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Hello :) I am having some negative and unsettling experiences with my 6 months old (neutered) BC male, and I was hoping you guys might have some insight..

This is my second BC, a spirited male from strong herding lines. He’s mostly very well behaved and very sweet. Obedient, a quick learner and has great focus during training. So far we have mostly been doing obedience and some scent work. 

I got him at 8 weeks, and he learned quickly that play biting had to be gentle, and the play biting on people was phased out entirely somewhere between 1-2 months ago. He still gets to play and bite on appropriate things, but doesn’t mouth me (or other humans) anymore. 

The main issue that we have been working on is that he has a strong urge to chase cars. I have gotten help from a professional dog trainer, and he has been getting so much better. It is all positive, training focus and contact with toys and treats. I have been sitting down with him, holding him gently and praising and rewarding when he looks at me instead of the passing cars, while gently holding him back/preventing him from running after the cars. 

He used to bark and lunge at the cars, ignoring everything else around him, but now he is so much calmer and usually sits calmly and looks at me again a few seconds after the car has passed (or doesn’t even look at them if I have a toy out).

He has improved so much, however today a car was passing on a road we have walked quite a lot on (and we have had many cars pass us here). And so I was sitting with him, just petting him a little and kept a hand on his collar just in case as the car passed. But suddenly he started pulling, growled, started pulling towards the car and bit my arm when I held him back. Not just a nip, but a proper bite. He’s never bit me this hard before ever, his teeth broke the skin even through a thick woolen sweater. My arm is swollen and turning blue. I was caught entirely off guard, and for the first time he has actually scared me a little.

I am quite shaken, and even though he is still just a puppy, I worry something might be wrong. About 6 weeks ago, I discovered a very odd behavior in him as well. Everytime we cross a road, I would have him sit next to me, tell him “over the road” before we cross the road. It was never a problem, and I cannot recall any situations where he seemed scared or agitated while doing this. But one day it was like something just clicked..  I was walking him and I had him sit before a crossing and when I said “over the road” he just started screaming. It sounded like I was torturing him. And then he started growling and lunged at my legs. I had never seen him behave like that (it didn’t seem like playing at all). And since then, any time I say “over the road”, no matter where we are, he would freak out entirely - growling, screaming and attacking me. Whether we were by the road, in the garden, in the kitchen or the bedroom.. Even if I said it quietly and calmly, while petting him or when he was relaxing. So my trainer told me to just not say those words again, and just drop it. And he hasn’t had any episodes like that again since. Crossing the road was also not a problem at all as long as I didn’t utter those words.

I just find the behavior to be very strange, and paired with what happened today, I find myself a bit concerned for his mental state.. I suppose I’m just hoping someone can tell me that this is all normal puppy stuff and that it will pass, and maybe hear from someone who has seen similar behaviors in their dogs who can reassure me a little? I apologize for the long and messy post, but I could really use some help. I offer up this photo of the cute lil goblin in exchange for advice :D


 

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I am not as experienced as most on these boards so I can only tell you about some of my experiences with our boy who is nearly 16 months old.

At six months old our boy got frustrated very easily, especially if being restrained. Thankfully he never bit any of us but could throw a complete hissy fit, especially if already over stimulated. We responded by trying to avoid situations where he might throw a hissy fit and trying to keep him below threshold. Now he is older he can cope with more stimulation and I am better at recognising when it's better to ease back (eg ending the walk early if cars are starting to bother him). He also has better self control, at six months old he just reacted, now there's a split second of consideration before a reaction which is enough time for me to interrupt the chain of events.  

It sounds like you are doing well with cars. At six months our boy was terrible and each attempt was worse than the previous. We took a break from lead walking because every experience seemed to reinforce that lunging and barking was the thing to do, then we started again very slowly from scratch. We eased into traffic very slowly. Lots of walking practice in places where the cars were far away and slowly (over time) moving closer, but retreating again if he started reacting.

I would suggest if you are having to restrain him (however gently) when cars go by then you are too close. My aim is that eventually any car can pass us however fast/noisily/close and the lead will remain slack. Therefore I try to keep enough distance that we can achieve the slack lead when a car passes, because this is the behaviour I want. I was very guilty of trying to rush things and push him into more challenging situations, it is always tempting if things are going well to go that bit further but now I've learnt that if things are going well it's a good time to stop. Since I've been challenging him less, progress has been quicker. If I get it right we have a successful walk with no reactions, if I get it wrong we both arrive home sore, wide eyed and spitting expletives.

There is something called trigger stacking, where a little thing (like a car zooming past) might not be too bothersome by itself but each car causes a little bit of stress. All the little stresses add up until the dog can't take any more and has a reaction. Like the saying 'The straw that broke the camels back'. Maybe that's what happened when he bit you. I don't know what the recommended advice is for dealing with a dog that has bitten but my thought is that while absolutely unacceptable, he was in a stressed and frustrated state, if it was me I'd be aiming to avoid letting him get to that state again. The length of time our boy is exposed to cars on our walks depend on how his day has gone up until that point. Some days it'll be the twentieth car to pass that causes him to stiffen slightly, other days he'll start getting jumpy at car number 3.

Do you think you'd be better walking and asking for a sit to watch a passing car rather than sitting down with him? Our boy seems better when moving and doing something than when expected to just sit. At six months old he found sitting still very challenging.

Wonder what upset him about 'over the road'. Does anyone else ever walk him? Could his harness have pinched him or something at the exact moment you said those words? We have adjusted words and phrases if they trigger an undesirable behaviour. This border collie ownership thing is certainly a long term, work in progress project. I've got a feeling we'll be tweaking things for the next ten years.

