Nervous aggression

Posted by Anne-Hand
Mar 16, 2011
I would appreciate some advice on a typical border collie problem that I am experiencing with my dog Nell, who is nearly 2 years old. She has a big issue with movement although I have managed to overcome lunging at cars passing as we are walking, but bikes and joggers are still an issue and on our regular morning walk, we are usually passed by a bike at a particular point and Nell gets noticeabley agitated and is actually looking for it as we draw near!!
I go to a regular training class which I have done since she was about 4 months old and she is very good at all the exercises she has to do, but she is an extremely nervous dog and gets very wound up as soon as a new dog joins the class, especially if it is 'bouncy'. Even with the dogs she knows, as soon as we do any exercises that are a bit fast, or one of the dogs gets excited and jumps around, Nell will immediately tense up, tail in the air, start barking and lunging and throwing herself around to get to them. I have tried distracting her with a toy and tried giving her things to do like sit, down etc but she is by then so wound up that I have 'lost' her. Just recently, which is more worrying, when she gets to that stage, she has turned and nipped my leg, not is an aggressive way, just because she is so frustrated and wound up that she doesn't know what to do with herself!!

At the moment, when we do an exercise which is going to be an issue, I tend to go first, then take Nell outside while everyone else takes their turn, so that she doesn't get too wound up, but this is not going to solve the problem! It is definitely getting worse and I don't know if I should be shielding her in this way, or whether I should keep her in the room and keep subjecting her to it. When this first began, the trainer would talk to Nell in a very quiet and calm voice and keep feeding her treats but as she gets more and more wound up she really is not listening and either ignores the treats or grabs it and carries on going mad! I have tried verbally reprimanding her with a severe 'NO', but this seems to be frowned upon in class as they say raising my voice will 'stress her out even more'. I have to say I'm not convinced, because although when she is calm she is the gentlest dog, when she gets in this state she is completely different and I feel she probably needs some sort of unexpected shock treatment (verbal?) to bring her attention back to me?

Any ideas how to handle this? I would appreciate any advice you can give - thanks!!
Posted by KOPCaroline
Mar 17, 2011
Hi Anne,

First off, how did you train Nell to stop lunging at cars? Have you tried applying the same technique to bikes and joggers?

If you know where the biker usually is in the mornings, is it possible to cross the street to get away from him for the time being, and work on Nells attention from a distance to start of with?

When my dog lunges on lead I stop abruptly, say "no" very sternly, and give his lead a sharp, firm tug. I then get him to sit and say "no" again, giving him the 'youve been bad' finger point. This has always worked for my dog. Maybe something similar will help get Nell under control?

I disagree that raising your voice only works a dog up more. I think raising your voice to a playing excited dog will encourage them, but raising your voice in a bad behaviour situation is a deterrent. Dogs know tone of voice and body language, so I dont think that saying "no" loudly on walks or any situation is necessarily a bad idea.

As far as the classes and Nell working herself up, with dogs its usually better to desensitize them to whatever is getting them anxious. The more she sees it (theoretically) the more used to it she gets. Start by leaving her in the room for the first dog after her turn, then ask her to sit, say good girl when she does it, and then leave the room. Keep doing this until she sits sooner and sooner, hopefully even when the next dog is running its turn. Then try staying in the room for the next 2 dogs, and so on. Do it gradually and slowly, but it should work to get her used to not being so excited in the training sessions. The key is to get her out of the room before she stops listening altogether, so that she recognizes listening is a rewarding experience!
Posted by Anne-Hand
Mar 23, 2011
Thanks for your reply. That sounds a good idea to try and lengthen the time I allow her to stay in class during the 'active' exercises. I will try that!