Dogs do what is reinforcing to them.

There are two sentences in Susan Garrett’s Ruff Love that I believe are worth the price of the book:

Dogs do what is reinforcing. If a dog is allowed the freedom to
choose what is most rewarding to him, he always will.”

That statement is true of all dogs, but Border Collies can take it to a higher level. When I first purchased Ruff Love I thought it was a cruel program; but the more and more I think about it and re-read the book, I recognize its value. I recently sent a copy to my mother who has a Cairn Terrier that she’s having a hard time managing. I told my mother if she followed the program detailed in this book, to the letter, she’d have a different dog. I know she won’t do it, but maybe the book will get her thinking.

In December I purchased a puppy (Kessie) from a breeder in Connecticut sired by Whiterose Kep, Kessie. I had high hopes for, but it just wasn’t meant to be. We simply didn’t click and, more importantly, I did not feel comfortable with her mental health. Most people will see nothing wrong with her, but I look at health differently than most people.

I had her sold for $800 to a trail home in Nevada, I had the check in hand and after thinking about it, I decided not to sell her for fear that the woman would be unhappy with Kessie and she’d end up like so many other Border Collies, being passed around from home to home to home. Even though I really didn’t like the dog, I didn’t want that for Kessie.

So I gave her to my friend Wally in exchange for three steer goats. What a deal! When he took her, Kessie had a rocket recall, was extensively socialized, house trained, crate trained and well mannered.

I love my friend Wally and his wife. They have been very, very good to me and I’m glad that a year and a half ago I decided to buy goats from Wally as that’s how we met.

Wally was familiar with Border Collies. When I met him, he had a rescued bitch named Lilly. Unfortunately, Lilly was extremely territorial and a fear biter. Not too long after I met him, Lilly had to be humanely euthanized because she had become too much of a risk due to her biting. She gave no warning prior to biting. She’d be acting perfectly normal around visitors and then turn around and bite. The rescue knew this about her and in my opinion, she should have never been adopted out. In fact, when Wally called the rescue and told them this was happening, they said they’d take her back, but they would put her down rather than trying to adopt her out. Prior to Lilly, Wally had a nice working-bred Border Collie who died from mouth cancer.

I told Wally that he would need to maintain Kessie in a “nothing in life is free” program so that she’d remain as well-mannered as she was. Essentially, he needed to keep her off the furniture, make her work for her toys, etc. I warned him that if he didn’t do this, he’d end up with a monster. I learned that the hard way early on with Gel. In fact, when I first met Wally, Gel was in rehab because I allowed Gel to find his own reinforcements, which he gladly did. Today Wally sees a huge difference in Gel, but I don’t think he understood the how or why.

It didnt take long before Kessie was using the furniture in Wally’s living room as her own personal jungle gym. It was extremely aggravating for me to even be in the same room with her. She’d jump from couch to couch, into Wally’s lap, jump down, grab a toy, run around the house with it, come back and jump from couch to couch again, all non-stop. According to the folks on Kensmuir’s stockdog list, this nonstop behavior is not supposed to occur in well-bred Border Collies (they are supposed to have off-switches), but they don’t come any better bred than Kessie.

When outside, she’d “work” the goats and sheep through the fence, racing up and down the fence as fast as she could, which in turn transferred to how she worked stock. It got so bad I refused to work her. While Wally and I would sit outside, Kessie would frequently take off to where the stock was pastured or into the barn and when Wally takes her outside on her own; she’ll frequently take off to chase squirrels. I warned Wally that he needed to put an end to this behavior, but he ignored me.

It didnt take long for Kessies recalls to go from rocket recalls to, “I’ll come if it suits me.” I told Wally that if she didnt come when he called her the first time, he needed to go and get her and if necessary, put her back on a long line. That didnt happen.

He learned his lesson this morning. While he was outside with Kessie, she took off and this time, she didnt come back when he called. He searched all over his property for her, called his mother-in-law down the street to see if she had seen her, but she hadnt. He got into his truck and went looking for her and his mother-in-law came down on her golf cart. They eventually found her, down the end of the street in the woods, likely chasing squirrels. It scared Wally as he knew if she went missing and someone found her, he’d likely not get her back. Wally and Laura are very, very attached to this dog and to loose her would be devastating. It also made him late for work which meant he’d have to use an hour of vacatio
n time.

I expect I’m going to see some big changes in how Wally manages Kessie and now Pyro. I don’t think Wally realized what was involved in training a dog to the level that Kessie was at when he got her or the amount of diligence you had to put into maintaining that training. I’m glad this happened and I hope it has a lasting affect. Border Collies are wonderful dogs, I would not consider another breed now that I’ve had them, but they are not for the casual pet owner.

Last night when I got home, my landlord was down at the pond with several friends and their children and dogs. Gel was dying to go down there and play (for Gel, self-reinforce), but I wouldnt let him. It would have been easy to let him go down there and play, but it would only make me angry when I tried to call Gel up from the pond and risk that he might not come (which he’s done in the past). I worked too hard to get Gel to where he is now to let all that training slip. With Border Collies, you need to make sure you are the provider of all good things. It is an important part of a good relationship with your dog.

Midge is not much better. Her choice of reinforcement comes from running at top speed around the property and swimming in the pond. If I don’t keep an eye on her, she’s off doing these things and when she is, she doesn’t come back easily. It pisses me off. You give them an inch and they take two miles. I guess I’m not as exciting as running or the pond and that’s depressing. I need to make an effort to be more exciting.

It really doesn’t take much to satisfy these dogs. If it isn’t the opportunity to work stock, then short, fun training sessions gratify them. They keep me on my toes. Keeping Border Collies is a lesson in management.