Thursday, August 20, 2009

Border Collies

Renewed Life with Rescued Border Collies

Border collies are high energy dogs, so when Pat and I first met Jamie, a rescue dog who had spent most of his three years of life in a fenced-in kennel run, we were surprised to find a reserved dog who didn’t socialize with dogs or humans. He came to us timidly, and without a reaction to any form of touch. In the first few weeks, he needed to be coaxed past houses where dogs barked, he manically ran in straight lines and pounced anxiously at the dirt, and generally stayed in his own space without coming for any affection.

We have had Jamie for a year now and things have changed gradually through constant work and informed training. Our patient process with Jamie has been one of two steps forward and one step back. Over time we were able to wean him from always requiring a leash, to responding eagerly and consistently off-leash on our walks in the bush. At first Jamie shied away from meeting people and dogs on the trail and crept into the woods, when anyone appeared. Like a wolf, he moved silently through the underbrush and appeared back on the trail after the perceived danger had passed. In the house he found imaginary dogs in the mirrors, in the reflection of himself in the door of the fridge or the oven and barked and ran frenetically down the hall. Of course this behaviour was annoying, as was his herding tendencies in the back yard where he crept up to the busy gardeners, only to frantically dash away when we looked up. Here was a dog who needed a lot of channeled direction.

Jamie’s training began when we enrolled him in Kathy Reilly’s basic obedience classes. Even though he was developmentally delayed because of the neglect, he became a star pupil. With expert instruction, hard work on the part of my partner, Pat, and the innate intelligence of the breed, Jamie started to come to life. Although he was reticent among the other dogs in the training sessions, he learned the basics of sit, stay, wait, down, and come. He, of course, knows many more commands and is learning more each week, and may in the future get up to the 360 word vocabulary many experts believe some animals can learn.

After basic boot camp, we realized that if we were to do justice to the dog that we had just rescued, it would not be enough to keep him around as an ordinary house pet. Here is a breed of dog that is genetically made to work. Some dogs are happy just lying on the rug beside the fire; border collies are not.

As Jamie began to socialize with other dogs, we quickly realized that he needed an activity, some work, so we enrolled him in agility training, around the same time that we rescued another border collie, a female who had been similarly abused for two years by being crated for most of her days. The unfortunate dog, who we named Skye, came to us under weight, and only 15 inches high, three inches shorter than normal height for female border collies. As with Jamie, she came with her own set of issues. At first she chewed rugs, towels and shoe laces right out of their shoes. Her fixation with our shoes certainly went a long way toward making us keep the front hall tidy. She cowered when approached and at times was aggressive to other dogs that were just being sociable. Overall however, she displayed a very docile demeanor. In fact she was labeled the most “laid-back” border collie our vet had ever seen.

Skye’s introduction into the pack gave Jamie a friend. Over time they have learned to play together, wrestle, and make up running games. They are both enrolled in agility training and on a regular basis go out to Errington to herd sheep. Bernadette of DAWG Agility recognized that Jamie’s mind needed to be unlocked, since during agility training he was always anxiously looking over his shoulder in a stressed state. The other activities distracted him from focusing on the handler and the equipment. Bernadette mentioned sheep as a natural way to unlock his brain and Doe Shires, who owns her own sheep and six border collies, offered to give Jamie and Skye a go at the sheep. Yes, herding sheep! After all isn’t that what these dogs were bred for? Now sheep herders know that a good herding dog is a combination of innate ability and the training of a good handler, so Jamie and Skye, having been developmentally delayed will never make great sheep herding dogs, but this experience, just as the agility work and even the basic training, opened up their minds, unlocked their psyches and gave them fresh oxygen to live more fulfilled active and healthy lives.

We are both happy with their progress, satisfied that we are doing as much as we possibly can for these dogs amid our busy lives, and in return we are rewarded by being active ourselves in engaging these two great companions.

Written by David Fraser and Patricia Carroll

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