I have a 7 month old intact male Border Collie. I got him when he was ~4 months. I live with three other roommates and close to my family. When I first got him, he was timid around people and would spend most of his day in the basement instead of out and about.

It seems that his timidity has transitioned to aggression, he now barks and growls at my roommates whenever I am not home. He does the same when I visit my parents and leave briefly. When I am home, he barks at my roommates but ignores my parents when I visit.

I tried to remedy this issue by having them provide him with treats and make him do things he understands (ie, telling him to sit and rewarding him). This worked for a little bit and he didn't bark at the roommate that I did this process with when I was home.

One of my roommates (understandably) feels uncomfortable around the puppy since he's acting so aggressively and would prefer that I keep him in the basement when I am away. Naturally, I would like to avoid this outcome. Especially since two of the roommates will be leaving at the end of the lease and I will need to find new ones.

What can I do to alleviate my dogs anxiety/aggression towards other people while I am gone? I have him crate trained, but I don't think it's fair to keep him crated up when I am away for 8+ hours each day during the workweek.

I don't know if it's relevant, but he seems to be just fine around my sister even when I'm not around.

I sincerely appreciate your help, thank you.

EDIT: As of the time of this edit, he has become significantly better. I think the reason is at least partly because I moved out of the house. He may have had a poor experience with one of the roommates while I was not home which caused him to be anxious and stressed. Now that I live in my own home, he has calmed down quite a bit. Even in public and with strange people / dogs, he's doing so much better. Granted he's still nervous. But he is no longer aggressive or (too) fearful. He was also neutered and is older now which probably played a big part in calming him down.

Some additional measures I took to ensure his success were feeding him exclusively through puzzle toys and something called a "Foobler" which keeps him occupied when I am not present.

As to what combination of these things is responsible for him calming down so much, I am unsure. But I do feel strongly that removing him from that house played a big part in that.

2 Answers 2


How often and how long do you walk him?

I really hope you realize that a Border Collie is an absolute workaholic. If he doesn't get a chance to burn a lot of energy every single day he is simply going stir crazy and attacking people out of frustration, boredom and not knowing where to vent his energy.

Keeping him in a crate for 8 hours a day is not a solution, but outright abuse and will certainly not improve his behavior. Keeping him in a basement alone for 8 hours will probably result in a destroyed basement.

Another problem is the obvious lack of respect for your roommates. Your description sounds like he accepts you as the pack leader, but he is right below you in rank and everyone else is below him. In his mind, he has the right to tell everyone else how to behave (by barking and growling).

First of all, consult a dog trainer and take a training course if available. It is not the dog who has to learn human behavior, but you have to learn dog behavior.

When you get new roommates, introduce them to your dog. Be the active party by bringing a guest into the "territory", don't let them be the ones entering first and approaching your dog first. You are the pack leader, so you decide who is welcome and when you introduce them. Should your dog growl or bark, correct him immediately.

You need to teach your new roommates how to interact with your dog to avoid future aggressive behavior. Try explaining what you learned in your dog training course to them. Watch a few episodes of "The Dog Whisperer" or a similar show where your roommates can learn to interpret dog behavior.

Your roommates should probably do some obedience training with your dog as well. That way they are integrated into the "pack" and the dog learns that these people rank higher that him. Play sessions are also very good opportunities to build a friendship between dog and human.

And most of all you have to give your dog a chance to burn energy. Train him to run next to your bike, walk with him using skates or do Dog Agility with him. Throwing balls is a nice game, but bears the danger of developing compulsive behavior in him. Again, ask a dog trainer for suitable activities for Border Collies.

