UCB Parents Advice about Pets

Everyone loves the dog except Dad

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Oct 2002

Our family adopted a 3 year old very sweet and smart border collie mix about 7 weeks ago. He's attentive and eager to please. In dog training classes he's learning to leash walk and heel, sit, stay, come etc.

Probably mistakenly, we've allowed him on the kid's beds (my 2 boys are 7 1/2 and 11 1/2) and on the living room couch. Not other chairs or our bed.

We crate him when we leave the house (he's so smart he's a bit crafty). We take him with us a lot..he's pretty well behaved and much prefers to be with people and other dogs than alone.

Here's the dilema: My husband is NOT a dog person (we also have 2 cats). Except for the past 14 years since my previous dog died, I've had dogs most of my life. My boys have wanted a dog for several years and are madly in love with this dog. My husband finally agreed that we could get a dog...not a puppy, no long hair, not too big. So he's smallish/medium, shorter hair, not a puppy.

When we adopted him he was not one of the dogs I had researched so a few things slipped my mind to ask about....cats, for one. He chases cats, so now the cats only go in the garage for food and are out most of the time. This doesn't seem to be a problem. Another undesirable trait: The dog has many times given warning ''get out of my space'' growls to my 7 year old, and the other day growled and sort of snapped at my husband when he tried to get him off of the couch....That was it!!!

As I probably would have been too, he was outraged and was probably close to saying '' it's the dog or me!!'' but to his wonderfulness and credit he didn't say that. He said ''I never should have said ''yes'' to a dog, I don't want a dog, but we have the dog so now we have to live with him in a way that works for us.''

He talked to the dog training teacher (I wasn't there for this) and the guy said that if dogs have the run of the house they think they are our equals and will tend not to listen as well. They need to know that we are the boss and one way to train dogs to live the way we want them to in a house is to keep them tethered to a leash attached to a wall in the house (or a few places) so that they learn that that is their spot. I've heard of this but don't know much about it. Since starting this yesterday, our dog has already learned that this one spot in the dining room is the main spot for him. My question is....how long do you keep the dog tethered? Forever in the house? Just till he learns ''go to your spot'' or whatever the command is? Is the dog ever allowed to walk freely around the house? I realize this isn't a punishment, but a training, but what are the rules and boundaries? I've always had dogs that we train to do certain things and then the dog is just in the house and part of the family. I don't know how to do this and it seems rediculous to me to keep him tethered to the wall all evening.

At night he sleeps next to my side of the bed in his own bed on the floor. We go for lots of walks. I'm clearly the alpha female. I'm really not sure how to handle this with my husband. I agreed that we'd try this and see how it works, but truthfully, he's a very snuggly cuddly dog and I love to cuddle on the couch with him when I watch TV (which is'nt very often)....for me this is part of having a dog.

Any advice or tips on this technique, or tips on how to please and compromise with a cat person when the rest of us are dog people would be so helpful. Thank you all. an anonymous dog lover


Hi! I am a dog lover and experienced owner. I've done lots of research about dogs. Here's my 2 cents, please do as you will with it: I agree with the trainer, to a certain degree, but not about the method. I think tethering an animal all day is cruel, frankly (of course, I'm not saying that *you* are!) and I think that doing things like this are risky, because they can make an animal neurotic. So, how to establish dominance? You want your dog to be on the couch with you (I am of the same mind as you about this) but you don't want them thinking they *own* the couch. Here's how I dealt with this issue with my dog: she had been allowed on the couch all the time, but when we bought new couches, we didn't want her on them. We bought her her own piece of furniture (a papasan) so it was raised off the floor (this is important) but separate from the couches. We then put things on the couches when we'd leave the house so she wouldn't be able to get on them comfortably. When at home and on the couches ourselves, we only let her on the couch*occasionally* and only when given ''permission.'' If she tried just to get on the couch, she was forbidden and pushed off. Eventually, by being consistent and persisitent we were able to stop putting things on the couch -now she doesn't get on the couch even when we're not there. Similarly, we had to train her not to go on the bed when we aren't home (she's allowed to sleep on the bed with us). Again, we had to train her to understand that she could only get on the bed with our permission. If she started to get on the bed on her own, she was told ''no!'' very firmly (this might not be enough for your dog). We closed off the bedroom during the day so she couldn't go in and get on the bed when we weren't there. When we were ready to let her on the bed, we told her ''okay - you can get on the bed.'' Now, we can leave the bedroom door open when we're not there and she doesn't get on the bed (she lies on the floor untill given permission). This took a while, however, of being consistent and persistent. Patience is KEY with dogs! The growling and snapping must be stopped at once. Hitting, of course, is out of the question, dogs don't really understand this. Part of training a dog is speaking to it in it's own language. If the dog growls or bares teeth, it must be reminded who's boss. To do this without cruelty: take the dog by the skin and fur around it's neck and holding it in ''down'' position (on it's *back* with tummy exposed). This is a position of submission for dogs. By holding your dog in this position, by the neck (just the skin and fur, you don't want to choke him!), you are establishing that you are dominant. I recommend baring your teeth while you do this and growling. Really. Trust me, a dog will know what you are saying instantly, because this is what they do with one another. Your husband is probably not seen as dominant over the dog because he doesn't like dogs and probably doesn't interact much with the dog (my guess, I could be wrong). It's important that your husband follow these suggestions when/if the dog bares his teeth again. Also, the dog is probably aware that the children are ''puppies.'' They probably did something that, in dog society, isn't acceptable of puppies. Dogs will frequently ''discipline'' children as they would a puppy, by cracking their teeth on the child. This is not an attempt to actually bite the child (although it looks like it!).The dog will not actually break the skin. Nevertheless, it is not acceptable behavior, because it scares the kids. Again, hold the dog in down position (*you* should probably do this) when this happens. You are letting the dog know that it's not his place to discipline the kids, YOU are dominant. Make sure to do this immediately when the dog has displayed this behavior, or he won't know why he's being diciplined (you probably know that already). Finally, part of the problem with having a trainer train your dog (instead of you and the family) is that the trainer becomes the dominant one, not you (although, it sounds as if *you* are in this case, but the rest of the family isn't). I hope this is helpful! I recommend reading the two books about dogs by Elizabeth Marshall-Thomas for more info about dog behavior (the insights from this book are very helpful for learning how to ''communicate'' with dogs in their own language). The books are ''The Hidden Life Of Dogs'' and it's sequel ''The Social Lives of Dogs.'' Best of luck! ~Alesia
Bravo to Dad for not demanding the dog be sent away. It sure sounds like *you* need to have a long talk with the dog trainer, though, since you're unclear on the tethering concept and particulars.

