper English term, too tired :P) who helped me to identify what the problem was. For my dog it’s mostly that she is insecure around strange dogs and that makes her go up to them to meet them even though she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t know how to avoid the confrontation. So it’s up to me to show her that there are other ways. 
 

Long story, I hope some of it will be useful. With training it can get better, but won’t magically turn your dog in a dog that can always cope. I don’t think my dog will ever be a dog that can walk past another dog comfortably in very close proximity, she doesn’t snap or anything, but it will stress her out. (Can most dogs even?) So I don’t walk her past other dogs. I’m the weirdo that will turn around suddenly and go back the way she came, or will walk off the path and into the shrubbery to avoid a dog if I have to, or chase a dog away or make a 10 minute detour (or longer) to get to my destination. You usually have a choice not to meet another dog, it’s just inconvenient. ^_^

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It’s a very common young border collie issue, my 11 year old was like this as a young dog, overtime he grew out of it, but he still doesn’t like some dogs, boxers particularly and I am always aware of his body language. It sounds like you are on the right track. Another resource is controlled unleashed, you want the puppy edition simply because it’s written better. It was originally written for agility dogs but the principles apply to daily life as well. The book helped me with my first agility dog who screamed at the edge of the ring, a year later he would hang out getting belly rubs. 

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Wow! I didn't expect such helpful information so fast! Thanks everyone. Everything everyone has posted is super helpful and also makes me feel better that I'm not alone :D. @Flora & MollyYour dog sounds a lot like mine and I realized that part of the issue is me not wanting to come across as rude to people. Most of the dogs we come across are "rude" and either over-the-top or in his face. It is interesting to me how often people take it personally when I don't let my dog greet another dog that I know he will react to. My other dog is a border collie mix who is patient with everyone and every dog, but it's not fair to expect the same from Braden. I will definitely be incorporating everyone's advice. Thanks again and I'll post update after some progress. 

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I’m glad I could help! 
Because of the people on here I bought control unleashed, and that made all the difference. Helped my dog, but also helped my confidence.

I used to get a lot of comments and advice from other dog owners. “They’ll sort it out themselves” “it will make your dog more insecure if you walk away from other dogs” and on and on. Or judgy people who felt superior because they “didn’t have to use treats” to train their dog. I used to feel really bad about it. Now though, I can see that all these people either have a different breed (usually Labrador or boxers or other wrestle play type dogs) or have a dog that is very low drive and naturally calm (or dogs that don’t listen anyway). Never a border collie owner. Most border collie owners I don’t really get to meet because their dogs are not interested in playing just like mine, so we smile politely and walk on - while our dogs usually completely ignore each other :P 

would love to read updates, so keep us posted!
 

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  • 2 months later...

Hello again! Thanks again for everyone's earlier advice, tips, and support. I really do enjoy reading this forum and plan to be more active on it. 

So, I wanted to post an update and hopefully gather some additional advice. Braden has improved a lot and has even met new dogs he likes, however, if there is a dog he decides he doesn't like, he gets pretty locked in. To be completely honest, he is good 98% of the time as long as he doesn't have to interact with new dogs. Even off leash or walking by a dog he is fine, but if a dog shows interest in him, we still struggle with his reactivity (air snaps and baring teeth). I bought the book "Control Unleashed" and it has helped a lot, but my question is if this is something he will grow out of and/or something I will just have to manage his entire life. It's really not that big of a deal if so (although I would much rather prefer he didn't have this issue), because he behaves and listens so well otherwise, it just bothers me that this is the one area that I can't overcome. Another thing is that I would really like to put him in agility lessons, but I'm worried about how he will react in the environment with dogs running around and possibly coming up to him. He has taken herding lessons and did fine around the other dogs because he was so focused on the sheep as were the other dogs, but herding lessons cost a lot more than agility so I only do them sparingly as a fun "once-a-month" thing. So back, to my question...can his reactivity improve? Does it naturally improve with age (he just turned 1 ). For background on this issue, please read my first post on this thread. 

P.S. I met with another trainer who also said that he is "guarding" me and my other dog due to being previously attacked (basically I let him down before, so he felt the need to step up) which I have been told before. I have been working to show him that I have "everything under control" so he doesn't feel he has to do anything, but I'm not sure if it is helping. Any tips on how to improve on this would be greatly appreciated. As an FYI, I didn't move forward with this trainer because I didn't like his forceful technique and knew my dog would shut down with it. 

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I think this is something that can be resolved if you keep working on it. It may take a long time, and he may never be friendly to all dogs. But it sounds as if you have made wonderful progress with him and my advice would be to keep doing what you are doing.

Sometimes it takes what feels like forever. I had one dog who took 2 years to fully learn something, a thing that was really hard for her, that she didn't want to do,  and do it 100% of the time. When you are going through 2 years of training one thing, it feels as though the dog will never get there. But she did. And then the rest of that dog's life she knew it and life was easier. 

