Rehabing Decker – Helping an Aggressive Australian Shepherd

While visiting with my Dad, I was made aware of a neighbor dog that might be put down.  Apparently he had already bitten people twice.  This blog, at least for a while, will be about my efforts to turn this dog around, making him into a well behaved, obedient, member of the community.  Good or bad, I will let it be known what happens and how it happens.

My history:  I have been training dogs for about 30 years.  I came from an obedience background, and like a lot of dog trainers, am a bit of a control freak.  I did quite well in the obedience venue; of course a lot of it has to depend on a willing partner.  I even dabbled in protection training, which my dog loved.

My obedience trainer had a pack of Border Collies.  As I got to know the dogs, I fell in love with the breed.  Someday I wanted to own a Border Collie and learn to herd sheep with it.

Later, my husband and I moved to Idaho.  Nice and rural.  He saw an ad in the local penny saver for Border Collie x Australian Shepherd pups.  The name Border Collie intrigued me, but I had just one good dog at the time and really didn’t think that I wanted another dog.  My husband wanted to go and see the pups.  And there we were, picking out a little pup.  She was real young and we told the breeder that we would pick her up the following week.  Giving us time to prepare for the coming pup, and also giving her the needed additional week with her dam and littermates.

Bonnie, we named her, was a pistol, and full of energy.  I had never owned a part or pure Border Collie before and was surprised at this bundle of energy.  I started her in obedience work, which she didn’t care too much for.  But we had to live with her and she was going to mind!  I also over did it with her in obedience as she had the sensitivity of a Border Collie and couldn’t take tons of pressure at that early age.  I backed off some and just taught her the stuff that I thought she had to know, like down, sit, here(come), and stay.  I think those are the Four Golden Commands for dogs.  They could save their lives! 

Like most Border Collies, Bonnie needed a job.  She decided that job was herding the horses.  This was dangerous for her.  She got kicked several times.  But she had that instinct to “work” livestock, and I wasn’t giving her a job, so she chose the horses.

After we moved back to the central coast of California, the horses got completely fenced away from Bonnie.  She could no longer go in and work them whenever she wanted.  After the final kick in the head and a concussion, she was no longer allowed to be with the horses at all.  Unless we were on a trail ride, which she was always rabbit hunting and leaving the horses alone, she would be separated, I didn’t want her killed.

What about herding sheep with the Border Colllie?  That thought was still in the back of my mind.  I really wanted to learn sheep herding.   I finally got around to contacting a trainer and we got our first lesson.

At first, Bonnie (6 years old) couldn’t take the pressure of herding sheep.  She left the round pen several times during the first lesson, and for a couple of additional lessons after that.  Eventually, she toughened up and was able to handle the pressure of corrections and working sheep together, and she quit leaving the round pen.

Bonnie and I did well in trialing.  Placing first and second most of time.  While she was not a natural out runner, she was wonderful at close in work, and did real well in the Australian Shepherd Club Assoc. (ASCA) trials.

After several years training Bonnie, I had learned quite a lot and it was time to get another dog, so I could venture in to field trialing in the United States Border Collie Handler’s Assoc. (USBCHA) venue.  I got my first purebred Border Collie.  As usual, she had to have her obedience work on her.  She did very well in obedience, but I had lost a lot of interest in it, while gaining more interest in herding.  Kate, the purebred, was a natural and super fast.  So fast, I felt that I almost had to learn herding all over again.  I couldn’t think or react fast enough.  At one year old, after a major physical setback with Kate, we won our first Border Collie trial.  Wow, I couldn’t believe it!  That class that she won was a novice-novice class, right where we should be.  Unfortunately, there are not many novice trials offered any more, and we moved her up into ProNovice soon after.  I have made mistakes with both Bonnie and Kate in herding training.  That is the learning process.  I believe it is harder for the human to learn this sport, than it is for the dog.  And humans and mistakes go together.

My next pup, Tam, has been the toughest dog that I have ever worked with.  Turning her into a housedog has been extremely challenging.  She didn’t want to do anything that I wanted her to do, she had her own agenda.  Bonnie and Kate were really easy, compared to her.  If she had had a middle finger, she would have given it to me a lot!

Tam’s deal was independence, and dominance.  Now, she has turned around.  The eight months of complaining to my husband that I was tired of being so hard on Tam, are over.  And I am glad that I persisted.  She is great, and a wonderful housedog.  She is always easy to train on sheep, and a total natural, she just didn’t want to conform to the house rules.  If she had been sold to someone else, Tam would have been a kennel dog.

I have been training in herding now for over eight years and am now teaching others.  What an addicting dog sport.  My life has changed dramatically since herding has taken over.  A clean and wholesome dog sport, I challenge the reader to try it.

The Aussie Transfer - I am waiting at my Dad’s house, as the neighbor comes over with Decker, I glance over and comment, “Wow, he is big!”  Then immediately I see Decker key on me and “Growl…BARK, BARK, BARK, I ‘m going to EAT you!!!”  I immediately reach for the leash, turn and walk off with him, keeping the dog out away from my body in order not to get bitten.  I continue to walk around keeping my head up and chest out and mind calm, but in control.  That’s what this dog needs, someone in control.

As I walk around, I started getting in his space, making him yield to me, insisting on it.  I claim the yard, always making Decker give to me.  After walking around and “taking charge” for about 7 – 10 minutes, Decker is calm and accepting me as the one in charge. 

He had never been in a crate before and knowing that he bites, I wasn’t going to push, pull or force him in.  We took the crate apart.  Then carefully coached him into the open bottom.  By this time I had Decker literally eating out of my hand.  No trauma for the dog, the top of the crate was then put on slowly and carefully, and we lift him into the truck.  

When we got home, the girls, Decker and I went for a four mile (1hour) power walk.  It was hot that day, but he needed this.  When we got home, I asked my husband to take the leash (that was the scary part for him) and walk around for a minute.  Decker did quite well.  

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