Car/Bird/Squirrel Chasing (or ‘herding’)

Border Collie in the park at sunrise

I was told that Border Collies have a very strong ‘herding instinct’ by numerous people before we got our pup. What I later discovered was that everyone actually meant a ‘chasing instinct’! I really wish someone had actually explained that to me as I would have been more prepared and done more reading before a problem started to develop.

His chasing instinct seems very strong to me, but the reality is that I have never have a dog before, so it is probably just the same as any other young dog or Border Collie. He is now 9 months old and when he locks onto something I cannot do anything at all to distract him. I have tried very hard but it is something that we still struggle with daily and is a great cause of frustration to me for several reasons:

  1. I lose control of my dog – this is both embarrassing and frustrating
  2. It has begun to cause damage to our property
  3. I’m afraid of him getting injured/lost

When we first got Kubo we followed advice and walked around the streets with him (in our arms) before he could walk on the floor to get him used to the sights, souBorder Collie fixated starnds and smells. By the time he was able to walk on his own he seemed OK however at some point he began to notice cars and from then on would go bonkers trying to chase them. We followed the advice of a trainer and found a path offset from the road, walked him up and done focussed on us and gradually brought him closer until he could walk alongside the cars and pay attention to us (with the help of some chicken or sausage!). This works on the residential 30mph roads and we continue to do this daily but near quicker roads we do still lose his attention. I must admit I find this kind of training on bigger roads very hard to do as it is stressful, to be honest. We need to go slightly further afield so need more time, it also is not a nice fun walk or training session and it is very draining so it is way too easy to just avoid walking him next to busier roads, or take him out at unsociable hours when the roads are quiet, even though I know we need to keep the practise up.

He also never seemed to have any real interest in chasing other animals outside of the house and when we started letting him off the lead he was good as gold. We wouldn’t let him off anywhere near a road as I just don’t trust him with cars and we will only let him off when we are both present due to how nervous we are. About the 4th time we ever let him off lead I was on my own and out of the blue for some reason he noticed a bird. He had never paid them any real attention before. He took off after it and no amount of me calling him, running the other way or trying to lure him with toys and treats helped. He was fixated on this bird who by this point was flying (circling) with Kubo trotting underneath. The bird tried to land a few times but with the dog chasing, it kept flying back up and Kubo kept at his chase. Eventually, after what seemed like hours but was only minutes of course, the bird found a tree, leaving Kubo jumping up the trunk underneath it. I was in tears of worry as I knew wherever that bird went, my dog would have followed – what if it had gone towards the woods? Or the other way to the road? I was so relieved to be able to approach and get his lead back on and naturally when I eventually got his attention away from the bird I was super excited with him and gave him treats and toys but clearly he enjoyed the bird chase as he then spent every walk looking up at the sky, hunting for more birds. We have never been able to shake this bird (and also now squirrel) habit. Sometimes he will give up the chase and come back when we call but other times he will not. We tend to try and walk him round our local reservoir as there are no roads he can access and he can’t really go anywhere but we find this a huge restriction as there are many other places we would love to go. We have taken him to woods and parks and he does always eventually come back after a chase but the time he spends away, fixated, is nerve-racking and I am concerned he will lose his way, or worse, find himself in the path of a car, and I’ll be one of those people putting up missing dog posters. It breaks my heart to think of losing him.

Another relatively new development of his in trying to ‘catch’ other cars whilst we are driving. We finally managed to get him happy in the car on the backseat on his own however he spends the entire time snapping at cars that pass on the other side of the road. The bigger and faster the better! I have had to stop opening the rear window for him as he has begun trying to launch himself at the cars he wants to catch but this just means he scratches his teeth up against the glass window instead which is now causing damage to the glass. I have again tried to distract him with treats and attention but he just locks in on them and we lose his attention completely. He just becomes so task orientated. His seatbelt cannot be tightened enough that he can’t reach the window.

