Border Collie Training: Working with herding breeds
Border Collies struggle in urban environments when they’re not given appropriate outlets for their intrinsic desire to herd. We see so many Collie owners desperately relying on a ball chucker to tire their dogs out, but what is this really doing to the dog?
It’s sadly very common to see Border Collies transfer their herding instincts into chasing anything that moves, be that cars, children, bikes or even shadows.
What these beautiful dogs need is access to engage in herding in a way that is controlled, fun and harnesses their natural instincts. They can learn to herd while increasing their ability to recall from a distance, engage with their human, and enjoy more freedom safely.
If you are working with herding breeds or considering doing so, then this will revolutionise how you empower owners to understand their dogs so that they can live healthy, happy lives together.
Understanding breed history
Whatever dog breed you are working with, understanding breed history is critical. Over thousands of years, we have shaped our dog’s behaviors according to the jobs they were bred for.
While the dogs you work with may now be living their lives in pet homes, there is a strong
possibility that what lies beneath problem behaviours is linked in part to the breed’s natural instincts. What you’re really seeing is a dog performing breed-specific traits in a different environment, like a Collie trying to herd kids at the local park.
Border Collie Breed History
Border Collies are, of course, a herding breed. Herding is about stopping and controlling movement. They were bred to work alongside their shepherd to gather a large number of animals together and then control and drive those animal’s movements.
So when working with herding breeds, we need to be mindful of the characteristics that go along with being a successful herder.
Herding breeds are quickly aroused to meet the need to go from zero to 10 in the flick of a switch. If a sheep breaks from a herd, a Border Collie needs to respond immediately and stop and control the movement of the one that’s running away.
The hunt sequence used in working dogs is wired into pet dogs too.
Eye – Stalk – Chase – Grab – Possess – Disect – Chew
For Border Collies, the part of the herding sequence that is most relevant is to eye, stalk, chase, and grab.
It’s intrinsically reinforcing for Border Collies to do these behaviours.
Border Collies need to be environmentally sensitive and aware of all the things that are going on around them so they can work with their handler at a distance while protecting their own safety and security.
When we think about all of these traits that are essential for them to perform their job of controlling the movement of sheep or livestock, we can see how and why behaviour problems can often show up in domestic environments for the breed.
For thousands of years, we’ve been creating a high arousal, easily frustrated animal that likes to be able to control movement and gets very, very easily upset if they can’t do that. When a Border Collie isn’t able to perform the eye – stalk – chase of the hunt sequence, their innate need to fulfil those behaviours is stifled. And this often shows up with lunging, barking, nipping or chasing things that aren’t safe.
They’re hugely environmentally sensitive, have a very close bond with their handler, and have enormous energy to complete the task they were bred to do.
A Collie’s early life experiences were likely to be on a farm, in kennels and spent watching their parent’s work with their shepherd and the sheep. They had little to no exposure to homes, people, streets, cars and all the things they’re confronted with in an urban environment.
It wasn’t important that they were super friendly to everybody that came into the farmyard or that they could cope with traffic. It was imperative that they had the endurance and natural herding ability, and quick action to instantly do everything that the farmer needed.
It’s possible to have an urban domestic Border Collie, who lies down by your fire at night or gets snuggled up on the sofa with you, with the right training and lifestyle considerations. A Border Collie can be perfectly happy, well-nourished, and a beautiful member of the family.
But we need to know what to avoid and what to do to bring out the very best in them.