The Border Collie is a member of the herding group of dogs, and his main purpose in life is to herd animals from one location to another. His breed has been around since humans were in the area that is now known as England. Today the Border Collie is recognized as the leading sheepherding dog as he is a powerhouse and essential to raising sheep. This breed is known to be hardworking, smart, alert at all times, and have insurmountable energy. His chief characteristic is that he is hardwired to herd anything that moves. He requires a lot of physical and mental stimulation to remain happy, and his trait to herd cannot be untrained or modified. A bored Border Collie can become a liability to those around him, but with proper training, socializing, and stimulation he can be a wonderful family pet.
The Root of the Behavior
Herding is a canine trait inherited from the wolf. In their pack, wolves will circle and drive their prey from one location to another as part of their hunting ritual. The only difference between a wolf hunting and a Border Collie herding is that the Border Collie has been bred to not kill his prey. A Border Collie has not been bred to herd, but rather to not inflict death. Even with great breeding and training, an overexcited Border Collie can be known to kill one of the sheep he is meant to protect. While other herding breeds drive the livestock or subjects away from the handler, the Border Collie works to circle the livestock and bring them back. They are the dog used to fetch and gather the sheep, no matter how far off they stray or roam. Border Collies have incomparable stamina and energy as they often work tirelessly all day herding sheep for more than 50 miles.
The Border Collie is also known for his powerful stare. Most often to herd he simply lowers his head and stares at his subject until they move. If they do not respond to his command, he will often move in to bark, snarl, nip, and even bite his subject. While many pups are raised and trained to be herding dogs, even the Collie that is brought into a family home as a puppy has this trait innately in his make-up. Stories abound of Border Collies herding children, birds, squirrels, and other living things instinctively and passionately. This herding instinct of rounding people and things up can also be seen in his subtle movements of nudging you towards his food bowl when he is hungry or pushing someone away from his favorite spot on the couch. Your Border Collie is no more capable of not behaving this way then he is of not blinking. He is also very sensitive and alert to everything around him and can often anticipate what you are going to do, his keen eye and high intelligence giving him the upper hand in most instances.
Encouraging the Behavior
Border Collies are not a lay on the couch and cuddle type of dogs. They need a job that taxes them both physically and mentally. They are highly trainable, but because they are smart they require an experienced trainer. Border Collies are known to learn tricks very quickly, often on the first try. However, if you are not precise in your training, they will notice and go rogue. They will also become fixated on something that needs herding and will let nothing stand in their way of rounding up their subjects. Physically they are adorable pets, with adult males reaching 45 pounds. They come in a variety of combinations of colors and are best known for movies like Babe, where they shined at herding sheep. Because of his need to be busy at all times, he can easily become bored. A bored Border Collie can at best be annoying, at worst a real safety hazard. There are a lot of Border Collies who are put into rescues and while some are sent because they lack the skills necessary to herd, they are most often sent back because they have become a nuisance or have bitten someone, usually a child.
Border Collies have been known to dig, bark excessively, and even chase cars. Loud and active children will excite him and almost always spark in him the insatiable desire to herd and contain them. As children tend to have minds of their own, they are not always as agreeable as sheep and can find they now have a dog bearing his teeth and nipping at them. It is a recipe for disaster. It is not possible to train the herding instinct out of your Border Collie. What is necessary is to refocus that instinct into something else. A Border Collie will need several hours of physical and mental exercise a day and be given the opportunity to be challenged often. If you are a physically fit and constantly on the go type of person with an eye for detail, then the Border Collie might be the breed for you. You can also consider hiring a dog walker and a trainer that specializes in Border Collies to help you keep your pup from becoming destructive.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Border Collies have a tendency to be shy and withdrawn if not properly socialized. As soon as they are weaned, they need to be exposed to and spend a lot of time with other dogs and people to be accustomed to being around others. Properly socializing your Border Collie will allow him the opportunity to gain confidence and lessen some of the stress that can often trigger his need to herd. While a daily walk will not be enough to stimulate your Collie, if he is socialized he can be trained to be a part of other activities such as tracking, advanced or freestyle training, sheepdog trials, flying disk, agility, or even fly ball. An active owner is this pup’s best shot. Border Collies are herding dogs because they have been bred for more than 200 years to do so. His herding instinct is the evolution of taking a wolf, keeping his instinct to round up and encircle his prey, and breeding out his instinct to kill.
It is not possible to train a Border Collie to not herd. You would be better off trying to train him to not eat. He requires a lot of physical and mental stimulation or he will resort to annoying and potentially dangerous behaviors. Consider hiring a dog walker and trainer who specializes in working with Border Collies to get him on the right path. Be prepared to spend the time to work with him and socialize him as well.
By a Black Lab lover Zoe Byer
Published: 04/19/2018, edited: 01/30/2020