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Canine Behavior/Dog and Growling



I've emailed you before in regards to my Border Collie Luna. Recap, is I changed my training methods to only positive training, using NO negative training and I did tons of research to better understand canine behaviour but I'm still having 2 issues.

1. She is still very nervous and can be aggressive towards rambunctious or young hyper dogs or even intrusive dogs who say hi longer. And the odd thing is, she reacts to normal rude behaviour but she goes to a full blown snap/nip (Level 2 on Dr Ian Dunbar's bite chart). I have tried sooooo many things and it's so frustrating!!! I've used interrupters which only work for mild annoying dogs, but whenever super annoying dogs come near (not often) she loses it on the poor thing. The weirdest part.... She only does this to friendly dogs! Any dog that barks like wild at her she will submissively run up to and befriend (literally! They play). She is HORRIBLE with nice friendly dogs, especially puppies!
Now, I don't goto off leash dog parks, I understand she's not dog park material, but the fields we goto when I work with her on training (disc and ball for rewards) every now and again a dog comes and if the dog is female and younger than 3 years old, she will fight no matter what. If the dog is a male and under 6-7 yrs old, she will fight. If it's an older female 4 yrs or older she is fantastic with, if it's an older male, it's a toss up, depending on how intrusive they are.
Let me say she is never the aggressor, its ALWAYS when they come into her space (within 2 ft of her). Many times she will want to go see the dog and have a friendly meet, then leave and next time the dog approaches she will snap at.
What worries me was a puppy 6 months old, she bit and gave the puppy a scratch over her eye for the puppy sniffing her bum as she was walking away. Before that she was just walking by, then boom as soon as the puppy went near her bum.
On leash she is WAYYYY better. Whenever she's on leash she's not aggressive, she shows nervous behaviour to jumpy puppies and I will take her away right away but most dogs she will play with, even young dogs. It's absolutely bizzarre.

After reading many books and researching aggressive behaviours, it seems like she doesn't know how to react off leash. It's like she becomes nervous and reacts.

What I've tried.
Interrupter for about 1 yr with no progress. It worked once or twice but the environments are so uncontrolled that it's impossible to have something as a higher reinforcement for her to look away.
Rewarding for positive interactions which dramatically helped, but again they have topped out and only work so much.

I've tried a positive tone "no bites" after an incident and a down for a moment, which has dramatically helped suppress her biting for awhile - but I know it's bad but I don't use a negative scary tone, I just say "no bites" in a mellow tone and a lay down for 5 seconds to help her teeth chattering and when she gets back, or goes on leash or follows me, she's much better, she's more avoiding. Which is not fixing the problem I know.

I've tried extinguishing the behaviour by avoiding dogs and she actually gets worse. I stopped going near any dog for a few months and she got VERY bad, unsocialized it seems and more nervous. So I took her back to the rewarding for positive interactions and up beat happy tone - which brought her back to happy girl.

I had a time where she was super happy and played with every dog at a trail, this happened after I started socializing her in an area where dogs where (not a dog park) but an area where you'll see a few dogs every 20 mins. She literally had a blast with all types of dogs and I continued taking her there once a week. Then the puppy thing happened and that was 3 weeks ago and she has been just horrible since, with my cats, dogs even that she's friends with.

It's like she's bipolar. It really depends on her mood that day and how she will react, that's what it seems like at least.

With my cats - some days she loves them walking up to her, other days she growls and gets really nervous, trying to avoid. It's the SAME behaviour the cats are doing - nothing is different. I've used the interrupter on this like you said and it helped a little but what would happen is she would become excited and wouldn't associate the two that the cat coming towards you means happy good things - she still would growl every time but if I said the word, she would stop - but I would have to be there to say it, we made no progress.
Had an incident tonight, she snapped at our cat as I was filling her KONG that she always gets and is usually very good, happily waiting and doesn't growl at the cats with it. Of course I messed up with a horrible reaction. It was a instant reaction of how dare you do that to the cat, she got in a big trouble. And I know I just went miles back. This is the first time I have reacted negatively in almost a year.

Are there any other training tools I can use other than an interrupter with her aggression. I seem to move forwards with positive interactions -she puts the two together but whenever she gets in a thing with another dog, it sets her back sooooo far. And I'm quick on recognizing that she's nervous and can get her out of the situation but it's like as soon as she starts feeling, game over, it's as bad as if she got in a fight.

Thank you. On a better side she is FANTASTIC with people now! She use to bark at some men and women but she hasn't done that in a year! She loves people to death. But the same training doesn't work with dogs.

ANSWER: Complex problem that no doubt (and don't take this personally!) involves your reactions and body language (in a way I can't see from here).

