|About Border Collies
Border Collies should be selectively bred for intelligence and working ability. To herd sheep on the mountains and moorlands of the British Isles, a Border Collie needs to meet certain criteria. He has to be independent enough to make his own decisions when he is at a distance from the shepherd. He must control his predatory instincts so he protects the sheep instead of killing them for food---as a wolf must do for survival. He also needs to nip or grip, at times, to control and move his sheep. He needs the stamina to work in heat or cold, to dart up and down steep hills, and to ignore minor injuries in the course of a workday. He also must be bred with a desire to work with, and subordinate to, his human companion, regardless of whether he is at a great distance or striving to save a newborn lamb.
Description of the Border Collie
A Border Collie can be anywhere from 25 pounds to 70 pounds. The coat can be rough (long coat), semi-rough, or smooth (short-haired). The coat colors vary. The typical colors are black & white, but Border Collies are also red & white, tri-colored (brown, black & white), liver, blue merle, red merle, yellow, or white with small amounts of brown, black, or red. Freckling on the muzzle and legs is common. The eye colors range from amber to dark brown and sometimes blue. The ear carriage can be pricked, semi-erect, dropped, or a combination. The bone structure ranges from lightweight and graceful to heavy-boned and majestic. In herding, Border Collies circle and stalk the object of interest.
The herding pose is head and forelegs lowered, eyes intense, tail down with bottom third of tail upturned. They can become focused on any moving object, even tiny insects. It is the attitude toward life and work, not looks, that distinguishes a dog as being a Border Collie.
Work is an attitude, not necessarily a specific task. Obedience competitions, agility contests, Frisbee events, flyball, visits to nursing homes, throwing a tennis ball in the backyard all can be considered work by your Border Collie. Observe the dog; if his body position is in a working pose, then he considers that particular task to be work. Add Sits, Downs, Waits, and That'll do's into the routine as added mental stimulation. Unlike some breeds, Border Collies love to learn new things throughout their lives. When it comes to Border Collies, you can teach an old dog new tricks! However, there is a downside to this attitude. Never teach a Border Collie something you don't want to live with for the rest of his life. That "cute" puppy trick can be extremely irritating or even dangerous when your darling little puppy becomes a workaholic 50 pound adult.
If you’ve never lived with a Border Collie, consider fostering a dog for a local rescuer. You can save a Border Collie’s life while deciding if the breed’s mental and physical requirements fit into your family’s lifestyle. Older pups and adult dogs will bond with a new family. Dogs know when they’ve been saved and most develop a deep desire to work with the new people in their lives.
Selecting a Border Collie
Around seven weeks old, puppies need to make a general attachment to humans as a species, not a specific attachment to a particular human. A young pup raised around small children is not a guarantee the pup will grow up being good around children. Nature is as important as nurture in determining if an individual Border Collie adores children, is intimidated by children, or tries to control children.
Some Border Collies will use submissive behavior to manipulate and control us. Others will bark and carry on like they're having a temper tantrum. Still others will use every expression and gesture you have ever found cute to get their own way. Living with a young Border Collie is like living with an intelligent toddler. It requires dedicated time and effort to survive the experience!
Good puppies are expensive to breed and raise and should be priced accordingly. However, the price is not a guarantee of a good dog, and health problems can occur in any breeding program, no matter how careful and knowledgeable the breeder is. Your purchase decides which breeders and rescuers prosper. Your purchase can help or hinder cash crop breeders and puppy mills. Your purchase decision is vital for the future of this breed. Choose your breeder with care, and never buy from pet shops.
A puppy goes through many stages until the adult age of 2 to 3 years. At age 5 to 6 months, the pup gets his adult teeth. This is a major chewing and destructive period. This is the time when the pup also experiments with guarding and confrontational behaviors. It is similar to a child's "terrible twos".