Dog funny face border collie car

I find Kubo to be a very stubborn dog. When the cats are upstairs he is relentless at jumping up and making lots of noise. My banisters are full of scratches and flaked paintwork. If you can get him to change his attention focus he will only do it momentarily before running back to the stairs. We cannot seem to switch his focus at all, only distract him for very short periods.

The advice we have been giving is to keep practising recall training around birds, which we do. If the cats are making noise upstairs I try to sit with him and reward him for being calm and quiet. Is it a case to carry on with this and eventually it’ll just get better? What else can I do? It is so frustrating, especially when I need to cook or do something other than be tied to him and he is just going crazy. I try to shut him in the room with me but this doesn’t help, he just has a go at the door instead.

As always I welcome any questions on anything we have done or tried and any advice is greatly received. I don’t want my dog to be in danger and I’d rather not have any more damaged caused to our house or car!

3 Comments on “Car/Bird/Squirrel Chasing (or ‘herding’)

  1. Following and for now including a link to information sheet about the behaviour of border collies which you might find helpful. There are other information sheets and leaflets on the site too and it’s really worth spending some time clicking and reading through them all to get an overall idea about what’s going on with Kubo and how to go about tackling some of his issues.

    I sympathise entirely with you and reading this post took me back to the time I spent tearing my hair out, worrying myself sick and feeling certain my then young collie wouldn’t make it to her first birthday and would probably end her days underneath a car having chased something into busy traffic.

    The good news is that with time, training, lots of patience and through educating yourself, reading up and researching the breed to the death you can overcome and master what I refer to as the “emergency stop” button i.e training Kubo to stop, drop and hit the floor the second you give the word.

    It does take time however but if you only do one thing I would urge you to read up and understand the breed and its unique traits, behaviour and characteristics that sets it apart from virtually all others. Be very careful about taking advice from trainers or handlers / anyone that claims they hold the key and can solve all your problems.

    I’ve read advice from people claiming to be pro-trainers that made me draw a sharp intake of breath but the few people whose advice, knowledge and experience is second to none include that of Nicki Oliver from Border Collie Rescue.

    http://www.bordercollierescue.org/advice/bcr_leaflets/behaviour.html

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    • Thank you. I will take a read. I have done lots of reading but I think there is always more to do! The trainer we went to has 3 x BCs but you’re right – it doesn’t mean they know everything still.
      It’s nice to know that I am not the only one who has had these issues and been through it. I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and hard work and patience will get us there but it is still nice hearing from others who have been through it! Especially when you meet other non-Border-Collie dog owners who just don’t understand!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely and there’s never any set right, wrong or idea that isn’t worth hearing or considering either – that’s a big one for me.

        The youngster I had so much trouble, fun and games with gave me such a hard time because unknown to me then; she was the stuff of a farmer and sheepdog traillist’s dream.

        She was an exceptionally strong, independent wilful dog and I made the mistake of thinking her behaviour was sheer disobedience and blatant disrespect. We butted heads, locked horns and the more frustrated and angry I got the more she fought back tooth and nail which would have ended in tears had I not been fortunate to meet a farmer that spotted us, invited us to his farm so he cold see how she reacted to sheep and then helped me to understand what made that little dog tick, why she behaved that way and what I needed to learn and understand before I cold do anything further.

        The most interesting thing I learned and for me explained so much and helped us turn a corner was the breed’s unique ability to be “split-minded” which in short allows a predatory response / chase instinct to be temporarily interrupted with a command or instruction given by a handler.

        The dogs you see herding and working sheep with farmers whistling and shouting all sorts is the simplest way to understand. The dog is crouched, focused stalking and creeping after its prey if you will but hears and responds to commands, signals and instructions without missing a beat.

        Again there is no right or wrong way and what works for some won’t for others but regardless of any technique or training method, I cannot stress the importance of learning about the breed which once you understand makes things fall into place and suddenly make sense.

        The advice and info on the BCR website is brief but brilliant and their YouTube channel is also worth a visit.

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