Can I build a better relationship with my dog?

(Q) Our Border Collie-cross is quite aggressive towards dogs he doesn't know or those he meets at obedience and agility classes. He gets on well with our other dogs and our cats. He barks and tries to nip (but not bite) people he doesn't know. He loves children but gets carried away and excited, which leads to nipping in a playful manner. For a dog his size he only eats about two scoops of food per night. He gets lots of walks but still comes home with too much energy. He has been neutered but some nights he wees on the floor.

Working dog breeds have boundless physical and mental energy. Many such dogs inherit strong working instincts and need to be kept occupied if they are to settle into a family environment.

Your dog is showing a lot of the behaviour that might be expected of a dog who was under-socialised as a puppy. He's finding it hard to deal with strange people, with the exception of children to whom he does relate well but sadly without the self control necessary for a successful outcome. It is possible that he is a very confused dog.

He also appears to have a submissive urination problem so it might be worth getting a urine sample checked out at the vet's. If he were my dog I would be doing the following:

1. Introduce a basic ‘learn to earn' programme in a totally non-confrontational way to restructure your relationship with your dog. Make sure that everything he sees as rewarding is earned by an immediate response to a simple command that he knows. Control all the important resources that make his life enjoyable. This is a good way of teaching self-restraint and manners to your dog.

Then use the respect that you have built up to help your dog to control himself when he meets other dogs or strange people - using the commands ‘Sit' and ‘Stay' comes to mind. Bear in mind that classes with dogs in close proximity to each other or where exciting training is taking place are not the best places to get initial control over your dog. You may need to leave training classes for a time until you have made some significant progress.

2. I would use a training method where the dog has to take part in the training decision-making. If he makes the right decision, he gets the reward; if he doesn't, the reward is withheld and he starts again. Methods such as clicker training can be very successful with this type of dog. This dog needs positive things to occupy his mind, taught in a place where there are few other pressures on him. In particular he needs to learn the command ‘Settle', which means lie down here and relax until I am ready for you.

Have him on a 5 – 6ft lead. Sit down and relax and put your foot on the lead at a point where it is just more comfortable for him to lie down than stand. Then ignore him. When he decides to lie down quietly reward him with food and voice.

3. The amount of food he is eating is less important than the type and quality. If you are feeding a high protein commercial working grade food, there may be a case for experimenting with a raw, wet food diet.

Take a look at some of the websites relating to the BARF (bones and raw food) diet or simply try out some of the wet frozen or packaged complete foods. Some dogs over-react to some of the items found in dry commercial dog food.

Having a good working dog requires more than teaching obedience exercises. It needs careful building of your shared relationship.