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Should I give up my sweet BC for a better (car free) life outside the suburbs?

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Members, thanks to all for your advice. I’m hoping some owners more experienced than me can offer perspective on the best life for my sweet BC Winnie, 5-7 y.o., adopted 7 months ago. I love her dearly, but I fear her lifespan will be very short if she continues to live with me in a busy suburb with lots of car traffic. I need some perspective on whether to rehome her to give her a better life. Or whether I should keep trying and give her more time. She is my second BC, third rescue dog, fifth dog I have owned, first I have ever considered giving up.

She came to me in recovery from heartworm disease, and very emotionally shut down. After 7 months, Winnie has blossomed into a very affectionate and loving companion. She gets along well with all dogs, loves every human she meets, and isn’t in the least fazed by other dogs barking/lunging/acting unpredictable, and is a pretty good (not always perfect) leash walker. Her obedience and recall are very good indoors or small enclosed areas, like a tennis court sized space. BUT, despite months of private (positive) training and follow up by me, she cannot be trusted off leash, has low impulse control and door dashes unpredictably – front doors, car doors, gates –she will exploit any small gap and then just run away until a Good Samaritan finds her. She has no typical BC herding drive, or focus on her human companion when outdoors, or interest in toys -- so I can’t get her to return by offering the chance to play tug, retrieve Frisbees or tennis balls. Instead, she has an overwhelming obsession with car traffic. When we go to the dog park, she ignores the other dogs and sits by the fence fixated by passing cars. If she dashes out the door, she will sometimes travel to a nearby street, lie down a few inches from traffic, and give it the “collie eye.” I found her like this a couple of times, but it was only luck that she didn’t decide to go into traffic. At home, she will for hours sit by the fence and just “listen” to traffic passing on the busy street close to my house. This is such a powerful drive that I don’t think I can extinguish it.

I worry every day that this could be the day she bolts and is killed in traffic. I am not hypervigilant enough to prevent the “next time” chance when I fail to close a door/gate etc. fast enough. She is presently living a very restricted life to prevent her from bolting. She has to be leashed at all times outdoors; she can’t loaf around the house or backyard when I leave but has to be crated so she can’t door dash when I come home. There are no large fenced athletic grounds nearby that allow dogs or that I could take her to for better training off leash. She can’t run off leash in a nearby wooded park; thus she can’t get enough exercise to keep her weight down, and she needs more exercise to build up her muscles to counteract severe hip dysplasia.

 

Please, I would appreciate compassionate yet no nonsense feedback. My heart is breaking as I write this, but I lie awake at night and worry about this constantly.

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If you feel it will be the best for her, contact a reputable border collie rescue and ask if they would help you find her a new home that might be more rural (less dangerous for her?) and/or more willing to work with her quirks. Often the rescues are full, but if you could offer to 'foster' her until a home is found, they might be willing to work with you. Working with a rescue group will provide more exposure than just trying to place her yourself.

 

Don't feel that she needs to be outside when you leave. Even though I live rurally, and about a mile from the nearest road, my dogs are indoors whenever I leave the house. I don't feel in the least bit guilty about keeping them inside.

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Dear Ms. Hibbs,

 

Wherever this dog goes there'll be cars and you're right - nobody can be vigilant all the time.

If she were mine I'd try an ecollar (shock collar) WITH INSTRUCTION FROM A GOOD ECOLLAR TRAINER.

 

Please note: there are as many lousy ecollar trainers as lousy positive trainers and the lousy ecollar trainers can do more damage. If you decide to try it, post me privately and I'll ask around for someone near you. "Near" to a sheepdogger means a one way. 2/3 hour drive.

 

Winnie can learn to loathe traffic but that would be easier if she had something better to obsess on WITH YOU. (Agiltiy, SAR, obedience, stock work.)

 

Ecollars aren't the first place I go with a dog but when it's life or death . . .

 

Donald McCaig

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Gosh, I'm very sorry that you're in this situation. It must be frustrating.

 

First off, if Winnie blossomed in your care, you obviously did a lot of great things for her. That's awesome.

 

You mention 'no typical BC herding drive' and in the very next sentence 'fixated by passing cars' and 'collie eye' :D

This to me, sounds like pretty typical high drive border collie behaviour.

 

Now I understand it's very difficult to break the focus of a border collie, combined with an unreliable recall, it's indeed a recipe for disaster. but you CAN definitely work on it. I think it's good to realise:

 

Herding behaviour is simply NOT allowed all the time. Border collies are not the unique snowflakes of the dog world. Herding behaviour is nothing more than modified prey drive. If you had a jack russel, you would not allow it to hunt whatever runs by.. your dog needs be very aware that herding behaviour should only be shown when you ask for it, and not at any other time!