My feeling is this: that time will go by anyway. If you persist, there will come a point where you have succeeded with the training and the dog will have that the rest of their life. If you give u p thinking the dog will never get there, then the dog definitely won't. So, my approach is just to keep doing it.

Glad you didn't go to that other trainer. As for agility, this issue probably has to be completely under control before you can take your dog to agility lessons. But if you feel it is very close to 100%, you can always talk to the trainer ahead of time before signing up for a class and be completely honest about your dog. Since in agility classes, the dogs are on leash unless actually running the course, one at a time, the teacher may allow you in the class. No harm in asking.

 

 

 

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Braden -- Great report.  I agree with D'Elle that you have accomplished a lot in a short time. It is highly possible that he will continue to improve to the point that you don't have to worry (as much).  I would buy a vest that says "please give me space". Hopefully that will keep clueless owners away, and let them know to keep their dog away too. It may give you and Braden a bit more space so you can continue to work on desensitization.

With respect to agility lessons: They are NOT a time for socializing. Every dog should be on leash and/or under the handler's control, and should not be allowed to go up to any other dog. Same goes for agility trials.  Both are very stressful environments (trials particularly), and the dogs feel it, and even the best of dogs can be sensitive about their own space. It is expected that all dogs are kept on a short leash unless working in the ring, or walking in an area away from the action. The other handlers WILL appreciate you keeping space between your dog and theirs because they do not know your dog and are aware that it is a stressful time for all dogs. [And other handlers should also be keeping their dogs under control.] If you want to take agility lessons, I don't see why you can't based on what you have described (and pups and new dogs are generally kept on a leash/long line for a foundation class anyway until they prove they are in control). Talk to the instructor about your concerns.

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Braden, my boy Oscar was somewhat similar.  He was reasonably leash reactive to other dogs, especially larger, black dogs, or dogs he thought were giving him too much eye contact.  When I started training him in obedience school, I was working him 30 feet away from the other dogs to try and keep him from lunging and barking.  This gradually improved.

I am in Australia, where agility is outdoors, and I train in the country, where I was able to train in very small groups of one or two dogs, who Oscar all knew and got along with.  Also Oscar was in the tallest height group, (600mm jumps) where there was never more than five dogs in the group, and we were often either the very first or the very last dog to run in our grade.  I managed by keeping him in his crate until it was time to warm him up, warming him up away from other dogs, taking him to the ring just before his run, keeping his focus on me with tricks before the run, keeping a distance from other dogs, and taking him straight back to the crate after his run (and after his treats).  But once we reached the entry to the ring, I never had any problems, because Oscar absolutely LOVED to be in the ring. Nothing was going to distract him from his run because it was the BEST THING EVER. 

I also second what gcv-border says above.  While at agility trials, you will see dogs interacting, these are generally dogs that are not competing, perhaps puppies that are there to socialise, or retired dogs.  Dogs that are there to compete will be on leash outside the ring, and will be expected to be focussed on their owners, and their owners will be trying to maintain that.  That may be relaxed a little in the owners' personal areas, but around the ring, everyone should be exercising control and focus.  This is not playtime.

Generally agility seminars/lessons I have attended have expected dogs to be inside crates when not being worked individually, or on lead if waiting to go next.  Agility dogs often tend to be high drive, and space is appreciated by everyone.

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@gcv-borderand @Lawgirl thanks for the tips, advice, and support. Especially about how agility training typically goes. I’ve never been but look forward to trying it out. Thanks again!

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  • 3 weeks later...

UPDATE! So I contacted my old trainer (the one I did obedience and tricks classes with) and she offered some good tips to continue my reactivity progress that I thought would be helpful to share. I didn’t contact her before because I thought she was more of a obedience trainer rather than a dog behavioral issue type of trainer. That was my fault for assuming. I should have gone back to her from the beginning. She is great! The first thing she advised was using a clicker when reinforcing LAT instead of a word like “good” which is what I was doing. A clicker provides consistency in delivery and tone that a vocal word cannot and I saw immediate reinforcement improvement when I switched to a clicker. I previously used a clicker in the beginning when I did obedience with him but slowly stopped using it so he wouldn’t expect it, but I found that it is better to keep using it until a behavior is more solidified. It essentially helps me communicate better with Braden. The second was using a “dummy” realistic stuffed animal dog to practice on. I honestly didn’t think this would work and that he would know it was fake. However, it has helped so much! I used it from a distance and have been working to get closer and closer while using LAT to reinforce calm behavior. I have seen tremendous improvement using both the clicker and the dummy dog. Thought I would share in case anyone felt stuck like me. Let me know if you would like to know further details.

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Excellent to hear this.

I use a clicker in training, for the reasons you have learned. And I am convinced it makes learning much faster and more precise. I noticed the difference right away when I was first using it, and have never looked back.

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