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Hello all. Two months ago my husband and I adopted an eight-month-old BC from a shelter. While I?m thrilled to report things are going well for the new pup (Yoshi), the help from our vet, obedience trainer, and all the wonderful advice and experience from you on this board have been a big part of our success. I wanted to come out of lurking mode to say a big thank you.


Our boy is a loving guy who got a lousy start with an abusive owner. He is comfortable with the humans and canines at home, but often fearful in the community. In the past eight weeks we have helped Yoshi adjust to living indoors, taught him to play with toys, walk on a leash, ride in the car, and started basic obedience. I knew bringing a BC into our lives was a big commitment of time and energy, but I had no idea how rewarding it would be!


The two challenging issues we are working on right now are lunging/barking at cars while on leash, and socialization to new people and places. The approach I am using for the first issue is to ask him to look at me (our command is ?eyes?) when a car is coming, and treat, or to ask him to sit-stay and treat. It works about half the time. For the second issue, we visit the vet?s office, the pet store, and our dog-loving neighbor where Yoshi gets treats and people who respect his boundaries.


I?m forever struggling with polite ways to tell strangers to back off when they come running to pet the ?pretty dog.? I?m thinking of getting him a dog vest that has some message on it like, ?If you can read this you are standing too close to me and I?m scared.?


Ideas and feedback about approaches to these specific challenges is welcome. Many of you foster and/or have adopted rescue BCs and I deeply appreciate your wisdom.


I?m including a few photos of Yoshi (named for the white ?Y? on his head) as I?m an unabashedly proud dog-mom.


Best to all,



Human, learning along with Yoshi and Golden Retriever Obi



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Wow he's a cool looking dog! I'm so glad you adopted him too. I'm sure he loves you more everyday for doing so.


He sounds a lot like mine. I just adopted him two weeks ago last Wednesday and he's still getting over being shy and jumpy. Like Yoshi he was abused too. But we're working through it now. I had to teach him how to play too, he's about two years old though. God Bless you for adopting him. And good luck with your training. Stay around and keep us up on how your doing. God Bless

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Lovely dog!


A couple of board certified animal behaviorists I have worked with recommend a basket muzzle. It's very visible so people see it and ignore the dog.


Have you tried a Gentle Leader yet? Used correctly it can help you to exercise calm control over your dog. It can be worn under a muzzle. If he feels you are firmly in control of a situation he will be able to relax.


As far as socializing with people goes, I have found that it is best to have peoeple ignore a dog completely unless the dog initiates contact. Everything should be on the dog's terms, so you need the help of some humans who are able to control themselves and not grab at him. Your goal should not be to have a dog that rushes up to people wanting to be petted, but to have one who can calmly stand next to you while you interact with other humans.


Training classes like agility can be great confidence builder and bonding experience if the instructor knows how to work with shy/fearful dogs. Some will push dogs too hard and feel like your dogs needs to be able to run a course to be successful. You need someone who understands how to measure progress in baby steps and celebrate little victories like going through the collapsed chute.

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I had a similar problem with people, especially kids, running up and wanting to pet my Nellie. The hardest part is that being blunt feels rude. However, the most effective response is to just say firmly, "You cannot pet the dog". It is the best way to stop people before they get into your dog's personal space.


Then you can elaborate or not as you wish. You really don't need to explain to people though. He's your dog and not a novelty that everybody has a right to touch.


With children, I use it as an opportunity to explain why they should always ask before petting someone's dog. I also stress that strange dogs often bite out of fear. Many little kids are very understanding when you explain that your dog is afraid. They go from just wanting to pet the dog to seeing him as an individual with feelings like theirs.


Even today I don't let kids pet my dogs in public. The dogs will tolerate it but they don't particularly enjoy it so I don't make them.


Using a vest may just make people MORE interested in your dog. A basket muzzle or even a gentle leader would be a more effective visual deterrent. But being very aware and talking to people is going to be the most effective control.


Good luck!


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I used to walk my ex-husband's Old English in a gentle leader because he weighed more than I did and he could PULL.


I found most people assume it's a muzzle and it slows them up enough to ask.


They are both beautiful.

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Originally posted by lrayburn:


I had a similar problem with people, especially kids, running up and wanting to pet my Nellie. The hardest part is that being blunt feels rude. However, the most effective response is to just say firmly, "You cannot pet the dog". It is the best way to stop people before they get into your dog's personal space.

I agree with this completely. I have a lot of dogs coming and going in my household, and some of them are not friendly with strangers initially. I always tell people "Do not pet this one." It used to feel rude, but it's just part of the routine now. I will encourage one of my friendlier dogs to approach the stranger instead, so as to minimize the bluntness of the message.