I did this with my first dog (the trainer called it a ''tie-out'') and it worked pretty well, both for housebreaking and for her dominance tendencies. I would further suggest that your husband *and children* need to help in training the dog, so that it is completely clear that he is at the bottom of the totem pole. When the dog snarls about ''get out of my space'', whoever he snarled at should be able to grab his leash (which you're keeping on him for this purpose) and cause him to vacate the spot he's defending. It's a basic part of dog training--letting him know he is to obey all family members.

About the couch--I personally think it's OK to snuggle on the couch with your dog. BUT I would suggest that you do it on an ''invitation-only'' basis; that is, the dog is NEVER allowed to simply jump onto the couch to join you (and when he does, each and every time, he is dragged right off by his leash). The dog is only allowed up when invited with your special command (''up'' or ''couch'' or whatever). And he leaves by your command, too (''off'' or ''done'' or whatever), instantly or is, again, dragged off the couch by his handy leash. This way, you can have your cake and train the dog, too. :) Good luck. Jennie


I don't have extensive experience with dogs, though I have owned 2 of them and have some familiarity with border collies. From what I have read and observed, families that have border collies that growl at family members, especially children, are not kept as pets. Borders may be sweet and cuddly, but most of them are not good family dogs. The effort required to ''teach them their place'' is beyond the skill of anyone but experienced dog trainers. I recommend a book called ''Paws to Consider'' (don't remember author),an excellent reference and a great read, for anyone wondering what kind of dog to get. anon.
I would suggest getting help from a professional trainer soon. I am a local vet, and am worried about some of the things that you describe in your post. You may have had a dog in the past that did not get much of a message out of cuddling on the couch, but it sounds like the dog you have now is getting a big message out of it. Many dogs (herding type dogs especially)get a huge message out of this kind of treatment. If you are the alpha female and paying particular attention to them on the couch, they perceive themselves as just below you on the social scale. It sounds like the dog thinks your husband and your 7 year old are below it in the hierarchy, and is willing to challenge them to prove it. It is important that if you are alpha female you maintain an order that always places your family above the dog. Everyone in the family needs to become involved with the training and learn to send a consistent message. I would suggest hiring a trainer as soon as possible and working consistently with them and follow their advice. (My recommendation for a trainer with a dog like this would be Alon Geva.) A dog like this can be a great family member who respects everybody, it just needs the right guidance. a local vet
I have just finished reading a book called _The Dog Listener_ by Jan Fennell, and she has lots of interesting things to say about ''bad behavior'' in dogs. I strongly recommend this book to you because the situation you describe is similar to the ones discussed in the book. Keeping the dog tethered away from you may not help in the long run -- dogs are intensely pack-focused, and keeping him away from the pack is stressful and ultimately self-defeating. Well, anyhow, we're quite happy with the results from using this book with our actually well-behaved dog, so it's not just for problems. Everyone would end up happier, I think. Stefani
I would agree with your trainer that you and the family will need to make some ajdustments. A second hand dog can be fabulous but comes with history. The good news is that you are aware now and can make changes before too much time has passed.I would continue to talk with you trainer and possibly work with someone who can come to your house and work with the family. But the dog does not have to be tied at all times. You should stop allowing him up on the couch and in the kids bed. This is the MOST important step. If you feel like snuggling with him, get down on his level and sit on the floor for a snuggle. It is also important to continue to reinforce the ''Alpha'' humans by making him lie down and then helping him to expose his belly. Some dogs don't like this posture as it is a very submissive one, but he needs to know that that is his position and that there are benefits (belly rubs and sweet words)to it. This should be done often. The time he spends on the tie down is up to you. I recommend at specific times: all meal times and when new people are around at the very least. But if he gets with the program, his time on the tie down will be less and less. This depends upon your ability to keep him off the furniture and your reinforcing his ''Beta'' position in the family. Walking on the leash is also an important part of this process as he is reminded of his dependance. The kids should be part of this as they will give commands and that will reinforce their dominance. There are many trainers in the area that could help. Call the Humane society in your area for recommendations, or ask your vet. Best of luck. vet nurse
