Learning About Border Collies

A collection of resources for people sharing their lives with collies and working sheepdogs


Short course

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.

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.

The life of my Time

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.

Normal is always changing

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.

Learning and living with collies

The Wrong Sheep

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.

Confused by Collies?

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.

dogs behaving like dogs

Zip Early Learning

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 

Why predatory behaviour is not a drive

By Thomas Riepe

– Translated by Simone Mueller and Charlotte Garner

“…. there is no such thing as ‘prey drive.’ Predatory behaviour is not triggered solely from within the dog. While it is a natural behaviour for dogs, they will only show this behaviour after being exposed to an external stimulus. So, a dog will not show predatory behaviour unless they have been triggered to do so by something externally (moving prey, etc)”

This is SUCH an important distinction when the “D” word is thrown around so casually.

“In many dogs, however, the stimulus thresholds that trigger this predatory behaviour have been greatly lowered by breeding. This means that the dogs then react faster to external stimuli, meaning they display predatory behaviour faster and more frequently.”

Essentially we can also add the b***ocks to term “high-drive” dogs as well. The mis-use of labels about behaviour or dogs only leads to spread misunderstanding.

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.

Highly recommended.

Welcome to Sheepballs

An activity where collies teach people more than we teach collies.
Control without conflict: arousal without stress: learning to go with the grain not against it.

Isolation hell or solitude heaven?

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.

A Cue or not a cue?

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.

For individual tuition and coaching with  Sheepballs activities or for specialised help and support with your collie. 



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

News on courses, articles and stuff you don't want to miss.