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Can I ask for some advice about my dog and visitors please?

(29 Posts)
poutintrout Tue 16-Aug-11 15:40:47

I have a 5 years old Border Collie who is very territorial about the house and it is a real problem that I can't ignore any more. He will go frantic, barking and growling, hackles up & snarling if anybody comes to the front door. He will eventually go into the lounge where I can shut the door but I have to tell him a couple of times and he goes off still growling and making a fuss. Nobody can come into the house further than the kitchen. I daren't let strangers meet him in the house.

If we have visitors coming over that my dog hasn't met before we have to take him out on the lead onto neutral territory for him to meet the visitor before they can come into the house. Even then my dog is very antsy around them and demonstrates fearful/aggressive body language for a while before he calms down - which is unpleasant for visitors and worrying for me. Once my dog has met someone though he will happily let them come back to the house and is happy to see them.

We had a particularly unpleasant incident when we were staying with my inlaws. They didn't understand the problem, I think they thought I was being dramatic because they have only seen him as the nice dog he usually is, and they let a visitor in. My dog firstly ran under the table growling and backing off but then rushed at the visitor snapping. Fortunately he didn't bite but I felt awful and afraid at what could have happened.

This is no way to live and obviously causes problems for simple things like having workmen in the house. I am also TTC and know that, God willing, at some point I will have to have Health Visitors at the house. I do not want the added pressure of a snarling dog. Also I know that this is my house and it is ridiculous that my dog dictates who can come in.

When my dog is in this mode of fear and aggression he won't listen to me and will not be bribed with food treats. I have read about guests throwing titbits over the threshold and ignoring the dog but I know that my dog isn't food orientated when distracted & to me this kind of training would be a recipe for disaster.

We are moving house soon and I wonder whether this will be a good time to make some changes for the good but I don't know where to start with tackling this problem. I am also worried that we will have a couple of weeks of staying with family before the new house is ready and I am worried about a repeat of the incident at my PILS house. We have a fabric muzzle but I don't want my dog to have to constantly wear that - that isn't a solution and won't tackle the deep behavioural issue.

I think that because we have never had many visitors since having him as a pup - we moved away from family and friends - that this is the problem and he is unsocialised in this regard and I feel guilty that we have let him down. Having said that we have another Border Collie who is 4 years old and he is totally different. He is not fearful and loves visitors.

I'm sorry for the long post and really, really hope that somebody can give me some pointers, I am at the end of my tether on this front.

Thank you!

ditavonteesed Tue 16-Aug-11 16:41:30

I am no expert, is he food oriented, could you get vistors to drop really tasty treats (kind of throw them so they are a distance away) so he sees vistors as a good thing? I would aslo try it with someone who actually knows about dogs and isnt scared to get him used to it. also get them to trhow the treats while completly ignoring the dog soo they are not posing a threat.

wannaBe Tue 16-Aug-11 16:49:01

well, your first port of call would of course be a behaviorist.

But in truth this agression isn't just teratorial is it - because he reacts like this when in other peoples' houses as well?

You say that you'll have to consider health visitors etc in the future, I think tbh that you have bigger problems than this and I would be seriously considering whether keeping an agressive dog is a good idea once a baby comes along, and I am not normally of the "rehome the dog when the baby arrives" persuasion.

poutintrout Tue 16-Aug-11 17:06:35

Thanks ditavonteesed for that suggestion, we have considered it but unfortunately he isn't food orientated at all.

Wannabe there is no question of us getting rid of my dog and rehoming him. He is part of my family. We have no worries about him and a baby at all & obviously we would be mindful of having any dog around a child. He is not aggressive towards people he knows and trusts at all. He is very gentle & loving with my nephew. The only problem is his distrust and fear of strangers in the home environment. He is fine outside on his walks and takes no notice of people.