We took our dog who had some growling/snapping problems up to the Vet School at Davis. They are great -- worked with us for a long time (evaluated the dog when we were there, then sent us a detailed plan, then followed up for about a year over the phone.) The basic idea is that the whole family has to be on board,and you use lots of positive reinforcement to teach that you're the boss. We did a lot of work with the dog and she did improve. I'd be happy to tell you more over the phone or via email. I've heard of the teathering the dog idea and thought it was just while the dog was young and you stop when they learn to go to their spot. I've learned from experience that once you let the dog onto the couch they will always go back, not knowing when it is ok and when not. It might be a good idea for both of you to consult a trainer together and agree on the plan. I really recommend the Davis people! Andrea
As you have already come to realize, border collies are very smart, quick learners. You will not need to keep the dog tethered indefinitely. I have a Belgian Sheepdog which is a similar breed in temperment and intelligence. You need to consistently re-place the dog in his spot if he moves to an area that is off limits. Use some sort of command that is no more than two words. (These dogs have an incredible ability to acquire an extensive vocabulary of understanding; our dog understands very capably about 75 different commands.) As far as his territorial and indignant behavior is concerned, you need to be in charge and take the alpha spot and make it clear to him that YOU and the other family members are the Alpha not him. You will have to take on an appropriate, Nazi like tone of voice, and very confidently physically place him into a submissive position (rotate him on his back with legs up and hold him in place, it may take you and hubby to do it.) To teach him to give things up, use something he likes and take it away, if he growls reprimand him, when he submits or waits patiently w/o growling give it back. Keep doing this until he stops the growl altogether. You may have to repeat this a couple of sessions about 15 tries each session. REWARD his good natured behavior, he will learn to trust that the good will always be returned but that he must give them up to you. You also need to teach him to allow you to touch him all over and move him when you need to. He will learn to move out of the way if you teach him to. I am not a professional dog trainer but I am an experienced dog owner who has had well behaved and well loved and cared for animals. Dogs need to have limits set simarly to the way we do this for our children but w/o explanation since dogs are dogs not children. And also with dogs, sounding angry and physical restraints (not corporal punishment) is acceptable and necessary. Border Collies are herding dogs, like my dog, and they are most happy when they are tending to their flock (which is you and the family). They want to be with you and they want to have a job; they are task oriented, working dogs. Their job can be running companion or keeping everyone together during a bike ride, not necessarily herding you. A very effective punishment and training tool is isolation like a time out. If the dog persists in an unacceptable behavior, place him in a room (where little damage can be done), by himself, with the door closed, for about 10-15 minutes. A few isolations should work to rid him of the bad behavior. I hope this info helps you. (By the way, you may already know this, but it would have been much easier to mold the behavior of a puppy than it will be to reconfigure an adult dog.) any way, remember to be in charge, be consistent, and relentless. Good luck. The hard work to train will definitely work. Border Collies learn well and fast. Fran
I think your husband has an excellent reason to not love the dog, the dog has shown threatening aggressive behavior towards him. And I would be very concerned about the growling at your son as well. A few years ago, I adopted an adorable German Shepard/black lab puppy that I was in love with. Soon on the puppy was growling at me at times, and playing a bit rougher than I felt comfortable with. I had grown up with dogs in a major 'dog in the bed cuddling family' so I was confused with what this meant. I brought the pup to the vet at the Berkeley Humane Society for his checkup and explained what was going on. To my horror, she told me after interacting with him, that my baby puppy was an aggressive animal and that while I could get a trainer to teach us how to get him in line, convince him we're alpha etc. that if I ever planned to have a child (I thought I might some day) or if there were children in my neighborhood (there are) that this dog would always be a risk to others. Also, even if we got him in line, if my sister were to stay over, and she didn't establish with him her dominance, she was at risk, like any other visitors. And she also told me I shouldn't plan a life of cuddling, kissing, or leaving him off-leash or in front of a store if I had to run in for something. Woaaaa! I was devastated and gave him back the next morning. (He was adopted again within 24 hours). I cried for two weeks about the loss but I haven't ever regretted the decision. One further note, my sister last spring, while cuddling and kissing a 'sweet' elderly bassett hound had a piece of her lip ripped out and required the ER and plastic surgery. I don't want to be gruesome, and I still like dogs, but the plastic surgeon had a lot of bad stories to tell about dog bites. I think when a member of a family feels threatened by an animal, or is growled at or snapped at then that needs to be taken seriously, and as a warning. A conditional dog lover
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