The Runaway Collie

Dear WOOF:

I like the sound of the Negative Punishment, but how can I apply it? My family have a Collie Dog which will temporarily 'run away from home' if left alone outside. This has lead to the dog being almost
permanently chained up as we live in the country and is a grave risk to other animals e.g. pregnant sheep... How would you suggest correcting this behavior?

Thanks.

Hi:

As you may be familiar, the term "negative punishment" means that we take away a pleasant or desired consequence to decrease the emission of an offending behavior in the future. "Negative" means subtract or take away, and "punishment" refers to the impact on behavior, which is to decrease it.

In your collie's case, the problem is not behavioral, therefore negative punishment will not be effective. Correcting this behavior will result in more effectively managing her environment.

All dogs (including your collie) if left to their own devices, will do what they feel inclined to do. There is more than one possibility for her behavior.

#1- She is worried when left alone, and wanders off in an attempt to regain social contact with you.

- or -

#2 - During one of her excursions to the country side she has happened upon a flock of sheep; a supremely reinforcing event (especially for a collie) very likely to be repeated if given the opportunity.

Please refer to the Woofology website for more information on how to identify a separation disorder. If this is a separation related problem you will need to employ the help of a qualified behaviorist.

No dog should ever be left alone outside for extended periods. Her safety is at great risk. Aside from exposure to the elements, she may be killed or injured by another animal, lost forever, or she could fall victim to the drastic measure taken by the owner of a nearby flock trying to keep his livestock safe from her!

Keeping her (or any dog) chained up outside and alone is also a very dangerous solution. She could find herself in harms way without options for escape and no one there to help her! It is also likely that behavioral problems will develop, driven by the stress and frustration of being socially isolated. At the very least, she will be an unhappy dog.

Your only real option is to prevent her from being left to her own devices while you are away - for her sake. How you choose to do this is up to you, but consider the risks of leaving her outside, even if
chained, very carefully.

If she lives indoors with you when you are home, bring her in when you leave. If she does not live indoors, I would suggest you consider it. If for some reason you are unable to bring her into your home, perhaps you could house her in a garage or shed, so that she remains sheltered and safe until you return home and are able to supervise her outside.

No matter what you choose, please be sure to spend as much quality time as you can with her each day, and remember that she is a dog just doing dog things!

I hope this advice is helpful.

Thank you for writing : )

Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT