All “Incompatible Behaviors” are not Equal

Yeah well, this is something I know well, except, uh… how come it took me 2 years to figure it out with my own dog? Sigh.

Here’s the back story: As many of you know, my 3 year old BC, Willie, is both a joy and a challenge. He’s joyful, incredibly responsive, the perfect dog for me to work on sheep, so reliable when working that I can let the sheep graze by the road, smart, fast and handsome.

He also:

* Came with projectile diarrhea (lasted 3 months, now completely solved).

* Developed a bad shoulder early in life (now managed and partially healed, ‘tho surgery still a potential).

* Developed, also early on, a serious dog-dog aggression problem (partially treated and partially managed; plays with lots of other dogs, makes good, reliable decisions to keep himself out of trouble, but not a candidate for a dog park).

* Was so hyper sound-sensitive as a pup that I couldn’t take him out much (now better but far from “normal,” will sometimes leap up out of a sound sleep if you turn the page of a book).

* Became fearful of unfamiliar men during adolescence (95% solved, 5% still doing counter conditioning)

* Exhibited Possession-related aggression even as a 9 week old pup: went after an adult dog over food on the kitchen floor at 9 weeks of age. (Now 95% treated, no growls or tooth displays to another dog in 2 and a half years, though he will body block another dog from his play mate or pets from people until I notice and suggest he mind his manners.)

* And (and here’s the topic of today’s blog… took me long enough, hey?), incessantly herds Sushi, my cat.

This last issue has been the hardest one for me to deal with, without question. If you’ve never seen a “strong-eyed Border Collie” herding a cat, then it’s hard to imagine how frustrating and tiring it is. But trust me, it’s exhausting. Not only is it harassing to the cat (Sushi hates it), but if I let it go he works his way up to nipping at her. This is not something that can be ignored, and if unmanaged, it would happen 100% of the time that Will and Sushi were in the house together. He has even taken to waiting at the window, in what can only be described as BC-typical obsessive insanity, just in case Sushi shows up on the porch.

I’ve had 12 BC’s and only 2 of them have stalked the cat as if it were a small, furry hoofed animal. In both cases, Willie and a dog named Scott, the dogs are “strong-eyed” BC’s, meaning that their inherent response to anything that they define as “livestock” or “herdable” is to lock up in a stalking posture, complete with a laser-like stare that can’t be broken. Think “Stalking-Border-Collie-on-Drugs”. Strong-eyed dogs can be a problem when herding sheep too. They get partway around the sheep on an outrun, make eye contact with the lead ewe and bang, they’re transfixed and immobile.

I’ve worked this through (most of the time) on sheep, but I’ve struggled mightily at home with Willie and Sushi. I’ve tried using a look at the cat to lead to another, much loved behavior (looking at cat leads to play with favorite toy).. that just made it worse. I used a clicker to put stalking on cue, and a clicker to teach him to stop stalking. No luck. I’ve tried teaching “Lie Down” every time you look at the cat… that leads to a tense face, flat ears and tongue flicks. I tried teaching him “Watch” so that he looks at me when he looks at the cat and reinforcing it with a tug game. That method was fantastically successful at turning his extreme fear of unfamiliar dogs into happy anticipation. But it didn’t help for this.

After trying all of the above with no success, I tried corrections, in this case verbal “no’s” which Will had been taught originally as a circus trick. They were taught to mean “Please stop doing that, turn away and look at me.” However, given a serious case of “I’m only human,” they began to turn into an expression of frustration, somewhere around the 27th time in one hour that I had to call him off the cat. Needless to say, I dropped that method because it made things worse for both of us. Of course we know that in this kind of situation, positive punishment only works if it is intense enough. And so, I tried a citronella collar, which freaked out the cat and Willie both, in a cartoonish but ineffectual kind of way. I put it away.

Trust me, this is not an easy behavior to turn around. Herding is not just something he loves, it is something he has minimal control over. Yes, he can lie down when told, back up when told, on sheep, etc, but he can’t switch off wanting to herd animals, he can’t stop being a strong-eyed Border collie, and he can’t stop defining the cat as something to be herded. It truly seems involuntary.

Add this on to the fact that all my allergies are getting worse, including the ones to my cat, and it’s made life for Sushi less than ideal. I’ve been wracking my brain about what to do about Willie and Sushi, well aware that I haven’t been handling it well enough.. It’s not much of a problem in summer, because Sushi is outside so much, but it’s getting colder and she’s inside more often. It’s less of a problem for house sitters, because Wilie is the worst when he’s actively working sheep. The more he works sheep, the more he wants to work Sushi. And that only happens when I’m home. (I hoped when it first began, around 8 months of age, that it would go away when he started working sheep regularly. Au contraire, it got much worse.)

Three days ago it occurred to me that I had neglected to try the the simplest of solutions. I’m afraid to say much about how Method #437 (it feels like) is working, because it’s too soon to say how much it will help. But, oh please, please, cross all your paws. It’s going well so far, all three days of it. (Deep breath.)

Here’s what we’re trying: Whenever Willie looks at the cat with his head even slightly lowered (as if stalking), Jim or I cheerfully ask him to “Sit.” Sitting is not a posture one adopts when one is herding livestock. (Which lying down is, and it seems obvious that I never should have tried that in the first place.) Ironically, sitting IS a posture Willie first used around sheep. Often when I’d ask him to lie down, he’d sit down instead. He did it so often that I actually asked a clinic instructor if he thought it was a problem and whether a judge at a trial would take off for it. He said “Well, you don’t want to see a dog doing it…” and I understand why. A sitting BC doesn’t look like he’s working. He looks downright douffy. I believe that Willie did it when he was unsure of how to behave around the sheep. As he matured, he became less and less likely to adapt a sitting posture, and his stalking posture became more committed, and more intense as he gained confidence. If you analyze it, it’s another form of positive punishment (I add something to decrease the frequency of a behavior), but it is only mildly aversive to Willie (he sits with an open mouth and relaxed body, looking mildly confused rather than stressed). It’s said in an upbeat tone, and he’s had years of positive reinforcement for sitting when asked. Most importantly, it feels pleasant for both of us, and it takes him out of herding mode without reinforcing him for stalking (as I suspect all the positive reinforcement did.)

Viola. . . Maybe? The perfect incompatible behavior to link to stalking the cat? Look at the cat and you’ll end up sitting down. That takes him out of herding mode, takes all the tension away (one hopes) and MAY help. It’s only day 3, and it’ll be 3 weeks before I really get a good idea of whether this is going to help. It’s hard to say: Willie doesn’t just herd the cat, I truly believe that it feels vitally important to control her every movement. (Personally, I think he hates her guts, and vice versa.)

