The supervising Collie, part 2.

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Not long after his noise sensitivity and hiding issue manifested that I wrote about HERE,  we thought Dex was beginning to show signs of aggression. Upsettingly for me, it also seemed to be aimed primarily at me. He would be lying near me chewing a bone, or even sleeping upside down in another room – and would suddenly come flying at me growling or barking and would sometimes tug at my clothes. Within seconds of this apparent madness, he’d be back to my normal dog again. For a while, it was so frustrating as there didn’t seem to be any reason for it. I could simply walk across the room and would suddenly get accosted. He never bit me, but it was a bit scary. Then one day, I had the light bulb moment.

It was fortunate that Dex was in my son’s bedroom while I was in the lounge, as the few seconds it took him to get to me, made me realise what was going on. It was hot and I decided to open the lounge window. As I opened it, it made a horrible noise and I just had time to think “I must oil those hinges” before a distressed, snarling dog came flying at me. Bingo! This has something to do with noise. It didn’t answer all questions, but it was a start. However, once we had this base to work from, everything fell into place. Trial and error showed there was a 2ft ‘danger zone’ in front of the lounge window. If he was in the room with me, the growling would start as I approached this zone. This is what I mean when I say, a lot of problems occur because of a Collie’s ability to anticipate. Anybody can open any window in my home, with the exception of the lounge. He’s far worse with me when it comes to this window, which I’ll talk about another time – however, we now have a work around.

I’m sure dog trainers will say I’m doing everything wrong, but this works. People aren’t joking when they say Collie’s can learn an enormous vocabulary. All I do now, is tell him. I say, “Dex, I’m opening the window.” He will immediately come to my side and escort me to the window. He will go very still and watch intently while I open it. Once done, he’ll now wag his tail and return to whatever he was doing. Friends think I’m mad. But telling him is a hell of a lot more simple, than having a snarling dog charge at you, at 30 miles an hour! And in case you’re wondering, yes – I did oil the hinges 3yrs ago. And no – it didn’t make any difference at all.   He just has a window-ism issue!

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Introducing Dexter, the Collie that supervises me.

This is my boy.  He has some issues but is an enormous part of my life.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.