 

I can't give you advice on what you should decide, but if you want to still give it a go, I'd implement a few things:

 

1) no more off leash

Get a long 30 ft leash so she an run while on leash. Work on recall every day, while on leash. Do not let her off leash anymore until she has a 100% recall while on leash. So not 90%, not 95%..

 

2) work constructively on getting rid of her fixation:

Do the engage-disengage game: http://www.clickertraining.com/images/content/the-engage-disengage-game.png

Reward intensely when she shows the right behaviour

 

3) go herding with her

I hope this is a possibility for you: even if it's 45 minutes by car, it's such a great way to engage with your dog, and it will help by giving her an outlet for her herding drive.

 

4) if all else fails, implement some tools

I have to second Donald McCaig. It's a personal choice to use an e-collar, I don't like em, so I'd go for a spray collar. I hope I wont get my head bitten off here, but if all else fails, this is better than giving her up or her getting run over by a car. It doesnt hurt your dog, get the odourless spray (so basically water). This works wonders in snapping your dog out of a state of fixation. Time it well, don't overuse, and reward immediately after when she shows good behaviour again. And indeed, if you're gonna go this route, get a good trainer.

 

I guess, because she's already a grown dog, it might take a long time. But I believe if you work hard on it, it can be done.

 

Wish you all the luck in the world!

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Thanks to all so much for the good wishes and ideas. I have been very VERY afraid to go the Ecollar route because of the challenges you mention, I.e. finding the right trainer. However, it is now life or death or giving her up to an uncertain future. I did try a citronella collar with one of my prior trainers who has several obedience titles and has used them before with good results; it was totally unsuccessful to "snap her out of it" and get a recall when she was exploring a fenced in yard of an acre.

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Mr.McCaig -- looks like yr account here is blocked from new messages. Could you send me a message back re: Ecollar if you are able to get a reference? Thanks so much for the offer. I would gladly drive a good distance to work with someone who is a good Ecollar trainer & could help my rescue. Best, Gwenn Hibbs, Bethesda MD.

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I am not understanding why you cannot put her behind a closed door or doggy gate before you open the door.

I have had foster dogs who wanted to dash the door and it was a pain in the rear, and took some effort, but I simply made it impossible for the dog to get to the door when it was going to be opened.

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I read your other topics regarding your dog. She sounds very much like a (former) stray Border Collie that I adopted from the county shelter. She was/is very loving, but would/does retreat into her own world. I had an intractable fence fighting situation and hired a positive OTCH obedience person who told me that fence fighting was easy to fix. After watching the show, OTCH trainer's reaction was "WOW" and she went inside the house.

 

I tried my dog on sheep several times. Although she was very powerful, she flied solo. Flying solo really defined our relationship for years, although she was very sweet.

 

It is very difficult to deal with a dog that will go thru a wall of fire to access something on the other side. The "positive" trainers could only go so far with my dog, which leaves the non positive trainers. I admit to performing some physical corrections on the dog which had absolutely no effect except for plucking her off the ground and carrying her into the house (when I could catch her). I considered using a shock collar on her, but decided against it. It didn't seem fair because there were times when she seemed to be on another planet and I suspected that I would have had to turn up the juice very high to have an impact.

 

So, I manage(d) her and we went thru very long periods in which I completely stopped training her and let her spend hours in the backyard staring at the squirrels and birds. And I waited her out until she came to me and told me that she was ready to do stuff with me. I squeezed 2 agility titles out of her, but in the end decided that she was what she was and I would just manage her. I tell my people that her purpose is to love and be loved. She is 10 now and I can call her into the house from the yard and off that stupid fence, but I don't think that I would dare let her off the leash if the area was not enclosed.

 

The difficult dogs teach you the most. If it wasn't for what I learned from her, my young dog would be a hot mess of reactivity.

 

The shock collar or e-collar or remote collar trainers (whatever you want to call those things) now call themselves "balanced trainers". If you do a search for "balanced trainer", I am sure that you will find several in your area. These trainers will tell you that there are many "tools" in their tool boxes and that the newer shock collars/e-collars/remote collars are very humane. However, these things won't work if one forgets to put them on the dog, forgets to charge them, or if the dog runs out the front door and the remote is in the upstairs bedroom on the nightstand (or if the unit is off the dog being charged).