I bring this up here for two reasons. One is the importance of finding the RIGHT incompatible behavior to replace a problematic one. Replacing one behavior with an appropriate one is a cornerstone of much of the work I do… and I’ve always said you have to find the right behavior. Here’s hoping that this is an example.

Secondly, this is hereby an official reminder that folks who write popular, well-received books :-) put their pants on one leg at a time, and can be just as slow as anyone else to solve their own problems. As tempting as it is (and it is, honest) to keep this issue private, I have always believed that the really great trainers and teachers are the ones who aren’t afraid of being human, and aren’t afraid to be honest when they screw up. I’m always relieved when someone I admire admits to not being perfect (as I often imagine them), and I’m gratified when a client says “Oh I’m so glad I’m not the only one these things happen to,” after I tell a story on myself.

I’ll keep you posted on the rest of this particular story. Sushi may have to find another home because of my allergies, but I sure would like to solve this last serious behavioral problems of Willie’s. . . (before the next one crops up!) That may not be possible; I know plenty of people who work their BC’s on sheep or cattle who have that one special Border collie who just can’t leave the cat alone. I’ve asked many of them what they’ve done. I’ve heard “beat the crap out of the dog” and “kick the cat outdoors” and “grin and bear it,” but I’ve yet to talk to someone who had “one of THOSE BC’s” who got it turned around. Keep in mind, this isn’t all BC’s… Luke, Lassie, Pippy, Drift, etc, never did it once. Cross your paws for me.

Predictably, I couldn’t get a great picture of Willie in full stalk. As soon as I approached with the camera he changed his behavior (thus, proving “McConnell”s Law” which states that if you want to eliminate a behavioral problem, carry around a camera and try to record it). But here he is watching Sushi as she looks out the window.

Sushi leaves the room, and Willie follows.

I guess I should just take my own advice and carry a video camera around at home . . .

Comments

  1. Kat says

    I have to confess that while I recognize that it is a serious problem I laughed out loud reading your descriptions. You have a real gift with words.

    I don’t have anything helpful to add except my appreciation for your willingness to be human in public like this which is helpful and my thankfulness that my herding breed (probably English Shepherd) dog isn’t an obsessive cat herder. He does go on alert when the sofa cushion cat moves or is moved but he settles as soon as the cat settles. And he does shepherd the cat up and down the stairs but I’ve encouraged that. The cat is 15 and has arthritis in one shoulder, he’s a dedicated couch potato who’d do nothing but eat and sleep if he had his choice, exercise seems to help the arthritis (cat limps less if he gets exercise) so I encourage the dog to exercise the cat. I don’t think the cat appreciates it much but it is for his own good. At least that’s how I justify letting the dog herd the cat and my amusement at the behavior. Ranger slams his big paws down one at a time on either side of the cat, bam, bam, and the cat climbs laboriously down a step. Ranger slams his paws down again, bam, bam, and Katzenjammer climbs down another step acting like this is almost more than he can manage–since I’ve seen the cat go up and down stairs on his own just fine I’d say he’s acting rather than experiencing any real difficulty; I’ve also seen him back Ranger off and put him in an unshakable down stay so I don’t think the big production about how hard it is to go down the stairs with the dog shepherding him has anything to do with fear. There are 14 stairs and they’ll go down and back up one laborious step at a time after which the cat goes back to his nap on the couch and the dog is directed to another activity.

  2. Beth says

    I hope for Sushi’s sake all goes well. You’ve probably thought about this, but I’m hoping that she has a tall cat tree or shelf perches where she can view the outside world and really not have to worry about Willie. It probably won’t help Willie any, but you and she might have more piece of mind.

    Beth

  3. Ignacio says

    I feel so identified with the frustration you described. I’ve been working on my Lab’s acting like an idiot at some dogs when on leash for almost a year, and right when it seems he is completely over it, he takes you by surprise and fires up a series of lunging and barking that makes your neighbor give you the look of “when will you put that monster to sleep?!?”. I’ll have to take your advice and start videotaping our walks!

    BTW, I’ve never noticed the connection between on-leash aggression/excitement and intensive sniffing until you mentioned it a few posts ago, it would be interesting to see the results and extremely useful if you ever want to dedicate a post regarding what to do about the “intensive sniffing” part.

    That is another source of frustration: more and more lately, our walks with “smell-boy” are extremely stop-and-go. Every square inch must be smelled. I want to make the walk enjoyable for both of us so I let him smell around more than the average, but it gets to a point where I get too impatient and the walk is not really providing any exercise for him. I’ve been using “leave it” with a mediocre success rate. “Watch” works a bit better but, when it doesn’t, I’m afraid of getting him used to ignore it and jeopardizing the work on the on-leash aggression issue.

    Thanks for the sincere description of how you’ve been working on this issue! It gives us good ideas on the different ways to approach a behavioral problem.

  4. Kim says

    very interesting story, and so glad to hear you are human too! :)
    this is the reason i have goofy goldens, so easy….i am not a trainer and would have been beyond consolable if i had to try to change such behaviors!
    good luck and keep the camera around your neck……works for cute moments too! :(

  5. Carol B says

    I love this post. Border collies sure are different. My bc pup, Ike and cat, Patches both like their game but it drives me nuts. My solution is management — crate the cat!

  6. Kait B. Roe says

    Finally! a possible answer to the “my dog won’t leave my cat alone!” Please keep us up to date on this attempt. My cat, Weaver is ready to pack her bags and catch the next train outta here. Thanks for posting this.

  7. S says

    This post is so welcomed today of all days! I have been struggling with way less invasive issues with my 2 dogs the last few days, and reading this makes me resolve to work through this vs acting defeated and frustrated (frustration has been the name of the game the last couple days). The behaviors I’m dealing with are nothing new since we rescued these two, but just seem to have just gone haywire lately, probably due to a few things going on as well – less exercise (darn dark early mornings!), less training (need to find the time in these busy days – would take less time than cleaning up the aftermath caused by bored dogs while I”m gone) and possibly a modified diet to get some bowel issues under control (perhaps someone is sick of rice/ckn and wants some real food and her pbutter kongs thank you very much). Anyways, thanks for sharing your story and inspiring me to address these issues by using different tacts and being persistent vs having inertia. Dogs…they are a lot of work! and if you have some ideas for exercise or activity for long wintery winters, please share – I’m finding behaviors cropping up because our walks are shortened due to the dark dark mornings. Perhaps I need to introduce the find it games you blogged about elsewhere…

  8. S says

    also meant to add – sorry to hear your struggle with allergies and Sushi – she is truly a beautiful cat! Although might not be any small comfort, I can only imagine you’d have folks lined up to take in a beautiful cat like that so I am sure she would be rehomed wonderfully, as hard as that may be for you. Your pics are wonderful – I am fascinated by BCs while at the same time knowing they are so out of my league, I can only admire from afar. Just to think of the training and work to keep their minds engaged positively makes me want to take a nap!

