Recently, I received a phone call from someone needing some help re-homing their 8 month old border collie. They had purchased the dog thinking it would be a good companion for their son, but have begun to have trouble with the puppy. Now, they wonder if a border collie is a good fit for their family. When I questioned him about his dog, I quickly realized that he was unfamiliar with the breed and their high maintenance needs. Border collies are wonderful dogs, but they have specific needs which are not for the faint at heart.
Years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that read:
My border collie is smarter than your honor roll student.
At that time, I could not totally appreciate the meaning behind that little sticker haphazardly slapped on the back bumper of a car. Now that I am on my second border collie, those words take on a new meaning. The very traits that make them such unique and wonderful dogs are the very traits that make them such a challenge to own:
- insatiable intensity and zeal for working
- highly intelligent
- sensitivity to sound and motion
- strong herding instincts
Border collies need a job. If I could have one half of the amount of motivation to work as my dog, I would accomplish a tremendous amount of work each day. Though traditionally a livestock dog, their job does not have to just be herding sheep. Activities such as, agility training, fly ball, joring, swimming, and hiking, all provide the intensive physical exertion that border collies long for. Unfortunately, without a job, border collies develop negative behaviors like chasing cars, insistent barking, herding people, chewing on things, and all round lack of discipline. Kai, our border collie, helps me with farm chores twice a day. He goes on two 30-45 minute walks a day where he has time to run free on the trail. He also works with our sheep in training sessions about 5 times a week.
Border collies are also super smart and need mental stimulation. They constantly analyze and think about what they are doing and their surroundings. These dogs have the ability to out think their human owners, and to manipulate them. Consistency and setting clear boundaries are key to successful training. With high intelligence comes the ability to learn quickly, both the good and the bad habits. If they get away with something once, they will surely try it again. This has been the most challenging aspect of owning Kai. There have been times when I have called upon a more experienced friend or trainer for help and advice when Kai is not behaving for me.
Many border collies are sensitive to movement. High pitched sounds and quick movements often put a border collie in a tail spin. When our Kai was a young puppy, he would try to grab and hold swinging skirts, swaying shopping bags, and running cats or children. Now that we are training with sheep, I find that the slightest movement on my part will effect him and send him off around the sheep. I have to be careful how I hold my arms and where I position myself as he not only reacts to my words but to my movements as well.
Before considering purchasing a border collie, it is important to spend time with some border collies first and become familiar with their needs. Border collie rescue groups, like New England Border Collie Rescue, take in border collies that need new homes. When placed in the right home, border collies flourish and are a joy to own.