A Difficult Decision

Today, I have made the decision to stop allowing my personal dog, Nelly, around anyone but my immediate family.

Nelly has always wanted her personal space from both people and dogs, and has always been great about giving warning signals such as growling and teeth showing. Warning signals such as these are a GOOD thing, but that is something I will dedicate a post to in the very near future, maybe even my next one.
Nelly has always communicated very well with people and dogs, letting them know when she was uncomfortable with the situation she is in. She has never liked people getting in her face, hugging her, or making her feel trapped in any way; it is considered rude to do this to a dog and she has very little tolerance for it. She also has an especially low tolerance for people doing this when she’s herding something. However, she has always given warning signals, so I am able to immediately remove her from a situation that she is uncomfortable with.

Lately, though, we’ve been having problems. She has been biting without giving any warning – or if there is a warning, it is way too fast for me to notice. I don’t know why she suddenly stopped, I have never corrected warning signals. As I said before, warning signals are a good thing!
Twice in the past few months she nipped someone who got into her personal space while she was herding – the solution to that was easy enough, I simply stopped letting people be around her while she was herding. Problem solved, no more nipping. But then the a couple weeks ago she nipped a person that was in my house. He was simply walking by her and she turned and nipped. And today she was having her belly rubbed by someone I know well(this was after she begged to be pet, she was very happy about getting her belly rubbed), he went to gently push her just a little bit, to scoot her away, and she immediately turned and nipped his arm.DSC_0198

None of these nips have drawn blood or left a puncture mark, but that does not make it okay. It is extremely concerning to me – not only that she’s nipping, but that she’s not giving noticeable warnings. Warnings are such an important part of canine communication and if she’s not giving me any chance to remove her from a situation she doesn’t like, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to prevent bites when they’re so sudden and unpredictable?

I don’t know.

DSC_0197And that is why I have decided that I will no longer allow anyone except immediate family to touch or be near her. I am not going to risk having her bite someone that will then sue to have her euthanized for it.

I feel like a failure, as her owner, handler and trainer. So, until I work with a professional trainer, there will be no more contact with people for Nelly.

It saddens me to have to do this, because Nelly loves people so much. Every time we’re with a group of people, she goes from person to person with a happy smile on her face, begging to be pet. Sometimes when we’re in public, if there’s a person she can reach while on her leash, she’ll scoot up to them, sit, and give them her best “pet me?” face. Being around people makes her so happy!

I just can’t believe it’s come to this. Of all the dogs I’ve fostered(22 at this point) I have never had a dog with as many problems as Nelly did the day that I adopted her. I’ve been able to fix most of her issues, but it seems like it’s just one thing after another. There’s no end to her problems. I don’t what could have caused her to be so neurotic and crazy that nobody but me wanted to keep her.

When I imagined my first dog, it was one that liked kids and other dogs, one that would play fetch with me, one that I didn’t have to worry about biting. But of all the dogs in the world, I fell in love with this one. And all I want to do now is cry, because I can’t even trust my best friend to be around people.


34 thoughts on “A Difficult Decision

  1. The thing of it is, some people are dogs but all dogs are also people. We must make allowances for those quirks of development and pupponality which make us who we are, so kudos to you for recognizing and understanding your dog’s particular needs. They support us, and we support them. It’s how it works.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing this. My parents have a border with the same problem. It started after being bitten by a bulldog. I hope you’ll find answers in the near future. Good luck. Catheleine

  3. I would seriously consider getting her examined for a physical problem. If it’s sudden and you don’t know what caused it, I would rule out medical issues first. Any good trainer is going to want you to take sweet baby Nelly to a doctor to make sure she is feeling okay before they even come out to see her 😉 Pain can make dogs do funny things, so go get her checked out if you can! In the meantime, you’re definitely doing the right, responsible thing keeping her away from people. It’s sad but it’s safer for everyone involved.

      • If you can find a dog chiropractor, hopefully via a personal recommendation, I would urge you to take Nelly to see one even if after the regular vet check she is cleared as healthy.
        I have seen so many dogs come out from a simple alignment chiropractor session with a completely new way about them. The pain that they will endure without showing it, due to hips, spine etc alignment issues is astounding. The way you have described her lack of warning in recent times and the scenarios in which it happens makes me think she could be in pain.

