Border Collie won't stop chasing shadows! Help!

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by alcastiello, Nov 8, 2008.

  1. alcastiello New Member

    I have a 3.5 year old male border collie named Eddie. We rescued him when he was 3 months old. He is a great dog - needed a lot of training (both obedience and fun training such as agility) and a firm hand but he is now a great companion.
    He started chasing shadows when he was around 1.5 year old. It started with the shadows of flies and butterflies. Of course, we thought it was hillarious and didn't correct him. However, within a few months he had graduated to human shadows. For the last year or so, it has gotten go bad that he lunges at shadows and bites the ground. Thankfully he only does this outside. However, it has become a real challenge to take him to run at a park or play at the beach. As soon as someone else is there, he'll go after their shadows.
    He has learned to leave my shadow and my boyfriend's shadow alone and goes after strangers. When we try to correct him, he walks away and then 10 secs later, comes back to it. Nothing has worked so far. Even putting him on his side for 15 mins to cool him down didn't work. After a few minutes, he went right back to it.
    Please, please, please someone help me! I want to continue enjoying the outdoor with my dog!

  2. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    Putting him in a submissive position serves no purpose at all here. This would be a correction for a dominant behavior, and it sounds like this is simply an obsessive behavior. And 15 minutes is much too long anyway. After 2 minutes he's forgotten what he's done and he's wondering why he's being forced to submit when he hasn't done anything. BCs and most herding breeds tend to have an obsession with movement. I have two suggestions.

    -When he first shows interest in a shadow, give a firm, sharp, "Ah-ah!" but DO NOT yell. If he breaks his interest in it, reward heavily. If he doesn't, try again. This works for many dogs but depending on how heavily interested he is, it may not. If it works, you MUST be consistent. If you get tired of trying after a few times, then he learns nothing.

    -Work on a really good recall. Have an unbelievably tasty treat(freeze-dried liver treats, rolled raw dog food--works great cause it reeeeaally smells and they love the taste) on hand and call him to you with you a very short distance away--enough that all he has to do is turn and take a step or so to you. If he doesn't come, bring the treat near his nose so he knows it's there and lure his attention to you. As soon as he breaks his focus on the shadow, reward!!

    I recently trained an 8-month old BC with almost no attention span. She had a terrible habit of biting at her Aussie roommate's tail everytime she got excited. After learning to come to her name, I worked on calling her when distracted by another dog. As soon as she took interest in the other dog(exhibiting herd-like behaviors, not just general playfulness), I shook a bowl of food as a sound distraction and brought it within sight, calling her name and luring her back to me. I spoke to them today and they were ecstatic to report that she hadn't tried to herd her playmate at all since her return.
    If your dog is easily distracted by squeakers, you can try this as well(squeaking when showing interest in the shadow, and then clicking and rewarding with either the toy or a treat depending on how he's motivated).

    -You say he will leave it alone for a while and come back. What method were you using? Provided this method is CONSISTENTLY working, it could be beneficial to stick with it! He's obviously learned to leave it alone at least for a bit...reward him for that! When he goes back to it, try again and reward again when he stops. If you aren't consistent, he won't be.

    Also, it's likely that your BC is bored. They get bored quite easily...use lots of trick training to keep him mentally stimulated, and give him LOTS of exercise. You mentioned agility; that's great! With some BCs, mental stimulation is almost more important physical stimulation. They are incredibly bright dogs and need somewhere to apply that intelligence. Use it! Don't stop the trick training at basic obedience. Get creative and keep him constantly learning. The "brightest" BC on record knew well over 300 commands. You can bet that pup probably wasn't bored enough to herd shadows or cats or people or cars! Lol. Best of luck and hope this helps!!
  3. hunniedoll New Member

    I totally wish I could help. My dog wont chase anything unless his life is on the line. I can imagine how it could be funny... but not anymore. Good luck!
  4. alcastiello New Member

