Canine Behavior/My 6 mth old Border Collie chases my cats
Please could you help me with my Border collie puppy Bluebell, who is six months old. She is a lovely pup, very loving and gentle, but playful because of her age. She also is exhibiting 'prey drive' with our two 10 year old cats. She chases them through the house. They are both used to living with dogs and are fearless, but they do run away sometimes. Both cats, if they don't feel like running away, will stand their ground and try to scent mark the dog by rubbing their faces on her. Bluebell reacts by taking what looks like a dominant stance (standing over the cat with her tail raised) sniffing all over the cat - in the eyes, ears, body, then she walks away. Bluebell does also play with the female cat and the cat joins in with what looks like a game of chase, where the cat runs back and forward in a small space, allowing the dog to chase her, then chasing the dog in return, with the dog barking, jumping around, chasing and doing the play bow.
I'm comfortable with the games and the dog sniffing the cats as she isn't showing any aggression at all, but I'm concerned about the chasing as when the cats do run away, when she catches them off guard, this seems to 'feel' different, like she isn't in control of her actions.
I've tried telling her to leave, distracting her and praising and rewarding when she does break off a chase to come to me, but she's a Border collie and she just started to deliberately chase the cats while looking at me so she could get a reward! She still goes into prey drive whenever the cats come into view. I can tell they are stressed by this and I'm also worried it will accellerate into worse.
How can I make her feel it's more worthwhile not to chase the cats?
Thank you so much for your time. I have read through lots of your replies to find an answer without disturbing you but was unable to find one.
The BC is a dog with very high prey drive. This drive should be truncated (in good breeding), meaning: eye, stalk, chase, control (as your dog is exhibiting when she "stands over" and then walks away.) It's unlikely this will develop into full out aggression, given the dog's appropriate behavior. However, the risk is always there. The fact that the cats ARE NOT FEARFUL (from the behavior you report) is a good indication that there is actually no threat, although they may become annoyed and a cat's claws can blind a dog.
This breed requires a confident, experienced owner. Positive reinforcement training is a MUST and this includes heavy training in group situations (where there are lots of distractions). NO punishment or coercion (no choker collars, for instance), ONLY reward for cooperation. You might look around for a herding enthusiast's group in your area and especially for a positive training group venue. OBSERVE several sessions before taking the dog. You're looking for a group run by a credentialed, experienced trainer with a clear understanding of the special needs of various breeds (like the BC) and a well structured learning experience where there are NO out of control dogs. Your BC should learn to recall every single time (and NOT by being forced) and "drop" on command. The recall is simple, the "drop" is not and requires some professional guidance.
To shape a good recall:
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 to you 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 SET UP A DOG FOR FAILURE. Do not use your recall if it is very obvious the dog is heavily distracted and in active prey drive or fight/flight. One bad recall can erase months of training.
The high value reward should also be offered freely to the dog (in very small quantities: snippit of hot dog or string cheese) whenever a cat IS PRESENT and the dog DOES NOT REACT. The dog must be CLOSELY OBSERVED. You must not EVER reward the thought process that is instinctual to the BC: eye, chase. You must be sure the dog is CALM and then reward her. As the cat saunters out of the room, providing the dog is NOT exhibiting a need to pursue, stop the treats. The dog will learn that the presence of the cats earns reward but she absolutely MUST NOT learn that her DESIRE to chase is being rewarded.
To rehabilitate the chase game: first, teach the dog attention, as seen here:
As the dog acquires the skill to recognize your subtle body postures during attention (and the BC will acquire this quickly), use it outdoors. Stop. Wait. As the dog turns to give you attention, reward. You will begin to see the dog (over time) reacting to you indoors and out; she will keep "an eye" on you because "attention" is very rewarding (both high value food treat and praise). You can even begin to associate a word (special word) as the dog acquires this ability; this will be a cue to her that "attention" is required. NEVER put this to the test if there's any chance the dog will fail. If the dog DOES fail, go back to the beginning and re-teach the behavior.
Also teach this dog "take it/leave it" as seen here:
Essential to this training is something the dog covets: a squeaky toy used only for this purpose. It is YOUR squeaky toy; you can carry it around with you, talk to it, pet it, so the dog will really WANT to acquire it. As you teach take it/leave it, you can introduce the toy (once the dog obviously "gets" the work). This toy will soon be substituted by the cats, but that will occur slowly. In the meantime, you must DIVERT the dog's strong prey drive and attempt to not allow her to EVER chase one of your cats. Clap your hands and hoot (in other words, and now for something totally different). The moment the dog STOPS and LOOKS, drop to your knees and talk to her softly. IF she turns and comes toward you, use the recall word; do NOT use it if she decides to continue on her stalking/chasing routine. Should THAT occur, you can do one of two things: run out of the room and close a door between you and the dog (immediately) until she is clearly on the other side waiting for you; or, simply fall to the ground and whine and cry. THAT will get her attention and she will move toward you. As she does so, use the recall word and heavily reward when she gets to you.
The BC is a lot of work. People who ignore this aspect of the breed and do no training and no intellectual exercises can end up with an anxious, bored BC that gets into all sorts of trouble. Learn about your breed as best you can. Absolutely avoid ANY AND ALL punishment, negative reinforcers, or coercion. Reward what you WANT, ignore or distract what you don't want. The distraction must be such that the dog changes her mind and comes to you for reward. It will take time.
This dog is a prime candidate for large and solid rubber balls found at Toys R Us (intended for toddlers). If you have a fenced in area, you can "play" take it/leave it with one rubber ball after another (buy a "pack" lol). Toss it with "take it" (be sure it's rolling quickly) and, when she gets to it, give her the "leave it" command. If she refuses, go inside and leave her alone for ten seconds; go out and try again. Always heavily reward a "leave it" with high value food treat and tons of praise. Eventually, this dog should be able to "take" (chase) every single ball, and "leave" on command, and will most likely actually herd them into a circle (as time goes by and her skills increase).
You can even teach your BC "tricks". A good book for this is: "Teach Tricks" by Kyra Sundance, available on Amazon or Dogwise.com.
Physical exercise is also important for this breed but one must protect the developing joints and hips, so ask your veterinarian.
Look at the protein content of your dog's food. It might be too high. Ask your veterinarian.