the proud owner of your Border collie pup, you are entering into a
relationship with a dog who will serve you loyally for many years as
a companion, playmate, guardian, and working partner. More than most
dogs, he will want your active attention, but unlike most dogs, he
will repay you by learning anything and everything you teach him -
intentionally or not!
Owning a dog requires a
pretty common-sense commitment to feed, shelter, and care for your
dog's health. If you do normal maintenance, most dogs reward you
with affection, companion-ship, and loyalty. For your border
collie, this is probably not enough. Because of their unique
heritage, and the fact that they have never been, and hopefully never
will be bred for the "show table", border collies want to work. If you do not provide them with something to do, they
will probably invent their own job. This has its good and bad
aspects. Border collies are fanatically attuned to their people's
habits and intentions by nature. You may find that your dog begins
"helping" you mow the lawn (by keeping the mower from
running amok into the neighbor's yard), hanging up the clothes (which
everyone knows will hop off the line and fly away unless closely
watched), playing basketball (or hockey, baseball, golf, football,
etc.), by keeping the balls under close supervision. These are
mostly benign jobs; but remember that cars are moving objects known
for erratic behavior unless herded, and this job can kill your dog.
Fortunately, border collies are very territorial and very teachable:
our dogs run loose but they know that roads and cars are out of
bounds - they just needed to be taught both limits.
If you don't own cattle
(let's face it, most people don't) what kind of jobs can you give
your dog to keep it occupied and a partner in the family business?
Here are some jobs other owners have found for their dogs:
control: ducks, cats, squirrels, chickens, children (other
people's) can be watched and contained without attention and worry
on your part. Well, maybe a little worry in the case of ducks and
chickens, unless your dog is mature and well trained not to actually
catch the birds. He won’t intentionally kill a chicken or
duck, but sometimes the darn things are so wiggly if you try to
restrain one that you have to give them that little extra squeeze…..
get your paper delivered from your driveway to your doorstep, rain,
wind or shine. It takes some training of course, because your dog
doesn’t have any idea that a motionless rolled up newspaper on
the driveway is worth his interest. Start by teaching your dog to
carry one of those large dog chews made from rolled up cowhide.
When the dog learns to carry the leather chew, switch to an old
rolled up paper, letting him have the chew after he brings the paper
to you. Then ask him to accompany you on your trips to get the
paper, and let him carry it (or maybe yesterday’s edition)
back to the house, and give him his reward when he does. Then teach
him to pick up the paper, then to pick it up when you are 10 feet
away, then 50, then 100, then when you are on your porch, etc., and
always tell him, “Jack (or Rock or whoever)! Fetch the paper”.
Voila, your personal paper dog.
with the usual precautions about leaving your dog in an overheated
car in the summer, take your dog with you when you can. He won't
chew the car up, or yap incessantly at other dogs, or bark
annoyingly at people walking by. Make sure he is trained to see
your truck or car as an extension of his territory and you can let
him roam around when you stop someplace. People will like him, and
he will generate goodwill for you and yours. Motion sickness may
be a problem in young dogs, but they get over it quickly and will
Frisbee: because of their speed, agility, and motion sense,
border collies excel at this game, but interestingly, don't do it
naturally which is what everyone thinks. After all, they are not
supposed to catch sheep, just herd them. If you throw the
Frisbee, your dog will naturally make sure that after it lands it
doesn’t get away, but it takes some training to get them to
catch it and bring it back. Once they get the idea, they
if you have school-age children, give your dog the job of making
sure the kids catch the bus and get home from the bus. He will not
need a clock to tell him when bus time is, and you can be sure that
the kids will be glad of the companionship. One caution: dogs take
this job seriously. Don’t lock them in the house at bus
time. We have had dogs go through a screened window to keep their
bus appointment. They were contrite later, but I know they would do
border collies aren't thought of as tracking dogs, but they are so
much more intelligent than, say, a beagle, that they can actually be
more useful for "sniffing" out something lost (or hiding).
Teach your dog "find” and he will be able to
locate anything else that he understands, like your hammer, or your
cat, or Tommy. One of our dogs, Faith, is an expert at finding
escaped rabbits and ducks. My wife need only say, “Find the
rabbit” and Faith goes to work, usually with success. Our
dogs also know “Find Mommy” or “Find Daddy.”
