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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Obedience or Herding Intervention?

QUESTION: Lizzie is a 6 year old border collie / Australian heeler mix. Jazz is a 2 year old pure bred border collie. We don't have any major issues with Jazz right now, so Lizzie is the one that needs the most training. From early on, Lizzie has always been very high strung. I attempted to crate train her as a pup and she would bark/cry/scream for up to an hour straight. (That was my longest attempt). She also managed to pull the crate in on itself and escape. She has been to multiple obedience and agility classes. She is very fast and learns command quickly. She knows basic obedience commands, lots of agility commands, and a variety of tricks. She performs very well for food, but not so well without. Issues - Barking She has a history of barking out the window at dogs, people talking, and occasionally nothing at all (that we can see). She is friendly with us and our immediate family members, but completely unpredictable with strangers. And sometimes barks and lunges just after meeting someone. She sometimes barks for attention, a toy, or a treat, but this is less of a problem and not consistent. Aggression Her attitude toward people is sometimes perfectly pleasant and playful, sometimes aggressive, and sometimes herding. She has grabbed guests' pantlegs from in a herding crouch. She has a huge problem with other dogs. I attempted to socialize her as a pup and took her to dog parks. As a pup she was playful, but as she got older she became more and more agressive, so I stopped taking her to areas where dogs are off leash. On leash, she usually does not bark at other dogs unless they are within 10 feet. She has no problem with Jazz, but they have had a few fights over resources (bones etc.). We worked with an in house trainer and were able to resolve that problem. What We Have Tried For barking: citronella collar - she continued to bark until it ran out of juice squirt bottle - looked annoyed, but was not deterred. Sometimes barked at the bottle shock collar - her fur is so thick at her neck that it either would not work at all or she would yelp and not make the connection to the barking as it was inconsistent - I do not think this is a good training method for her as I think it makes her more aggressive. Bark Stop - tone training - high pitched noise whenever barking occurs (this does not affect her at all) We are going to try sending her to a crate for a time out whenever she barks and see if that makes a difference. Aggression - I'm not really sure what to try. In a class setting, the dogs have always been separated and at a dog park I don't want to risk injury to either the dogs in the park, or Lizzie. In dealing with people, we keep her separated and then introduce her slowly to people and that seems to work. We then need to make sure that they have treats to give her so they can move about the house without losing an ankle (just a nip to the pantleg really, but this is really frightening for people who are afraid of dogs). My wife, Janet, and I both work full time. In order to ensure the dogs get enough exercise, I walk them in the morning and at night for between 15 and 30 minute. We have a dog walker come to the house in the middle of the day for a 30 minute walk as well. Both dogs sometimes go to doggie day care. When there, Lizzie doesn't really run around and play with the other dogs, through she is not aggressive there at all (since Janet and I are not there). She seems to crave interaction and really needs a job. I feel that what we are doing is not enough and I want her to have a good life. What I would like to do is have her trained to herd and then find a place for her to go during the week so she could do what her genetics are made for. I see that you do a bootcamp style training for dogs in obedience. Though I think that may solve some of her issues for a short period of time, I really feel that the underlying cause of much of her bad behavior is boredom and lack of truly challenging exercise. Our in house trainer met someone that sent his dog out every week to herd and spent the weekends at home. Our training is going to come back to us with more information on where the dog was sent to work. In the meantime, I am researching places where we could send Lizzie for training as the working dog she was meant to be. ANSWER: Let me share my professional opinion with you about Lizzie, based on the description you have provided. I do not think that Lizzie needs a job as much as she needs to be psychologically and socially balanced. Once she is comfortable in her own skin and feels that she can relinquish control of the world to you and Janet, she will still need exercise and perhaps even a hobby such as herding. But, until she becomes normal, mentally, it won't matter what you provide for her from an exercise point of view. Her body may be spending energy, but her mind is still messed up. We need to fix her mind, first. That is where her problems stem from. Also, as a herding instructor, I wouldn't consider working with Lizzie until she was able to show some self restraint and respect for her humans' authority. Without that, to be very honest, she could get someone or something killed or injured! That's not an exaggeration. So, before you look to some of the more grand options (like sending her off to herd), I believe it is important to resolve her very long standing psychological issues. Believe it or not, Lizzie's unwanted behaviors, including the acts of aggression, can be resolved. That's what we do. It's dangerous to take a psychologically unbalanced dog, or one that has little or no respect for a human authority figure, to work livestock. If Lizzie cannot remain calm and contented while being confined to a crate, she has some very basic issues. If she believes that she is responsible for determining (and dealing with) the threats in your environment (as in those things that lurk outside the window or guests in your home), she is taking control of the leadership role in your family/pack. That's a daunting task for a mere dog, which is why she is presenting unacceptable behavior. She is over whelmed because she has never been convinced that she is not in control of the household. When ever I hear someone tell me that their dog is acting "unpredictable", it's typically a sign that the people are in an up-side-down relationship with their dog, and also, that they do not realize HOW up-side-down it is. If a dog's actions seem unpredictable, it means that the folks think (at some level) that the dog is under their control, or is obedient to their commands. Many dogs, especially the herding breeds, learn how to "go with the flow" and "predict" the habits of their owners so that, for the most part, they appear to be under control and biddable and willing to comply. It's when the dog is put into a situation where it doesn't want to obey or doesn't want to respect their authority, that the dog, all of a sudden, seems unpredictable. All along, that dog was owning the relationship, but because it is willing to obey some commands, most of the time, the folks do not realize that all of the dog's behaviors are "owned" by the dog. So, in reality, there is NO obedience. The fact that she mostly only obeys with food, but not so well without it, is the perfect example of this sentiment. She is NOT really obeying, in the true intent of that word. So, what would my recommendation be for Lizzie? I believe that before anything else, she requires some serious intervention and she needs to learn to remain calm, relaxed, quiet, and well behaved both when people are present and when they leave her sight. She needs to "play nice with others" when it comes to dogs as well as people. She needs to relinquish control of decisions about threats to humans. She needs to learn TRUE obedience to commands, as in, regardless of WHAT happens around her, she will obey (if a cat rubs on her, if a dog is playing Frisbee next to her, if another dog is being fed, if a piece of steak falls on the floor in front of her, if a kid on a bike rides by....... and on and on and on). Also, she needs the people in her life to realign themselves as competent leaders. Most of her issues revolve around the fact the she doesn't believe in you. So, you and Mary need training, too. You need to learn how to remain calm and relaxed while imposing your expectations for exceptional behavior on Lizzie. A dog's behavior is a reflection of her relationship with the people in her life. So, we cannot rehabilitate and then train the dog and give her back to folks who haven't changed their own attitudes about how the dog needs her humans to behave. It just so happens that that is what we do! We can resolve Lizzie's issues and we can train you to be great leaders for her. That is what our Board & Train program provides. Then, you can explore ANY diversion that you would like - whether that is herding, or something else that you can enjoy together. Because of the issues you have described and Lizzie's age, I would recommend three weeks of training, four would be better, if you could part with her for that long. She will learn to be happy in her own skin, again, and she will reconnect with her canine language, which is subtle but very meaningful. Our methods are based on emulating the way that dogs interact with each other and then teaching the dog's people how to do the same thing. Dogs live "self restrained", they do not restrain each other. But, they wholly respect societal rules that are imposed by the higher ranking individuals in the pack. We set rules, we enforce them, the dogs learn to trust because of our competence to set and uphold rules, and then the dogs relax and become psychologically more balanced because of that.