Border Collies and Children
Herding the neighborhood kids and giving an occasional light nip to a rear end or ankle might seem like a funny game in the beginning. But what happens when the children want to go one way and you've inadvertently trained your Border Collie to treat them as livestock? The game is now serious business, with scared children and a dog euthanized for aggressive behavior. Don’t let this happen! Every time the pup or dog thinks about herding kids, have the kids stop playing with the dog for a few minutes, then go back to the same game in the same area of the yard, with a few new rules. Dogs and kids can have a terrific relationship—when an adult or the kids control the games. Border collies are great at soccer, frisbee, softball, tetherball, touch football, and basketball. But first, to teach the Border Collie who's in charge, have the children help with obedience lessons or taking the dog for a controlled, heeling-type walk. Once the Border Collie learns to heel, small children can take the dog for a walk if the child uses an 18" leash while an adult chaperones the lesson with a 6' leash clipped to the dog's collar. Train a Border Collie to listen to children by praising him when he responds and assisting the children when he doesn't. Teach children to treat dogs with respect. Kids can use a stuffed dog for practice sessions.
Border Collies are basically a hardy breed; however, they can be subject to some inherited diseases such as Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), canine hip dysplasia, and deafness. Some could have epilepsy and endocrine diseases, with unknown inheritance factor. Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) is a shoulder lameness that can develop between the ages of 4 to 12 months. Allergies and skin conditions also occur. For more info on this subject, visit this site,
American Border Collie Association: Promoting the Working Border Collie
Keep handy a first-aid kit and your vet's phone number. Because Border Collies are very physically active, they are prone to athletic injuries, such as pulled muscles, cruciate ligament ruptures, cuts and punctures, ripped toenails and footpads. The dog also requires vaccinations, heartworm test and preventative, license, spay/neuter, and premium dog food.
Crating a puppy or a recently adopted adult when he's unsupervised is a safety issue. Confining a Border Collie puppy to a bathroom or kitchen is both undesirable and dangerous. These pups can tear up linoleum floors, chew and dig through walls, open drawers and cabinets. Crates can be bad if they are too small or if the pup is confined too long. Crating a pup for nine hours during the day is abuse. If someone cannot let the puppy out every 2 to 3 hours for exercise and interaction, adopt an older pup or adult dog.
A crate is a haven when life gets to be too much. A crate is a haven for the dog when children get too rough with him. A crate is also a haven for us when we need time away from a dog’s antics!
The advantages of crate-training include:
When traveling with your dog: motels that allow dogs have crate requirements. Dog events, especially training clinics, are tiring---he'll need some rest. Introducing a dog to a crate for the first time while he is ill or recuperating from surgery adds undue stress. Crate the dog when other people will be in his home for repair work or cleaning.
With a pup, a small plastic crate can easily be moved around the house. Toss treats and toys into the crate and, at first, shut the door for only a few minutes. Use it to teach the pup a daily routine. The crate can be moved from beside a chair to beside a bed, to the kitchen, or to the dining room. The pup will be in and out of the crate in these different places, learning his daily routine. Caution: if the crate is used only when you leave, the pup may develop a dislike for the crate and develop a separation anxiety. Don't make a fuss about leaving or returning. A radio or TV can be left on to help him cope with being alone.
Recommendations for House-Training
After the puppy has been confined in a crate 2 to 3 hours (4 to 6 hours for adults):
1. In a quiet, up-beat manner, take him on leash to the bathrooming area.
2. Choose a bathrooming phrase you are comfortable with, such as “Go potty” or “Hurry up,” and say the phrase a few times. Keep this as low-key as possible. If the dog can’t run around to investigate interesting smells, he’ll go to the bathroom out of sheer boredom.
3. If the dog does his “business” within a maximum of 5 minutes, say, “Good (bathrooming phrase),” then play fetch, give him a treat, or let him romp around in his yard.
4. If he doesn’t “go,” take him back to the crate for another half hour (young pup) or an hour (older pup or adult dog), then try again.
Take a few days to concentrate on housetraining. Learn the dog's bathrooming habits. Some dogs are more comfortable with shrubs or fencing to protect their privacy. Other dogs need to urinate twice each time they bathroom. A few dogs teach their owners to take long, frequent strolls around the yard or neighborhood; use the 5 minute system to prevent this.
Your Border Collie will quickly learn that the fun part of his day doesn't begin until after he's been a "good" dog outside. Rubbing a Border Collie's nose in an "accident," smacking him on the rear end, or yelling at him increases housetraining problems.
Females need a bathrooming phrase or they won't relieve themselves in new territory for about 24 hours. Intact males mark everywhere, including inside buildings, for the first hour in new territory.