I use a lot of body blocking, especially for the people who are pushy, or for kids. I will place myself between the dog and the approaching person and tell them "no" while physically preventing them from approaching. It never fails to amaze me how some people will disregard me - especially adults! - always with the phrase "Oh it's okay, dogs love me!!" I simply get right in there and repeat myself: "I said, do not touch this dog. Please back away." If you are firm, they will back away.


This gives the dogs confidence as they are never pushed into a situation they are uncomfortable with and they know they can trust me to keep them safe. And with me not getting panicky, the dog can relax.


I have also taught all of my own dogs (except for Piper, the neighborhood greeter) to leave a situation they are uncomfortable with. If a stranger makes them uncomfortable, they are encouraged to move several feet away to avoid them. I would rather have avoidance than aggression.




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What a gorgeous boy! Welcome to the Boards. We adopted an owner-surrender 3 yr old from our Vet 11 months ago and while it has been a challenge he is now an integral part of our household.


These Boards have been invaluable in guiding me through the last year. I knew nothing about B.C.'s till I started visiting here and now it's a part of my computer routine.


We have two 90-lb. Labs. Lucky (our 34-lb BC) did not behave well on his light-weight leash till one day, in a hurry to get out the door, I grabbed one of the heavy-weight leashes that I use for my Labs. Suddenly Lucky was on his best behavior and I had no trouble controlling him. I believe the difference in the weight of the leashes did the trick. We've had no problems since, and I still use the heavier leash.


Best wishes to you and your beautiful Yoshi.

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Congratulations on giving a loving and caring home to a deserving dog!!!


Socializing is wonderful but you always need to remember that you are your dog's best friend and need to look out for his safety and security. I second what Lisa, Liz P, RDM, and others have said.


A well-spoken "STOP" followed by "Don't pet the dog" can be the best thing you can do. This is especially important where children are involved as a snap or nip by a frightened dog could lead to a frightened or injured child, and possible legal repercussions for you and/or lethal repercussions for the dog.


As far as socializing with people goes, I have found that it is best to have people ignore a dog completely unless the dog initiates contact.
I agree totally with Liz P on this. Both my Celt (who was socialized greatly as a pup) and Bute (who has been socialized but came to me a little older) have reservations about strangers. With Bute, in whom this is much more pronounced, assistants at dog classes were always trying to "make friends" in typical, non-aggressive, non-pushy ways and he was showing NO improvement (but just learning he could creep up and snatch the treat and run away).


I finally said to STOP trying to make friends and totally ignore him. The next thing I knew, when he became a little uncomfortable at one presentation, he was sitting on this one assistant's foot and touching her hand with his nose! He has since been willing to go up to, sniff, and sometimes be touched by others but only when he has initiated the contact - if they initiate it, he worries and tries to get away.


Each dog is their own individual, and the approach we take may often have to be tailored to each one. This has worked for me for my less-than-outgoing Celt and Bute. Megan, on the other hand, considers everyone a best friend (whether she's met them before or not).


Best wishes to you, Yoshi, and Obi!

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Thank you for the welcome and responses.


Liz, the gentle leader worked wonders! Yoshi tolerated the introduction quite well, and now walking around traffic is safe for him and I maintain (as you said) ?calm control.? Huge difference! Thank you also for the insight regarding choosing agility instructors who have worked with shy or fearful dogs. Agility classes are one of our goals, and so many people talk about how it helped their dogs gain confidence. But I do want to make sure we go at a pace that is right for Yoshi with an instructor who is a good match for our needs.


I realize more and more that protecting Yoshi in public means being verbally assertive and body-blocking people when necessary. Just this morning on a walk through the park, I got between Yoshi and a women jogger who approached at a run to pet him. I held a hand out in a ?stop? gesture, and said ?please don?t pet my dog.? Her answer? ?But I have a BC at home! Border Collies love all people.? That was a new one.


Thanks to all of you who shared perspectives on socialization. It is very clear that Yoshi is much more relaxed and comfortable when strangers ignore him. So now I?m practicing how to best ensure that they do.


Happy holidays to all on the boards!


Stacie, Yoshi, and Obi

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I always have to tell people - especially children - not to pet Speedy. I usually hold my hand out with a "stop" gesture and say, "please don't pet this dog!" in a cheerful, but clear tone


I've considered putting a bandana on him with a message that says "stay back" or something, but I've hesitated due to his ability to percieve people's reactions to him. Most people respect my wish to stay back from him. I think that's actually better than having something printed on him and getting indirect sort of reactions.


