Sheepdogs as pets

A word here about the Border collie as a pet or more properly, a companion – my late Border collie, Jaanci, fell into this category having decided early on in her life that working sheep was for other Border collies, not her!

They make good companions provided their handler understands how the collie brain works. It has to be kept stimulated and they must be kept busy ‘doing things’. It is said that the brain of the Border collie needs as much, if not more, exercise then its body. The rise in Dog agility classes (and Fly ball) could be considered very ‘downmarket’ for your working collie handler but for those people that are not sheep owners, these activities provide stimulation for what might become a frustrated and potentially vicious dog.

Many people have asked about taking their pet collie to working dog classes to see if it will work sheep. In fact I was once asked if a Labradoodle (Labrador X Poodle, a cross with no herding instinct) would work sheep!  Then there were the pair of Boxer dogs – no comment! Before enquiring if your dog with some collie in it is suitable for working sheep, find out what breeds are in the rest of the ‘mix’. Terriers are not herding dogs! And as for the enquiry about a Chesapeake X Labrador X Rottweiller – don’t let me start.

I suggest that for pet collies, maybe working a dog with sheep may not be the best option as it is considered cruel to wake the herding instinct and then not following it through.  There is a lot more to working a dog with sheep then just putting the dog behind them!  The handler needs to understand how the sheep operate – ‘sheep sense’! Far better to increase the agility classes.

If you do not want a busy dog please DO NOT OWN A COLLIE!. They are not for the faint hearted.  A 10 month old bored collie pup can be the worst of nightmares! We have had a lot of phone calls from frantic owners with the ultimate in delinquents. The worst offenders are those with a smallish house/flat, several children, a tiny garden and little access to big open spaces. These owners get angry when the fluffy bundle they bought ‘for the children’ ends up biting them!

A Border collie owner needs to be a responsible handler – if you cannot step up to the mark DO NOT OWN A COLLIE!.

Apologies to those who might feel offended – we are thinking of the dog, here! As a result of irresponsible ownership, there are dozens of Border Collies in Rescue homes. Collies frequently become ‘Rescue dogs’ and develop problems when re-homed. By virtue of the very word ‘rescue’, it might follow that a great deal of empathy and love will need to be given to the dog.  It seems contradictory but this is just not what the dog needs at the onset of the new relationship.

A dog with severe behaviour problems is one with very low self esteem and this dog is in pain when it is fearful. Surprisingly, giving the dog affection when it is nervous makes it more nervous – and therefore giving affection when dog is apprehensive reinforces that apprehension. The dog needs a strong energy to follow.

Remember, dogs are pack animals and need to have a good leader. They are also, by nature, sociable – they live in packs in the wild.  A collie living on its own can become very distressed and depressed.

Strong leadership – one word commands when the dog feels secure will result in it learning to trust and therefore behave.

Dog must have definite parameters and a definite routine.

It is always the human behaviour pattern that needs to alter. When dogs become humans they are controlling you.

Possessiveness towards the handler is a dominant behaviour trait.

Love is not going to rehabilitate a psychological problem.

Dogs will not follow lovable leaders and it is extremely important for handlers to accept this. Tough love is the guide.

Walking on a lead at heel will be the best method of ‘changing dog’s behaviour’ – handler to walk in ‘strong’ mode – chest thrown out – ‘I am in charge’ using a calm assertive walk.

Use a choke chain with lead attached to chain behind both ears. There must be strong energy. Until the dog can see that there is a strong handler they will not trust.

The handler will need to move into a new role before the dog will release its fear.