 

Good luck.

 

PS When people are working in my yard and the gate is open, I put signs on my doors to remind myself to put the dogs in a room before opening the door

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Dear Doggers,

 

The "balanced trainers" I have known personally did, in fact, use the ecollar as one tool among many which might include longe line work, treat and drive training. For some, the ecollar is the tool of choice, for other "balanced trainers" it's the last tool they pick up.

 

True, you can forget to charge the battery and the leash might break and you might forget your treat bag and/or . . .

 

Donald McCaig

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sometimes a "balanced trainer" is one that considers the consequences of "management" vs a full range of options in training.

If the car thing can be avoided with management without detriment to the dog's quality of life, further management and positive training is an excellent choice, but it sounds like this car thing is having a serious impact on everyone involved; those other options may be a kinder choice, but a complicated solution if done right.

If you're going the e-collar route, work your butt off to learn to train in engagement, treats, toys, games. You can't just take away your dog's version of crack (-wow! cars!) without providing an exciting suitable replacement (you can't take sheep on a walk, so it's toys, food, engaged obedience, fun). A decent trainer will help you with that.

Come to think of it, engagement is always a good thing to go for, regardless.

lots of good advice in this thread.

Treats can be used as toys, fast luring, tossing, & catch games.

Animated fast heeling patterns may get her interest. heeling is just another version of chase.

She's spent a year fixating on cars, so getting her attention off them won't be easy, but may be doable.

I hope you can get somewhere with this-cars are everywhere, and being stuck indoor instead would probably pretty much suck for your dog.

Really hope you find something that works, and yeah, double doors etc. for now.

play safe and have fun with your dog (or at least as much fun as you can, being in a (hopefully temporary) pickle at the moment).

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Dear Doggers,

 

The previous poster makes an interesting, often ignored point. Every doggy household - including mine - uses a mix of management and training techniques. Since Fly might nip strangers, we crate her. When the household is total chaos (plumber shows up behind the UPS man and a neighbor brings cookies - we'll crate all three dogs. When I must take a sheep guarding dog to the vet in the morning, I'll feed her in the house so I can get a leash on her.

 

Since I don't expect to travel farther than the vet with Prez, I'm not teaching him those commands (and habits) so my trial dogs never cause trouble in motels. I'm much stricter with routines with Prez than the Border Collies. Routines are a management tool.

 

Some years ago I was planning a trial trip out west and for some reason I had to take 3 year old Peg - our nonsheepdog, pet Border Collie - and realized she had none of the travel skills I needed. She needed a strong off lead recall , down and stay. Until that realization Peg'd just been a pack member doing what all the other Border Collies did.

 

Management goes a long way but you need effective, non-abusive, efficient training so you and your dog are comfortable in your shared life.

 

Our beardog Prez is housebroken, and has a bulletproof recall. He knows "Down" though not "Lie Down", "Get away" - from the door and - Sort of -"Hush" - when he barks. Recently he decided that biting Fly's tail and dragging her around was great fun. Unacceptable. He's learning "Leave it" with ecollar help .

 

Many behaviors I don't like but don't wish to take the time to train away I handle with management and routine.

 

Donald McCaig

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Thanks to all so much for the good wishes and ideas. I have been very VERY afraid to go the Ecollar route because of the challenges you mention, I.e. finding the right trainer. However, it is now life or death or giving her up to an uncertain future. I did try a citronella collar with one of my prior trainers who has several obedience titles and has used them before with good results; it was totally unsuccessful to "snap her out of it" and get a recall when she was exploring a fenced in yard of an acre.

 

The success of a tool is dependent on how and when it's used. I would never use any collar for a recall. You can of course, but then the dog would have to be on a long leash.. else, what are you teaching your dog? "Come here!" *spray*.. You'll run into the same problems with an e-collar if used incorrectly.

 

It's also useless to utilise this type of tool, or any type of training, in a situation where your dog is beyond a certain point: find an environment with less stimuli, train there, work your way up.

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Dear Doggers,

 

Ms. Dutch Border believes dogs cannot be trained to recall with an ecollar. Phooey. While not my preference, yes they can. Prez has a bulletproof off lead ecollar trained recall. Most days he doesn't wear an ecollar. Jake and Fly, my Border Collies, have a bulletproof off lead recall trained from puppyhood and have never worn one.