Obvious solution: stop bringing this dog into any area where she is off leash and likely to meet other dogs.  Not every dog is a candidate for inter-dog relationship (even on-leash but at least in that circumstance you can re-direct and hopefully counter condition, depending upon response perseverance).

She "loves people to death"....GOOD, excellent work.  She has trouble with certain other dogs, this is directly the result of immediate communication that involves body language between dogs that you will not perceive without a trained eye and that takes place in one second!

I suggest you find a behaviorist.  One source is this list, which I believe has the name of a professional in Canada:

You can also call the veterinary college within your geographical area and get referral but be sure this person is a certified applied animal behaviorist.  Exposing the dog to any situation that elicits this fight/flight response is making it worse.  It needs to be seen in person, I'm sorry I can't fix it from this distance.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you! Yes I believe I am a part of it, but I feel that there is learned aggression as part of it - which is the tricky part. I know every time the fight or flight response is triggered it's bad, I hate it. But I feel like a move backwards from keeping her from dogs, it honestly gets worse when we finally see a dog - excitement paired with nerves = bad bad reaction to even dogs she is fine with.

I have tried for months to seek a animal consultant or even better a applied animal behaviourist and there are NONE that are listed within my region. The closest is over 6 hours away unfortunately, I really wish I could hire someone but it's unavailable. The university's or colleges here don't have any veterinarian courses, the closest is Alberta, and the popular fellow that works at University of British Columbia I can't even get a hold of or track down.

I really appreciate all your advice and I don't take anything personally, I messed her up in the beginning and I'm willing to take the blame full heartedly, I just want her to be able to not be stressed and enjoy dogs like I know she does.

are there any books you would recommend to further my knowledge?


Without eye to behavior I can't advise you further nor could anyone else.  When a dog fails in behavior, something about the "training" has failed (and that includes the trainer, no offense in any way intended, this is quite common).  Consistent exposure to a stimulus that provokes aggression worsens the aggression: whatever the dog's motivation (be it fight/flight, a reaction to something the other dog does that a Human can't easily perceive, some abstract "trigger" I cannot know, a chained reaction to a single cue (command) that elicited fear at the time and is now generalizing), consistent and repetitive exposure will always worsen it.  The dog is not properly socialized to other dogs OR she has acquired a response based upon her own prey drive to certain other dogs OR a few other things: I can't see anything from here.

Since this dog is "friendly" and accepting of ALL Humans (including children and elderly) and shows NO aggression at ANY TIME to Humans, to persist in taking her into a venue where you know there is a huge problem is an enormous error.  There is no reason to do this.  If you can't find professional help (and I believe that you can't, it seems in your area it is not available), then my only recommendations are three:

1.  Find a reliable and humane "club" or association in herding trials (training for herding competition) and observe: do NOT bring the dog.  Just simply attend meetings and OBSERVE.  Talk to other members.  See what problems they may have had with their dogs.  It's not uncommon for a Border Collie (or other herd guarding and herding breeds) to be competitive or intolerant of other dogs which makes them inappropriate for competition.  By watching and sharing, you may intuitively grasp what's going on with your dog.

2.  Contact Border Collie rescue in Canada (you can find them on the Internet, I'm sure) and ask if THEY have a behaviorist or exceptionally gifted trainer who works with them who can observe your dog and offer suggestions.  DO NOT allow anyone to force your dog into a situation where she demonstrates aggression.  This is NOT how to deal with the situation.  And be certain to ask for, and check, references.

3.  Forget competition or any situation that involves the presence of other dogs, off leash, in the field.  This dog is failing, I don't know why (and neither do you), and the most obvious and sensible reaction is to prevent ANY repetition of this behavior. The Border Collie is an intelligent breed intended for independent problem solving in cooperation with the human handler.  Not ALL of them can do this.  In fact, many cannot.  Breeding is everything and not all "breeders" are professional enough to know which of their "stock" should be used for breeding.  This is true of any breed.

There are SO many factors involved in the behavior of any living entity (even an ant!) as to make it more probable that our expectation(s) of any other (including other Humans) may not be (or cannot be) met.  One must accept what one has, not push the other to fulfill one's expectations or one's "wishes" regarding the other.  Perhaps, in this situation, you have a dog that is friendly and loving toward people and (for whatever reason) cannot compete in the field and can be (is) intolerant of certain other dogs.  In this case, she can be "worked" alone and not exposed to a situation that clearly makes her fearful and defensive.  There's no shame in admitting that one's expectations of another cannot be met but there is great maturity in accepting the LIFE lesson that this is true, and will be true.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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