I will throw myself between him and someone who is coming on too fast or carelessly. And I've mentally rehearsed, "stop the child, don't pick up the dog" to the point where I will move foward toward the child if need be, to prevent unwanted contact.


He is five years old and there has never been an incident between him and a child, athough he has growled at adults who have ignored my request to back off.

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I just want to make a comment only peripherally related to the discussion. Border collies can be reactive and quirky animals, but their reactivity and quirkiness are not necessarily indicators of prior abuse. Unless prior abuse has been documented, it's not all that likely to have happened. It's just not as prevalent as many adopters would believe.


My first purebred border collie, a rescue, was afraid of people, didn't play, cowered if you tried to teach obedience on leash, and so on. Now, 9 years later, she does let people approach her, usually (if I'm there), but is still very much a cautious canine. I suppose I could have assumed she was abused, but I was pretty sure she had not been. She just hadn't been properly raised or socialized. Anyone meeting her today might still assume abuse because she's still a bit quirky, but people who know me would confidently say that she has *never* been mistreated at my hands. Another of my dogs, whom I bought, is very retiring and has this sort of "don't kick me" look about her, but again as far as I know she's never been abused and certainly hasn't been in the three years she's been with me. But people meeting her for the first time might certainly make that mistaken assumption.


So the point of all this is to say that it's more likely than not that a dog adopted from a pound or a rescue hasn't been abused. Unfortunately, when people suspect abuse, they start to coddle the dog, which is the *last* thing a dog, abused or just unsocialized, needs to help it become a normal member of society. Be a leader, and if you take a matter-of-fact approach to life, then your dog will also begin to see things as less scary. And by all means, be your dog's advocate and protector.


Now, you can go back to the regular discussion....



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Julie, good point about not coddling the dog. When Yoshi is scared your reaction needs to be along the lines of "Relax, there is nothing to be afraid of, now stop that growling and let's go do something else." Remove him from the situation that is scaring him (staying CALM) then immediately give him some simple commands. Praise him if he obeys. If you coddle him he will think there really is something to be afraid of, but if you act bored, like whatever is happening is non threatening, your dog will read your (lack of) emotion and relax.

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Yoshi is gorgeous. Good for you for adopting from rescue. :cool:


Just also wanted to add that eight months old is one of those really awkward ages for a dog, analagous to the beginnings of puberty in humans. Impressions made at this age tend to be lasting ones, so Julie and Liz's advice is good. You don't want to give him the idea his fears are justified, or that you're praising him for acting fearful. OTOH, you don't want to put him in a situation where he's overloaded and panics, either.


Getting people to ignore him sounds like it's working out well. Just out of curiosity, what does he do when approached by pushy strangers? Cower? Growl? Snap?

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I have a dog like Yoshi. You will learn so much from this dog. So far it sounds like your instincts are excellent and he is very lucky to have you.


I do not believe that Solo was physically abused, but I do know that he was raised for his first year in a backyard kennel with little to no contact with humans or other dogs. I consider this abusive. Then he was rehomed four or five times in the two months before I got him. I consider this abusive also. I think he would be less weird if he'd been raised right, but that he'd still be weird, because I believe that there is a genetic component to generalized anxiety problems in dogs. A friend of mine has a bitch bred very similarly to Solo that was bought as a puppy and raised correctly, and is still weird like he is. It's a matter of working with the dog you have.


What I have found -- the cardinal rule -- is to not put the dog into situations that he cannot learn from. That means not pushing him and it means protecting him. It means not letting people interact with him unless they really, really get what's going on and will be able to respect his boundaries, as you said. I have learned to body block effectively (which has helped Solo relax, because he knows I won't let strangers get to him) and to be very direct. I tell people that he is not friendly. In my experience that is the only thing that will stop people. If I say, "He is afraid of strangers," they will say, "Oh, don't worry, dogs love me." Solo does not love these people. If the people are children, I ignore the kids and tell the parents, "He is not good with kids." I have never met a parent that would not scoop up his/her child right away. Once the kids are "neutralized" I then explain, "He is not used to them," or something like that because I don't want them going away thinking Solo is a baby eater.