QuietTiger Wed 17-Aug-11 13:30:30

Your first port of call should be Wiccaweys Border Collie Rescue. They are happy to talk things through on the phone and give advice. They may take a while to get back to you, as they are very busy, but the DO answer all their call in strict rotation and they DO ring you back. Their attitude is "they will help, because it will keep a collie in its home".

Their website can be found here Wiccaweys

poutintrout Wed 17-Aug-11 16:22:06

Thank you QuietTiger I hadn't heard of this organisation but will give them a call.

Like I said before in my last post, without wishing to sound like a stuck record, we are not considering rehoming him at all because he is a lovely dog and in every other respect well behaved & well adjusted. I was a bit horrified before that anyone might suggest that to me actually!

I hope that my OP hasn't made him sound like some hell hound because he isn't. I am just after some tips on how to modify this area of bad behaviour & didn't want to go off half cocked with my own strategy and make things worse. We have had other issues before with both dogs and have followed training advice and sorted those issues out. Just goes to show how quick and willing Collies are to learn I suppose!

Thank you very much again.

foolserrand Wed 17-Aug-11 17:14:21

Have you considered flooding? Take the dog to a dog show, nothing serious, just a fun one. There will be lots of strangers there walking around, ignoring your dog. Try with the muzzle first for safety then take it off when you feel your dog is ready. Also, long, exhausting walks before expected visitors are due round may help. Collies are notorious for this behaviour if they have excess energy.

Wishing you the best of luck.

4c4good Wed 17-Aug-11 18:26:59

First off, let me applaud you for your commitment to this dog. You say you've had him from a pup - how old was he when he came to you and- has anything, anything at all, triggered this behaviour that you can pinpoint?

I have a BC too and Wiccaweys are absolutely awesome, but the last I heard a while ago was they were struggling with calls as one of the founders was poorly. I would call anyway though and leave a message.

Was hefrom a working dog background or from show lines? Where did you get him? What attracted you to the breed?

Mine is the opposite of yours- he's unreliable around other dogs at times if he feels insecure. This is easily manageable. He's never difficult with people. In my heart I would trust him alone around a new born babe ( but nerver follow through, of course) Whereas my lovely old cross-breed girl who was bombproof with everybody and everything is now a bit more grumpy and sometimes doesn't like being suddenly approached - so I watch her very carefully.

I know this isn't very constructive. The issue with collies is that they are so damn intelligent and sensitive they can sometimes need a bit more in-depth assessment to treat. As someone pointed out this doesn't seem to be a simple territorial issue if he is behaving that way in someone else house.

I am sure you will work this through. In the meantime, enjoy him! Collies are the essence of dog and he is lucky to have you.

crispface Wed 17-Aug-11 18:34:44

I have a dog that used to bite all men, and refuse to let strangers into the house. Her bites were never hard, but that is TOTALLY beside the point.

I had her muzzled. She hates food, and treats it all with suspicion, so for me, food treats were never going to work. She is also terrified of loud noises, to the extent that she will wet herself if someone uses a bunch of keys to "break her out of her barking" (we tried many things)

However, after much crying, worrying and soul searching (I have to say, in her favour, she never once growled at anyone in the house, or any child, and her best friend was our rabbit who lived in the house - so a very gentle dog 98% of the time) we tried food titbits.

literally strangers (to her) chucking food in her direction whilst she was on a long lead so coudnt actually atack them. high reward treats like cheese and frankfurter sausages. The transformation was amazing. We didnt remover her muzzle overnight, but in the course of a year (and not doing the treat thing more than once a week/fortnight) she totally chaned.

she is now 14, and I can honestly say she has not attacked anyone for about 9 years and not been muzzled when out for about 8. I dont even notice if a man walks past me now, and cant remember the last time i was bothered about it.

so although your dog doesnt appear to be motivated by treats, it might help. Particularly if he is attacking because he is scared (as my dog did)

good luck.

QuietTiger Wed 17-Aug-11 18:34:56

Foolserrand you are talking through your arse and are spouting complete bollocks. What-ever you do, OP, DO NOT flood your dog. You will only make the anxiety worse and could potentially cause more problems.