  9. Anne says

    I have an Aussie that is obsessed by cats. Our only cat lives outdoors but if he is around she can’t think of anything else. She still listens to me, but you can tell her mind is on the cat the whole time. The sit thing may only work with border collies, though, because Missy and many other Aussies prefer to sit over lie down while working, even better of course they would like to stand, walk or run.

  10. rheather says

    Poor Sushi, Will and you! But yeah for results!
    I’m glad you told this, though. It makes me realize that just because you can’t find the solution today doesn’t mean it’s not out there.

    And my large dog(80#) does the eye thing to the other dog as part of playing. He even did it as a puppy. But no other herding behaviors. I sometimes wonder if it’s part of his mix or if it’s just a pop up behavior….

  11. Sabine says

    To err is human – to forgive canine. :)
    I find it very comforting that even such an expert as our Trisha runs into problems that make her think hard. I, too, read your Willie-Sushi-Story with a grin and I wish you all the luck in the world that the last method is the one that will make Will’s problem manageable. My Rodmonster (yes – we call our Rodney by that name.:O) has an obsession with cuz balls. For those of you unfamiliar with the object of that canine’s desire: It is noisy, squeaky beyond believe and it has legs. His obsession started when he was quarantined for killing a rabid skunk and I needed to exercise him in the backyard so we all would not go nuts over an underemployed dachshund whose origins can be traced back to some pretty significant hunting lines. It’s in his blood as much as herding is in a BC’s. The vast majority of European bred dachshunds are working dogs and can not be compared with their American counterparts which are mostly bred to be couch potatoes. :O (No pun intended – but the breed standard is different.) My boy has a lot of European ancestry in his veins and it shows.
    So when my boy isn’t chasing any tracks of wildlife on a long leash or isn’t stuck inside some wild animal’s den, he obsesses with this cuz ball. I could put it away. Sure. He’ll find it’s location in no time – even high up in some unreachable location. No cuz ball in the house is an option, but then he’ll just find something else to obsess about. It seems a no win situation.
    He just can’t help himself: http://www3.pic-upload.de/02.12.09/ym597rwp46pn.jpg

    Trish – I feel your pain. I really hope making Will sit can bridge the problem and make him manageable. I find it fascinating though how a dog’s mind sometimes works and how hard it sometimes is to find out what makes them tick. :)

    Reminds me of my friends Search – and Rescue dog: He was trained to announce a find and somehow he now announces EVERYTHING. Even the fact, that he loves life in general. It’s quite annoying, but she hasn’t found a way to stop it yet. Interestingly enough, he only displays this noisy behavior around her. The way my friend is handling it now is, that she stuffs his mouth with a stick, a tug toy or even the leash. Just to shut him up. Once he has gotten rid of some of his excess energy, he becomes quieter. It really seems to affect dogs with an enormous drive much more than a dog with less drive. I guess, they just have to vent somehow…..

  12. JJ says

    I learned so much from this posting! Seems obvious now, but I hadn’t known before that “not all incompatible behaviors are equal”. And seeing how you are working to solve the problem is also extremely helpful. I’m grateful you shared not only the final answer (or what you hope will be the final answer), but how you got there. That’s what’s really educational.

    Best of luck!! I’m crossing my fingers for you and Duke will keep his paws crossed.

  13. Sandy says

    This post means the world to me because I struggle with the same issue. It has been so hard – my lab/border collie cross displays behaviour similar to Willie’s with my cats. I’ve had my two cats for 6.5 years and 3.5 years ago got Sophie at 3 months. She’s a rescue dog – know nothing about her history but it’s clear from her behaviour and looks that she is for sure lab, for sure bc, and maybe some pit bull in her too.

    For almost two years I had to keep her and the cats separated by baby gates, etc. because she obsessively stalked them. Although she was still interested in them it got much better and I no longer have to keep them apart. But recently it seems like the behaviour is coming back and she has started to rush one of the cats. It is more with one cat than with another – I don’t know why. That cat cannot make a move without her following him. I hate it and so does he. But contrary to the idea that Willie hates Sushi’s guts, I get the feeling Sophie loves both cats. Problem is they don’t love her back.

    I’ve tried many different things. I have a wonderful local trainer who has helped me and given me advice. I guess it’s time to call her back in as the behaviour seems to be escalating again. I usually tell Sophie to “leave it” and then reward her – but that doesn’t stop it, she just goes back to stalking the cats again. I also tell her “no” very strongly. Stops her at the time but then she’s back at it.

    I’ll try the “sit” command – cross your paws for me too. I have shed many tears over this – felt desperate at times. Thanks for your post – it gives me some hope. Good luck.

  14. Kathryn says

    You hit the nail on the head when you said even trainers can have problems. I have spent the last several months trying to resolve a cat spraying problem. Just when we think it’s gone, it comes back. We are working with a behaviorist (I’m not one) but it’s still frustrating. Normally I’ve been able to correct problem behavior in my pets but the fix has been elusive. So we will keep plugging away with it and lining the “offending” corner with puppy pads.

  15. Ellen Pepin says

    Thank you, Dr. McConnell for telling about Willie’s problems. I adopted a 5? year old female collie about 6 months ago. She has kind of an intense stare, especially when she really doesn’t want to do what she is told. She also has one dangerous behavior. She is fine with people and most other dogs, but she absolutely goes berserk when I am walking her and a car goes by. I live in a reasonably quiet suburb of Annapolis, Maryland, so we don’t have constant traffic; we probably see 10 cars on a half hour walk. She barks and lunges toward the car or truck, especially the UPS truck. We are working with a behaviorist on this problem. I am trying to teach her the watch command every time a car goes by. If she sits and lets the car go by, she is rewarded with a treat. We also are using, at the behaviorist’s suggestion, a calming cap. This is a single layer of a stretchy material that goes over her eyes. It filters what she sees. At first, it worked wonderfully, but now she reacts despite the cap. I also walk her with a Snoot Loop head collar. All of this works for about 3 or 4 cars and then she loses her focus on me. Right now, I am thinking that eliminating this behavior will take a couple of years. I also don’t know if it will ever disappear.

    I would like to read about other people’s experiences.

  16. Barb says

    So nice to read your post! There are days that I think that I need to hire a trainer! The plus side of those days is that every one of them increases my empathy for my clients and their dogs.

