Fetch is usually Chewy’s activity of choice so I’ve used that to teach her numerous words and phrases. (She knows approx 100 words/actions and related hand signals so far). It worked well right from the beginning (in the house) because we could interact in close proximity in an exciting, fun way without any physical touching unless she approached me directly.
I would sit on the floor several feet away and roll a ball to her or past her. She quickly became an incredible goalie. The only way I could win was to cheat- throw it over her head. She then learned to leap in the air and “grab” or “catch” those too.
The “go find it game” is one of the best teaching, bonding and confidence tools I know and fabulous mental exercise for her- a must for all dogs IMO and especially border collies. I started with hiding her ball or other favorite toys in plain view (behind me) while sitting on the floor and telling her to find it. Then I put on a jacket or hoodie and hid a toy on me while she watched-in my pockets, in the hood, up the back, get her excited and then tell her to find it. You can use a treat as well if your dog isn’t into toys. Once she knew the game, I would tell her to “stay”, then leave the room, hide it on me and return to sit and let her go at it.
The main reason I hid them on me in the very early days is that it made her eager to interact with me physically (sniffed me from head to toe, shoved her nose in my pocket, down my neck, pushed up the back of the hoodie to get the toy out). It always made me laugh out loud and she loves when I do that. Again, I just cheerily sat there without making a move to touch her at first.
Within a few months, she could find numerous objects by name in complex hiding places – upstairs on top of a door frame, on top of dressers or tables, under quilts and pillows, in the laundry hamper etc. If she can’t physically bring them to me, she signals she found the item by sitting or laying beside it.
When we go out, I ask her to find and bring her collar, leash, poop bag, my keys, purse. (Still won’t carry the latter. Too heavy maybe? lol) These items are never in the same place, so it’s actually very helpful. Helps me gather up laundry too.
She picks up items if I drop them at home and even at pet stores. There she carries them to the cashier and jumps up and puts it on the counter. As you can imagine, this took months but has done wonders for her confidence.
We did a lot of fun work at pet stores for very short stints at first at least 3x per week. It was scary for her at first with new sights, sounds and people, but it wasn’t long before she loved going there and we then moved to manners and polite greetings (feet on the floor please).
I also used a nearby park when no one was there to teach recall in a fun way. I used a long drag line (30′) at first. When she had explored for too long without looking at me, I would hide behind a tree and call her name and tell her to come find me. Other times I would just hide without calling her and she would always come barreling over to see where I’d gotten to. She was sooo excited to find me and it wasn’t long before she always kept an eye out for me to ensure I didn’t get lost.
Her reward for coming each time? Big praise, laughter, and being told to “go play”. My reward is now having a dog who will stop on a dime no matter what she’s doing, chasing dogs at the dog park, escorting a cat or squirrel out of the yard, and come to me every time I call her.
I also find it very effective to either squat down or go down on one knee and open my arms wide in getting her to come when I called her. Many people stand and bend forward over the dog as they arrive which can be very intimidating and threatening. Now all I have to do is drop into this position and she’ll come roaring over without me having to say a word. Great for longer distance communication too!
So for me, educating a fearful dog is at the top of my list. But if I do it right, she’ll never know that’s what it is.