        Whatever happens I wish you and Nelly good luck, you have most definitely not failed her.

  4. One thing you are not is a failure!! I really admire you for fostering 22 dogs. crystalpegasus1 is right, check with your veterinarian to make sure Nelly is in good health. Hope everything turns out ok.

  5. I think you should watch a few episodes of ‘the dog whisperer’ and you’ll be able to fix her issues by what you learn from ceasar Milan. He’s techniques can fix any dog!

    • The idea that dogs are dominant creatures comes from extremely flawed studies of WOLF packs in the mid-1900’s. This is what Cesar bases his training techniques off of – extremely flawed WOLF studies.

      Dogs are not dominant creatures that are out to take over your household or be the boss of you.

      Any professional, positive reinforcement trainer bases their dog training techniques on science, not wolf studies, and they can tell you that Milan bullies the dogs that he “trains”. The dogs he works with show very, very obvious signs of fear and stress when he “trains” them. Some of them are so fearful that they simply shut down.

      I know trainers who can train these “red zone” dogs, aggressive dogs, fearful dogs, etc. with the use of only kind, positive training. They do it all without bullying the dog like Cesar does.

      I will never adopt a dog to someone who uses Cesar Milans training techniques, and I will never use them on my own dogs.
      Please read the following articles, they are very informative.


      ANSWERING THE FANS, a response to Cesar Milans fans:

  6. It is easy and normal to feel helpless sometimes. I hope your trainer will make you feel supported and that you will see progress with Nelly 🙂 In the meantime, don’t stress yourself! 🙂

  7. Our family has a situation very similar to this with our dog.
    I, too, have a border collie (mix), who has major fear-based aggression problems with other dogs. In the last day or so, she has barked at a couple of random people walking down the street as well.
    I, too, imagined my first dog to be good with both other dogs and people, yet, of all the dogs in the world, I fell in love with this one.
    She loves her personal space, too.
    I can totally understand your situation, and I hope Nelly gets better soon!

    • My current foster dog has extreme fear issues with people, but he’s making progress. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s Nelly’s issue, she does not ever act scared of people. If it was, it would be fairly easy for me to fix! It would just take a long time.
      Thank you for your comment & good luck with your pup!

  8. You are definitely not a failure. You have made the best decision for your dog and taken her away from situations that stress her. I know someone who did something similar for their reactive dog. It was the right choice for them

  9. Have you heard of the Yellowdog project? I just posted a blog about it yesterday. This is an international campaign to universally recognize that a yellow ribbon or a yellow bandana on your dog means your dog needs space and that others shouldn’t approach. With a dog as cute as Nellie everyone probably just assumes she is not sensitive.

  10. I want to thank you for visiting my site and reading “Suicide Puppy.” I read about you meeting Nelly and found it really inspiring. Congratulations on persevering and making it to your time of independence. I also admire the work you are doing and hope that Nelly’s issues are temporary.

  11. You are absolutely NOT a failure! Definitely get Nelly to the vet for a full check up – including blood work and a thyroid test! Hearing loss, eyesight problems, pain and/or discomfort can all cause these types of issues. My first thought is that she is feeling pain, based on your comment about the person giving her a belly rub, which may be why she is not giving fair warning before she snaps. I hope the vet can help!

    • Thank you – I still can’t decide if I’d be happier if it’s behavior or health problems. Health problems can usually be fixed, but not always. I’d rather have a dog that’s healthy but can’t be around people than a dog who’s showing signs of health problems at only 4.5 years old.

  12. Thanks for visiting my blog about our golden retriever puppy’s first swim. As you can tell, we love dogs too. We have four of them now. Our dogs and kids give me plenty of material to write about. Sorry to hear about your latest challenges with Nelly. We had and loved a bulldog a few years ago. When she was about a year and a half she started to become extremely aggressive with our labs. It got so bad we had to give her away to a home where she was the only dog. I hope you can work out your challenges with Nelly.

