Learning About Border Collies
A collection of resources for people sharing their lives with collies and working sheepdogs
Wait, be ready
Taking the natural response and teach the stop during movement and hold position. The focus is forwards, ready for action on your cue. £10
Look for approved Sheepballs Teaching Team Members. Beware, there are many imitations likely to “just kick a ball around” with no understanding of what they are setting up the dog to learn.
Behaviours can go out of balance
To be able to function as a sheepdog two behaviours need to work together: stalking (creeping up to the sheep) and flanking (going around or from side to side). Over-stalking behaviour is balanced by flanking and too much flanking, circling, is balanced by stalking.
When you begin to train a young dog you will not know which behaviours are their strongest and will work to develop equal skills in both behaviours. Often the behaviours do not emerge until the situation presents itself, and this may be 10-14 months old.
The behaviours can be misbalanced genetically where dogs have been selected for nonsheepdog criteria, such as coat, colour, ear set (aesthetic appearance), or another sport criteria.
They can also be misbalanced in training: sheepdogs are valued for their chase skills in flyball and agility. Chase is not an inherited skill we should be seeking. Sheepdogs do not cope well with continual chase or bite (tugging) behaviours and unless they find some balance by being able to enjoy their inherited behaviours their stress responses will build up.
These are commonly exhibited:
- in agility or flyball where the dogs demonstrate high levels of frustration (aggression) towards other dogs, or bite their owner’s legs.
- Scream and launch at passing traffic or people.
- Uncontrollable spinning.
The build-up of frustration can also be revealed in other health issues, self-harming, breakdown of metabolic systems, diarrhoea etc. Sheepdogs should not be in a high level of arousal for any length of time, perhaps 3-4 minutes at most, and not on a regular basis throughout the day. They need lots of quiet time to adjust, and a balance of their natural behaviours to be able to find peace of mind.
The continual “challenging” presented by over arousal in training with bite and chase can push the dogs well beyond their coping mechanism.
We can measure the degree of compulsion – which translates to the degree of interrupter needed to break the focus. Some dogs can be easily “bought off” others not.
Time is my ninth generation of collies. He lives for being a collie and all that collies have done for generations – work in partnership and assist in what their Person likes to do. This ranges from collecting sheep off the mountain to toddling round the main ring at Crufts.
What was normal in training 20 or 40 years ago is not the same today. There are folk persistently maintaining the normal of 1976, but fortunately there are enough folk with a deeper understanding of the processes that have moved normal forwards.
Training and living with collies
Walking a busy street with traffic can cause the dog to lunge out. Uncontrolled movement: joggers, bikes, other dogs doing agility will trigger the reflex to control.
Training protocols are often about supressing annoying behaviours without realising that a sheepdog can no more stop being a sheepdog than you can stop being a human and become a hamster.
She is a wild running, butterfly-working dog. Or more scientifically: a dog with a compulsive behaviours that responds very fast to arousal and movement in the environment.
Recommended reading about training
Training an Over-Aroused dog
by Jill Breitner
This article is about an Australian Shepherd, but the situation is very similar for living with a collie.
“There is a widespread notion that the ideal way to manage hyperactive dogs is to try to tire them out, with treadmills, endless games of fetch, paid dog-runners, and so forth. I tend to disagree. I think less is more when it comes to dogs like Indy.“
Strange times often give birth to new insights and understanding.
Certainly a new aspect of empathy as we experience social situations that may not be of our choice.
With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.