  17. Mary Beth says

    I had someone who studies wolves and trains dogs tell me that these behaviors are best fixed before the dog reaches 9 months of age which is before the full development of prey drive in an adult dog. After attempting to work with many coonhounds and sporting dogs on this, I realized I was only ever fully successful with either young dogs(as the wolf person said) or dogs that would exhibit the behavior but would be willing to redirect. The dogs that would look away and not be totally locked on were sooooo much easier to train through the cat issue.
    I’m so glad you brought up this topic because I’ve been struggling for years with an issue that I’d love to talk about. My other half loves to train his field labs with a shock collar. I do not train with one. I believe he’ s coming around because he requested that I do some inducive retrieve work with the young lab that I got for him. Woo hoo!! To be fair to him, he uses it to ask the dogs to be reliable in all weather conditions with a dog often working 200 yards away in front of a loaded gun not so very far from roads with wild birds that they dearly love.
    I was very holier than thou with my Weimaraner who is a Master Hunter, Retrieving Dog Excellent, etc etc etc. lots of titles and lots of training who never ever was trained aversively. He will happily put anything in your hand in exchange for a reward. He’s had 8 years of training, so we’re talking about a highly trained dog with a solid base under him. Then, I took him to North Dakota where he encountered over 150 wild birds a day for 10 days straight. By day three this steady eddie dog melted down. Wherever did his manners go? He was facing the dream of lots and lots of wild birds. My choices were to leave him crated and work other dogs or to put him on the ground and let him work with an ecollar. I cringed and chose the collar. Now, years ago I tried to use an ecollar not to shock him, but simply use the tone on it as a positive remote marker for behaviors that I wanted and he would totally shut down and refuse to work simply on that tone. Sounded like a good idea, but it didn’t work. Training for hunt tests on pen raised birds you couldn’t use any collar even resembling a shock collar. Yet, on these wild birds, this dog took the correction, and worked enthusiastically with the collar on. I may have corrected him twice in a week, maybe three times at most. I made the choice so that this dog could have an opportunity to do something he loves safely. Right now, I would make it again. I still don’t believe in using shock collars to train something new or on a regular basis. But I don’t know how I could use positive methods to overcome the self rewarding instinctive behaviors that my dog was bred for when he was encountering them at that high intensity level. I’ve been struggling with this for years and I’ve never come up with a concrete answer. Thanks for letting me air this!

  18. says

    I loved this post, and the photos that accompanied. I’ve never had a BC, but I had a Sheltie who was very much all about being the sheepdog — and he’d herd my cats, too. Once I came into the living room of my apartment, where we had the balcony door open, and one of the cats was balanced ON THE THIN WROUGHT IRON RAILING gazing down in open challenge at the sheltie, who had herded her there. The railing was 3+ floors up.

    My husband had entered the room at the same time from another direction, and we both froze, not wanting to misdirect the volatility of their electric standoff. Felt like we stood there for days.

    Finally, I stammered … “H-h-hey Bogie, where’s B-b-boodabear?” (his favorite toy). Nothing doing, the boy wasn’t looking away from that cat. Then my husband and I got the same, silent idea at the same, silent moment: move a piece of furniture. More than herding cats, Bogie loved to herd furniture. It infuriated him if you moved a chair even an inch from where it *should* be sitting. So we leaned over from the waist and moved an end-table, and at the dry scrape of legs across carpet, Bog-dog abandoned the cat to herd the table, and Pansy nonchalantly sat down on the railing (!!!), licked a paw, and then skipped onto the porch floor as though she’d always had it in control. While we gawped CAT, WE SAVED YOU, she twitched right past us with her tail in the air.

    We were so in over our heads with Bogie. A thousand daily mistakes, and I took notes, hoping to be better with this multipet thing on the next dog. Dr. McConnell, you know from Scent of the Missing how misguided THAT notion was. Without going into much chapter detail, I can only add here that Sit (which we had no notion of with Bogie other than the first part of the sit-shake hands routine) — Sit saved my relationship with Puzzle. And I realize from your post here that it served — and continues to serve — much the same function in an issue that we had with Puzzle and of my smaller dogs. An issue years past now, but I am watchful, watchful, and oh, Sit has redirected so many doggy schemes at the first stare, the first footfall of a stalk.

    It’s not the same counterintuitive sit vs. down move it would be for a BC with the herding instinct, but I am grateful for the “Huh? What? But …” redirect a good sit creates for all the dogs. I wonder if the success we’re having isn’t an echo of that whole counterintuitive idea you mention above. When things are heading to what might appear a resource guard / stare / stalk situation, I make ALL the dogs sit. They always seem a little dazed by it, like Hey … we were about to rumble, and instead of separating us, you want us to SIT TOGETHER? But they do, and the tension evaporates.

    Good luck with Willie, Sushi, and the Powersit — we look forward to updates!

    **Sidebar: curiously, the Golden has never stalked a cat. In fact, she adores cats and lets them schmooze and sidle and plaster themselves all over her.

  19. Another Kate says

    oh, man, the cat obsession is the worst! i fostered GSDs and i was very careful to only bring in dogs who could handle my cats. i didn’t have the tools then to begin to deal with it. that was two years or so ago, and i still only have some of them. thanks for sharing your efforts; it’s always interesting to get to hear about successes and failures and what you’re thinking.

    so, winter was mentioned. i’m running low on indoor fun. do other people have ideas for fun tricks? at my house right now, we do a lot of “quick” commands: sit down up (on the sofa) off down spin sit whatever, really fast. my BC/husky/whatever loves it. so, what are all of you teaching your dog right now? i’m up for a new challenge!

  20. Julie says

    Our female Italian greyhound wants to chase our cat everywhere. It all happens so fast, we hardly know what

  21. says

    Oh I feel your pain, sister. I think we’ve all had these kinds of frustrating experiences and shining epiphanies at one time or another. I want to thank you for opening up the dog related difficulties in your life to us and everyone out there in their respective cyberspaces. Right on and write on…

  22. katie says

    Very interesting! I recently adopted a young Border Collie who also tries to herd my cats. I’ve found the most helpful method is matter-of-factly but firmly body-blocking her away from the cats and out of the room or into her crate if she locks on to any of them. I have been pre-training her to respect my space using the games in the book My Smart Puppy, so she was able to make the connection that the space around the cats belongs to me, so she should respect that space, too. In her weird Border Collie way, she has taken it a step further, and will sometimes, all on her own without any input from me, RUN to her crate when the cats excite her.

  23. Kerry L. says

    Walter, the corgi, loves to ‘tail-gate’ my cat. Just follows her around with his nose under her tail. Birdie, the cat, just flicks her tail and walks on.

  24. Alexandra says

    Trisha, thank you for sharing that. I really look forward to hearing how it turn out. I’ve never owned a herding dog, and fortunately my labs think my cat is some sort of bizarre, antisocial dog that is better left alone. I’m pretty sure my cat tolerates my older dog (who is intimidated by the cat) and loathes my younger dog (who is not intimidated).