Walking a Border Collie
Many Border Collies want to forge (pull the handler forward) while on-leash. To eliminate this problem, start by holding a treat or toy in front of the dog's nose (dog is on a buckle collar and 6' leash, in 'heel' position) while taking a quick walk in the home. Praise and intermittent rewards will teach the dog to stay in heel position. Outdoors, to keep the dog's attention on staying in heel position use a combination of luring with treats or toys plus changing directions without saying anything to warn of the changes. Every time a Border Collie forges, change direction or pace. The surprise element keeps a Border Collie's attention on the handler.
Promise collars are beneficial as a temporary training tool for dealing with specific problems, such as a Border Collie looking at the world instead of his handler. Use of this collar as a basic training collar for all lessons may cause anxiety and dependency issues for Border Collies. This seems to be a breed-specific problem.Most Border Collies learn easily and happily. Some may require the temporary training use of a light (not medium or heavy) pinch collar. Children and disabled adults are safer when a Border Collie wears a pinch collar---less chance of the dog pulling them off-balance. Do not use a pinch collar on Border Collies younger than 8 months without a behaviorist's supervision. The training application is similar to
the way an adult dog will use his teeth on a puppy’s neck to guide and instruct the puppy. Beginners should seek the advice of a trainer to learn the correct techniques in fitting and using pinch collars.
Tone of voice is extremely important. To speed up a Border Collie, pitch the voice high and quick. Lower the pitch and drag out the words to slow him down. For corrections, lower the voice even more and say the words in a growly tone. Most of the time, talk to a Border Collie in a conversational tone. Whisper to a Border Collie to improve his attention.
To bring a Border Collie toward you, move away from him. To push him away, move toward him. Take two steps backwards and hunker down to pull a Border Collie all the way to you. Let your emotions show through your eyes to your Border Collie's eyes. To show disappointment, look at your Border Collie and then deliberately look away. If the Border Collie isn't paying attention, throw up your hands and walk away. He'll come up to you and ask for another chance. Give him that chance by calmly taking him through the same situation, this time using a leash and treats as guidance. Set him up to succeed.
Border Collies like a chance to think about new things in relative quiet. Use an hour of "Peace & Quiet" after lessons for any Border Collie, either rescued or raised in one home from a pup. This results in quicker and steadier learning.
Tie your dog's 6' leash to your belt while teaching him his daily chore routines. Whether his chores include picking up laundry scattered around the house or keeping you company while you're caring for the livestock, learning the routine while "attached" to you is the easiest way to teach him the pattern of your lifestyle.
Training stick: Use 5' length, 3/4" diameter PVC pipe, capped on one end. Pour in 1/8 cup of BBs and cap the other end. This stick is effective for herding, breaking up dog fights, eliminating foodguarding. A sharp tap on the ground in front of the dog's legs startles him without scaring him. A tap on the ground near his shoulder will move him away if he's herding too close to livestock or other dogs. To refocus the dog on listening and working with you, lay the stick on the ground next to you and give him a quiet word of encouragement. He should respect the correction and startlement effect of the training stick, not fear it.
Hunker down---bend at the knees, keep the torso straight. Use a hunker down when a pup or dog is in a new environment or around dogs enduring stress. Only bend or crouch (torso towards the dog) around relaxed and socialized dogs.
Basic Border Collie Manners
Name recognition: Say the dog's name, then give him a treat. Keep repeating as often as it takes for the dog to start turning his head whenever he hears his name.
Recall: Use the leash in the house, a longline outside. Say the dog's name to get his attention, then an upbeat "Here!" If he doesn't turn around immediately, give a light tug on the line. When the dog comes, give praise, a treat, and a hug. Make recalls the best thing in your dog's life. If the dog is hesitant, take a few steps backward after calling him and hunker down.
Praise: Ask the dog to do something, like a Sit. When he's sat, tell him "Good Sit." The use of praise with the request gives the dog a chance to learn faster. Give him praise for figuring out on his own what he should do. If we remember to praise him for thinking, we help him to be a mannerly dog on his own and not just a robot. Quietly praise during the correct action.
