The best way to view your collie’s more personal fear response system is much like the immune system. When it is working normally, it only reacts to real threats as and when they occur, and then calms down into a far quieter and less reactive state the rest of the time. When the immune system is working less well, however, it begins over-reacting to things that are actually quite harmless, including the body’s own cells.


How strong – or over-reactive – a fear response any collie has can have some genetic root. But it can also be exacerbated by poorer socialisation when a dog was younger, or inadequate exposure to a wider number of different social and sensory experiences at a stage in the dog’s life when he/she was most likely to accept them as more normal or less harmful. Any ongoing source of pain, or environmental stress, can also greatly exacerbate a dog’s sense of threat, and make them more reactive to this than they might otherwise be.


Sometimes as owners we can collude in making our dogs’ fear responses to different things ever stronger, or worse, through continuing to let them avoid what they fear. Like, say, walking down a certain street they don’t like, or approaching less familiar dogs and people. In doing so, we are simply allowing our dogs to drag us, as well, into their own little mental prison of fear, rather than doing everything we can to help them break out of it.


I have dealt with so many owners and dogs in this kind of predicament, with the dog’s level of sensory or social tolerance getting ever smaller by the day, simply through an ingrained pattern of avoidance when it comes to anything the dog doesn’t like or finds more unnerving. When really what the dog needs is to be more progressively and continually exposed to what he fears, in a more controlled way, until the level of threat it presents in his/her mind becomes ever more diminished. Usually this will require more specialist training, in knowing when any dog is ready to make that next step forward in confidence. And there may be very, very many little steps forward like these, in the course of turning any fear in collies around.


People – understandably – may always crave far quicker and easier solutions to problems that emanate from the deepest and most primal parts of a dog’s brain, when they sadly don’t exist.


Collies can be wildly different in terms of what they may develop a more fearful reaction to. It could be anything from a ceiling fan or food processor to a plastic tarpaulin flapping in the wind to a set of shutters closing down on a shop as you go past. But it is never the original fear stimulus than matters – but how quickly you can act to resolve the fear about something in your dog before it becomes more drastically ingrained. You will never get a better opportunity to turn a fear response in any dog around than just after it first happened.


Fear about louder noises – like fireworks or thunder – becomes more logical once you understand that they can actually cause dogs physical pain, due to their far more acute sense of hearing. And thus if a noise is not only frightening in itself, but also causes you physical pain, then here is one of those exceptions where I feel the first priority is to give dogs some better type of sanctuary to go to, to escape this and feel safer – as covered in an earlier feature – before beginning any more gradual desensitisation to such noises later, through things like special noise DVDs and better positive distraction techniques to offset fear.


Meanwhile a far more comprehensive look at fear in Border collies, its fallout on their behaviour, and how you can train dogs to be less fearful about different things, appears in BOOK THREE (green cover) of my BORDER COLLIES: A BREED APART trilogy: BEHAVIOUR – INSIGHTS, ISSUES AND SOLUTIONS.



© Carol Price 2020

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