Canine Behavior/Hiya Jill.


Hiya Jill, I'm Jennifer and I would like to ask for your advice about my dog Agnes.

Agnes is a Border Collie and will turn 8 years old next month. She has never been too keen on children,which has never been a problem in the past because I didn't know any children. But my sister now has a baby who is almost 9 months old.

Agnes first met the baby when he was 6 months old (my sister moved back into town after living away for a few years) At first Agnes didn't pay much attention to the baby, she didn't seem to mind him being around. She has nuzzled his hands a couple of times for a stroke (so we help the baby stroke her)!

My sister visits maybe 2 or 3 times a week, and over this past week there has been a change in Agne's behavior towards him. I have noticed her giving him a few glances, almost as if she is suspicious of him (it could be curiosity?) but she doesn't look entirely comfortable - she will give him a side way glance, of course I am always there so I distract her and she forgets about the baby.

If my mum is holding the baby and playing with him, Agnes will grab one of her toys and shove it onto my mums lap to try and get her to play, even though I am giving Agnes my full attention and trying to play with her myself!

As a family we have decided that we are going to put restrictions in place - when my sister visits with the baby, we are going to put a baby gate in between two rooms, so Agnes can have me with my full attention on her, and the baby can play safely without worry!

It's a necessary step but an unfortunate one! I am concerned that keeping them separate will destroy the chances of them bonding in anyway in the future. Is there any advice you can give to help Agnes accept the baby? Or perhaps offer any clues as to why she is looking at him suspiciously? I would love to help her relax around him.

Any tips at all would be very much appreciated!

Thank you for taking the time to read this Jill!

Best wishes,

At age eight, your dog is experiencing response perseverance: this means, those things she fears (and aggression is almost always fear based) will not change regardless of what you try to do.

Playing with the dog or in any way rewarding her when the baby is present, without being able to instantly interpret her body language and biologic response to fight/flight, is an error.

This dog and this child will never interact safely.  As a baby ages, it becomes more mobile.  This mobility renders an "infant" (unknown quantity to the dog) into a "child" (observable by the dog and eliciting the fight/flight response).

Before the child visits (at least ten minutes), confine the dog to a special area where she is given a special toy (try a Buster Cube which distributes a portion of food as the dog rolls it around, perfect for a herding breed). Accustom the dog to this confinement area (where she CANNOT SEE the child: behind a closed, locked door) in small spurts, using the Buster Cube (you can do this for short periods - five to ten minutes - every other day and use the Buster Cube to dispense a portion of her daily food).  She will not see this confinement as "punishment" or isolation if she is conditioned to it in this manner.  When you release her from this confinement, have a "party": be happy, rewarding, praise, ask for "sit", high value food treat, go on as usual.  The dog will not connect the confinement to the baby nor will her fear in any way be rewarded.

This dog is not safe around children and it is not HER FAULT.  There are many "good" dogs who are afraid of children due to insufficient or totally lacking socialization at an early age.

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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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