I have mentioned on a number of occasions now that I want to work on Finn’s socialization. The reason for this is that I have not been comfortable with his body language around lone strangers passing us in the park or with kids. I should mention that Finn has been extensively socialized and is generally very good meeting people in classes, at trials, in homes and other social settings.
Ever since he nipped that jogger two weeks ago I have been watching him carefully. I assumed at the time that it was simply a herding thing, but closer observation suggests that his body language is defensive, not herding in nature.
Finn is uncomfortable meeting dogs, and when they come up, he raises his hackles, bares his teeth, and lunges and snaps at their faces to get them to move back. After a few minutes he relaxes and will generally start to play. This isn’t a big issue for me, but I am seeing this initial body language when he is around children and now occasionally with lone adults passing us in the park. They obviously stress him out and he seems to think that he should react to them the same way he reacts to strange dogs. This of course makes total sense from his perspective, but I will obviously have to teach him how to handle things otherwise!
A few days ago, I took him out to socialize and brought him to a park area that had a few people. There were some kids playing soccer in the snow and a few parents. I had Finn on a leash and halti and just walked him around the perimeter of the play area. He became visibly agitated by the kids, so I stayed well back and fed him lots of treats as we walked. I hope to have kids some day, so I was disappointed by how much stress he was showing around them. Fortunately he stayed easily focused on me and I was pleased with how he was responding.
After he was nicely settled, a young girl (9-10ish) came over who had helped me socialize Finn and his sister when they were little. I did a lot of socialization with the puppies around children because they were both showing some timidness and apprehension. Finn was slower to adjust than his sister, preferring to move away from the kids than engage. He eventually did fairly well with them at the time if I recall correctly and definitely liked this girl. Not so now. While he took treats from this girl, he proceeded to lunge and snap at her hands and face once the treats ran out. He has now done this with several children over the past month.
The next day, I tried once more to introduce him to a child. This time I picked an older boy I know who is really great with dogs, and a location well away from any other commotion. I asked the boy to come over and feed Finn a few treats while I petted him and held him calmly. I thought it went well until I released my hold on Finn as the boy walked away. Finn dove at him and grabbed him in the back of the leg, and latched on strongly enough that the fabric started to tear as I pulled him off.
Mira did exactly the same thing at a younger age (only much worse), and she is now fine around people and children, so I’m sure Finn will be too. It is not unusual for puppies to be afraid of children with their jerky movements and high-pitched voices. It is also not unusual for them to be afraid of lone strangers walking in the park. I find it interesting that the same puppy will not be afraid of people they meet at home or walk by in crowded situations. There is something about a lone jogger or walker that was even disconcerting to I-love-everyone Hannah at this age.
Wanting to control things that frighten them with their teeth is also not uncommon with puppies of this age and especially of this breed. Border collies are bred to use their teeth when necessary to get things to move that won’t move otherwise. Now of course this is meant for stubborn livestock, but the breed is quick to nip in other circumstances as a result. I managed the situation with Mira by keeping her away from children while I built up her toy drive. Once she was very keen on playing fetch, I brought kids back into the picture. I made sure they did not try to touch her and just had them play ball with her. This worked very well and she is now calm and relaxed around children. I will do the same with Finn.