  13. You mentioned in your newer post above that you are presently in Utah visiting family. Just curious if you have ever been to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab? It seems like a place that would be to your liking. You might also be able to get some suggestions for your issues with Nelly. (They took in and cared for 22 of the Michael Vick fighting dogs.) Just thinking out loud….

    Good luck with her. She’s such a sweet-looking girl.

    • She’s darling, definitely! Just has more than her fair share of problems…

      Thank you for the suggestion. I’ve already left Utah, I wouldn’t have had time to visit the place you mentioned. I also would have been very hesitant about asking for advice from them, most people who know what they’re doing when it comes to training aren’t going to just give free help.
      Not to mention there seems to be so many people calling themselves “trainers” when they really shouldn’t be.
      I’m just a bit cautious, I prefer to work with people I know! But I do appreciate the suggestion!

      • Best Friends ( http://bestfriends.org/ ) is a pretty well known place. If you ever get a chance to go back to Utah, I definitely recommend going out to visit them. You can look them up online to read more about them, and yes, many of the vick’s dogs went there and were cared for. 🙂 Hope you and Nelly are doing well.

  14. Good for you for being strong and taking the initiative to work on improving Nellie’s behavior. When I was a teenager, I had a dog that I loved very much, and a year into having him he started biting with no warning as well (he did draw blood, though). The vet suggest euthanasia and my parents agreed, and I was broken. To this day, nearly ten years later, I often think of him and wonder if I could have done anything differently to save his life.
    I think it’s so wonderful that you are working with Nelly and aren’t giving up on her. And I don’t think it’s your fault, and I don’t think you should feel bad. You clearly have a lot of experience with dogs, and so you must know that all dogs are unique, and this issue she is dealing with is not your fault. You sound like an incredible, intelligent, well-informed dog owner and Nelly is incredibly lucky to have someone like you in her court.
    You probably know that border collies are one of the most intelligent breeds. Maybe she is too sensitive, too aware. But now I’m just theorizing. I don’t know your dog, sorry for spouting off uninformed guesses!
    I apologize for how ridiculously long this comment is, but your post just struck me and I wanted you to know that you shouldn’t feel bad. Your post made me feel so happy to know that Nelly is with a person like you. There are many other people she could have ended up with, like my teenage self. She’s lucky to have you. I hope things look up for the both of you soon.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. I’m sorry about the dog you had when you were younger, that’s very sad!

      I would like to think Nelly’s lucky to have me, I don’t know how many other people would have been willing to put up with her craziness!

  15. We had a similar situation with our Corgi Jack who was a rescue (thank you for recently visiting the blog post I wrote about him, BTW) and I just got used to a life with him that was more circumscribed… no socializing with other dogs, very little contact with people outside our family. And I thought that was okay. He really did mellow out of it over time and even took to greeting people (certain people) who came in, and I don’t think I did anything to ‘fix’ it, except to honor his limitations.

    Also, since I live near an elementary school, it was probably good that there were so many ‘teaching moments’ about insisting that children ask before touching a strange dog…

  16. My dog also does not like people in his personal space unless it’s on his terms. He’s our 3rd Weimaraner and our 4th dog, and we’ve never had a dog like him before, so we all had to learn to respect his area, and not intrude when he clearly showed us he wanted to be left alone. Our previous dog was the complete opposite, I could lie on top of him with my entire body and he would love it, when I tried that with the dog we have now (he’s 4 now) he growled and stood up. I’ve learned a lot from him, and thanks to very intensive training he’s a lot more sociable than he used to be. We are also noticing that he wants us around more, and wants affection more as he gets older.
    Once in a blue moon he’ll get it in his head and nip at me, it’s always me, he never does this to my mom and dad, brothers or even total strangers. It will usually start with a growl when I’m petting him, I’ll leave him and then it happens that he’ll nip at my hand when I pass him, this behavior I correct because there’s no reason for him to bite when I’m walking past him.
    I usually find that he does this after a period when I’ve been less involved in his life, away at college, no time for walks, etc. In my case a good long walk with lots of training exercises usually straightens him out.
    I doubt that that would help in your case, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone with a dog who nips without warning.

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