Yesterday I went to a really fun workshop on fermenting foods (making sauerkraut etc.). It was about 1.5 hours away, but well worth the drive. The people I met at the workshop were extremely interesting and the atmosphere was so relaxed, fun and welcoming that I look forward to doing other workshops at the same place. At the risk of digressing from dog training, the workshop was held in a house in town that is operating as a small urban farm. It’s an old house that’s been simply but beautifully restored, and the yard has been turned into quite a large garden, complete with a few chickens. The 6 foot wood fence keeps prying eyes from reporting the chickens, but apparently the authorities of that town don’t really care anyway. It’s a very progressive region with a big local, sustainable food movement. I’m actually considering looking for property to rent nearby as if yesterday’s experience was any indication, I would quite enjoy the community and find many like-minded people to associate with.
I brougth Kestrel with me because otherwise she’s have been sitting in a crate at home all day. At least with me she had company and a number of breaks, and after the workshop we went to visit a friend where I took her for a hike on their 115 acres, then let her hang out in the house. They have several kids, three dogs and had other guests over. Kess was very worried about their dogs for the first while. I don’t think she’s had much exposure to non-border collies. Then again, her attitude of being afraid of other breeds is pretty typical in border collies for some reason. All of mine are that way to some extent, with Mira being downright terrified of some breeds.
Kess did get over her concern and eventually ended up playing very nicely with the German Shepherd, and just ignoring the other two. I was pleased to discover she was good with free-range chickens, and she was great with the kids and strange adults. Her temperament continues to impress me.
That said, she gets overly excited about meeting new people, and will actually start to wimper and fuss and wag and whine when she sees someone approach. She’s still very much a puppy and I expect her to grow out of this, but she is definitely over reacting. I see obsessive behaviour as being closely linked with fear, and believe her to actually be somewhat fearful of new people despite her overt display of excited affection. As a result, I need to be very careful how I handle this, so as to not heighten her stress in these situations.
I don’t want her to continue to obsess as it seems to be self-rewarding. She will run up, whining and jumping, and then when people pet her, she flops over on her back “for a belly rub.” Really this is very submissive behaviour and I put a quick stop to it. You never want your dog on its back with strangers leaning over it. That is just a recipe for disaster: the dog is actually displaying very submisive behaviour in response to a person doing something very dominating (leaning over the dog). Some dogs will feel completely trapped and, unable to give any further signals of their discomfort, resort to aggressive behaviour. Showing their belly to a stranger is not inviting affection, it is giving a clear signal of submission. If that stranger continues to “dominate” (typically unwittingly), the dog may feel it needs to defend itself. I had a foster who was like this a couple of years ago. She’d roll over, seemingly for a belly rub, and then lunge and snap at the face of the person who bent down to pet her.
Kess shows no sign of wanting to lunge and snap, but I still don’t want her to practice this behaviour. So every time she went to roll over when someone was petting her, I’d call her back to me and end the interaction. I need to put some thought into how I’m going to manage this. I’m currently reading Pam Dennison‘s excellent book How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong on how to deal with dog aggression. The people I stayed with at the sheep farm a few weeks ago lent it to me, along with Bringing Light to Shadow. They are friends wtih Pam and have trained with her. I’d been wanting to read Shadow’s book for a long time, so borrowed both.
I’m familiar with much of what she says already (the behaviourist I worked with a while back had read all her books), but it’s very interesting to read it and discover gaps in my understanding. Her book is making me rethink some of my methods, including the use of head halters. I’ll write more later as I have to sign off now.