The other cardinal rule is to create a very structured environment for the dog because anxious dogs fare worst in situations that they find unpredictable. Solo and I have lived in two major cities together (Philadelphia and San Francisco) and so what I mean by a structured environment is one that has very clear rules for Solo to follow. Obviously I cannot control everything that happens around us, so Solo has a very well-ingrained default behavior, which is to look up at me and maintain eye contact whenever he is worried about something. We started teaching Solo to do this in a safe environment (the living room at home) and then taking it on the road in progressively more frightening environments. Now, for example, if we are walking down the block and a scary homeless guy is ranting in front of Starbucks (this is San Francisco near Golden Gate Park -- there are a lot of scary homeless guys) Solo knows to look up at me and keep looking up at me as we pass. For this, he gets a treat. This is part of what Solo's behaviorist, Karen Overall, calls the "protocol for relaxation." If you like I can send you handouts, or scans of handouts, that explain the protocol. It sounds like you're doing something similar already. It's a lifesaver.


The other ironclad rule that Solo has is that he must always instantly come when called. Of course, all dogs should have a good recall, but in Solo's case it's doubly important because without it, it would mean he could never be off-lead. I have never lived in a house with a yard while I've had Solo and must use public parks to exercise him. I take him to Golden Gate Park and avoid the areas where other dogs and owners congregate because they are too hectic and because the other owners tend to be very bad at following directions. Solo gets to run and play as much as he wants. He is fine with other dogs and people around as long as they do not approach him directly or get in his face, so I keep an eye out for approaching strangers and leash him if necessary.


Solo is seven years old; I adopted him when he was 16 months old. He is not a particularly sociable dog, and will never enjoy cocktail parties. There was a point in our time together that I would have been disappointed about that, but now it just doesn't matter to me. He has progressed to the point that he can live in a big city without being stressed. He can walk down crowded sidewalks in very busy parts of town and ignore everyone around him because he trusts me to keep him safe. He can participate in dog sports (we did agility until his hip got too bad for him to jump -- he has one title) and work sheep. He earned a CGC with flying colors. He can learn to love strangers, one stranger at a time, and accept them as part of his family. He's my soulmate. We know each other. I wouldn't change him.


By the way, the vest thing doesn't work. I tried. Solo's has a big red STOP sign and says, "Don't pet me -- in training" on it. All that happened was everyone came up and wanted to know what he was in training for and tried to pet him anyway. I found the Gentle Leader much more useful for keeping people away because the uninitiated think it is a muzzle.

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A couple more things:


Yoshi is very handsome. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, when dogs are pretty people are nicer about them, just like with other people. Solo is very handsome and it helps him get away with behavior that other dogs might not get away with. People tend to be sympathetic. If he were not attractive, or if he were a different breed (say, a pit bull), people would not be nice about it when he growls at them. But since he is Solo, they say, "Oh, the poor baby." It isn't fair, but work with it. The problem with a pretty dog is that people want to pet him. Children run up to Solo with their hands outstretched, crying, "Lassie!" (This is why one of Solo's nicknames is "Bizarro Lassie.")


Having other dogs that are normal around people really, really helps. I had Solo first and added Fly later. Fly is not afraid of people -- in fact, she is something of a social slut -- and this made a huge difference because (a) I could use her as a decoy (put her between people who wanted to pet Solo, and Solo) and (:rolleyes: she serves as an example for Solo to follow. "The black and white one isn't getting killed by that person. That person must be OK."


Good luck with Yoshi. Keep us posted.



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Stacie congratulations on rescuing Yoshi. What a handsome and engaging fellow he appears to be. And I especially admire your commitment to do right by him. You've gotten some really great advice here.


I just thought I'd chime in briefly since I'm just a little ahead of you on the learning curve when it comes to dealing with a fear aggressive dog. I rescued an aussie last May, a four year old un-neutered male, that I found abandoned here in the national forest. Generally speaking, he won't let anyone else near me. I found great insight by reading Patricia McConnell's book, "The Other End of the Leash". Also her book "The Cautious Canine" is a step by step program for counter-conditioning a fearful or aggressive dog. Really all of her books are wonderful, well-written, humorous and poignant. Unfortunately I hit a wall when I realised I couldn't depend on just any friend or neighbor who was willing to help me work with him.


We had been working with a pseudo-behaviorist, that is to say, a guy that previously did obedience training, but who saw a way to promote himself as a clone of someone who is a commercially high-profile "behaviorist". Initially I did see some improvement, but I wasn't entirely comfortable with some of what he proposed and I saw huge holes in some of his assertions, so we argued repeatedly. And I learned that he really didn't like me questioning his authority...big red flag!! Then recently there were a series of incidents between Boo and this trainer that lead me to put a stop to things. I am Boo's only advocate and I refused to be bullied into putting him in any situation that I felt uncomfortable with. My reservations proved valid so I immediately sought out the expertise of a veterinary behaviorist. We had our initial appt about 3 weeks ago.


