Children and the High Drive Dog

Note: This article was previously published at It has been revised for publication here.

I recently received an email from a colleague out of state, in a quandary over a client who was looking at euthanizing their one-year-old Border collie due to incidents of nipping. They currently have four children, and the dog is nervous, and has nipped people on several occasions. From my understanding, based on the email thread that we exchanged, the dog has not caused any serious damage, and all bites where on a Level 2 of Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale. This means that the dog has caused minor scratches or cuts not requiring medical attention.

More recently, I received yet another such email from another rescue colleague who had to take a 6-month-old pup back from her adoptive home because the training that she had done with her when she was being fostered did not transfer to the reasonably experienced dog-owning family who was not quite ready for a high-energy puppy.

Concurrently, as many of you know, I recently adopted a now fourteen-month-old Border collie pup, whom I’ve been training along with my three-year-old daughter.

Tesla on the day we met her

The pup we adopted, Tesla, was at the Marin Humane Society, and had a note on her chart that stated she was recommended for households with children of at least 10+ years of age. As I mention above, we have a three-year-old, and yet we convinced them to allow us to adopt her due to my training experience.

The first week was a challenge as I, and anyone else who knows herding dogs, would have predicted:

    • Tesla jumped up on Shelby, and Shelby – to my proud surprise – turned away from her each time! Within a week, she stopped jumping up on her almost completely, with just one exception when Shelby was upset about something (unrelated to Tesla) and Tes saw her crying.
    • Tesla also exhibited herding behaviors, which included nipping at Shelby’s clothing and legs whenever she ran. I re-emphasized the rule: “No running when you are with the pup”, and between that rule, very close supervision, and several well-executed time outs, Tesla is no longer nipping at Shelby!! In fact, Shelby is now able to run around the yard with Tesla without incident – needless to say, they remain closely supervised.

I keep thinking back to the dogs that my colleagues have emailed about. I don’t have further information as to their dispositions, but my instinct is that these were just the wrong placements, and that perhaps, with more experienced high drive dog owners, the dogs could potentially thrive.

Recently, Kelly Gorman Dunbar wrote a fabulous article for Bay Woof magazine about how to choose your ideal dog. If you already have a high-energy dog and are experiencing challenges, contact a qualified trainer for assistance. But if you haven’t yet chosen your next pooch, please carefully consider your choice! If you do not have the hours each day that it takes to mentally and physically wear out a high energy Border collie, cattle dog or Australian shepherd, consider a quieter breed instead. Many calmer dogs can still make nice sports dogs while not requiring that your life revolve around them.

Tesla graduates from *yet another* training class

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Tesla puppy before she finds something naughty to do…