Building Up the Confidence of a Trio of Border Collies to Stop Their Unwanted Behaviors

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 29, 2016

Hailey and Hobbs

Hailey (left) lives with two other Border Collies; Hobbs (right) and Dora (Not pictured). Their guardian booked a dog behavior training session to stop Dora and Hailey from fighting one another. The guardian said that Hailey will return aggression to Dora, but doesnt start it. As a result of the hostility, the guardians have kept Dora and Hailey separate. But once they started separating the dogs, Dora has started to occasionally show some aggression to Hobbs.

When I arrived for the session, Hobbs and Dora ran outside barking at me in the territorial way. Hobbs seemed to be more alerting, where Dora seemed to have a little extra crunch to her bark. After greeting me though, Dora relaxed quite a bit and seem to have a nice playful energy to her.

After observing the dogs for a couple of minutes, we put Dora into a kennel so that I could meet Hailey and evaluate her. Hailey showed a lot of insecurity; crouching way down, keeping her head low, her ears back, almost constant licking of her lips and avoiding looking at or being anywhere near me.

As we chatted about the situation, I saw Hailey clinging to her guardian and nudging him with her nose anytime he stopped giving her attention. While we often think the best thing to do is to pet a dog who is needy and insecure, doing it on demand can actually confuse the dog into thinking it has the authority to tell us what to do. This can also cause the dog to start to develop more stress as they think they are somewhat responsible for the humans.

I spent a few minutes discussing this with the dog’s guardian so that they can stop reinforcing this unwanted behavior.

This is a pretty common mistake that many of my clients have made with their dogs who are insecure or fearful. But now that the guardians are aware of how their actions are effecting the dogs, they can stop nurturing this unbalanced state of mind.

I have found that incorporating a little bit of structure into how we pet our dogs can go a long ways towards helping them adopt a followers mindset while simultaneously seeing us in a more respectful light. Because the dog’s guardians attention and affection was confusing the dogs as to their status and place in the home, I took a couple of minutes to go over a technique that I have developed called Petting with a purpose.

By requiring the dogs to do something to earn it, they can use positive reinforcement as a reward for desired actions and behaviors. This will allow the guardians to train their dogs to be more respectful and obedient without even thinking about it.

When you have a dog that is reacting to another dog, it’s incredibly important to recognize the warning signs. Many people think a dog attack comes out of nowhere when in reality the dog almost always gives a number of warning signs before the actual fight occurs.

The dog’s guardians did recognize that things started to escalate from a stare, but there are many other warning signs to look out for. I spent the next few minutes discussing them so that the guardians will be better prepared to recognize any potential dustups long before they actually occur.

As the session went on, I noticed that Hailey was actually staring first. This caught me a bit by surprise given her super submissive nature. So its going to be important for the guardians to monitor both dogs closely and disagree with either one the instant any of these communications are given.

One of the best ways to stop dogs from reacting to other dogs or situations is to teach them more control. Many people mistakenly think they just have to simply keep on taking their dog to the same situation until they “get over it.”

But if we don’t help the dog develop a new way of interacting with the situation, all we are doing is helping the dog practice getting better at the aggression or reactivity.

Last year I learned about a new technique that helps dogs learn to turn away from other dogs and instead focus on their guardians. I pulled out some high-value meet treats and attempted to go through the exercise with Hailey but was unsuccessful. Her insecurities were so high that it was hard for her to focus on anything and she showed very little interest in the treats.

Eventually I decided it would be better to coach her guardian through the behavior to see if she would get a more responsive result from her dog.

While the guardian got slightly better results than I did, it was far from what I would consider a success. Hailey will need to learn and develop more self control and confidence in order to start practicing the Watch exercise later.

As the session progressed, I noticed insecurity is an all three of the dogs. Hailey’s were much easier to spot, but all three dogs at signs of having lower self-esteem than they should. It’s very likely that this lower self-esteem, minimal respect for the humans as authority figures and a lack of basic fundamentals is a major contributing factor to the behavior issues in the home.

To help the dogs better control themselves, I spent a couple of minutes going through a basic Stay exercise and then coached one of the guardians through it with Hailey. Teaching a dog to stay can go a long ways towards helping them learn self control.

Here is a link to a great video that breaks down teaching the Stay into the three basic steps; duration, distance and distraction.

I suggested that the guardians practice the Stay exercise with all three dogs separately while also subscribing to my petting with a purpose methodology. Petting with a purpose will help the dog practice sitting down in various scenarios and situations while will help with the Watch and other exercises we will need to work on in future sessions.

I recommended that the guardians start practicing the Sit in a quiet setting and then as the dog’s skill set increases, start adding distractions such as a radio, conversation, television program or even doing it in different locations like the backyard.

The more the dogs practice listening to and following their guardians commands and corrections, the easier it will be for them to focus. Even under calm settings, these dogs had a ways to go in terms of their control. When you factor in three unbalanced dogs with varying degrees of insecurity, you have a recipe for disaster.

I also recommended that the guardians stop using the pinch or prong collars that a previous dog trainer had recommended. It always frustrates me when I see a dog guardian utilizing this tool as it is the most extreme thing available and is intended to be used only in a short term to train the dog to stop pulling.

If you have a trainer who’s solution to your dog leash pulling is to give you a prong or pinch collar, you need to find a better trainer. A good trainer will teach you and your dog the skills necessary to have your dog walk next to you in a heel position without needing a leash at all. You use the leash simply for legality purposes and in case Of emergency. In my opinion, any dog trainer who recommends constant use of a pinch or prong collar is not very good at their job.

I recommended that the guardians focus on enforcing new rules, practicing petting with a purpose, the stay exercise and also teaching the dogs one new trick a week for the next month. Just like humans, dogs get a sense of pride or accomplishment when they master a new skill. All three of these dogs would greatly benefit from increased self-esteem.

As the dogs develop more self-control and respect for the humans, many of these insecurities should subside and eventually stop altogether. Once this is the case then will be able to start working on the next step; conditioning Dora and Haley to coexist without trying to kill one another.

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