Would like your input with my BMD attacking her Border Collie "sister"

Discussion in 'Bernese Mountain Dog Training Forum' started by aweeres, Jul 17, 2012.

  1. aweeres

    aweeres New Member

    Hi! I could really use your advice on this one and I need to apologize for the lengths of this post. I am so overwhelmed and I guess I need help but I haven’t figured out what kind… Private trainer? Forec-free 2 week doggy bootcamp?? Is is too late already?
    With our male Lab-Mix (10 and fixed), our male BMD (2 and intact) and our smallest, a female Border Collie Mix (1.5 and spayed) our little family was perfect. Then my husband heard about a young female Bernese in urgent need of a new home and he couldn't resist. She was about 14 months when we took her in this February and her story was told as follows: First owners’ other dogs did not like her so owner built 10x10 outside where she lived for the most part of her first year till owner number 2 “rescued” her but now they couldn’t keep her because the house was too small, not enough time, new baby on the way etc. (How I love hearing stuff like that….). We were told she was very submissive and “a bit rough around the edges”. Right away one thing was clear: She was afraid of people and afraid of other dogs. I also learned that she wasn’t really housebroken. Sounds like fun, right? We introduced her carefully to our dogs and to our friends and she managed to overcome her fears amazingly fast (within 3 weeks she would walk up to other people) but she went from afraid to shy and then after her first heat to aggressive towards her siblings. Our biggest issue is that she doesn’t seem to have any impulse control: If something irritates her even the slightest bit she starts beating up on her little Border Collie sister. She will even go look for her to attack her. While she doesn’t go for a kill she bites hard enough to draw blood and it seems she can’t stop. She also attacked our male BMD twice. She will give warnings (she stiffens and she has this almost high pitched growl without showing teeth) but my husband feels that she is like a powder keg – ready to explode at any time without any reason.
    We thought exercising her would make her more mellow but it is sooo hot here in Illinois that she really hates to be outside so running her or playing hard in the yard to get rid of some energy was not an option. After taking her to a drafting workshop (just to see if this would be something we could try later on) I was convinced she really had a strange way to walk so I took her to an orthopedic specialist and had her X-rayed … $300 later I now know that she has elbow dysplasia and she already has clearly visible arthritic changes at 18 months. So no drafting in her future and the vet advised against agility also. Since she wasn’t spayed I wanted to wait with that till she is fully grown but now I after her going through her second false pregnancy I changed my mind. With her elbows there can never be and “OOPS” so we will have her fixed within the next month.
    Since I luckily work from home I can watch my little pack 24/7 and when I have to leave the house I leave her in a separate room and she goes in it with no complaints. I try to take her mind of whatever is bothering her when she gets into her “moods” and it seems to work. It is surprisingly easy to "bring her back to normal", a little "look what I got here" or "where is my pretty girl" or "let's go outside" works just fine. But this is no solution for my problem because she still gets “irritated” to begin with. Little things like she finished her rawhide early and another dog still has a piece left (she will not attack that dog though), a weird sound, any stressed vibes from us … the smallest things we don’t even notice… will get her going. The worst is if she gets “yelled at” from one of the males because she stepped on them or gets caught trying to steal from them – then she can’t get to our Collie fast enough to “work off her frustration”. I think she was never properly socialized as a puppy (makes sense if she was in that 10'x10' pen 24/7 as I was told) and I hope she can overcome her issues. I really don’t want her to have to go to owner number 4. She is my cuddle-bug, she learns sooo fast, and 99% of the time she and her Collie sister are almost inseparably; they play and sleep together and when I come home the Collie leads me right to the door of the room where her sister is kept so I let her out… It’s sometimes hard for me to understand how much the little one still loves her big sister despite all these outbursts. Any ideas??? Thanks!!!

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012
  2. Rowan

    Rowan New Member

    Hi there,

    your post brought a tear to my eye,poor little Girl has'nt had a very good start to life has she :( yet she looks soo happy in your photos.

    I have no experiance of this so no advice to offer sorry, I do hope someone else can help you out,all I can say is I think she has found her forever home with you, she was sent to you for a reason.

    good luck and keep us posted on her progress please.
  3. tamgirl99

    tamgirl99 New Member

    Hi there. This is my first post here since I don't yet have my soon-to-be berner, but figured I'd share my thoughts. First, I'd like to say how wonderful it is that you've taken this girl in. :)

    There are a couple of things that could be causing her to snap. The fact that she's not spayed could be a big part of the problem. She has all of those crazy hormones and getting her spayed may result in a much calmer dog. At least for all of your sakes I hope so!

    I'm wondering if it could also be related to the elbow problems as well. Perhaps from time to time she is experiencing pain and it causes her to act out. Have you tried any of the joint supplements available to see if that helps her elbows?

