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The Natural Instincts of Border Collies

Border collies just instinctively know how to work sheep, right?


It is true that border collies have particular instincts which help them work with sheep and make them trainable, but they are not born already knowing how to work with a shepherd. The Border Collie Rescue website explains the natural instincts of the border collie:

The herding instinct in Border Collies is a behavioral trait that has been bred “into them” over the past two hundred years or so. What many people fail to realize… is that the herding instinct is simply a modified version of the killing instinct of wolves. The instinct has been toned down somewhat through selective breeding. In fact, the instinct has not been bred “into them” but rather, “out of them”. Border Collies retain the circling and gathering instinct so vital in hunting wolf packs but refrain from actually going in and making the final “kill”.

If the kill instinct is dominant, then the dog has a tendency to chase a sheep and pull it to the ground, sometimes biting and harming the sheep. Once this behavior is ingrained in the dog, and it has tasted blood, they become a problem for the shepherd, and can no longer be used with livestock.


Herding Instinct in Border Collies
Kai instinctively wants to circle the sheep in order to “gather” them.


The herding instinct in a border collie, is evidenced by his desire to fetch or gather the sheep and bring them to the shepherd. Though the dog has the natural instinct and desire to work, he must learn to follow the commands of the handler. The shepherd and the dog must work as a team with the border collie following the commands of the handler. Through months of training, the dog progresses from the easiest tasks of circling the sheep to more advanced skills of gathering and penning the sheep in an enclosure.

Kai and I are at week number three of our training at home. In the video below, you can see that I am working with him on circling the sheep in both directions and then on walking up slowly behind the sheep while I lead them around the pen. In our work this weekend, you can see that strong desire to gather. You will also see Kai using “the eye” to move the sheep by approaching slowly and staring at them to make them move. The sheep are also finally figuring out that they need to stay close to me. It is a work in progress!


Read more about Kai’s training:

The Dance Between Border Collie and Handler

Visit my instagram feed to see more photographs of Kai working sheep!