I’m sure our children were the ones who taught them that.
greeter: It will be hard to stop this behavior. Border collies
are, by nature, very territorial and will want to inform you of
incursions, whether by other dogs, neighbors, or the mailman. They
have a distinctive bark that always means you have a visitor.
Other dogs will learn to avoid your property; friends and
neighbors will get used to being noisily greeted and probably
“herded” until your dog knows them well enough;
strangers will be somewhat uncomfortable and probably not want to
approach too closely (Oh dear!) until you have approved them to your
dog’s satisfaction. Once introduced, most border collies are
the soul of bonhomie. Now, border collies are not biters (it is a
herding flaw) so if you are looking for a guard dog, you won’t
want a Border collie - choose a more lethal breed like a Rottwieller
or a Doberman. However, unless someone is very familiar with the
breed, they will not know that the energetic, noisy, toothy-looking
dog rushing down the front walk is relatively harmless, and you can
rest assured that if your dog is on the property, everyone else who
is will be someone that he knows, or who has your specific approval.
having made such a big deal about their activity level, it probably
sounds incongruous to suggest border collies to people, particularly
senior citizens, who want a companion. But, a Border collie at the
more laid-back end of the spectrum probably makes a better companion
dog than any other breed. Let’s face it: the one big
drawback to having a dog companion is that, well, it’s a dog.
In most cases, you will be considerably smarter than your dog and
this can limit the relationship. A Border collie companion will
not completely remedy this differential, but it is not as pronounced
as with a Lab or one of the spaniels, or, God forbid, a setter.
Your border collie will learn your habits effortlessly, more of your
vocabulary than you would think possible, and will be glad to listen
to your stories, walk or ride with you, nap with you, eat with you,
and go visiting anyone you like. And, if occasionally you feel
like chasing a few sheep, he will be in heaven.
Some other notes on
collie names are generally short and to the point. Names like Jack,
Rock, Kip, Tuck, Bit, Nip, and other one-syllable names are usually
good choices. The rationale for this is that long names like Lady
ButterCream, or Wainstraight of the Heath, or even the venerable
Skippy aren’t names that will get a busy dog’s attention
in the field, particularly if the wind is against you, so working
dogs never have fancy names. But, even if your dog is not
going to work for his living, remember that he will prefer a short
distinctive name – he can hear you calling him better. After
all, that’s what he lives for.
House Breaking: Border collies are among the easiest dogs to train to use the
great outdoors for necessary functions. Dogs from our kennel are
usually paper-trained when they leave at 8 weeks, and will quickly
develop a preference for the yard. Once they have started going
outside they will endure more discomfort than you or I before making
a mess inside. Our inside dogs have accidents only if (a) they are
sick, or (b) they have been inadvertently locked inside too long. In
neither case is it their fault.
Indoors/Outdoors: Among dog owners, this is a no-win argument. My bias will
undoubtedly creep through, but with Border collies in mind, here are
some thoughts. To those who believe that housing a dog outside (in
a cold, dark, lonely kennel, of course) is a criminal offense, I
would like to point out that the only dogs who might suffer in these
conditions are those breeds which have been ruined by generations of
humans trying to breed cute, dependent dogs instead of smart, hardy
dogs. Working border collies are very likely to be kenneled winter
and summer, and their kennels, if kept clean, dry, and out of the
wind, are as much home to them as your bedroom is to you. If you
want to keep your dog outside in a kennel, the dog will be just fine.
Our best worker, Jo, prefers being in her kennel to staying in the
house at night. I assume that being outside allows her to keep an
eye on things, and in her case, unless the latch on her kennel is
tied down, she knows how to open the latch if she really wants to get
out. One of our dogs, Rock, prefers the back room unless Jo is in
season, when he will brave a hurricane to sit outside her kennel all
night. Jack likes the back porch. If Faith, our diminutive grand
matriarch, is inadvertently left out at night, she will remind us
that she has been forgotten with periodic little yips that become
increasingly plaintive if they are ignored.
On the other hand, if
you want to house your dog indoors, Border collies are excellent
housemates. Other than a tendency to shed, they are polite, respect
off-limits areas, and are not generally going to chew the furniture.
But whether kept outdoors or indoors, the one thing to remember is
that you are the most important part of your dog’s day:
if you leave your dog cooped up alone a lot it will suffer, probably
becoming reclusive, apathetic, overweight, eccentric, and cranky.
The same thing happens to me if I am left alone too much.
don’t buy one of our dogs and keep it chained up. Thank you.