Foster: Naughty Nipper Sent to Time Out


The initial meeting with Foster went extremely well… For the first ten minutes that was. Once seated and chatting with his owner Cindy, I happened to move my foot just so and this five year old Border Collie X dove for my toes with lightning speed. I had paid more attention to what Cindy was saying verbally, rather than what Foster was communicating silently. Bruised but no harm done: My mistake.

Here was a case of misunderstanding a dog’s motivation for his actions. The owner had originally called, stating in great agitation and viable concern that her dog suddenly started to bite people.  Actually the dog wanted to herd people and gave signs all along of becoming territorial with the yard gate, the doorway, his toys, bed and eventually almost every guest that arrived on his turf. Foster wasn’t mean, yet he displayed aggressive behaviour that contributed to him gaining more power with each nip at a human leg.

Cindy’s level of frustration and genuine concern for her guests’ safety – forced her to deal with the situation by banning her beloved dog behind closed doors, away from people. This is an option that many others in her shoes would naturally adopt as well:  Avoidance. His aggressive nipping was merely the outcome from a lack of understanding the symptomatic behaviour. In my eyes, Foster was bored, highly intelligent and had no job to show off his innate abilities. Foster’s breed type needed to be honoured. Despite daily walks, he also needed a mental challenge. Unfortunately avoidance extends problems, not solve them. A plan of action was required to overcome the issue.

As it’s never just all about the dog, some tough love was required on Cindy’s part to balance out Foster’s dominant tendencies that were inadvertently condoned over time.  The role of who was leading whom needed to be reversed, in the home and out. Cindy had to work on ‘subduing’ her energy level in order to effectively generate more focus and respect from Foster. He needed to overcome his high level of sight fixation – part of his breed characteristic, however not having an outlet, his fixations became an obsession. Movement triggered excitement therefore work was required at desensitizing his intensity towards his toys, bed, and gate entrance. Fair and due corrections applied at the right time enabled effective changes. Learning how to interrupt his fixed stares by giving him specific commands to perform simple tasks helped divert his attention to seek out positive rewards.

Suggesting agility training as a mental workout, was an added key component for Foster’s transformation. He needed a job to focus on:  A herding/working dog’s dream environment. A locally offered class was available which helped support a leadership role that Cindy required alongside the specific exercises we adopted for Foster’s new change of attitude.

The final process that truly emphasized a successful outcome, was my request in re-inviting one by one all of Cindy’s friends back to her home, that were subjected to one of Foster’s naughty nips. With their generous support , this gave Foster the opportunity to apologize for his misconduct! Armed with new found tools and knowledge Cindy no longer had any problem controlling Foster in the presence of her friends. More importantly every person was easily able to forgive Foster once they understood his misguided intent. They could see for themselves how much more relaxed yet respectfully attentive he became.

The stress has melted off Cindy’s shoulders. Her confidence is evident in how she now controls her dog with ease. The level of trust developed between her and Foster was generated by Cindy’s willingness to push through a challenging issue.

Henry: From Show Dog to Show-Down


Despite being one of the smaller breed of Bulldogs, Henry exudes attitude. It’s no coincidence that this five year old confident Frenchie commands attention wherever he goes.  Three years of struttin’ his stuff in the show ring naturally led to romancing the girls for the next two. Retired from his U.S. show and breeding days, Henry found his way to a new home and therefore a totally new life on Canadian soil. His new owner Melanie was enthusiastic to gain an endearing companion dog at home and a fun mascot at her place of business. Sounds wonderful so far, right?

Not having gained full details of Henry’s past, Melanie began seeing unexpected behaviour that was not the most gentlemanly conduct for such a handsome little dude. One would think that prancing around the show ring and being exposed to so many other dogs would produce a certain level of focus, obedience and happy acceptance of his fellow species. In fact, it appeared that the total opposite was true.  He would totally lose it on walks – becoming totally unglued as soon as he saw another dog. Thirty-five pounds of dynamo energy conducting the leash, made walking a miserable event.  A frenzied level of excitement produced challenges in other areas as well.

The Jollyball became a launching target in Melanie’s hands. Putting it away became an obsessive pace and stare game no matter where she tried to hide it to end the play. The front window was a source of great visual excitement with squirrels and taunting cats jumping within the tree just outside. The wooden shutters were kept closed to eliminate barking and lunging. Greeting people at the front door gave way also to naughty tendencies. Do you think it was any different at Melanie’s workplace? … You guessed right.

It appeared that Henry’s unwanted habits were perhaps a by-product of seclusion and avoidance:  A dog that has been exposed to a show ring and a multitude of other dogs, yet never being able to socialize freely with a single one. Perhaps excessive crating and lack of normalized play time with neighboring pets were factors contributing to a frustrated dog that kept the previous owners in a state of avoidance to maintain the peace. This poor guy had limited access to learn how to develop play buddies. So he had none.

Henry represents numerous dogs that become easily mislabeled and therefore seriously misunderstood. Discovering these behavioural tendencies of social aggression would drive most people to use physical punishment out of pure frustration. It would be an understatement to say that Henry is very fortunate to be in the hands of his current owner. Having previously owned a Frenchie, Melanie understands their breed characteristics, the level of patience required and a keen ability to recognize what it takes to follow through diligently in working with the persistent Bulldog type.

Has Henry progressed from our first encounter? I am thrilled to say absolutely! The shutters are left open now and the Jollyball is truly a playful toy rather than an object of prey. Social graces on leash have improved by changing the dynamics of how to reduce excitement and maintain focus. We traded the old collar that triggered aggression and introduced a different one that promoted calm.

By eliminating the tendency to avoid dog confrontations, Melanie has learned how to actively work through challenging daily distractions that in the past caused over-stimulated reactions. This owner’s sense of commitment to overcome someone else’s influence of unhealthy ingrained habits, is a testament to true love for a dog. Although there is still work to be done, happier days co-exist between home and office, as Henry works towards embracing a more social life with his fellow species.