Sherlock the 1 year old Border Collie

Emma chose Sherlock carefully as a puppy: she heard about a family in the countryside who had a litter of collie pups, and she made a  point of meeting both parent dogs. They were lovely, gentle animals, and Emma knew that this meant that it was very likely that the pup would turn out the same way. Just as with humans, most pups turn out like to be similar to their parents.

Sherlock is now a young adult dog, and he’s as good natured as she had hoped. There is just one issue with him: he is bursting with energy. Border Collies have been bred over generations to be working animals: they herd sheep over hillsides, running around all day. When they are kept as house pets, they still have this sense of super-charged energy, and they need plenty of exercise to burn this up. And not just any exercise: Collies have an inborn need to engage with behaviour that mimics herding sheep.

Emma has learned that Sherlock needs his daily walk, with games, to keep him satisfied and calm. If he doesn’t get this for any reason, his exuberant energy comes out in ways that can seem a bit odd.  In particular, he’s prone to chasing shadows or light patterns on the wall. He’ll crouch in the house, staring at the wall, waiting for shadows or flashes of light to appear on areas where he has seen them before. He gets anxious as he waits, sometimes licking the wall nervously in anticipation. And then when he sees flickering light- like sunshine on the wall – he’ll leap at it, getting even more excited.

This behaviour is odd, but it doesn’t cause serious problems: it’s just a strange thing that Sherlock does. There are some dogs which take this type of behaviour to an extreme, spending their whole lives staring at a wall in their home, barking whenever they see light or shadows. This obsessive, compulsive behaviour then becomes a serious animal welfare issue. Affected dogs need to have specially designed therapy and medication to stop them from acting in such a deranged way.

Sherlock’s shadow-chasing behaviour is always only temporary and minor. Emma knows that all that he needs is a good long walk to distract him and burn up energy. After he’s been for a walk, he’s much more relaxed, lying down and snoozing for hours. Sometimes it seems as if the shadow-chasing is his way of asking her to take him for a walk.

sherlock had an unfortunate accident

A couple of weeks ago, Sherlock had an unfortunate accident. He was on his usual walk, chasing a stick as he loves to do. Emma knows about the dangers of dogs being impaled on sticks when chasing them, so she only throws short sticks with blunted edges, so that there’s no risk of him hurting himself.

Sherlock had been chasing the stick repeatedly, rushing into the bushes to find it then dropping it at Emma’s feet to chase it again. Then on one occasion, as  he came out of the undergrowth, he was dripping blood from his front left  paw. Luckily, Emma was just a few hundred yards from our vet clinic, so she headed straight up to us with him.

The problem was obvious and simple to fix: Sherlock had stood on a sharp object (like a piece of broken glass) and he had a small but deep cut on the outermost digit of his left front paw.  Treatment involved using a surgical stapler to pinch together the two edges of the cut: Sherlock is a calm, friendly dog, and he didn’t mind when I did this. The bleeding stopped immediately, and a dressing was applied to protect the stapled cut while it healed.

There was one problem now: Sherlock’s extra energy. He needed to be rested for around ten days to allow the stapled skin edges to knit together. But if he didn’t get his daily exercise, he’s start to develop his strange shadow-chasing behaviour. And as well as that, he’d start to lick and chew his wound, which would prevent it from healing.

This was a challenge for Emma, and she tackled it in several ways. First, she put a large plastic Elizabethan collar on him: this prevented Sherlock from being able to reach his foot, so he was unable to nibble out the staples. Second, she started to take him out on short, on-the-leash walks: these were not as energy-draining as his usual mad stick-chasing runs, but they were better than nothing. And third, she put a plastic cover over the dressing on his foot, so that it was kept clean and dry when he was out walking in wet weather.

Emma’s system is working: the staples have stayed in, and the wound is healing well. She has noticed something odd: Sherlock has started to limp on his sore foot, but he only does this when he has the plastic cone collar around his neck. As soon as she takes the collar off, he stops limping. She feels reassured by this: he is clearly not in pain, or he’d be limping all the time. But why is he limping at all?

Emma thinks she knows what’s going on: Sherlock is an ultra-smart dog, and he has learned that if he limps, he gets extra attention. Every time the collar goes on, he’s reminded that he has staples in his foot, and this gives him the cue to start to limp, so that he gets extra sympathy. 

There’s nothing slow about this clever Collie!

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