4c4good - you'll be pleased to know that both Sarah and Paul are now fit and well at Wiccaweys. They are busy, yes, but Paul is still doing all the behavioural stuff and they are answering calls as usual. They tend not to phone back on weekends as they are usually doing behaviourals and rehomings, but always call back early in the week if your leave a message over the weekend.

OP, PLEASE, Speak to Wiccaweys. They are one of the most experienced collie people out there.

foolserrand Wed 17-Aug-11 18:40:36

Quiet not at all. It does work. It is proven to work. If you disagree with me, fine. But no need to be rude.

4c4good Wed 17-Aug-11 18:43:03

Quiet that is good news.


4c4good Wed 17-Aug-11 18:45:53

fools I agree that taking the dog out for a relaxing run before a sressful event is probably a good idea.

But exhausting? Are you kidding? Have you ever tried to exhaust a border collie? If you have, have you ever succeeded?

QuietTiger Wed 17-Aug-11 18:56:44

Fools - are you a collie specialist? Flooding a BC with possible fear agression with a muzzle in a situation where it can't escape will have one of 2 outcomes.

1) the dog will "shut down" and it will go into itself. It will not "solve" the problem. All you will have is a dog who shuts down from fear - it won't ever be happy in that situation.

2) the dog will be overwhelmed and utterly terrified, and you will make the situation far, far worse, because you will have enforced the dogs belief that it is in a dangerous scary situation and the best response is agression.

With a BC, the most likely outcome will be 2 because of the way a collie mind works.

If you are working from the Cesar Milan school of thought, he is a discredited moron who knows nothing about dogs. I make no excuses for saying that, because he is. No "sensible" behaviourist will recommend an inexperienced owner flooding a dog. Infact, no sensible behaviourist would recommend flooding a dog, full stop.

foolserrand Wed 17-Aug-11 19:10:13

Not a collie specialist, no. But I used that technique on my second dog. We got her at 6 months old from her former owner and she was scared of all floor types other than carpet. We saw no alternative to be honest. Had read what you wrote and were wary but were advised to try it from behaviourists and vets alike. She is fine now. Not fearful, aggressive, nor did she shut down.

Could you explain why collies are so different that this wouldn't work?

QuietTiger Wed 17-Aug-11 19:24:32

Fools - am not ignoring you, but want to spend time replying properly and give your question a proper response (polite, I promise wink ), but I now have to do poo patrol (don't ask, DH wants to cut the grass) and get everyone fed, so it will be later.

redglow Wed 17-Aug-11 19:56:56

Fools this worked for me too. If it works why noy use it what works for one dog does not work for another.

foolserrand Wed 17-Aug-11 21:49:23

I know poop patrol all too well. I actually posted and ran earlier (terrible netiquette). Very much looking forward to your reply. Have been trying to persuade dh to agree to a collie next... might you change my mind if they are wired differently to other breeds?

QuietTiger Thu 18-Aug-11 08:43:43

OK, I am now back. smile I am trying to be polite, because Fools you ask a reasonable & sensible question and I don't mean to be rude, but I may come across as harsh as I think flooding a dog is really stupid. I don't apply this specifically to collies, although they have more extreme responses because they are sensitive intelligent dogs and have the ability to "over-think" things.

Flooding a dog is an old technique that was used by old fashioned trainers to make a nervous dog give up. In a nut shell, what flooding means is, the trainer would constantly harass the dog unmercifully until that animal accepts it’s fate of death (In their mind, anyway) and gives up. Or to put it another way the dog trainer would make the nervous dog so nervous that the dogs brain would finally shut down.

When some people see the immediate result that the trainer accomplishes with this type of behavior modification method, they are impressed. They are impressed because what they see is effectively "a cure".

