Border Collies stare or ‘give the eye’ because that is what they are bred to do. These highly intelligent, herding dogs have been trained to manage herds of sheep with their intense stare. This stare is so intimidating it can actually control the flock of sheep. The Border Collie is acting on a predatory behavior handed down from his ancestor, the wolf. The Border Collie uses the initial steps of the instinctive predatory drive wolves use to hunt. There are five steps in this behavior. The Border Collie is trained to use the first three steps. Step four and five have been eliminated through breeding and training. The Border Collie follows step one – stare at the prey, step two - stalk the prey, and step three – chase, if necessary. The kill and eat part of the sequence has been ‘bred out’ of his behavior. The wolf pack would select their prey by giving the animal the eye. This intense stare intimidated their victim and the rest of the pack would move in, and finish the sequence to the kill. The Border Collie performs the stare, step one to perfection. The shepherd uses this instinctive behavior to control his flock.
The Root of the Behavior
Border Collies are known as workaholics. They are intensely focused on getting tasks done and need stimulation and activity. A Border Collie will stare at you if you are not giving him enough of the action he requires. He needs to have a great deal of stimulation to satisfy his desire to work. He will thrive on agility, herding trials and any kind of ‘work’ related action-packed activity. The Border Collie gets his name from being bred on the borders of England and Scotland. His instinct is to herd sheep. He controls the flock with his stare and this commands the sheep to obey him. The Border Collie’s training, and the use of his stare or giving ‘his eye’ as it is known is the way he commands the sheep and helps the shepherd. The first sign of movement in the flock is the trigger that gives the Border Collie his instinctive crouch pose, and his stare attitude. He is now in command and will keep staring at the flock as he controls their movements. The Border Collie is an extremely bright and resourceful breed. He can solve problems and likes to be active. When he is not using his instinctive behavior, he can form bad habits.
The Border Collie that is not occupied may even try to herd your family as he sees the children as creatures in his care, needing some supervision. It is the movement that triggers his stare and if he is bored his instincts may lead him to herd small children or other animals. The Border Collie is not recommended for someone who is not prepared to take time to work this herding dog. Border Collies do not have to be hired helpers on farms, but if you do have one of these very driven dogs, then you will need to find as many interesting outdoor activities as possible to keep him busy. He loves flyball, chasing a frisbee, herding trials, agility, and any other action-packed sporty occupation. He is one of the most intelligent dogs and will revel in being trained and worked by you. The Border Collie will probably give you the eye, his determined stare, if you spend too much time in front of the TV when he wants to get out and have some action in his life.
Encouraging the Behavior
The Border Collie does not fare well stuck out in a backyard with nothing to do. He will find things to stare at and fix his gaze on something that will become an obsession with him. It could be shadows on the wall, or a digging distraction, as he tries to get his mind away from the fact he is not doing his real work. A big warning sign for you would be the Border Collie exercising his stare on other animals or your children. If you are not prepared to stimulate his intelligent mind, then his stare will be directed to the wrong places. The Border Collie is an excellent watchdog. His amazing stare can be quite disconcerting if you do not understand the breed and their instinctive behavior.
The Border Collies of today have been divided into two groups. There is a group that extends the Border Collie in his working capacity as a herder and there is a group of breeders more interested in the breed for the show ring. The show dog is groomed and put up for his coat and conformation to the breed standard. The herding aspect of the breed is displayed by his talent to prey on the sheep as his ancestor the wolf did. Border Collie traits are very strong in each litter and the pups of quality parents will show the same inborn characteristics for herding and giving the signature ‘stare.’
Other Solutions and Considerations
The Border Collie is trained to 'gather and fetch' for the shepherd. He uses his stare to command the sheep, not any force or physical attack. Border Collies are very focused and participate intensely in their herding work. The training of Border Collies is geared towards using their instinctive eye or stare. Shepherds have different terms for the different types of eye control they find useful in the Border Collie breed. A strong eye is a hard-staring eye, a sticky eye is the term used for a dog that fixes its stare on one spot and will not move on from there. The loose eye is a roving eye that moves over the flock keeping the sheep in check. It watches for a ‘break away’ sheep. No eye refers to a Border Collie with no instinctive eye ability. Shepherds will look out for the ‘eye’ they need and use the stare to manage their flock. Watching herding trials will give you some insight into the talent held by the handler and his dog using instinctive behavior to herd sheep.
The Border Collie’s notorious stare is his special instinctive feature. Added to that is his intelligence and devotion to work. If you are looking for a dog that will share an active life with you, then the Border Collie is probably a great collie-ge. Loyal partners, you and your collie-ge, will keep a loving eye on one another. Try not to look sheepish as you adore your Border Collie and he stares back at you with loving looks.
By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Published: 04/12/2018, edited: 01/30/2020