    Ellen Pepin – Do not dispair about you car chasing BC. My older lab was a lunging, barking maniac at anything that moved, trucks included. It took about 6 months of solid work with the watch and hand feeding every meal to practice to make real progress, but I did get her 100% fixed for vehicles and most other things within a year. Strange dogs are still and probably always be a bit dodgy in terms of getting an automatic watch, but at least she will give me one if I ask. Stick with it! If a first time dog owner like me can do it, I know you can too. It can literally take months of hard work but you will eventually get there.

  25. JJ says

    To “Another Kate”, re: Indoor Winter Play
    When my dog was recovering from surgery, I wanted to teach him a trick he could learn easily in my living room. I decided to teach “pancake” – as in “flat as a pancake”. He has to not just lie down, but lie down totally flat on his side. It’s kind of cute and has turned out to be very helpful! This may not sound like a big deal, but it was hard for Duke. He panics if someone tries to push him over from a normal/belly lie-down. Duke is a Great Dane and if he doesn’t want to lie down on his side, it doesn’t happen. –At least not without three muscular people and way more stress than you can imagine.

    I had several needs for Duke to lie down on his side where being on his belly would not work. For example, we had to do passive range exercises on his bad leg. On a more on-going basis, I needed him to lie on his side to get his teeth cleaned (well, once a year). And then there was two x-rays he needed recently for different purposes. The need just seems to keep cropping up.

    What I’d like to do next is teach the word “flip” to mean: OK, now flip to the other side and lie down flat on that side. I think that would be really cute and also helpful. (But I don’t know if I can do it. Duke only does pancake on the side where his bad leg is up. I don’t know how to get him to lie down on the other side. I’m just not that good of a trainer. Still, it’s a good idea…)

  26. Alexandra says

    Oh, and someone asked about indoor games for winter – I teach my dogs silly tricks like jumping through a hula hoop, walking upstairs backwards, and weaving a figure 8 around my legs. The “find it” game is a big favorite, too. I also make the house kind of like an agility course and teach them on/off the bed/couch, go upstairs, go downstairs, jump over the footstool, etc. The down side of that game is two large dogs tearing around the house will occasionally cause collateral damage, but it beats going for a walk when it’s 33 degrees and raining sideways!

  27. Trisha says

    My two favorite winter indoor insanity preventers are “Find It” (hide toy while dog is on Sit/Stay, release and let them search for it), and teaching new tricks (my favorite is still “Are You Ashamed of Yourself?”). Play Together, Stay Together has some good ideas, as does Kyra Sundance’s 101 Dog Tricks. Sounds like a great idea for a new post some time soon . . .

    Thanks for all your supportive comments so far about Will and Sushi. I’ll keep you updated. My guess is that I will never take away his ‘auto pilot’ reaction to Sushi, but have hopes that this new routine will take some of the tension away. And I should probably update the post.. Sushi does indeed have a great cat tree, which she uses less than before because Will lies on the floor and stares at her obsessively, even when she’s 7 feet in the air. I also do tons of management: Sushi has a “kitty suite” — two rooms w/ cozy sleeping places, cat box and food that Will can’t get into (solid doors on both sides, tho he will sometimes lie outside the doors as if waiting to see her…yeah, it’s that bad) and Willie is sometimes put into his crate just to give everyone a break. At night Sushi has free range downstairs, while Will and Lassie are upstairs with me. It makes me sad because I love sleeping with a cat, but shouldn’t anyway because of my allergies. I think I wrote about Will and Sushi now because it seems to be getting worse. Will spends an increasing amount of time sitting at the window, (or would if I let him) waiting for Sushi to appear sometime in the future is borderline OCD, and it’s a worry.

  28. Trisha says

    One last quick comment about car chasers: An encouraging one at that. I’ve had many clients with this problem, and one of my own dogs as well, and it USUALLY is a solvable one.

    For Ellen and the car chasing Collie, I might try fighting fire with fire, and using play (tug?) or a chase game as a reinforcement. If what she wants to do is chase, let her chase you! Might be worth a try, but yeah yeah yeah for you for working so hard on it!

  29. Dena Norton says

    Pixie, our 5-1/2-month-old Springer, loves to chase our front-declawed cat. She ignores the hissing and yowling, and the poor cat has no knives to slash at her with! Pixie’s reaction to paw-batting on the cat’s part is to paw back, and hers are much bigger and heavier than the cat’s. I’ll try “sit”, rather than “leave-it”, and see if that helps break the cycle for us, too. Good luck with Willie & Sushi, Trisha.

  30. says

    I’ve had herding breeds my whole life. It seems to me they each get their “one true obsession”, and it just depends on how annoying or self-endangering it is, as to whether it needs to be fixed or not. For our GSD, it was car rides. For one of our collies it was herding the horses when the dinner can was banged and they came galloping back to the barn. He never worried about them any other time. For my first Cardigan, it was his frisbee. Nothing in life was more important than one more throw. For my current Cardigans, it’s fetching from the water for one, and cats for the other. I don’t have a cat, so it is not much of an issue. My obsession is agility, so I have been tempted to get a BC, but don’t think I am a good enough trainer to take on the ultimate herder! Reading about your troubles with Willie just reinforces that belief!

  31. lisa says

    I have 3 cats and 4 shelties. All the Shelties love to tailgate. When we are around we usually say something like no and the behavior stops for a short while. Sometimes the cats take the matter into their own paws and this is usually more effective. The cats sometimes like the interaction and walk very closely past the dog to get their attention. My oldest boy will nip at the nearest cat if something startles him like thunder or fireworks. The cats have learned to anticipate and leap out of the way when a provocation occurs. The oldest yowls and bats with his claws in. A raised paw gets him instant respect. Do I have a problem I need to work on or have they solved the problem on their own. And what would happen if you let Will stalk Sushi? Could he hurt her?

    Hoping you find something for your allergies besides re-homing Sushi.

  32. Katt says

    My 10-mth old bc mix loves to herd my cats. The best part is watching when the cats don’t feel like being herded. Since we are apartment-dwelling city folks, Dutch has decided that my 9-y/o long hair Scooter and 11-y/o Brutus should have someone along to make sure they don’t have a “senior moment” and forget where they’re going. However, Dutch HAS learned to follow at a safe distance, since my cats pull no punches about what they will and will not tolerate (3 ft back is okay, nose 6 inches away and you’re just begging for a whack!). Since I got my bc mix when he was only 4-mths old and he has a very laid back personality, he has settled in with the routine of the cats ruling the roost and he is their loyal guard.