    Thanks for your suggestions! Now that you mention it, the 15 mins submission probably wasn't a good idea. I saw it done on The Dog Whisperer and Cesar made a point of keeping the dog down until he submitted. But I guess in this case, I miss-judged... You're right, Eddie is obsessed not dominant about shadows.
    Eddie has learned to not jump on our shadows because we would correct him with a "ah ah!" and a touch to snap him out of it. But with other people, he is almost always out of our reach and we almost always have to chase him - which as you know, is not a good idea with a BC! :o) A sharp "ah ah!" sometimes works but most of the time it doesn't... We tried to re-direct his attention by trying to play fetch or frisbee but he is not interested in these games anymore. It's really sad because as a puppy, he used to loved the frisbee. I just don't know how to get him to play these games now. He's more interested in running around on his own and jumping on shadows...
    The agility works great with him! Eddie loves it! Unfortunately, we can only spend a couple of hours a week on this. We try to do some obedience and trick training at home and that works well. Maybe we need to try doing this at dog parks and at the beach? It's just more difficult to get his attention when we are not home or at agility. His name recall is fairly good but I will try your suggestion of tasty treats so that we can improve this.
    BC are so intense and smart that it gets a little frustrating trying to break an unwanted behavior... Eddie is much more persistent that I am! lol But I guess I will have to learn to be more consistent and not get discouraged. It just gets a little frustrating when all you want to do is enjoy a hike with your dog and you have to spend your time correcting him...
    Any other suggestions are most welcome!
  5. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    To be completely honest, Cesar isn't the best solution at all. Although he is widely accepted, he is also widely controversial. I HIGHLY recommend looking into Patricia McConnell, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor...these kinds of trainers use only positive reinforcement methods, something Cesar definitely does not stress. These trainers vids can be found on abrionline.org/videos.php

    I would recommend keeping him on a short leash around other people so that you can always redirect his attention, rather than having to get to him first. This is reinforcing his problem because you aren't able to get to him quick enough. So for a little while, you'll need to keep him close. Even though it does seem much less enjoyable to be fixing your dog while your just trying to enjoy a walk, it's incredibly rewarding when your dog begins to improve and becomes more happy and balanced. I would give a call to a local professional and ask for a few tips to help you learn how to better apply these methods, as it may take a little while to get used to. The first question you should ask is if they use positive reinforcement methods.

    Once he is perfect on-leash and will either completely ignore shadows or at least come out of his obsession instantly at your distraction, then progress to a 20-50 foot leash. This way, you still have control and won't have to chase him, but he is still allowed freedom and you can test his progress. If he does well, then great! If not, bring him back in close, work for a while, and then give him another opportunity. Make sure he is within earshot so that if you continue the ah-ah he can easily hear you.

    Also, develop a solid leave it. You can also use this command with the shadow attacks. The classroom has a lesson on this. Get reeeaalllly good with this command so that he will drop his focus on any object when told to leave it. This should be a fantastic tool for you in his "rehab" so-to-speak.

    You mentioned he is focused at home but not outside the home...begin with working in a low-distraction zone. For instance, go to a park with veerrry low traffic(car, foot, and dog) and stay off to the side away from any other park-goers. With high-value treats, get to work! If he doesn't listen, pretend he never knew the trick in the first place. Lure him into a sit(or down or whatever) and reward heavily when he listens. He's bound to be distracted, but don't just continue saying, "Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit." At that moment you have to pretend he's completely untrained and "retrain" him. He knows what you're asking but you have to recapture his focus and help him learn that he's expected to listen everywhere, not just at home.
    Good luck to you, and if I think of anything else I'll let you know! Keep me posted. :)
  6. snooks Experienced Member

    This is def obsessive compulsive behavior. Unf the best/easiest time to stop it is when it first starts. Most people make the same mistake in thinking it's cute and even encourage it by laughing or paying attention. There was a great article in whole dog journal about OCD a couple of months ago. It is well worth a subscription or you can buy individual articles for $10. If you subscribe for $5.95 a month the articles are included. Back articles are $10 for non members and $7.50 for members. It's well worth the subscription cost.

    OCD stems from some basic insecurity like anxiety, boredom, or hereditary propensity. It is very possible in most cases to train a dog not to do the behavior but it's not easy. Not that it's horribly hard but you must work diligently to be consistent.

    Considering this is border collie he needs a LOT of exercise, a job to do, more exercise, intense mental interaction like teaching tricks, agility, fly ball, herding, or something to engage his mind and keep him from going nuts.

    This article is in the October 2008 issue- the cost is $5.95/month and it's well worth the cost. The biggest cause of OCD is environmental stressors. So making the dog submit or scolding for something he can't help will only perpetuate the problem. Some drugs can help but they are not magic pills and as in human behavior modification they don't work without backup training and therapy.

    The article relates light or shadow chasing to predatory behavior--boy does the BC fall into that category. I didn't know that dogs that have one OCD behavior are more likely to develop others. So if you see other things like fly snapping (at things that aren't there), excessive licking, tail chasing, flank sucking or eating things obsessively you need to stop that behavior immediately before it is fully manifested.

    Their suggestions to stopping this behavior includes more exercise as I already listed, lower stress (no scolding, positive training only, treats and clicker training would be great), stop any reinforcement (laughing, attention, or negative attention like scolding))

    Doing and rewarding things that make it hard to do the behavior like getting up and leaving the room, or area where he's chasing shadows, moving into a shadow of a building for example, have the person he's chasing step over a baby gate or into another room or out of sight. Reward behavior that makes it hard to do the OCD behavior. Cueing and rewarding a down stay, sitting quietly, rewarding any calm behavior like heeling on lead.

    I would go to a behaviorist on this one because OCD can be disabling to some humans and animals. You can find them at http://www.animalbehavior.org/ and http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/ or most university vet med teaching centers have behaviorists. Don't go to the yellow pages and pick any yahoo that calls themselves a behaviorists because as you'll read on the animalbehavior website a CAAB goes through a lengthy certification process, hands on training, years of clinical experience, and will have the best chance of helping your dog. Above all they are positive trainers and that is what you dog really needs. If there is not one in your town call all of the closest ones. They are very giving of time and references. Every one of them I called or emailed answered me, referred me and helped me. So don't be afraid to go down the list and ask for help. If drugs are necessary then they may help with the right training. I don't every suggest tranquilizing dogs because then you end up with a drunk and more scared dog.

    Interesting link by to Dr's I highly respect http://www.biopsychiatry.com/misc/nonhuman-animals.html On advocates drugs and training and one training only. Clearly the common denominator is training.

    Link to www.whole-dog-journal.com OCD article http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/11_10/features/Dogs-With-OCD_16069-1.html

    Good luck with this I know it isn't easy. :msnsad:
  7. CollieMan Experienced Member

    As a fellow BC owner, I can sympathise with you.

    Border Collies, as I'm sure you know by now, are world renowned for their obsessive behaviour traits. As you've seen for yourself, they're incredibly intelligent (the most intelligent breed in actual fact) which can be both a curse and a blessing. It's a blessing until it's forgotten about, taken for granted, or directed inappropriately. Reading your original post, it seems you were perhaps inadvertantly guilty of the latter. He began to chase shadows and you ignored it, and even enjoyed the humour in it. To the dog, this meant he was doing what BCs love to do most - please the handler.

    As I see it, there are two ways to handle this:

    1. Break the cycle by associating shadows with something that is more enticing than the chasing of the shadow.

    2. Try to cultivate the dog's focus on you so that you are better able to control him before or as he begins to chase or notice the shadows.

    I would personally go for the second option as, given the amount of time the dog has been doing this, and given the breed, it is going to be so hard-wired into his brain by now. That's not to say it's impossible, but I just feel that it will be easier to accomplish option two than option one.

