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Thread: Kite freak out - some suggestions please

  1. #1
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    Jan 2011
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    Default Kite freak out - some suggestions please

    Hi guys
    My 3 year old Border Collie Saffie has been developing an increasingly severe fear of kite surfers at the beach, to the point now that it is being triggered by even kids flying a kite - so far not yet transferred to the bird kites which are prevalent here in the Dry Season. Some background, when she was about 4 months old I was walking with her and older BC Oscar off leash at the beach and, to my eternal shame, I failed to recognise the trigger for her fear, nor was I sufficiently educated at that stage to catch on to the recognised wisdom of how crucial fear episodes are at that age.

    At that time there were a few kite surfers in close and I noticed her running further up the beach, called her back a few times and she came, but in the end I think she decided I just didn't realise the extreme danger posed by these evil creatures. So suddenly she was off running back the way we'd come and didn't respond to call backs (fair enough at such a tender age, I know, I was clueless about recall and appropriate off leash age). My ute was parked a couple of km away, in one of many different car parks I use, so all I could do was walk back with Oscar and hope she'd found the right one. When I got back to the car she was sitting by the drivers door with a woman in attendance. The woman told me she'd tried to jump into the back of the ute, but failed, so she just waited to make sure someone came for her as she was obviously a much-loved pup (gorgeous....).

    Since that time nearly 3 years ago her fear has escalated to the point where I swear she has ESP in regard to kite detection - I can see no evidence of them when I pull up at various beaches, but she always knows they are there. She becomes like a horse in bolt mode, on leash, totally uncontrollable. If I let her off the leash she would probably just bolt for the car, but I've never allowed that since the first time. The other day I pulled up at low tide, barely any wind and she refused to jump out of the ute. I said "look Saffie, there are NO kites here, impossible." Wrong, there were some kids in the distance flying a kite. I continued with her and Oscar (Saffie not happy) as they really needed a walk, and 5 minutes later turned around and saw the kids walking away from the beach with their kite. Within seconds Saffie had snapped out of it and was running around hassling Oscar like normal.

    Now the problem, I understand the theory of desensitising dogs to fearful things by bringing them up to just before the point that they start freaking out and super-rewarding them for concentrating on you and the treat, but how do you do that when the issue is so unpredictable and difficult to anticipate in advance? There seem to be no prevailing conditions that ensure kite surfers will be there, or not - and believe me, I am a weather watcher from way back. I have managed to persuade kite surfers with their kite on the beach to have Saffie go up to them and get heaps of pats by a deflated kite and she's fine. But to use the desensitising process with the number of times throughout the year we encounter kite surfers out on the water would take years.

    Is this a lost cause? The other thing that I find weird is that Oscar & Saffie have such a close relationship, always looking out for each other and using calming signals in stressful situations, but Oscar totally ignores Saffie's distress over kites (you know, he could help me a little here......). Grateful for any suggestions.

  2. #2
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    I think you might want to go back a few steps, and retrain her to walk along beach on kiteless days.
    I have no idea how far back in the behavioural chain you may need to start from? you may. It could be as far back as walking close to a deflated kite in her own back yard.
    Video's of kites flying can be used. They have sound in them too. Not just the visuals. And some dogs watch tv

    Im not sure if this will work with a dog, but for my human kite phobics (yeah, its common in humans too) I use shopping bags, with a helium balloon inside it, on string. the shopping bag flaps and makes "THAT NOISE" according to my clients. It also makes the helium balloon unstable and it lurches and twists and dives. This freaks the humans out, it may your dog too.
    then you tether the balloon in your garden. Teach new associations in a safe place. with safe folks around. then near the beach, then on the beach etc etc
    Last edited by bernie; 08-16-2013 at 10:14 PM.

  3. #3
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    Having been a windusrfer for many years and sharing the beach with kites this fear in dogs is not uncommon. My own BC had the same problem. However I was able to deal with it before it became so reinforced. I would take her for walks on the beach where there were kites but operated in her comfort zone and slowly with lots of treats and games and the help of my other dog who was totally unmoved by kites we got the the point where she was not too bad.

    You are at the point now where you are going to have start way back in the behavioural chain and it is not going to be easy. Perhaps something like Bernie suggests and make it so the dog is always working under her stress threshold. This may make the whole process a more able for you to control if you can use ordinary kites or balloons.

    It is a natural instinct as predators often come from above, sky or trees. I was running my dog behind a mbike on a sheep station and a very large wedgetail eagle swooped down and tried to snatch her. Being an albeit small cattle dog, the wedgtail was being a bit optimistic about its chances I feel, but it had a good go anyway and my dog had to fight it off as it repeatedly tried to grab her. I knew logically it couldnt possibly carry her away but it was quite alarming
    Last edited by Kalacreek; 08-17-2013 at 12:48 PM.

  4. #4
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    Wow Kalacreek, that eagle experience! Alarming to say the least..

  5. #5
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    Thanks guys, some good ideas there for me to try - I may have to progress to flying kites myself.... (not kite surfing though). Kalacreek, the Whistling Kites here can be quite cheeky, I've had them swoop on the dog's ball on the beach. Saffie generally barks up at them but doesn't freak out. But I did hear from a friend who has her young BC pup in puppy class that one of the puppies in that class did actually get taken by a kite just a few weeks ago. True story, a small white fluffy pup, so the fear is quite justified, just swooped up and carried off. Absolutely horrifying for the poor old lady who owned it. And years ago at Kakadu I was eating a baked bean jaffle while camping and a kite swooped down from a tree and took the jaffle while I was taking a bite. I didn't know what happened for a minute, just felt the wings brush my face and then saw the kite up in a tree eating it. Was then very grateful it was such a good shot as I literally had the jaffle in 2 hands on one side and my mouth biting on the other side, so there wasn't much leeway for mistakes with those cheeky talons.

  6. #6
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    Brilliant story of the eagle Kalacreek

    I feel such a tourist when i hear shit like that lol

  7. #7
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    I know a family of magpies in Canberra who will steal the sandwich out of your hands if you don't protect it...

    I know the kite things make a very distinctive sound and that's probably how Saffy detects them when you can't. Though it shouldn't be as bad with the little kites that kids fly.

    I have managed to train my dog not to go after things like model airplanes that are popular around here - though she will still go after the pilots' lunch when they're not paying attention (d'oh bang head here).

    I have also stopped her from going after umbrellas and other flappy things on the beach but if I see something big and unusual like a sailing boat or kite surfer or generally anything we don't see often - I get her on lead so I can manage and supervise her first encounter with the whatever it is. We had a major problem with a bloke who went wading - wearing a light blue hoodie one time - I guess he didn't look human... or something. She went off. He just stood still and waited for her to get over it (phew, some people are dog smart). I caught her and thanked the bloke for being so calm. She lost interest the second he took the hoodie off his head. Go figure.

    Right now, I have to spend some time training her not to go after EVERYTHING that goes past our front fence. She doesn't get to be in the front yard unless she's on lead but the other day, I opened the door just as a couple were walking their dog past - and their dog was off lead and she just went mental. I dragged her back inside and shut the door. Set criteria - need to get out the door without dog barking. Took about five or six gos to get out the door without a bark and with a calm dog. Sort of.

    I think she thinks she owns the street.

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