After listening to what little I could provide on Boo's background her first question to me was, Would you be opposed to putting him on psychotropic medication, even if only temporarily? To which I replied, Are you kidding? That's why we're here. Hook me up! Her second directive was to follow the "Protocol for Relaxation" that Melanie refers to. Something Melanie wrote here some time ago was one of the keys to me understanding some of the triggers to Boo's aggression. It has to do with strangers being unpredictable and that a change in the context of the situation creates a trigger in him. I'll let her elaborate,(I did a search here, Melanie but no results came up). I wish I have saved it. But here is a thread you may find helpful.




As for Boo, he is smart, obedient, and the most biddable of my 3 dogs. I really believe with time and structure he can overcome his issues with stranger anxiety.

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Hello all, and hope you enjoyed your holidays.


I can?t thank everyone enough for the time and thoughtfulness of your comments. After I post this reply I?m going to print this thread out so I can refer to it easily in the future.


Julie, your point is well taken. By abuse, what I refer to is that Yoshi spent most of his puppy-hood tied up in an unfenced back yard. I don?t assume he?s been hit or physically abused, but it?s clear that he was not socialized. I consider this neglect a type of abuse. Resisting the urge to coddle IS critical. From the beginning as we encountered situations that scared Yoshi I would model relaxed direction (although I love Liz?s description of being ?bored? how perfect!) and encourage him to move toward something more desirable. But coddling behaviors can creep in so naturally, that I try to remain ever vigilant!


Sally, in answer to your question, when approached by strangers Yoshi will either stay on hyper alert, or bark a particular high short bark that I associate as an alarm bark (danger! you are in my space!). If a stranger reaches out to pet, or maintains a close proximity, he will (after a warning bark or two) air snap at their legs/feet. He has bitten (specifically made contact to the lower leg of a person with a brief bite that did not break skin) three times. This happened early on, as we were feeling out Yoshi?s boundaries. One person was the obedience class assistant ?making friends,? one was a friend we asked to visit specifically to see how Yoshi reacted to a guest in the house, and one was a stranger who stepped past me when I asked him not to pet the dog. Lessons learned. Since then, asking people to disregard Yoshi works well, with the exception of visitors in our home. Yoshi will bark and follow them when they move from one place to another. Having learned this, we either leash him for visitors (works well) or crate him in the bedroom.


Melanie, thank you for your responses to this thread, and for all your valuable posts that are archived as well. The work you have done with Solo is such a great model. My goal is to make sure Yoshi experiences situations he can handle and learn from. Even after two months it?s still a learning process to find the right balance between overwhelming him and giving him opportunities to learn. But we keep trying! The experience from those who have done this work is so valuable. I would love to read the ?Protocol for Relaxing? and I?ll read the thread Nancy included.


Having our Golden, Obi, who is a big goofy boy who loves everyone, does help. Having him be the friendly ?ok to pet? dog, barrier, and model to follow is a great approach.


Nancy, thank you for sharing experiences from your own learning curve. I?m currently searching for a good behaviorist in our area. We may not work with someone immediately, but I will feel better to have a qualified and effective person to call when and if we need the help a good behaviorist can provide. The best prospect thus far is a group practice associated with the local university.


Thank you also for the reminder about Patricia McConnell. I recently re-read ?The Other End of the Leash? which was a very different read with Yoshi in mind. But I have not read any of her other books and need to put them on the list.


All said, in the past week Yoshi is doing well. The gentle leader is helping us establish eye contact when cars or scary things approach; and it is working as a caution to humans who encounter him in the park and community. We continue to practice basic obedience and new tricks. Our goal is to best use this important time in Yoshi?s development to gain confidence and socialization with the understanding that he is who he is and it may never be a socialite. That?s fine by us. Most important is to help him find a job or jobs that he enjoys. Be it dog sports like agility, herding, or being on outdoorsy pup that likes to hike and camp like our Golden. We look forward to discovering the activities that motivate and excite him. So far, it?s cuddling and chasing squirrels, but I?m sure there is more to come.


Sorry for the long reply!


All best,


Stacie, Yoshi, and Obi

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Stacie, you aren't the only one who's printing it out. It's a great thread from an incredibly helpful group, and I'm going to try to incorporate some specific suggestions, and more importantly, some of the philosophy that was shared.


Melanie, you are so good at distilling your experience and knowledge into words! You've articulated a world-view for living with a cautious dog that really makes sense to me.


This is just the best internet bulletin board ever. Thank you to everyone.

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