Q: We have a one-year-old border collie/dachshund mix (about 9 kilograms) we rescued when he was eight-months-old. He is friendly, outgoing and playful around dogs of all sizes and all adults. We have several friends and family with small children and for some reason he becomes overly stimulated and anxious around them. When we try to hold him back, he squirms, pants, and whines relentlessly and will sometimes nip/lunge. I don’t think it is aggression, as there are no typical signs (ears back, hair raised, teeth shown), but instead he is wagging his tail as if he is playing with another dog. We plan on having children soon and are worried about this behaviour. — Bridget
A: Some dogs “compartmentalize” humans almost as if they are separate species, acting great with one group but not another. The divisions are infants, crawlers, toddlers, 8-year-olds, the elderly and lastly everyone in between. It’s the mobility/co-ordination characteristic that seems to trigger fearful agitation. This can generally be avoided if puppy socialization includes many happy experiences directly with all of these groups before a puppy reaches 12 weeks of age,
It may be that the age group is triggering fear but taking his genetics into consideration, also possible that there’s something in the way they’re moving about that is yelling, “I need herding!” to the border collie in your dog.
If it’s a fear thing, it can be a pretty powerful training challenge. If you have the time and ability you can definitely impact the degree but to what extent and how reliable the results will be is always a concern.
The dog has to be exposed and tested in every child behaviour context you can thing of.
All too often I’ve seen dog owners embrace a false sense of security because they’re dog progressed well with their own children and find later that the dog’s tolerance was not extended to unfamiliar children.
If it’s a herding thing it can still be a problem. We have to keep in mind that it wasn’t that long ago that border collie breeders would laugh themselves silly at the thought of a city person taking on one of their breed. Some dogs can handle the house arrest life style but others develop all sorts of issues. They need a boss and a job more than a lot of dogs and the lifestyle of the urbanite sometimes is an ill match.
These are worst case scenarios and it will probably work out but I suggest you have a good trainer observe the dog in similar circumstances.
John Wade helps dog owners through his books, workshops and telephone consultations.
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