Helping A Border Collie Pup Learn Cars are Not For Chasing

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 5, 2014

ElleEllie is a six month old Border Collie who wants to chase cars. Her owner called me concerned about this issue as they live near a busy intersection.

When I arrived for the session Ellie was on a leash and for a six-month-old pup, was amazingly attentive to her owner. I think her owner thought I was blowing smoke when I said that she was one of the best trained dogs Ive ever worked with, but it was true. You could instantly tell the dog had a strong bond with her owner and aside from a few momentary attention lapses, Elle was extremely well mannered.

I did notice a few minor issues such as giving the dog attention or affection as soon as it got close to her owners or if the dog stuck its head in their lap on on their knee. While giving a dog affection and attention is always always a good thing, doing so simply because the dog is near misses a teaching opportunity. There is a technique called “No Free Lunch” which directs a dog owner to only provide affection or attention after the dog follows a command (after she sits, lays down, etc). This is a great habit to get into as it helps define and reinforce the leader follower dynamic.

Although her owner did an outstanding job teaching her dogs basic commands, I went over a leadership exercise that will help the dog learn to restrain herself and also look at the humans as being in a position of status or authority.

I placed a high value treat on the floor and then claimed it as a dog would. Each time Ellie got too close, i moved towards her to claim the territory and communicate that she was not allowed to have the treat without my permission. As soon as she laid down a few feet away, I immediately turned to the side, dropped to a knee and patted the floor near the treat to communicate that she now had permission to get it. At first it took a little coaxing to get her to come and claim her reward, but after a few repetitions you could see her confidence rise as she started to get it.

I walked her owners through the exercise until even the preteen children were able to get the same response from the dog. By practicing this exercise daily for the next week or two, Ellie will see all the humans in the house as having more rank or status that she does. This will help her understand her position in the home and also ensure that commands and corrections are adhered to.

Border Collies are notorious for their intelligence. If they do not get a good amount of mental stimulation, they are prone to getting into trouble. But when I asked about her toys, her owner informed me that Ellie’s favorite toys were balls. She went on to say that Ellie destroyed the rest of the toys they bought for her so quickly they stopped buying replacement toys. This left her with two antlers, a chew bone, some balls and the occasional rawhide which is a pretty small variety.

I suggested that her owner pick up a nice assortment of chew toys as well as some that will help stimulate her mentally. Kongs are a great interactive toy as they involve some problem solving as well as reward for progress. I promised to email her a list of additional toys that can survive her heavy chewing as well as toys that will provide a mental workout as well.

Next I fitted Ellie up with a Martingale collar as her owner said she still pulled even though they were using a pinch collar. While there is nothing wrong with a pinch or prong collar, Ellie was so well mannered that I wanted to see if we could get a better response with a less aggressive tool.

Once we got outside Ellie was still pulling a bit, but her owner said it was much less than with the pinch collar. I went over a few basic leash rules and tips before we headed off in search of some moving cars.

As we got closer to the major street near their home, I saw Ellie stiffen up her posture and gait a bit. She also started to get a little more intense in her movements, turning her head constantly as she heard the cars passing nearby.

I walked her right up to the curb of the street so that I could determine how intense her attraction to the moving cars was. With the cars passing only a feet in front of us, Ellie was in a hyper attentive state, snapping her head to the side following the closest car and flinching on occasion. The fact that she was restraining herself was a great sign, but she was clearly enamored by the cars.

As a Border Collie, Ellie is predisposed to a herding instinct and clearly the cars were tapping into that. I attempted to gauge the intensity of her behavior by offering a high value meat treat. Usually a dog that is under heavy stress will ignore items and food that they would normally devour. Ellie broke her attention from the cars for the treat, but it did not hold her full attention. But the fact that she showed interest was another good sign.

I had brought along a ball as Ellie loves to play fetch. I moved a few feet further away from the street and tossed the ball over Ellie’s head from behind. At first Ellie this distracted Ellie and she snatched the ball of the ground, but after a few tosses, she grew less interested. As this was her favorite toy, it was a clear indication that we were too close to the stimulus that she was focused on; cars.

We moved a few feet further away and tried again. This time Ellie paid more attention to the ball and for longer periods of time. But she was still very alert and the cars clearly had the rest of her attention. Because Ellie’s family includes some young children and two working parents, her owner wasn’t able to walk her as often as she wanted to. At this point her owner lamented that she wanted to take Ellie along for walks but refrained from doing so because she was afraid the dog would pull or lunge at any cars that passed.

Because dogs get over things by literally moving forward, I quickly suggested that her owner start taking the dog with her when she went jogging. Not only will this burn the excess energy, its a great way to help enhance her leadership to the dog and will allow Ellie to get exposure to moving cars as she is moving forward herself.

I went over how close to the street Ellie can be to start out and what to look for as progress markers so that her owner will know when she can start getting closer to the street. By gradually increasing her exposure to cars in this structured way that also burns excess energy, Ellie will learn to stop focusing on the cars and instead pay attention to her owner’s lead.

I also recommended that they get a dog backpack and fit Ellie up with a few water bottles for these runs. When a dog has a job (carrying the water), they tend to focus on that and other outside stimulus become less appealing to the dog.

It will take consistent exposure to card from a distance on these jogs before Ellie stops fixating on them. But based on her obvious intelligence combined with the dedication of her owner, it shouldn’t take long before Ellie stops seeing cars as something she needs to chase or herd.

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