Contrary to expectations, border collie puppies tend to be a bit nervous of other larger animals, especially horses, cows and, surprisingly, sheep. The first few times they encounter them they may be alarmed to see a much larger animal, that does not appear to communicate in dog language, which may cause them to hide, back off, growl and bark.
If your puppy has a strong prey drive, the barking might be due to wanting to go and chase the animal but being restrained from being able to, due to the lead or other barriers. This causes frustration which leads to barking.
The best way to stop your border collie puppy from barking at, or being afraid of, other animals is by playing the “Look At That” game (LAT), also known as the engage, disengage game. The Look At That game was devised by Leslie McDevitt, a US dog trainer and author. During this game, we teach the dog that whenever they look at the scary or exciting item, you will reward them immediately with a treat.
This completely changes the way your dog thinks and reacts in relation to the trigger animal:
1. The animal becomes a cue for a treat and attention from you. So instead of feeling afraid or wanting to chase the animal, leading to the growling and barking, the dog sees the animal then looks back at you for a treat.
2. It gives the dog something else to think about rather than being scared/wanting to chase, meaning that they don’t even think about barking.
How to teach
1. Approach the trigger animal from a long way away. It’s best if the animal is in a field and unlikely to move towards you – this won’t work if horses are coming towards you along a track. See the video below:
2. Watch your dog closely for signs of stress. The following image shows examples of dogs experiencing low level signs of anxiety:
3. As soon as you start to see any of these, and you know that your dog has seen the animal, you are slightly too close. Take a few steps back away from the animal.
4. If the dog starts barking, you are way too close. This training has to happen while the dog is far enough away to be relaxed but near enough to have noticed the animal.
5. Have high value treats ready.
6. Whenever the dog looks at the animal, say “look” then immediately say “good” (or “yes” or whatever your marker word is) and give the dog a treat.
Remember, the order is:
“Look” – “Yes” – Treat
Practise without your dog so that you are saying the right things in the right order!
The video below shows this training in action!
When you’ve done this a few times, and given a maximum of ten treats, turn and walk away from the animal.
Over time you’ll be able to get closer and closer until eventually you’ll be able to walk past the scary big animal without your dog reacting at all.
If your dog starts to bark at any stage, you’re too close. Turn around and get further away to where your dog is calm but still able to see the animal before trying again.