This is probably without a doubt the absolutely stupidest way to deal with a nervous dog. The most common responses you will see in a dog when he meets new people after he’s gone through the flooding treatment are, (1) he will make sure he acts like a bigger maniac the next time someone tries to come near him. or (2) he will slink away from everybody.

In either case the dog will pretty much be miserable.

All that has happened, is that you have negatively reinforced the fact that (in the case of the OP) strange people/crowds are big scary places and he cannot escape. if mum and dad trys to reasure him, he's confirming in his mind that it's scary because mum and dad are not behaving normally, but instead are telling him he has something to worry about. Therefore, in his mind, he is justified in feeling the way he does.

Say Fido is scared of strange dogs, but we keep walking him past strange dogs and offering him Scooby Snacks. He might take them—or he might not, but is food what’s really on his mind? If you say it depends on the dog, you’re right. But you can teach a dog to take food in the presence of other dogs and still have a dog that is scared of other dogs. If you want to teach a dog not to be afraid of other dogs, the best way to teach him is to provide him with escape from other dogs when he does any behavior that is not as scared as what he used to do. (i.e. positive reinforcement).

We do this with our collie girl who is terrified of kids. When she wants to get away from a scary situation - kids, she goes to her bed, where she is not disturbed. That's positive reinforcement, because she is able to get away from the kids and she has a positive result from her actions (gets away from kids). What we absolutely do not do, is expect her to interact with children. It scares her, makes her fearful and snappy. And besides, why would I want to deliberately frighten my dog? Take the same dog to a crowded place on the end of the lead, and she goes into complete meltdown. There are numerous places we've had to take her which are crowded - we haven't ever "deliberately flooded" her and each time where she hasn't been able to escape it's just reinforced that she's trapped in a nasty situation.

fools - when you were advised to flood your dog with a floor covering, did you give it treats and reinforce what a good dog it was when it crossed it? The reason I ask, is that you'd have had time to associate the floor covering with something nice, the dog can show the required behaviour (walking across the floor) and you positively reinforce it straight away. i.e. walk on the floor, get a treat, therefore, floor not scary - IYSWIM.

A dog going to a crowded place is "unlikely" to exhibit the behaviour you want because it will be too busy panicing. All it will be thinking is "Ohshit ohshit ohshit" and it will be very, very difficult to reinforce good behaviour positively, hence the flooding becomes a negative way of training. Plus, you will not be able to remove the dog from the situation instantly you get the required response, which turns the idea of positive reinforcement on its head.

As to collies, the reason I would say you need specialist advice is because 99/100 they out think their owners. grin A collie learns bad habits quicker than it learns good habits and if they are not mentally stimulated, they find their own jobs to do.

I'm probably not making myself really clear, but I've tried to explain what i mean. I am not a collie expert, i just know them better than other dogs in that they are "my breed" like GSD's are dogsbestfriend or Greyhounds are Scuttlebutters IYSWIM?

Fools I am totally biased, I wouldn't have any other dog than a collie (except maybe a black lab gundog). Provided you get the right one, you will have an amazing, intelligent family pet. If your home situation is the right one, DH would be a fool not to get a collie. grin

I really think, OP, you need to ring Wiccaweys. Paul is a collie specialist and he's seen this behaviour countless times before.

Thehusbandsatcricketagain Thu 18-Aug-11 09:37:18

I have to agree with all the others,phone wiccaweys-I called them last year when we took a bc x springer on from a private adoption & he was fantastic,great advice & we now have a calmer,happy dog.....she still has some issues with visitors but we handle them better now grin

poutintrout Thu 18-Aug-11 09:47:06

Thank you everybody for your replies. I was actually really rattled by the suggestion to rehome him and worried that this was an unsolvable problem & we would just have to live with it. Thank you for your reassurances that with some effort I will sort this out.