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14 hours ago, jami74 said:

I am not as experienced as most on these boards so I can only tell you about some of my experiences with our boy who is nearly 16 months old.

At six months old our boy got frustrated very easily, especially if being restrained. Thankfully he never bit any of us but could throw a complete hissy fit, especially if already over stimulated. We responded by trying to avoid situations where he might throw a hissy fit and trying to keep him below threshold. Now he is older he can cope with more stimulation and I am better at recognising when it's better to ease back (eg ending the walk early if cars are starting to bother him). He also has better self control, at six months old he just reacted, now there's a split second of consideration before a reaction which is enough time for me to interrupt the chain of events.  

It sounds like you are doing well with cars. At six months our boy was terrible and each attempt was worse than the previous. We took a break from lead walking because every experience seemed to reinforce that lunging and barking was the thing to do, then we started again very slowly from scratch. We eased into traffic very slowly. Lots of walking practice in places where the cars were far away and slowly (over time) moving closer, but retreating again if he started reacting.

I would suggest if you are having to restrain him (however gently) when cars go by then you are too close. My aim is that eventually any car can pass us however fast/noisily/close and the lead will remain slack. Therefore I try to keep enough distance that we can achieve the slack lead when a car passes, because this is the behaviour I want. I was very guilty of trying to rush things and push him into more challenging situations, it is always tempting if things are going well to go that bit further but now I've learnt that if things are going well it's a good time to stop. Since I've been challenging him less, progress has been quicker. If I get it right we have a successful walk with no reactions, if I get it wrong we both arrive home sore, wide eyed and spitting expletives.

There is something called trigger stacking, where a little thing (like a car zooming past) might not be too bothersome by itself but each car causes a little bit of stress. All the little stresses add up until the dog can't take any more and has a reaction. Like the saying 'The straw that broke the camels back'. Maybe that's what happened when he bit you. I don't know what the recommended advice is for dealing with a dog that has bitten but my thought is that while absolutely unacceptable, he was in a stressed and frustrated state, if it was me I'd be aiming to avoid letting him get to that state again. The length of time our boy is exposed to cars on our walks depend on how his day has gone up until that point. Some days it'll be the twentieth car to pass that causes him to stiffen slightly, other days he'll start getting jumpy at car number 3.

Do you think you'd be better walking and asking for a sit to watch a passing car rather than sitting down with him? Our boy seems better when moving and doing something than when expected to just sit. At six months old he found sitting still very challenging.

Wonder what upset him about 'over the road'. Does anyone else ever walk him? Could his harness have pinched him or something at the exact moment you said those words? We have adjusted words and phrases if they trigger an undesirable behaviour. This border collie ownership thing is certainly a long term, work in progress project. I've got a feeling we'll be tweaking things for the next ten years.

I'm so sorry for the late reply, things have been really busy here on my end.. But thank you so much for sharing! I'm glad your boy is doing better. These dogs certainly can prove challenging - even if they are so worth it!

The trigger stacking theory is very interesting! He used to become more and more stressed the more cars that passed, but  It was the first car of the day that passed, so I don't think that was the issue this time. We were however very close to the car. The road we were on is the road from our house, and there is no sidewalk. It is a bit tricky terrain as well, which makes it difficult to move further from the road until we get a bit further away from the house unfortunately. Will have to find a solution for this.

As for the sitting down with him, it is what our trainer told me to do. But maybe standing would be better.. I don't usually have to restrain him, and I keep a hand on his collar rather than on the leash. He does wear a harness as well most of the time, but it is well fitted and I haven't noticed him seeming upset or in pain while wearing it. I suppose it is possible though! And no, I am the only person who walks him, so for the "over the road" I really am clueless.. It is the strangest behavior I have seen in any of my dogs. He hasn't shown this behavior since I stopped saying those specific words though, so tweaking seemed to solve that issue. I just hope it isn't the sign of an underlying problem. 

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When we first adopted Lucky when he was 9 months, he was horrible about lunging at cars when we took him on road walks.  Fortunately, we were able at the time to give him exercise in our yard playing fetch/frisbee,  or running off leash in the woods, so we didn't need to take him on walks on the road.  Then he cut his foot and we had to limit his activity, so we had to start doing road walks.  Luckily we live on a dead-end road, so there isn't tons of traffic, but I started with 'structured walks' (heeling) with focus on me, using treats - lots of treats, whenever I heard a car approaching.  I make him sit and look at me, and he gets a treat as the car passes.  At this point, he can look at the car and not react.  He's still not great when people slow down or stop (a neighbor saying hello), but I can generally get his attention back pretty quickly.   I think maybe standing with him rather than sitting with him might make it seem like less of a big deal?   And as @jami74 mentioned, maybe less exposure to the number of cars or distance from cars.  Is there somewhere you can take him where there is less traffic?

As for the reaction to your phrase, something similar happened with Lucky.  One evening, my husband was petting him and he said something like "you're a fine piece of dogflesh" and Lucky kinda freaked out.  Not violently, but was running around and whining and jumping on my husband.  My husband thought it was pretty funny, so several times a day he would 'demonstrate' this behavior to whomever was around repeating the word "dogflesh" while looking at Lucky.  Lucky reacted in a similar manner for a little while, but eventually he stopped doing it and now you can say the word, maybe he'll look at you, maybe he'll just ignore you.  But your trainer is probably right to just not say the phrase anymore since his reaction was so extreme. 

 

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