This is my boy. He has some issues but is an enormous part of my life.
We got him as an 8 week pup. His dad was a working sheepdog and his mum and nan were farm dogs that kept an eye on free range chickens, turkeys, ducks and peacocks. I got him to help fill a void and heal my broken heart when my Collie x German Shepherd died.
Having a Collie cross, I thought I knew all about Collies. Boy, was I wrong! I’d done some research, knew about the importance of exercise and stimulation. I knew they’re classed as being the most intelligent of breeds – but I think until you are owned by a Collie – nothing can prepare you. Lots of dogs are obedient and learn numerous commands. But the thing with Collies is their anticipation and the way they watch. I always refer to Dexter as having special needs. I’ve spent loads on doggy shrinks but they haven’t helped at all. Dog trainers may shake their heads in disgust at my next sentence, but it’s been the best way for us to have a life together. We do things Dex’s way and adapt to his needs. Let me elaborate.
From 8 to 20 weeks, I’d say everything was as normal as it is for everybody else that has an energetic Collie pup. By 10 weeks, he’d only pee inside on the special puppy pad. By 12 weeks he’d mastered toilet training completely. We did puppy socialising classes, all the necessary vet checks and vaccinations – and generally introduced him to the world.
Then at about 20 weeks, his issues started to surface. First, was an extreme noise sensitivity. It began with him drooling and shaking and hiding if a helicopter flew over, or it thundered. Fireworks are problems for a lot of dogs and for some reason the sound of putting up my ironing board fills him with terror. We’ve learned that if indoors, it’s best not to fuss him when he’s like this. It’s been hard – but now he just hides in his safe place around my side of the bed. He’s unhappy, but the salivating has stopped and it’s just the occasional tremble. This is easy to do indoors. Outside – not so much.
I live on a riverbank and have huge fields 5 minutes from my door. Unfortunately for Dex, we can still hear distant road traffic. I used to take him out at 8am. Walks became incredibly stressful. He’d never run far from me, but as soon as he’d hear something he didn’t like, he’d bolt for the most dense bit of undergrowth or hedge he could find. Sometimes he’d go down the riverbank, even into the river and he wouldn’t come out. A short walk could take hours, if I patiently waited him out. Other times, I’d come home with torn arms or be soaking wet as I’d try a different tactic of pulling him out of the undergrowth or river. I tried other tactics of just calmly continuing to walk away, but I’d get so far and look back to see the bush trembling violently with no sign of an emerging dog.
Other dog walkers became accustomed to seeing me pleading with dense bushes. After a couple of months, they’d tentatively suggest that I’d tried my best and should maybe rehome him and get another dog. In all other ways though, he is a fabulously obedient dog and I was determined not to give up. A simple tactic, coupled with another of his issues manifesting solved the problems of his main walk each day. I take him out at 6am when the world is quieter – and I have become his sheep, his job – and this means he won’t take his eyes off me. 3 years on, he’ll still occasionally hide. If it’s a motor bike, I’ll stand still and give him 10 seconds, if a helicopter, I give him a little longer until it’s not overhead – and then I begin walking again. A nose will prod the back of my leg and for a few metres he’ll be wedged so tightly up against me, my welly catches him every time I take a step. However, after a minute, he’ll go back to being a normal Collie and lope around.
Friends think hubby and I are crazy, being over the fields at ‘that ungodly hour’ every single day. (Minus 2 days following castration, 3 days when he had a cut paw and one day in a gale as noisily creaking trees spooked him too much.) But I’ll tell you what. This 50 minutes, these 2 miles following the river with my dog are the best moments of each day. It’s a beautiful surrounding. I see foxes and deer and ducks every day. He’s obedient and doesn’t chase. He gets to socialise as it’s surprising how many other dog walkers are out at that time – exercising their dogs before going to work. Our biggest threat now is the Heron. It took off a few feet away from him one day 2 years ago and he’s still terrified of them.
I’ve just realised how epic this entry is becoming. So parts 2 and possibly 3 will appear later. I want to write about aggression that isn’t actually aggression at all – and how I became a sheep. And also, how 80% of Collie behaviour is about anticipation.