    I'm not a vet or expert, but those are the two things that stood out to me from your story. Of course it could also be that something triggers her memory of her poor life from before, but since she's so happy most of the time, I don't think that's really the issue. Please keep us posted after she gets spayed. I'm very curious to see how her behavior in the months after surgery.

    Best of luck to you!
  4. aweeres

    aweeres New Member

    Thanks for your replies! Our girl is on a daily dose of glucosamine and condroitin for her joints and I do have Rimadyl (anti-inflammatory and pain medication) for her when/if she needs it. We also hope spaying her will calm her down a bit but we have to wait about 2-3 more weeks (for her safety). I know I cannot expect wonders but we are hoping for some relief. 2 cycles in 5 months was a bit hard on the whole family. I will let you know she does afterwards.
  5. Lynn

    Lynn New Member

    Well done for taking her in. I will say though be careful when bitches turn on one another it can be very nasty and most times it cannot be fixed. I have never owned more than one dog at a time but I do know people on other forums who have had similar problems and there has been no option but to rehome one. Not Bernese necessarily any breed.

    It could be having her speyed does the trick I hope so. The breeder of my boy did say the girls can be very hormonal thats why I opted for another male. Also like someone else has said the elbows may well be sore.
  6. BMD61612

    BMD61612 New Member


    You rescued a beautiful berner. What initial warning signs does she show prior to acting out (other than growling)? By the time they actually growl, they are at the brink of acting out their aggression.

    My dog Brutus had aggression issues. He was a mini Aussie and despite all of my attempts to socialize him, he became aggressive. He was loving, loyal, and affectionate. His major downfall was that he became too protective of our family and didn't trust strangers at all. His mannerisms would suddenly change right before he'd actually show any signs of aggression.

    For example, he'd keep his distance (sometimes running downstairs to the basement), he'd hesitate to approach you when called (despite my reassurance that everything was alright), he'd keep his head low, he'd look away from you and would refuse any eye contact, sometimes he'd pant fast/excessively, etc. If you see these signs, separate her from the pack right away. Perhaps it's only to err on caution but better safe than sorry. They are clues that shouldn't be ignored. Then again, sometimes dogs act out with no warning at all.

    One day, we were playing in the living room. I was doggy sitting my uncle's Aussie and she got up quickly to walk over to me. Brutus instantly turned his head and nipped her ear. He took a piece out of her little ear. :( I felt horrible. After that incident (plus a few more where he bit me), I made the difficult and heart breaking decision to have him put down. I couldn't stand the thought of him hurting anyone else.

    You don't have to go to that extreme. There are so many people out there that can help you. For me, it was a little too late. Your ideas are really good. In the mean time, keep doing what you are doing and acclimate her slowly and cautiously.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012
  7. aweeres

    aweeres New Member

    After reading your comment I am watching here even more now - but she is just nicely playing with her sister... She does give several warning signs. She usually gets up or at least lifts her head and stares, visibly stiffens her body and then makes a sound that - while I would not call it a real growl - notifies us that she is clearly not happy with whatever is going on. It's higher pitched than a growl and real sounds more like talking (in this case complaining). I try to re-direct her attention once I see the stare but I can re-direct later even later rather easily (I guess I am very lucky there). I am teaching her the “WATCH ME” command hoping that eventually I can re-direct her from across the room with this command. Right now I need to talk to her and touch her to stop. It really calms her down a bit when I pet her head or back.
  8. BernerRescue

    BernerRescue New Member

    You have received good advice thus far....spaying, joint pain, but I highly recommend you hire a certified trainer to evaluate all behavior in person.

    Go to APDTs website to find a certified trainer.

  9. aweeres

    aweeres New Member

    Thanks and update!

    Thanks for all the input. We made an appointment to have her spayed and started training last week. So far we didn’t have an incident in more than a week now. She still gets upset once in a while but I tell her to sit and then I make her work a bit and that seems to do the trick. I am also taking her out just by herself more often and I am trying to expose her to “more of the outer world” (again she only came to us 6 months ago and was afraid of people and well, basically everything). The more she learnes the more she will be able to deal with new (and sometimes stressful) things. She really LOVES car rides and she doesn’t mind meeting new people but we have a long way to go. She is the perfect snuggle dog and she gives the sweetest kisses so at least in this department she doesn’t need to change at all.

  10. tamgirl99

    tamgirl99 New Member

    That's so great to hear! It sounds like you are doing all of the right things. I know it takes some work but sounds like she is most definitely worth it. :) Thanks for keeping us updated on her progress!
  11. Qubelight

    Qubelight New Member

    Thats fantastic!!