Correction: To stop an action, give a "No!" or an "Ah-Ah!" noise in a growly tone. This corrective growl is useless if it isn't immediately followed by a lesson and praise for the proper action.
Jumping: Teach the dog to sit for attention. If the dog already has a habit of jumping on people, say "Off!" and quickly turn away from the dog. Do not push the dog away with your hands; touching rewards him for jumping. Withdraw your attention from the dog until he Sits. To reinforce the Sit, hunker down to the dog's level; he'll be calmer when he's close to your face. A "Hug!" can later be added, if the dog is to be allowed to jump in certain circumstances.
Barking: Respect your dog by investigating why he is barking. If it’s something he shouldn’t be barking at, just walk away from him in a disappointed manner, muttering about how stupid he is (Border Collies hate being called stupid). If he barks appropriately, praise him. Allow your dog to bark 2 or 3 times before saying “Enough!” and give him a treat. It’s hard to bark and swallow at the same time. The result is a trustworthy watchdog.
Naptime: Give yourself and your Border Collie a break now and then. Say “Go to bed” and throw a treat into the crate (kennel) or dog-proofed room. Teach him with short sessions at first until the dog learns he isn’t being permanently abandoned.
Sit, Down & Stay: Raise a treat slowly over the dog's nose and say "Sit." The rump should go down as the nose comes up. After the dog knows Sit, slowly tap a treat along the floor in front of the dog's nose as you're dragging out the word "Down." After the dog knows Down, put a treat a few inches in front of his nose, say "Stay" and hold him in place by his collar. When he relaxes into the Stay reward him by bringing the treat to him.
Release: Whatever the dog has, you have something better. If he has a toy in his mouth, take a treat over to him, hold it in front of his nose, and say "Release!" as you offer him the treat.
That'll do!: Every time a job is finished, say "That'll do." This will teach the Border Collie to quit and come to you. To prevent him from ignoring a "That'll do," use intermittent reinforcement techniques (see page 14). For example: he's been catching Frisbees. Withdraw the Frisbee, give a "That'll do," walk a short distance with your dog and wait until he is calm and attentive. Tell him "Ball!" and toss a tennis ball for him a few times. The surprise of one job ending with the possibility of another job beginning makes a reliable "That'll do." Use a "That'll do" with all his activities, be it obedience, herding or tennis balls. He will respond better to "That'll do" than a Recall or a Down when he is overly excited about something, if you've been consistent.
Socializing your new Border Collie is very important. Teach your dog how you want him to greet people. A simple “Sit-Stay” until guests are ready to play with your dog will impress your friends and family with your dog’s manners and your training ability. Take him out and about in the world. Let him play with healthy, vaccinated dogs. After he’s learned his basic manners in a quiet environment, slowly increase his manners practice sessions in more demanding environments.
Border Collie Personalities
A bold personality will need a reason for doing anything. He will always be testing the boundaries you’ve set. He will be the quickest to protest if you withhold work for some reason. He can also be the dog you depend on most, if you’ve earned his respect and trust.
A timid personality will need lots of encouragement. Give a timid dog at least three days to adjust to new situations and training. Don’t give up on socializing this type of dog, but always start new training in a quiet environment. Gradually work up to loud, stressful situations. This Border Collie will be your emotional support when you’ve had a bad day.
A melancholy personality can be either frustrating or amusing. This dog will quit and lie down in a corner if things don’t go his way. Just ignore him for awhile—even these pouters are workers and will come around. Combine training with rewards of his favorite activities.
An upbeat personality takes life as it comes and makes the best of it. He watches everything. You won’t realize the dog is learning until he amazes you with his new skills. He’s a stable, versatile dog. He’ll do everything asked of him; be careful not to overwhelm him.
Border Collie Traits
If your Border Collie is already nipping at people’s heels or hands, say “Ouch!” in a growling tone of voice and totally withdraw your attention from the dog for 5 minutes. Then go back to playing the same game with the dog. Keep doing this until the dog understands it’s the hard biting that stops playtime. Teach him how to have a soft mouth.
Border Collies have play growls and real growls. Play growls normally occur while the dog is shaking a floppy toy or playing tug-of-war. It's impossible to reliably prevent small children from initiating tug games with dogs. It is safer to teach dogs the concept of tug-of-peace. It involves a "Release," a "Get it," and withdrawal of attention if the dog gets grabby or excited. Also, let the dog win a game of tug when he's had a confidence-shattering day.