  • I apologize for not being clear. I do not keep him crated 8+ hours of the day, he is allowed to freely roam the house when I am at work. Regarding the lack of respect, how do you propose I approach this? Also, could you clarify which part of my post stood out to you as not understanding dog behavior? For training, he is actually halfway through intermediate training. As for exercise, I generally play fetch with him outside in my backyard until he stops chasing the ball and plops down in the shade about 2-3 times a day. I will certainly make more of an effort to take him on long walks. Jul 15, 2018 at 15:47
  • 1
    I understand you do not keep him in the crate for 8 hours, but you listed that and keeping him in the basement as possible solutions. He lacks respect of your roommates, not of you. And your roommates probably lack knowledge of dog behavior. That's where most conflicts come from: humans not understanding what the dog thinks and why s/he is behaving like that. So i propose YOU learn dog behavior as best as you can and teach your roommates how they should interact with your dog.
    – Elmy
    Jul 15, 2018 at 18:24
  • Alright, thank you. I will bring the issue up with my trainer after our next class. Jul 15, 2018 at 21:34

First I would advice against using "The Dog Whisperer" as reference material (episodes themselves have warning that you should not try things from them at home, and Cesar has mixed opinions, and methods he came up with himself). Also, "pack behavior" is not really true (at least to my knowing and from what I've read), so there is no 'alpha', and dog is not trying to be your boss. For example: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dog-behavior-and-training-dominance-alpha-and-pack-leadership-what-does-it-really-mean

I would suggest reading into Positive training methods and watching videos on Youtube. One of that kind of channel is made by Zak George, and in my opinion has really good advices and tips about how to deal with dogs.

Link to his channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZzFRKsgVMhGTxffpzgTJlQ

While keeping dog in crate (big enough crate) in itself is not something bad, but 8h+ can be to much for young dog.

You wrote that you play/walk a lot, that's good thing; what about training? You wrote in one of comments that he's halfway through intermediate training, but how much you train with him outside of what's there. For example, I have 3,5 month Border puppy, we're in middle of puppy kindergarten (really basic training, and socialization), but what's there is very limited. We teach him a lot at home (he knows around 12 tricks, and around half of them he can do only with Frisbee gesture, no voice command). From what I know, Border Collies need a lot of mental stimulation because of how intelligent they are. Another example: my puppy learned that growling (playful growling) with toy in mouth is his signal "I wanna play", and keeps switching toys until he finds one that will get me play with him (and he knows names of 3 of his toys). I'm yet to know the potential in learning of 7 month Border, but you surely can get really creative with teaching him.

But back to issue, if dog is fine when you are with him, and not when you are not, perhaps he is scared, and because of that he tries to drive others away from him by growing, and barking. The idea I have using positive training is to get him understand that other people are fine, even if you are not here, but since issue of him growling/barking already occurred you need to take really small steps to show him that.

  1. First thing to do is ready treats, something that your dog loves, maybe it's boiled chicken or something similar? Make it something that you can split into pieces not bigger then pea.

  2. You need to start really small. If dog is really fine if you are near, I would go for either walking near family members/housemates, and give him reward every time you walk past someone or you can sit with your dog, and have someone sit/be near dog. The point is to give the dog idea, that others = treat = something good, so you can be creative and do something else, but make it as easy for dog as possible

  3. Time to take step, but again it should not be too big. Tell him to stay (if he knows command to just lay peacefully, it will be even better) near someone else, make step back, and give him treat

  4. Continue on distance if dog is fine, pays attention to you, and doesn't mind someone around him (you can make person move around him a little, so it's not just static post standing). Then you move to next room so your dog can't see you for a brief moment, and back to him to give him reward. If dog is fine wherever you are in house be it near or far from him, you can change room, to going outside

  5. Once you start going outside, increase the length of time you are there.

Each time the dog shows signs of discomfort, take step back.

I'm not including giving treats from others, as they can be busy and not have time to help you. But you still can make training of it by making dog be near them (unless that will bother them), but if they have time to help, they surely can help and give treats to dog. And remember, first should be "yes" and then treat when dog does something good, but you probably know this already

Those steps are just idea I had, if you have a way you should also try to find what makes dog growl, because it can be being scared as i said, but it also can be border herding instincts or even something else. The trainer you going to should also be a great help with this issue

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