The timing wasn’t exactly right, but the situation sure was.
Dave and I had been talking about adding a second dog to our pack for a couple months. We knew that we wanted another herder and so kept our ears and eyes open for the right dog to come our way. Every couple of weeks or so, one of us would look at the Spain Border Collie rescue group on Facebook and show the other all the cute adoptable dogs.
But we weren’t quite ready.
It wasn’t that we were still too pained to add a second dog after losing Sora. Of course we’re still mourning her death, that will never go away, but that wasn’t the deterrent.
It was Laila.
Laila is a highly excitable dog who has challenged our patience since the day we brought her home. At the mere glance from a human or swish of the tail from a dog, she goes from 0 to 60 in 0.03 seconds.
She pulls on leash despite working on loose-leash walking with her for nearly a year. She tears off in the woods after whatever catches nose and yells “see ya later!” as she disappears for 10 minutes. Should we keep her on leash in the woods? Yes, and walking a hyena isn’t all that fun. It’s a catch 22 situation.
We have been practicing Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol for several weeks, plus a homemade variant over the course of several months. This has been hugely helpful, however she still can’t manage to sit still in restaurants, unless her human Pez dispenser drops treats at a rate of at least one per minute.
We had just begun working with a trainer to domesticate the wild beast we had on our hands and neither of us wanted to add even more stress to our lives until Laila acted more like a normal dog instead of the hyena coyote kangaroo mix we joke she is.
However, as life does, the opportunity to add Riia to our family came out of the blue.
While chatting with our veterinarian, she mentioned that she and her husband were looking to rehome their Border Collie, Riia. Since they had had a child two and a half years prior, they realized that they were unable to give Riia the dedication and attention she required. Riia needed an active home with people who could stimulate her both mentally and physically.
Without thinking, my hand shot up.
“We would be interested in taking her,” I said.
I told her that I would chat with Dave and see what he thought.
Dave was open to the idea and we agreed to a trial run to see if she was a good fit.
The first order of business was to make sure that she was a good running buddy and camping dog. So we took her for a weekend and headed to the mountains in our van.
We pronounced the weekend a success and brought her home for good a week later. Just days afterward, we set off on a six-week journey to France and the UK to test her adventure dog potential. So far, she’s been a wonderful traveling companion.
Riia is an 8-year-old Border Collie with impeccable recall, an obsession for fetch, and impressive stick collecting abilities. The second ‘i’ in her name adds “finesse,” as our vet explained.
Like a typical Border Collie, she comes with her own set of odd tendencies, including but not limited to:
OCD: She brings rocks and sticks and pine cones to the feet of anyone who might consider tossing them for her. In the apartment, she walks around licking the floor, sometimes sticking to the same spot. Is it boredom or is she in need of nutrients? Nauseous? We’re not quite sure.
To help tame the fetch obsession, we allow timed games of fetch where she must perform a task (sit, spin, shake, etc.) before she earns the toss.
Food Aggression: Though not overly food driven (read: not really at all, not even a little bit), she protects her food like it’s the last bowl she’ll ever see. If she hears footsteps approaching, even from the other side of the apartment, she’ll growl and dart back to protect the bowl of food she doesn’t even like.
Sometimes, she tries to keep us away by going after our feet. If we give her a simple treat dispensing ball, she becomes even more possessive, driven by the frustration of not knowing how to reach the food she hears tumbling around inside the ball.
If I feed her outside, she seems a bit less aggressive, though she always keeps a whale eye focus on my position. She doesn’t understand puzzle toys, and scattering her food “chicken scratch-style” in the grass helps a little bit. She never seems to eat until she is sure that Laila has finished with her meal.
I suspect that she doesn’t like her food much, so we’re experimenting with a variety of choices for her. Luckily, Laila eats everything, so if Riia gives it the snub, Laila will gladly help her out.
Territory Guarding: Riia will happily jump up to join us on the couch, but if we touch her, or even move to reach for a glass, she growls. But not always. Sometimes she’ll join us on her own accord, put her head on our lap or under our arm for attention, we oblige and pet, and she growls. And boy, does she have an ugly growling face. She curls her snout and bares her teeth sticking out her tongue like a vapid badger mixed with a python.
In the van, however, she inserts herself in the space between our seats and takes turn begging for our love. No growling. What is the deal, Border Collie/
Dog Reactivity: If she’s off-leash, Riia will do her best to avoid other dogs. She doesn’t particularly care for them, nor does she want them all up in her business. Really, her goal in life is to find an obliging human who will toss her a ball or stick or Frisbee.
On leash, things are a bit different. In Spain, there isn’t much of a culture of asking if dogs can meet, it’s simply an incorrect assumption that they do. And when I tell them that Riia would prefer to pass on salutations, they just proceed ahead anyway. At your own risk, I always think.
Luckily, we have quite a lot of practice with reactive dogs, so we’re well equipped to deal with this situation.
On the other hand, she’s super chill, eager to run and loves being outdoors. She is incredibly tolerant of Laila’s incessant barking, begging to play. Off leash, she stays nearby and checks in regularly. Though we prefer she not growl so much, we understand that it’s her way of communicating what she doesn’t like, and for that we are grateful.
One of my biggest quandaries is figuring out how to teach my toy-obsessed, non-treat-motivated dog new behaviors and tricks.
I have always been drawn to herding breeds. As a child, I wanted German Shepherds. My mom had one growing up and my aunt had them when I was young. However, since Sora came into my life, I learned that herders are indeed my heart breed. I love their challenging personalities, intelligent minds (that also get them into trouble!), eagerness to join us for 20km runs in the woods, and willingness to learn. They’re also the best adventure dogs, in our very biased opinion.
We look forward to continuing to get to know Riia and work with her to overcome some of her aggression issues and build her confidence. If you have any experience working with any of the aforementioned issues, we are all ears!