It's easy to unintentionally teach a Border Collie to be possessive of food or toys. The puppy gives a bark or growl, so you back off in surprise. This reaction rewards the pup. To prevent this, play a game centered around whatever he has, you have something better. When your pup has a toy, show him you have a fantastic treat, ask him to "Drop it." When he does, give him the treat. If he guards his food bowl, blithely walk by his bowl and drop in some terrific treats. He'll want people to walk around his bowl and take his toys or bones.
The Grizzly Bear’s Gonna Get Me!
Border Collies live by the principle that just because you don’t see a grizzly bear, doesn’t mean it isn’t there! Males, running to mark over puppies’ bathrooming spots, are hiding the scent of the puppies from the grizzly. Some females hide puppies this way. Males mark over some females’ bathrooming spots and not others. This may be a mating ritual or choosing some as pack members and letting others fend for themselves.
Males sniff and mark new territory. They need 15 minutes in new territory before we can expect them to pay attention to what we want. That fifteen minutes is spent exploring the territory and marking it to scare away any grizzlies that might be lurking around. Females do not want to leave their scent on new territory because their scent could attract a grizzly. It doesn't matter if the females are spayed and never had puppies; they still protect against the possibility of their puppies getting killed by the grizzly.
When a Border Collie is focused on something in front of him, anyone touching him from behind could be a grizzly. He'll whip his head around so fast that he can accidentally cut a person with his teeth. It's very important to teach children not to come up behind a Border Collie and touch him on the hips or shoulders.
When a Border Collie barks at a stranger, especially one wearing a funky hat or clothing, it could be a grizzly bear in disguise! When a Border Collie barks frantically every time the doorbell rings, he's scaring the grizzly bear away from his family. Prevent this by teaching him how to confidently greet strangers.
When a Border Collie is startled out of a deep sleep, he might snap or growl. When someone comes into his home unexpectedly, he'll go into frenzied barking, mainly from embarrassment at being caught sleeping on the job. When he's with his family but visiting in someone else's home, he'll go overboard with barking at anyone coming into his family's room or walking in the hallway at night. These are all easily controlled grizzly bear situations; the sound of a cordial voice prepares him to encounter a friend.
If your Border Collie has encountered a "grizzly bear," he'll need help from you in similar situations so he can think about what is really happening and how to deal with it in a civilized way. Occasionally, a Border Collie needs medication to ease his fears. Tranquilizers and anti-anxiety medications by themselves are not enough. Medications combined with effective training techniques can make a tremendous difference.
Herding with Border Collies
An inexperienced handler working with an inexperienced Border Collie and inex-perienced livestock can end in injury to at least one of the 3 species. Be prepared to invest time and money in learning before you take a new dog into the field.
Help in training is available in a variety of ways. Purchasing a started dog or sending your dog to a professional trainer will cost more money than time. You still need to invest the time to learn what your dog already knows. Herding clinics, herding books, and videos take more time than money.
At first, the expense of a started dog, herding clinics, books, videos, or lessons with an experienced handler doesn't seem worth the bother, but the investment will eventually pay off in time saved and chiropractor bills avoided!
Carefully choose the right disposition of the Border Collie for your livestock. A calmer, level-headed dog is just right for a small dairy herd (as long as he has the spunk or training to nip wayward cows). A dog with great stamina and dive-in style is good for discouraging geese (as long as the dog is trained not to hurt the geese).
It's also important to understand what type of dog you enjoy working with. An easy, people-pleasing temperament is the right type of Border Collie to work with young 4-H students. People who can't help but yell and stomp around a bit when they are frustrated would be better off with a dog with a more dominant personality that won't take the yelling personally. If, after you've done all the right research and tried various training methods, you still end up with the wrong Border Collie for you or your livestock, contact the breeder or your local rescuer to find an appropriate new home for your dog (if you have no time for the activities this dog enjoys). Chalk it up to lack of experience and keep looking.