    I will say that I’m sure my older cat, Brutus, had a lot to do with how things have worked out. Since Brutus was raised around dogs, he doesn’t feel the need to make many allowances. When Dutch first joined our family and wanted to chase, Brutus would simple sit down and wait for Dutch to get too close. Needless to say, it only took a few reminders after the initial whack (no growling, hissing, or yowling needed) for Brutus to make sure Dutch understood who was Boss.

    Dutch will still chase Scooter, mostly because Scooter will still occasionally run from him, but now it is a game. Again, Dutch chased Scooter until the cat had had enough and gave him what-for. Overall, they all get along with only occasional flare-ups if one of the cats are cranky. The dog usually gives them an extra wide berth then.

    Maybe this isn’t the way you’re supposed to integrate the new dog with old cats, but it worked for us. We did a lot of careful watching and corrections (“cat is OFF” and the occasional water bottle during a chase) until they had settled in. I’m sure that my dogs’ personality had a lot to do with it (he’s pretty submissive, happy-go-lucky, almost overly friendly little guy). Anyway, after 6mths everyone has settled in and found their place. We’ll all keep our fingers and paws crossed for you, Sushi, and Willie!

  33. Kellie says

    This is why I love your work and read your blog. You are sharing your stories with us, teaching us by your experiences and letting us know that it is always a quest to have a happy, well-behaved dog (our personal experience says those two ideas are not often in sync.) I appreciate your humor and your willingness to share.

  34. says

    Great story. Whether it is dog behaviors or any other topic, I think it is always easier to identify what SOMEONE ELSE is doing incorrectly (or could do better) than to spot the same opportunity in ourselves. That is why coaches, trainers and teachers are so helpful. It is not that they are perfect in their own behaviors – it is that they are trained observers who also have the skill of how to tell us something negative about ourselves.

  35. Wendy says

    So what about the reverse – the cat who is obsessed with bugging the Border Collies? Bob the Cat loves nothing better than a dragline attached pups to torment/lead around. Ambushing pottying dogs is even more fun. And the dogs like him – so I end up yelling “I am the damn trainer!” while 2 species both ignore me.
    oh well…what else would keep me humble? And no, they won’t do any of this if I pick up a camere.

  36. Amy W. says

    I was happy to see that you mentioned that not everything is 100% fixed, not because I don’t want that for you and Will (and poor Sushi), but sometimes that is the reality. The best you can do, is get the behavior undercontrol and manage it the rest of the way. Sometimes we simply cannot turn off the DNA and the innate hard-wiring that our dogs are born with.

    Also, Good Indoor Games:
    - Find it
    - Nina Ottosson puzzle toys (my dogs like them)
    - The shell game (hide treats under a plastic cup, mix cups around, ask dog to pick the cup w/ the treat)
    - 52 card pick-up – for some reason my dogs love it when I flick cards around the room. Not a good game idea if your dog will eat the card once he gets it, or if you are don’t like picking up the mess of cards when you’re done.

  37. Kate says

    Trish, it’s refreshing to hear that you are working through problems with your own dogs. I remember you saying in a presentation that your knowledge and ability to teach comes from you actually having to learn everything, and that you weren’t just blessed with a mysterious “gift” . It’s fascinating (and helpful) to read how you tackle the problems.

    For readers looking for winter indoor activities:
    - Basketball: Using a suction cup basketball hoop that can affix to any wall. To switch up the context, I’ll move the hoop into different rooms.
    - Bowling: Using a child’s bowling set (plastic balls and pins). He’s a GSD who loves “herding” a plastic ball around our yard, so “herding” the ball to a target seems like a logical progression.
    - Play the piano: He bangs out a few notes when we tell him “go play the piano”; for fun I’d like to teach him different “styles” on command; play the higher notes for “Mozart”; play the lower notes for “Bach” (no rhyme or reason to the composer names)
    I’m definitely not a trainer, so my brain will certainly get exercise figuring out how to get my dog to do this!

  38. Christina says

    I am so glad you posted this: both for the reasons you mention (you just raised another notch on my respectability chart, if that was even possible) about being honest and human.

    Also, this is a problem I struggle with with my own dog (a mix that looks like a wire-haired lurcher), I think for a slightly different reason than Willie (she is more reactive to movement and more predatory than herdy; her cat obsession is also aggravated when she is having a reactive or anxious day – she has a plethora of anxiety and OCD disorders we are treating). I too have tried a number of things, including sit, ironically, that have not really worked. Once we advance a little more with our relaxation work, I am going to incorporate cats moving into Dr. Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. But for now, we use management more than anything.

    As you indicated, the key is to understand the motivator of the behavior and then counter with or offer something that is incompatible with the motivator. So, whereas for Willie, he is truly in his herding brain, so a sit is a functional incompatible behavior, for Anais, she is in the anxious uncontrolled (hind) brain and is reacting to movement, so sit doesn’t really work for her, but conditioned relaxation just might.

    So interesting!

    On another note, have you investigated naturopathy/acupuncture for your cat allergy? I haven’t tried myself but have heard very good things.

    Thank you so much, Trish, for your generous sharing of experience and thoughts, for being the gentle and benevolent leader you are to your dogs and to us, and thank you for showing us you (at least sometimes!) are human, too!

  39. Jennifer Hamilton says

    Thanks for sharing your “operator error story”. Occasionally, I’ll have a problem and I’m stuck…and I’ll ask a trainer I respect and I’ll get asked if I Frieda solution that was right under my nose. Makes me want to kick myself in the pants and laugh all at the same time. Guess it’s part of being human.

    Not to rub salt in the wound, but is it possible that lying down was more part of a premack principle behavior than an incompatible behavior? I know that lying down is technically incompatible with herding, but it’s also part of the amp up to the herding process. In some contexts my dogs perceives a command as just a command, but that same command in the context of a premack buildup routine of which she is familiar will turn her into a raving lunatic and unleash her hardwired instincts…which is what I want in that particular context. For example, asking her to sit and look at me when she is worried about something gets exactly that. If I ask her to sit and look at me while standing next to the pool with a toy in my hand, however, she turns into a “crazy dog” barking, whining, jumping, running…until she can pull herself together and contain herself long enough for me to get the requested behavior and then yell “go” and throw the toy in the pool. Just a thought.

