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.