UCB Parents Advice about Pets
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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
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!
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
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. :)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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