  40. Liz F. says

    To Ignacio and ‘smell boy’:
    I have a smeller, too, and rereading the chapter on sound in “The Other End of the Leash” helped me generate solutions. I don’t remember from other posts whether or not you have read this, sorry to repeat info if you have. If I may summarize extremely briefly: using short clicks or smooches can increase intensity of an animal’s behavior — you can use these types of sounds to get your dog to follow you right past smells.
    So, if you are approaching an object you assume your dog would like to smell (guessing that he wants to smell an object and not just track along the ground while walking) then try to catch him BEFORE he’s headed in that direction. Click, click, click of your tongue (sometimes I say, walk, walk, walk and end up sounding like a chicken, but it just comes out) and increase your pace right past the object. As a reward, I’ll often take my boy back to the hydrant to sniff, or jog with him like he loves. When my knee is killing me or we have limited time for return-smell-rewards, then I’ll give him a treat for following me without stopping. Also, if you can’t actually increase your pace then you can shuffle your feet a bit. It produces short sounds without going faster or saying anything at all. All of this is not bomb-proof, it’s just my experience, but I hope it helps.
    P.S. I found that if I use the leash to keep him from smells it only makes him that much more determined… and my shoulder much more sore. If my Helix makes it to the hydrant before I catch him, I don’t pull him away. Treating the leash as a formality only, I’ll ask him to come, or put a morsel of food near enough for the dog to smell/see it but far enough away from the object so that he has to move to get it. But trying to do something to get the focus off of the object can be so hard… sounds like you made a good observation with your ‘watch’ command. Best of luck, and good for you for not ‘listening’ to your neighbors glances!

  41. Liz F. says

    Great post; maybe if more people in the public eye would admit to being less than perfect, then we all could set practical expectations for each other.

  42. Amanda says

    I think this is the number one reason I love your books so much. I know the information,and yet, every time I read one something stupid I’m doing with my own dogs (or dogs close to me) dawns on me. It’s very easy to get into foolish habits and a reminder/wake-up call is always helpful.

    I do not train professionally, but I am one of those people who (to some degree) just has a natural ‘gift’ with dogs. Sometimes, I don’t think it’s really much of a gift at all. When working with most dogs comes easy, you don’t have to think a lot about what you are doing. It can become a trap. It’s far to easy to not take the time to step back and really think about what your doing and why. I constantly run through things I have read in your books (and others) in my head just to keep myself in the habit of thinking rather than just doing.

    For example, one of my friends’ dogs took off on her the other day. She got in her car and headed down the road to look for him while I stayed around the area were he had taken off. I was looking out over a bluff and suddenly he just appeared. I called him – nothing, he didn’t move a muscle. I knew this dog – that’s not what I expected at all. As I started to walk toward him slowly, the story you told in one of your books about helping a stray out of a dicey situation on a busy highway by ‘calling him’ with body language was running though my head. I kept telling myself “think, don’t just do!”, ” do NOT screw this up!”. Once I got about 30ft away, I turned and ran from him clapping and make an idiot of myself. Worked like a charm, of course. If I managed to force myself to think rather than just act, there’s a very good chance I would not have come to the conclusion that it would be best to treat him as a dog I did not know. It’s easy to forget the basic fundamentals of a dog when you know him and just expect him to act as he ‘usually does’ – or worse, you just plain seem to forget the fact that he’s a DOG.

  43. says

    Good luck with this one- hate to say it but personally I don’t think you have a chance :) BCs are not typical dogs- they’ve been bred for too long to do what they do so well. Like you say, he probably literally can’t control himself on this one. I bet he’ll figure out how to work her while sitting. My guess is that this is a case where “management” will work better than training. But I’ll be looking forward to hearing the results! God bless him for being good at what he does- you’d rather have a good worker than a house dog who doesn’t work cats I’m thinking?
    and thank you for your wonderful blog- wanted to comment weeks ago (?) that I think we have one of those obsequiously submissive dogs. She’s a BC bitch, unspayed, the youngest dog on the farm. We have some pretty strong breeds so she’s had a heckuva time trying to stake her place. She’s come to an agreement with the “farm dog” and the Jack Russell in the house but does that aggressive face licking with the 10 year old LGD. He tolerates it for 5-10 seconds and then snaps and snarls at her.
    Am rapidly reading For the Love of a Dog so I can pass it on to the new owner of our retired BC who I’ve rehomed with an older gentleman who adores him but wants to understand him better!
    thank you~

  44. Melissa says

    Wow, talk about timely for me! I am struggling with the same issue at home right now. What I have found to work best right now is to distract my BC with something else she can obsesses about, which we dont mind and she enjoys – squirrels. So,we set up several bird feeders on the deck, and now my dog spends more time waiting for squirrels to come than herding our new kitten! It doenst work 100%, but is a great help. We also do a lot of “get your toy” when she starts herding the kitten, and that is helping a lot, too. She is not a working BC though, so I imagine her herding is not as strong as yours. Thanks again for the great post, it’s making me think even more about our issues.

  45. Ignacio says

    Liz: Thanks! I almost forgot about the tongue clicks, I’ve used them in the past with some success so I’ll give that a shot. Totally agree on how pulling on the leash makes it even worse (at only 70-something lbs. he can PULL!). I should re-read The Other End of the Leash, it would be a good refresher.

  46. Jenell Larson says

    I have nothing helpful to offer, I had a similar problem but it went unnoticed for a long time. We traveled back and forth to Florida with our purebred cattle-herding BC, a BC mix and two cats. I never thought there was a problem except when we would come back to a motel room the cats were always in the middle of the bed. Investigating this a bit, I found that as soon as we left the room the working BC thought it was his job to keep the cats in place. The other dog would join in and stand guard. Then I realized that in FL he was doing that every time we left the house. I guess he thought it was his duty since he didn’t have any cattle to herd in FL. We actually praised him highly for taking on the task and then we bought him six calves so he’d have something to do there and he seemed content to work the cattle instead of the cats. What a joy he was!

  47. says

    Thanks for writing about what I commonly refer to as “the failure of the dog trainer brain to work at the same time as the dog mom brain.” This is why I am so grateful to have great dog trainer friends that I ask for advice when dealing with my own DWIs (that’s Dogs With Issues), and vice versa.

  48. Trisha says

    I just posted a Willie/Sushi Part II blog, but a few comments in addition. One is to Jennifer, who made an interesting point about whether asking Willie to “lie down” around Sushi was creating a kind of ‘premack principle’ behavior. Lie Down was sure as heck the wrong incompatible behavior, absolutely no question about it, I think because it is a behavior he engages in while herding. So I’d say yes re Premack, except, when he is stalking Sushi he already IS herding…. so a low probability behavior wasn’t leading to a high probability one. I think Lie Down kept him in herding mode, and yet never resulted in any reinforcement (like “walk up” or flanking, which he loves.) I also think he knew (how could he not) that he wasn’t supposed to her the cat, but Lie Down was related to herding in his mind.. thus, his stress and confusion.)

