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Canine Behavior/Sweet dog turned sour


My nine year old female border collie has recently turned anti social towards other dogs and has been territorial. A few years she was bitten  by another dog whilst out on a walk and the behaviour has recently gone worse since then. I must stress that she has NEVER bitten another dog or lunged at one, it is purely a 'I'm not to be messed with' sort of thing- a defence. However it is putting us off walking her anywhere where we might meet other dog walkers (as her bark sounds rather menacing being a collie.
She is a sweet natured dog away from other canines. She has always lived as a single pet, and therefore never shared her 'pack family' or garden space with another dog. We've had her since a puppy and the problem only started after she was bitten, slowly getting worse. As long as she knows the animal, although grouchy, she is fine with them. But if one appears in the distance she will bark and passes the dog tail high, running by as quick as she can.
Charlie gets plenty of exercise, is fit and happy. Its just meeting other dogs which is the problem.
Are there any tips to socialise her with other dogs again?
How can we stop her barking at every dog she sees?
Many thanks for any advice.

"Are there any tips to socialise her with other dogs again?"

Can't do that in a text box, for that you need a certified applied animal behaviorist with a "growl class" (at least) such as seen below:

This is not "socialization", it is rehabilitation based upon counter conditioning.  In such a group situation, remember, everyone is under "control".  On the "street", not so.  At age nine, your Charlie is experiencing response perseverance: her conditioned response to fear other dogs (acquired when she was attacked) is growing stronger and is, I believe, going to be very difficult to rehabilitate.  This does not mean you can't take counter measures, however.

You are now tense at the approach of another dog (and who can blame you, I would be also if I weren't me lol).  It goes down the leash; your dog can smell the adrenaline on your breath; your dog can read your body language (even peripherally) that tells her you are approaching fight/flight.  And so: given her conditioned response and your increasing anxiety, she "thinks" there IS something to fear.  The fight/flight response is not voluntary (ask anyone with PTSD) and involves NO cognition.  In dogs, the best way to approach INDUCING and ENCOURAGING cognition is to teach the dog a simple thing that she will be rewarded for, use it randomly during every single walk, and then rely upon the dog's newly acquired conditioned response, hopefully thereby reducing her fight/flight and increasing her cognition.  It is not a simple thing to achieve, especially in a dog this age.  If you wish to attempt it with a professional, avoid dog trainers and find a CAAB at the following sites or by calling the veterinary college in your geographical area:

Start your dog in a "safe" place where the stimulus will not appear (library parking lot on Sunday, school parking lot on weekends, etc.)  Allow the dog to walk and sniff as usual: then begin to circle the dog left, then right, as if following a very large hoola hoop.  As you do this, laugh and have a "good time".  The dog WILL LOOK AT YOU.  When she does, stop.  Food reward (something special: chicken frank, cheese bit, etc.) and continue forward as normal.  Repeat three times before leaving the area.  It will take approximately ten to thirty trials for your dog to obtain a response to your circling and learn that her attention to YOU gets rewarded.  

Until then: teach "attention" IN YOUR HOME as seen here:

This will re-enforce the library parking lot lessons: when dog gives "attention", dog is rewarded.  Once you see your dog *understands* "attention", "ask" for it before feeding her, petting her, letting her in/out (a modified Nothing In Life Is Free).  You will be relaxed (in your own home), your dog will acquire a strong response to her voluntary attention (which will be rewarded, every time) and it will be a strong motivator for her outdoors (although it will NOT defeat the fight/flight, circling engages cognition and THAT will.)

Carry breath mints (low calorie and tiny like Tic Tacs) and pop one in your mouth as you walk in "unprotected" places (NOT the library, school, etc., places where you are apt to encounter an approaching dog).  When YOU see the approaching dog, circle YOUR dog (left, right, left, right) until her *attention* is ON YOU, then food reward (but be SURE her attention is on you and not on the other dog or you will be rewarding her fear), and go forward.

In this manner, you withdraw yourself as part of her fight/flight equation; you equip her with the ability to learn to respond to you in a new and rewarding way; you give her a path to cognition out of a biological fight/flight response; and you thereby decrease YOUR anxiety and prevent this situation from worsening.  It is highly unlikely that your dog will ever be terribly social toward other "strange" approaching dogs but at least her response doesn't have to worsen and can actually be managed so that she learns to walk and feel "safe" at your side.

IF, at any time, your dog develops a full blown fight/flight response: STOP.  Put your dog on short leash and turn your back to her, completely (make sure the leash is long enough for her to come around and LOOK AT YOU at *attention* for reward, she will eventually learn to do this.)  Your frantic response to try to soothe her or convince her that there is nothing to fear is making the situation worse.  If you turn YOUR BACK to her, you are effectively totally withdrawing any "reward" your own behavior is giving her.

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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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