    I'm really happy that it has started to work out, and I really commend you for going the effort. Good luck!! :D
  12. aweeres

    aweeres New Member

    I do believe that this simple change to feeding them in separate rooms twice daily (compared to our “old ways” with having food in the bowls 24/7) helped A LOT! Also I made it very clear that NOBODY can give the dogs treats. Now they only get treats when they work/train and the atmosphere in the living room is way more relaxed because now you can have snacks (my husband loves snacks in front of the TV) without 4 dogs piling up in front of you and Lulu getting stressed out over pushing the others. It took them only 3 days to figure it out. Hey, if there is “no best place to be” then why pick on your siblings, right?
    While it may sound odd I do believe that ME being more relaxed and having a more positive attitude after talking to different trainers made a huge difference. 3 weeks ago her “warning” sound as we called it made me nervous; we would run towards her to stop her from getting into “her moods”, “hide” her little sister and so on… NOW I take a deeeeeeep breath and calmly tell her to sit, I make her focus on me and you wouldn’t believe how fast she calms down - it’s like counting backwards from 4 or 5 and she is perfectly fine again. Then we do some training or all go outside and run.
    The hardest part seems to be to convince my husband to stay calm. He still wants to jump up and intervene.
    I know we have a long way ahead of us but I think we got off to a good start so far.
    Thanks everybody for your input!
    I attached some photos from our recent vacation on lake Cusino in Michigan.

    Attached Files:

  13. tamgirl99

    tamgirl99 New Member

    Great pics! I especially love the last one. Your berner girl is absolutely gorgeous. I'm glad you've figured out a routine that has really helped. And you are correct, dogs sense your tension/fear and react to that so that's great that you've been able to stay calm. Let us know how she is after the spay. I'm interested to see how much that helps as well. :D
  14. frisssel

    frisssel Member

    I have to say that you have one special girl there. and you are amazing with taking a dog on with problems. she has aggression and pain. wow, she is special.

    can I recommend MSM for her elbows. storm has dysplasia and had surgery on both elbows. he had a limp even after surgery. I had him on glucosamine and it just wasn't doing everything he need. so I was recommended MSM and tried it. what a difference it made on his elbows. he limps only a little and is back to running a bit now. just a thought. and keep an eye on it, it can cripple them.

    also, patients, patients patients. I have a husky/lab that I adopted with aggression to other dogs and men. we work with her a lot. with men, she has overcome it, dogs, well she is getting better and better. we make her sit and calm her down before she meets another dog.

    I also had incidents with her and food. anytime she gets aggresive she is contained in a room. I did this with storm on training as well. she would spend 10 min and if the behaviour keeps up I lengthen it to 15 then 20. and it is working with her. it also worked for storm. he hated being away from me.

    good luck and pat yourself on the back you deserve it
  15. aweeres

    aweeres New Member

    Follow Up

    Hi everybody, just wanted to let you know that we had Lulu spayed (I don't see her calming down a bit and it has been a while now). She still has more energy than all 3 others combined. Tried a regular obedience class but didn't like it there too much so we found a new place. New classes are starting soon and I have to say while the trainer will never be my favorite person SHE IS excellent! YES, I would like the truth more sugar-coated but her no-nonsense way is 100% the right way to go FOR ME. When she originally came to the house to do a "problem solving" class I had a hard time.... She told me that I am not showing enough leadership and that is a problem with 2 dominant female dogs. I did not realize how much body language, tone of voice and sticking to your guns makes a difference. I had read soooo many books... but seeing it in person WITH MY OWN DOGS - WOW!!!! NOW I need to not fall back into old habits (and go to classes and train of course) but it's much more peaceful around here (after we had some situations with the girls - the boys get along really well). Thanks again for your input(s)!!!!
  16. barrie

    barrie Member

    Your babies are beautiful
  17. frisssel

    frisssel Member

    I hope the classes work. we found with Em the husky/lab that had aggression that it was pent up energy. We are lucky that we are able to RUN her 2 km a day. we do this with a 4 wheeler or snowmachine. walking just didn't work. the more we did this you could see the aggression and energy start to drain from her and she started to listen and obey better.

    If your baby has so much energy, but you can't exercise to the level we do I think I would get one of the harnesses that takes weight to walk her. It is kind of like they need a job to do. when you get that energy out they listen and are ready for training.

    again patients. oh i'm not sure how my husband does it. I have seen him stand back with Em and calm her for 10-15 min before we intruduce her. I go with storm who loves people and dogs while he calms her down.

    we had one issue with Em that we ended up getting a shock collar for her. My cousin has an older lab that is diabetic and he is kind of dumb. when we were all together at the lake Em would be fine then all of a sudden she would take after gilmour. it was getting dangerous with the children around. so we got the collar. anyone that had the control had to use it on themselves first before they could use it on Em. My husband was the one in control of the control and collar. we shocked her twice and that was all it took.

    Em was trying to take out the weak link in the pack, but she learned that link is allowed in our pack. I'm the leader of our family and she knows it. she is getting much better, it has taken us months, like almost 16 months to get her to this point. we work with her every day, and it is worth seeing the change in her and seeing her be a family dog now, not just a sled dog.

    keep up the work it is worth it.

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