    And to “you don’t have a chance” :-) Jane, I hear you loud and clear! This is not just an interest that Will has in following the cat around, or even chasing her for fun… If you’ve never seen this (not a BC working, but a “strong eyed obsessive BC working) then it’s hard to imagine how the behavior literally takes over a dog. Distractions with squirrels and toys are useless, even though he loves toys and loves to chase squirrels. I know this may never be solved, just as some dogs are never safe around children, but I just have to try some more. I’m not done yet, not with this or my cat allergies (and yes, thanks to you who have suggested shots and homeopathic. I’m grateful for your concern. I have tried all that already, but I am trying a new homeopathic routine and special yoga exercises for inflammation and lung health, chinese medicine, air purifiers, etc etc.) None of this might be enough, but I am not going to go down with a fight! I love my kitty, damn it.

  49. Lori says

    Our BC Ruby herded our poor cat Alice in a very similar way, including walking up to Alice and snapping her teeth together (she never actually made contact with the cat). Still, there was no question that Alice was the alpha animal — she sauntered about as though the BC was completely invisible. She died at age 15 about a year ago, and our BC still waits for her to come in through the kitty door. No more kitties for our house, not with BC’s!

  50. Kellie says

    While I read this through again I realized you mentioned that Willie had projectile diarrhea and I would love to know what was the cause and how you resolved it. Milo has recurring bouts that our vet puts down to chicken or rice (although we haven’t officially tested this) and then wanted us to put him on vet prescribed chicken and rice food (!!??). We have Milo on duck and potato food and this seems to have cleared up “most” of the time. When someone mentions the “d” word I have a tendency to inquire just in case someone has experienced something we haven’t tried.

  51. Anne says

    Ellen with the car chaser- I have had dogs that did the same, and it did cure pretty well using a sit or down at first, then once they had that much control I would progress to watch me. The hardest part was just after the car past when they wanted to jump up and chase- so I’d give lots of treats as they sat/ watched me during that part. My 5 year old dog Hank doesn’t even look at cars going by anymore and when he was about 1 he was really wanting to chase them. He is a herding dog also, but he has a really nice on/off switch. The other day the chickens all escaped from their pen and I looked out to see Hank wandering among them, sniffing the ground and not bothering them at all. As soon as he saw me, he came running, leaped in the air, his normal happy Aussie greeting, and then set about stalking chickens, herding them back to their pen.

  52. Deb Mickey says

    My bc Jill also has strong reactions to cats. I always know when a cat came into the room- Jill immediately goes on “cat alert” mode. BTW she is a strong-eye border collie when it comes to sheep – could that be the common denominator?

    I sleep with my animals (who doesn’t? LOL) and Jill curls against my side with my arm usually around her. When one of the cats joined us it’s immediate “cat alert!” Now at the age of 12 Jill’s reaction isn’t totally fixed (it’s better tho). What I did do when we were on the bed was teach her to put her head down on her paws on command then I’d soothingly scratch the back of her neck, her favorite spot. Slowly she’d relax, sigh, and fall asleep. Now Peck, the current bad boy cat, loves to spoon with her knowing, I’m sure, that he’s pushing Jill’s buttons. But a little neck stratching and Jill soon falls asleep.

    My Willie, a blue merle bc – now at over the Rainbow Bridge, RIP, stared at cats. Didn’t do anything else but stare. We always knew where the cat was and it kept Willie entertained on those cold winter nights.

    Good luck!

  53. says

    Hehe… I also have a BC with a lot of eye, and she too will eye-up on my cats. She also gets sticky on one of my other dogs when we are playing group fetch, but never on other dogs? Interesting.Perhaps more interesting, the other dog doesn’t mind, but won’t tolerate that sort of proximity around her frisbee by any other dog before or since…

    We have 3 cats. I’m lucky in that my cats are trained to station. When I first acquired Lucy, I would just interrupt her stalking behavior verbally and not think much of it. Like you, I found myself getting irritated the nth time I interrupted cat-stalking per hour. Unlike you, I am lucky in that Lucy does not actually try to move the cats, nor will she poke/grip them. She will follow them, stopping when they stop and following them the precise distance they move when they do move. However, that concerned me somewhat on the stockdog side of things. I certainly didn’t want her to simply follow her stock and stop when they stopped! My cats do zero self-defence and have no fear of the dog at all.

    My solution: Go to place + Manners Minder. The incompatible behavior I chose was go to your mat/bed. I used my cats one at a time, stationed in a variable location and taught go to your mat. I positioned the MM in the corner between the mat/bed and the wall so Lucy’s nose would invariably be pointed away from the cat when she was actually fed.

    This was imminently successful (although I did have to stock the MM with microwaved hotdog chunks rather than dog kibble….). She is not cured of cat stalking, but I only have to remind her once every few days, even when the cats are moving. It sounds like your troubles with Will are a bit trickier. I’m glad to hear “sit” is working out for you!

  54. says

    I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you posted this article. I have had several bcs with cat obsessions that I was always able to redirect (at least to a respectable level), that is until MagPi. She is the epitome of the cat obsessed bc.

    When I got her at 2 years old she was largely un-socialized and had lived in a barn and worked sheep intermittently. She had extreme fear aggression and alarmist behaviors. I worked extensively to get her to be “somewhat” social. She has not bitten me in a few years (success!) and has worked through her food aggression as well. She is a great worker on geese and sheep. She knows her job and does it well. She is also one of those dogs who wants to crawl up inside you in a nervous unstable way when shown affection. We have finally achieved balance with petting while sitting and marked improvement with petting lying down. Again…always work in progress.

    That said I have not been able to break the cat obsession. I have never had a dog like this. I have had other dogs with strong eye but this is ridiculous. Its more like a crazy psycho MagPi left the planet stare. I have worked so hard to even get her to pull her eyes of the cats for even a moment, which then seems to only cause her intensity to increase. And yes I completely agree the more sheep and geese work we do the more intense she is on the cats. She will even get like this on my friends gsd when her dog is playing ball. Insane.

    I have to say that yes, this should have been addressed more intently years ago but with all her other issues, I had to start with fear and aggression first. However, the behavior is so intense now it is affecting me, my family and the other dogs in the home. Her anxiety is so high and she will only relax if she is in a crate or a room by herself. The rest of us all feel her anxiety and its making me more stressed and the rest of the dogs are starting to focus negative attention on her. They seem to sense she is completely out of balance. If we are not home she is crated for the safety of the cats (thankfully that isn’t often). She has never hurt one, but she has mouthed so I can’t fully trust her.

    I do have her on a high quality food and vitamin supplements and a product called shen calmer. I have tried many herbs, homeopathics, and flower essences with minimal results.

    It is at least re-assuring for me to hear that someone like you finds this such a difficult issue. I am intrigued with the sit as an incompatible behavior. It makes a lot of sense. I never really used sit as a focus command for the bcs as I prefer the down but I see a re-newed focus on reinstalling the sit behavior in MagPi’s future. I don’t know that it will work with her extreme case but I am certainly game to try!

    If you have any new suggestions I’d love to hear them!!!

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