Over the past few weeks, Phoebe has been increasingly pissy, and has been specifically picking fights with Jadzia. That combined with my annoyance over her issues with the cats impelled me to find a trainer who specializes in terriers, to hopefully get some insight into her behavior and some tools to work with her. I intrinsically get border collies, at least the ones that I have spend signficant time with, but this little terrier is much more difficult for me to understand.
Jennifer Schneider of Pick of the Litter Training is a terrier specialist, with several of her own, and so I had her come up to our house on Wednesday to assess what's going on with my pack. Her observations were quite illuminating, and helped point out some things that were not obvious to Chris and I as we are part of the family and not easily able to see everything objectively. There are a few things going on, which will all need some work to improve.
1. Phoebe is not part of the pack - the three borders are their own pack, but Phoebe just sort of orbits around it without actually being part of it. This could be due to any number of reasons, including that she's the only non-border and that she had a rough few years of being moved around with a lot of instability in her life. Now that Ezri is approaching eleven months and is becoming a young adult, the dynamics of the border collie pack are shifting and Phoebe is seeing this as an opportunity to find a place for herself, by force if need be.
2. My attention is the most important resource for the pack right now, even above food and toys. Most negative interactions between Jadzia and Phoebe come from Phoebe being annoyed that I am giving Jadzia attention, when it is attention she wants for herself. This is visible to a lesser extent when I give attention to Ezri or Curzon, and when Chris gives attention to Jadzia. The solution here will be to simply ignore them all when there is a disagreement over who I am paying attention to, i.e. removing the resource that they are fighting over and leaving them to deal with each other.
3. Phoebe is generally unsure of her status, and gives off lots of calming signals because she knows that Chris and I are usually annoyed at her. Interestingly, Jadzia gives off withdrawal signals to Phoebe, not calming ones, which is another facet of the issues between them. The best way to deal with this would be to do an activity with just Phoebe, such as rally-o or even just an obedience class.
4. As far as Phoebe is concerned, the cats live in "CatLand" that may or may not be attached to her house, and they are sometimes there but not always. This is why we could make progress for a while with getting her to leave them alone, but then have a spectacular backslide where she would try to go after them. Desensitization will be key here, so that Phoebe learns that the cats live in the house, they are always here, and they don't do anything that terribly interesting. We will do this by putting up stacked baby gates in the basement doorway, so that Phoebe and the cats can see each other without danger of getting to each other physically. This will also allow Phoebe to observe them without being restrained, which is not something that terriers like or handle particularly well.
I'm going to look into rally-o classes in Woodinville, and also to buy a second baby gate so we can implement the cat plan as well. Hopefully this will assist Phoebe into integrating better into our house and becoming a calmer member of the family...or, at least as well-adjusted and calm as a terrier can be!