 

Donald McCaig

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Dear Doggers,

 

Ms. Dutch Border believes dogs cannot be trained to recall with an ecollar. Phooey. While not my preference, yes they can. Prez has a bulletproof off lead ecollar trained recall. Most days he doesn't wear an ecollar. Jake and Fly, my Border Collies, have a bulletproof off lead recall trained from puppyhood and have never worn one.

 

Donald McCaig

 

Mr McCaig, my exact words were: I wouldn't use them for recall training. You can of course ...

 

Phooey shmooey..

 

My point was: get a good trainer, because a tool alone won't help you when you're using it wrong. I believe you have given the same advice on this forum more than once.

 

Glad we're on the same page. :)

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Years ago I ended up using an ecollar for about a week. Our house is at the end of a dead end street along with a 200 plus foot drive way. We are surrounded by state land, so its all woods. We do not have a fence. Still for the occasional car, Jade's wild instincts would take over. I too feared for her existance. She was only educated once to the ecollar's potential. After that the beeper was effective, then it went into the tool box where it sits to this day. Each situation and dog is different, I was a newby to Border Collies. My training education was not what it is today and I was lost for an effective way to reach her. For Jade and I it worked.

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An e-collar can be effective in training a recall. I am generally opposed to the use of e-collars. However, I recognize that there can be exceptions to anything.

 

I knew a dog owner who, after genuinely trying everything else, finally trained her two dogs into solid recalls using an e-collar. The result of this was that not only was she able to keep both dogs, but also the dogs had the joy of off-leash runs and hikes weekly rather than being re-homed or restricted to on leash walks only. After the training, the dogs wore the collars on off-leash hikes but very, very rarely got zapped.

 

I still dislike e-collars, always will. They are severely over-used, and often wrongly-used, and they are not necessary or even justifiable the vast majority of the time. But, as with other extreme measures, including those sometimes applied to human beings, there are occasions on which their use is justified by the end result being sufficiently advantageous for the individual being corrected.

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Dear Doggers,

 

Ecollars should be sold only to those who've demonstrated training skills. They should never be used for training stockwork. I know some of the best ecollar trainers and I still have doubts about their long term effects. But sometimes . . .

 

Donald McCaig

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Go to any basic obedience class that uses clickers and one will see that most students' timing is abysmal. Now give a similar device to the same students, but click = shock. :(

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Just read the comments to the Topic. I concur with all that is being stated. My approach, relating to our four legged friends is very different today from say, ten to fifteen years ago. My knowledge of being an effective communicator has changed. Completely for the better! For my experience, like with children, we act appropriately in a life threatening situation. The collar as an every day tool would be a terrible mistake. God Bless!

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I have to say that I envy all of you with 100% bulletproof recall!

I was not able to get to this result,we are still in training... I mean my dog generally comes back but not always, and there are situations in a suburb environment that make him decide not to listen.

I consider him an independent soul ;-)

he is trained with an invisible fence, as I have a small yard and cars are passing by right in front of my front yard.

so, outside in the yard he wears his e-collar, even if there are times I do not put the collar on, as he knows very well the perimeter.

life in a busy suburb with a BC involves quite some management as the amount of stimuli is often high, with different things happening at the same time.

 

as already suggested, herding is a very good off leash activity and a way to practice recall.

car fixation can be controlled with desensitization and counter-conditioning. my dog was like yours, everything on wheels was a huge trigger; he would either over-react or become frozen on the spot fixating on the moving thing.

he took a full year to have him ignore moving things and we still have some issues with the school bus...

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Many years ago I was at the end of my wits with a car chaser so I reluctantly borrowed and tried an e-collar.

 

It worked . . . . for a while.

 

But it wasn't a permanent fix and when he started chasing cars again I wasn't willing to use it again.

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I have to say that I envy all of you with 100% bulletproof recall!

I was not able to get to this result,we are still in training... I mean my dog generally comes back but not always, and there are situations in a suburb environment that make him decide not to listen.

 

haha! yep

 

100% recall huh? well come and try that here in Amsterdam, in the park with screaming kids, bikes, and 30 other hyped up dogs on the loose, with their owners not really paying that much attention.

 

It's a challenge, but it's a fun one :)

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Dear Doggers,

 

When Luke and June started eating botulism infected carrion, I went to George Cockrell, an ecollar expert,for a collar and advice. One lesson worked for about two years (with an unanticipated side effect) and had to be renewed. Next time the lesson faded that particular strain of botulism had disappeared so no more need.

 

Prez's ecollar recall is reinforced by praise every time and I don't expect to repeat the ecollar.

 

Donald McCaig

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