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Canine Behavior/border collie


My Border Collie Holly knows all the basic commands and responds well to them. She is a rescue dog and I have had her 3 years. My problem is she likes to herd dogs she is familiar with three to be precise. She chases them when they chase the ball. She does not hurt or upset them and its great exercise for her and the owners are fine with it. With two of the dogs she will still come when called, but for some reason when the other dog appears over the other end of the park(it's a huge park), she will run off towards it and totally ignore my recall. I have tried everything hiding, treats(not interested when out for a walk), praise walking in the opposite direction, using a long line. She is not interested unfortunately in chasing a ball or anything else, even though I have tried hard to encourage her. She is also like this if I take her to woodland areas where there are rabbits, squirrels etc. She went missing for half an hour once, so I avoid taking her places like this now, which is a shame, as I would love to be able to. I do hope I have given you enough information and you can give me some advice.

NEVER use a recall in a situation where you know the dog is in prey response drive (and that's what herding is.)  I can't determine (without seeing it) why your dog is so persistent regarding the third of those three except to say that something about their relationship or that dog's responses or body language is part of the problem.

You've lost your recall.  You have to start over.  Make up a word, and re-condition the dog.  Some introduction to this from my personal files:

   Choose a word that you and no one is your family EVER uses.  DO NOT use "come"...that word has very little meaning to your dog at this point, since he's basically been taught to ignore it.  For our purpose here, we will use the word "PRESTO."

   Using a TREAT (something your dog really, really wants), walk up to the dog, stand directly in front of him, say "presto", pop treat in dog's mouth.  Repeat this twice more.  Now take a few steps backward.  Your dog will come toward you (almost all of them do   if he doesn't, repeat the first step three more times.)  AS he comes toward you, say "Presto" and pop the treat in his mouth.  What you are doing is associating the word with the ACTION and offering the treat when the dog is IN FRONT OF YOU.  Repeat this twice more, end session.  Later in the day, repeat the above scenario again. Do this twice a day (for short intervals) three days in a row.

   On the fourth day, catch your dog's eye and say "Presto".  Don't be more than a few feet away.  Give the dog three or four seconds to process what's happening.  He should come towards you.  If he does not, WALK OUT OF THE ROOM, count to ten, go back INTO the room and start from Square One (as if teaching it from the beginning.)  What you're doing is building a conditioned response to the word "Presto" which involves the dog coming TOWARD you and  receiving a treat while standing  STILL in front of you.  It takes up to 60 repetitions to get a strong conditioned response.  Once you have ten out of ten successful trials (dog always comes toward you when you say "Presto" and you always give him the treat once he's reached you), you can begin to play "recall" games inside the house.  (Do NOT take this routine OUTSIDE where there are far too many distractions until your dog is ROCK SOLID INSIDE, and this might take several weeks.)  To play this game, you can begin by saying "Presto" from the next room, but don't confuse the dog too much, make it easy for him.  You can then make it a bit more difficult and increase the value of the TREAT (this is called "jackpotting") when the dog finds you in another room.  This makes "work" fun for the dog and for you, turning your training sessions into something upbeat.  The last step is taking PRESTO outside.  A confined area (fenced in) is ALWAYS mandatory.  You've taught the dog to come toyou when called WITHOUT A LEASE, let's try to keep it that way.  A Leash is ALWALYS "psychological restraint" to a dog...he knows you're in control.  When the dog comes to you from his free choice, he's making a DECISION.  This is long term memory in the making.

  Repeat your recall exercises at least once or twice a week for several months.  Make the REWARD interesting and varied and NEVER, EVER use the word "presto" (or whatever other recall word you have) for anything ELSE other than recall work.

NEVER "test" the dog by taking it into a situation where its behavior has been KNOWN to FAIL.  One does not ever let the dog "fail" if one can prevent it.  This dog's prey drive is high and it has been greatly self rewarded by her behavior with those other dogs.  The prey drive of a good herding dog MUST be high (the last step in prey drive, "kill", is truncated to "control").  When any subject (perhaps such as that third dog?) refuses to be controlled, or is socially perceived as equal or higher in hierarchy (or any number of reasons), the herder (your dog) must be, itself, under YOUR control.

In the UK this is an enormously used skill - actually, in the field, every day - and I'm certain there are herding clubs/societies with enthusiasts whose dogs are being trained for field trial titles.  Look around (local resources and Internet) and see if you can find such a club or organization.  This dog's prey drive and instinct must be "captured" (this means: deliberately marking and rewarding THAT EXACT behavior, perfect tool is a clicker: classic operant conditioning).  Once this is successfully done, it is taken to the "field".  While training is underway, the dog CANNOT be taken anywhere where she can use her herding skills INDEPENDENTLY of your work together.  If you'd like information on clicker training, I suggest you visit Karen Pryor's site:  A preview of how this training works is here:

Is this a lot of work?  yes.  Is it worth it?  Heck, yes!  You will have so much fun and so will your dog and who knows what interesting people you may meet.

DO NOT TAKE YOUR DOG OFF LEASH anywhere, at any time, where your recall has failed (as you describe when she got "lost").  The dog will, at some point, just disappear.

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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

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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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