4c4 I'll try and answer your questions as briefly as a I can, though I can be a bit of a dog bore where my dogs are concerned! He was almost 10 weeks old when we got him and he was from a working farm/come horse stud place in Somerset. We chose Border Collies because my DP wanted that breed - which I know isn't a good reason but we did do a lot of reading on them before we got the dogs and I am at home all day so they have a lot of attention and stimulation.
You ask about whether something may have happened to him to cause this fear. The only things I can come up with are that when we had him we had a pub so they was always a lot of noise coming from downstairs - he is quite noise phobic so I'm sure that he never totally relaxed in his home environment. Also, and this may sound daft, he has blue eyes and I have noticed that people are always staring at him. Total strangers will literally stare him down in the street. That can't be good, like he is always being challenged maybe?

Crispface fortunately he has never made skin contact, just air snapping at the moment, more warning people to back off I suppose. Having said that we go to stupid lengths so strangers are never in the same room as him because I would be devastated if he hurt anybody and was threatened with being put to sleep.

Thank you QuietTiger for your advice. We did actually consider a kind of "flooding" technique in desperation and were going to bring people into the house with him muzzled so he could see that nobody would hurt him or us. I won't do that now and will telephone Wiccaweys instead. They sound like great people.

Thank you once again everybody for your responses and suggestions, I really appreciate it.

CalamityKate Thu 18-Aug-11 13:54:00

Oh God PLEASE don't try flooding.

It would be completely irresponsible and could well make your dog far, far worse. It's simply not worth the risk when other, gentler methods work far better with no risk.

You need a decent behaviourist - make sure it's one who doesn't spout Cesar/Dominance type nonsense.

4c4good Thu 18-Aug-11 18:33:56

pout - I think you may be onto something with the noise issue... My collie came from a working home at 8 weeks - he's a merle and has one blue eye and one half blue and half brown. I've never thought about that affecting how others treat him though -interesting. Maybe it causes people to peer into his face - I can see how that would be unsettling for some dogs.

I also think he is almost certainly picking up on your anxiety when he's around people which is proably increasing his nervousness and maybe even triggering him to be protective.

Flooding is a terrible idea. Am currently reading 'In defence of dogs' by John Bradshaw. It's fascinating stuff and goes a long way to explaining why the dominance-based methods of Cesar Milan, et al, are now discredited.

poutintrout Fri 19-Aug-11 08:31:59

My dog is half Blue Merle, though he doesn't have the grey mottled coat, he's a tri-colour. Merles are beautiful dogs. I think that people love the blue eyes and because it is unusual can't help themselves with the staring!

I think you are right that he picks up on my anxiety. I am a natural worrier anyway! Also because he is quite noise phobic and a bit nervy generally I think that I pander to it a bit too much and sometimes treat him like he's made of glass. I've never done that with my other dog because he's generally more robust and takes everything in his stride. Maybe that it is why the younger dog is so much more laid back. I will try and ease off on my over protectiveness & see if that helps.

I might try and get a copy of the book you mention, it sounds interesting. We did see a behaviourist in the past because we had an issue with the two dogs fighting (it's solved now thankfully!) and she did use the pack dominance idea. I hadn't realised that this method had been discredited.

QuietTiger Fri 19-Aug-11 09:32:35

Bear in mind that Paul at Wiccaweys may well suggest something else.

What has worked with us, for my very timid "stranger phobic" super nervy collie girl, when she is being nervy, (not in a situation where she is scared, but just where she is being skittish because she's spooked, IYSWIM) is to just completely ignore the behaviour and act totally normally as if you haven't even noticed what's happened. e.g. if she hears a loud, unexpected bang and goes "oh SHIT - what's THat?" with the resulting panic attack she has.

Quite often she works through it herself if we just let her get on with it. She deals with it in a number of ways. If she's on the end of the lead, she collapses in a heap with her tail inbetween her legs, if she's in the kitchen, she shoots under a table or into her bed. When she works out that we haven't reacted at all, she relaxes a little bit. It's taken months, but she is getting better, because she is slowly learning for herself that life is not a big scary place.

Just something that works for us.

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