At the time, she was pregnant with pups and she was given a spay-abortion. Any operation, but particularly abortions, have the potential to be traumatising for dogs. There's no doubt in my mind that she woke up from the operation distressed as to what had happened to her puppies. The shelter told me that she was used as a puppy-mill dog meaning that she had had numerous litters already. After her operation she was put in a kennel at the shelter. These kennels tend to be quite boring with nothing much to look at or do. Being quite close to the airport she would have seen many planes flying overhead but not much else. Dogs that are bored and stressed tend to do behaviours that relieve their stress (e.g. digging/barking). It is my theory that during this time the stress hormones in her brain coupled with the boredom she felt caused her to begin practising ritualistic behaviours. These include: shadow chasing, light chasing, and well basically chasing any movement including an extreme reaction to aeroplanes.
Of course, I did not know this when I first took her home, and in a previous blog post you can read about various things that occurred including: her almost taking out our Christmas tree when she went berserk at the flashing lights, being unable to turn a light on at night without her running round screaming on the top of her voice and peeing herself, being unable to put the fan on because she would jump up at it screaming and barking and snapping, and her running around visibly distressed screaming and barking every time a plane flew over.
The first port of call in a situation like this is a thorough vet assessment. And that is exactly what I did. They found absolutely nothing wrong with her. Normally, for such severe Canine Compulsive Disorder a vet could medicate the dog. But knowing what I know about dog training I decided to try and work on the problem myself first, before resorting to medication.
This included a Behavioural Adjustment Training schedule of systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning to lights. However, at this point I didn't know that she was also deaf. Border Collies (especially deaf ones) can be genetically predisposed to CCD. And the fact that she was deaf made it all that more difficult to train her. I began training her to sit next to me and receive treats while I turned on lights in the house. I can happily report that she no longer goes mad at lights being turned on!! In the same way I was able to desensitise her to the fan. Although I can't have it on high, I can have it on - which is a great help in the summer!
I can't say that her behaviour is now perfect. She has a mental health condition and that is not going to go away easily. She may always have this side to her. However, the level of emotion she displays has gone down dramatically for ordinary events. She still gets beside herself for aeroplanes and reflections, like light reflecting off a phone or watch, but I can get her under control and calm much quicker.
Most happily I can report that in addition to improvement in her emotional and cognitive state, Dolly has begun to learn how to play. Of course, it didn't happen over night, it happened with work and time. She plays a little fetch, chase, and tug. All from a dog who didn't even know what a table was let alone a toy!! I get tears in my eyes every time she plays tug with me, because happy dogs play. Unhappy dogs don't. This way, I know that she is happy and her emotional state is okay.
I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to bring this dog into my home. I thought for sure that adopting a Border Collie would be my chance to show what I have as a trainer and train the most upstanding trick and agility dog out there! I was quite disappointed when I realised I couldn't reach that goal because of her limitations in training, conformation, and her deafness. However, looking back, she has been the most challenging training case of my career and in that way she has given me so much in terms of experience. Not only that, but she has turned out to be the most loving and beautiful pet I could ever have adopted.
Closing thoughts. You never know what you are getting with an adopted dog, until you get them home. BUT... if you are willing to put time and effort into their training, you can reap so many rewards that all the time and effort will feel like nothing when they jump into your arms and give you a big doggy lick across the face.