How often do you look over your shoulder or down by the foot of your chair and find your dog right there, keeping you company? As a Border Collie owner, you are probably able to answer “yes” without hesitation. Border Collies are known for their unwavering devotion to their owners, They are affectionate, loving, and loyal creatures, sometimes to a fault. They are also bred to be working dogs and to look to their owners for directions. Combined, these qualities mean that your Border Collie is genetically predisposed to follow you around. So, how did the Border Collie get this way? Were they selectively bred for their loyalty and devotion, or is it a side effect of generations lived as a constant companion? The answer lies somewhere in between.
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The Root of the Behavior
The Border Collie's genetic roots as a breed go all the way back to the Roman Empire when soldiers brought their own herding dogs to the British Isles. Historians believe that the Vikings then cross-bred these dogs with their own smaller breeds, so as to produce an agile but hardy dog suited to the challenging climate. In the 1890's, a herding prodigy named Old Hemp was born in the English region of Northumberland. His undefeated history in sheepdog trials made him an in-demand sire, and a breed was born. Since then, Border Collie breeders have continued to produce animals with strong herding instincts and the intelligence that lets them learn multiple herding commands. Meanwhile, the dogs have developed a devotion for the human beings that give them those commands, and this love is part of what makes them such good workers. It is also part of what makes the Border Collie such an effective shadow.
The other part stems from the simple fact that your Border Collie is a dog, and dogs like to be with their humans. This is largely an outgrowth of natural selection, in that those canines that enjoyed human companionship were the ones who passed on their genes to the next generation of domestic dogs. Similarly, dogs retain a pack mentality that they share even with those canines who are not bonded to humans. They feel safer when they are in a group, and so they follow you around because they are instinctively primed to do so. Some dogs are more clingy than others, regardless fo breed. Dogs that come from shelters tend to be more prone to follow their owners, as are dogs who have a history of separation anxiety. Other dogs become followers because they are hoping that their owners will provide them with entertainment. This is particularly apt to happen if your dog gets bored, and Border Collies need a lot of stimulation. They get bored easily.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, is it okay that your Border Collie follows you everywhere? In most cases, you get to decide that for yourself. As long as your dog is able to stay calm and collected when the two of you must be separated, but he or she tends to follow you when you are in the house together, there is probably nothing to worry about. Of course, that only means that your dog is not at any emotional or physical risk by following you around. You may still personally prefer that your dog resembles Velcro just a little bit less. Fortunately, Border Collies' highly trainable nature means that you can train him or her out of some of this following behavior.
Start by training your dog on the "stay" command. That way, you can practice stepping away from your dog and eventually go into another room. Make it seem like play and your dog will probably participate willingly. Then, you can teach the “go to your place” command, which lets you send your dog to a particular mat or spot within the house. If you put plenty of toys there, you can establish it as a nice and relaxing place to be. Reinforce this command when it is time to go to sleep, as sleeping with you can encourage clinging during the day. That said, if you like the clinging, feel free to co-sleep all you'd like.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your Border Collie is following you around because he or she is bored or anxious, then the following is less of a concern than the root cause. If the culprit is boredom, make sure your dog has plenty of exercise. This can be challenging for Border Collie owners, since the breed has an almost endless supply of energy. Your dog may need hours of play time just to be stimulated enough, so take advantage of any help you can get. The cause may be anxiety if your dog seems not full of energy, but rather extremely agitated whenever the two of you are separated. The dog will whine and act out whenever you leave the house, and even when you are getting ready to go. You may be able to train your dog out of mild separation anxiety by providing him or her with an engaging toy while you are gone, but more severe cases may require professional support.
Chances are, you didn't adopt a Border Collie because you wanted to be left alone. You may not have expected to have your dog at your heels quite as much as he or she tends to want to be there, but remember that the underlying love is one of the greatest gifts of having a dog. Freely take the time you need to make sure that both you and your dog feel comfortable with the connection that you have, and you will be more able to enjoy your furry friend's “dogged” devotion!