A WAY OF LIFE by H. Glyn Jones
HERDING DOGS: PROGRESSIVE TRAINING by Vergil Holland
LESSONS FROM A STOCKDOG by Bruce Fogt
TRAINING AND WORKING DOGS by Scott Lithgow
Thunderstorms & Loud Noises
Border Collies have a high startle reflex, which can sometimes endanger their lives. The suddenness of a clap of thunder, a gunshot, fireworks, or even just a book dropping on the floor can startle Border Collies into an over-reaction. These over-reactions can include nipping at the closest objects, dogs or people; leaping onto the lap of the person they feel will protect them; frenzied barking at the noise to scare it away; and, the most dangerous reaction of all, fleeing from the noise.
Give your Border Collie a routine to follow for sudden loud noises. Practice this routine (use a leash or a long-line during practice sessions) by using small sudden noises first and progressing towards louder noises until the dog tolerates the really big scary noises safely. Find a routine that can be adapted to use while you are outside doing activities with your dog, in the home while relaxing, and that the dog can use when alone.
One routine is to attach an activity the dog loves to the noise the dog fears. If the dog loves to play with squeaky toys, play with the dog and then make a small noise. When the dog flees, coax the dog back by enticing with the toy while gently pulling the dog towards you with the leash. The dog’s reward for coming to you (no matter how long it takes the first few times) is another play session. Your dog will learn to enjoy what used to be scary. Another routine is to teach the dog to flee towards a safe goal, such as a crate placed in a quiet area of your home.
Multiple Dog Households
Slowly introduce the new dog to other dogs in the household. It is a stress to the new dog and the established pack to form new relationships. The new dog will be gaining confidence over the next 6 months, new problems and challenges can occur during this stage. Supervise or separate the dogs during all transition and development stages for their safety.
Generally, two Border Collies are easier to live with than one. A one year minimum difference in age, one of each sex, and/or diverse personalities is the calmest way to live with two Border Collies. Let the dogs establish their own hierarchy of responsibilities to a certain degree. Remember that humans run the household and make the final rules. We don’t recommend letting dogs “fight it out.”
Intermittent reinforcement is like playing the lottery. A person does a consistent action (paying for a lottery ticket) and receives an inconsistent reaction (no cash, some cash, huge amount of cash). Intermittent reinforcement is a good reward system for a Border Collie after he’s learned the basics using the lure/reward system.
Intermittent corrections create the same effect of encouraging a behavior as do intermittent reinforcements. A Border Collie who is yelled at some of the time for jumping on people, petted some of the time for jumping, and ignored some of the time has actually been taught to always jump on people. A Border Collie who can ignore a Recall is actually being taught to not come when he's called. If he's dragging a longline or leash when he's Recalled, he can't ignore the command. Use tabs, leashes and longlines throughout the lure/reward and intermittent reinforcement stages of learning to help him learn manners and safety.
Border Collie Work Ethic
If you don't find jobs for your dog, he'll find his own. Most of the time, you won't like the jobs your Border Collie finds! More annoying jobs can be things like herding squirrels, digging giant craters in the backyard, constantly whining and pushing at people, or cornering cats and holding them there for hours. Border Collies' more dangerous jobs can be herding cars, swooping out at people and ferociously barking which can be misinterpreted as viciousness, or herding owners which could lead to a nasty fall.
If he's already chasing cats, the easiest way to control the behavior is to turn herding cats into a job he does with you in control. If he's digging craters in the backyard, create a digging hole for him out of harm's way. If he's constantly whining, give him the security of a consistent daily schedule of play, work, suppertime, and bedtime. If he's already chasing cars, get some help before he's seriously injured or dead.
Get help, but be careful. Border Collies are often misdiagnosed by veterinarians and behaviorists with little or no experience with this breed. There are many complicated factors in dealing with aggression problems.
People have language to communicate angers, fears, and pains. We can call for help or remove ourselves from tense or dangerous situations. We can use our teeth, fists, clubs, knives, guns, and nuclear weapons. If one person kills another, our system might throw him in prison for awhile. But our dogs have few options for communicating their angers, fears, and pains to us. Warning growls, lip-curls, and biting are part of a dog's language. When a dog is hurt, confused, or scared and protects himself by displaying what we call aggression, our system condemns him to death. Doesn't seem quite fair.