    For option two, all you can do is spend more and more time doing fun things with the dog. You have to make it a challenge to become more rewarding, more fun, and more interesting to your dog than shadows are to him. It's not easy, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes, especially with BCs. Me, I have blisters on my knees where I chase my BC around our floors on all fours each evening. I'm sure to her I am just another dog, and that is just how I want it. I want to be the best thing she knows so that when she wants to meet that need for fun, she turns to me above all else.

    Just three of four short sessions of high-quality play can accomplish so much in this respect. Never go on that long that the dog becomes bored of you. That's when the problems start. Always cut it dead when you're having the most fun.
  8. alcastiello New Member

    Hi everyone!

    Thanks for all the suggestions. I tried some of them and, so far, none of them are working. Eddie doesn't go after shadows while he is on leash. So that option didn't work. I will try the flexy leash option but I'm a bit worried about using this tool. I have seen dogs get hurt running around and getting tangled in the sharp cord... But will give it a try on the weekend.

    Collie Man - what types of games do you play with you BC outside the house? Inside, Eddie is very playful and will almost always choses playing with us above all else - although, when we have company, he sometimes circles the table or the room until we put him in a down stay...

    I have tried re-directing his attention while at the park/beach but it is very difficult as it seems that none of the games we try to play are as much fun as his running around chasing shadows. The only thing that seems to work is doing obedience training but I don't think of that as a fun activity... what do you think?
    Any suggestions on getting my dog really excited about playing outdoor games with us? And what types of games seem to work for you?
    Thanks in advance
  9. CollieMan Experienced Member

    Wow, we do all sorts. We do a lot of frisbee work as Ellie, being a BC, loves to chase moving objects. When we begin the game of frisbee, I stick it in my back pocket, and encourage her to steal it from my pocket, which she seems to love. I have a rubberised Frisbee from KONG so that it folds in my pocket and means I don't use one hand up carrying it around.

    In my park, we have a bin, and I've taught her to go and place her two front paws on the bin and see "what's in the bin", as well as lean on lamp-posts. I'll also get her to jump on my back, on which she will lay down while I taxi her around. I've just today purchased her a skateboard and a hoop and we'll start making use of that too as of next week. :)

    I'll also do tracking with her outside. This involves me putting her in a sit/stay (you can get someone to hold your dog, or attach the leash to a post if the dog doesn't sit/stay) while I hide the ball in a small wooded area. I then present the palm of my hand to her nose and issue a "find" command.

    Then there's the tennis ball. All of the above has been taught because Ellie will do anything to get hold of that tennis ball. She is mad for tennis balls, which is fortunate for me as she's not in the least bit food motivated.

    With BC's, I've found that the faster the activity, the better, such as frisbee and tennis ball. With the slower things, such as obedience, the BC brain tends to wander quite easily and that's when you're likely to get the shadow chasing, etc. The next tip with the BC is to quit while the dog is at the peak of enjoyment. I always imagine it like a hill.

    The dog starts off quite bored, then that boredom lessens as you get more exciting. Eventually you reach a peak before the dog starts to get bored again. You have to quit at that point I believe or else you risk the dog running off to find something else more exciting.

    Hope that helps...
  10. snooks Experienced Member

    resources for ocd dogs- I saw this and thought of ur pup. maybe some help, there is a physical reason for this disorder in bc's and other dogs.

    specifically a couple of the shadow chasing links appear broken but I'm sure a little googling could bring you to the correct place. tomball is in texas north of houston if this is the same tomball i lived near.

    Turid rugaas has several books on calming behavior that would be very useful sold on amazon and dogwise. dr nicolas dodman has a few too that might help like dogs behaving badly (he's a positive trainer/clinical vet with 20+ years experience) so not badly in a negative sense but problems and treatment options meant not to diagnose but lead to correct individual treatment plans and resources.

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