How To Train A Border Collie
Super smart, speedy and with an uncanny ability to seemingly sense instructions before they’ve been given – there’s something incredibly special about a well-trained Border Collie. But, if you’re new to the breed, where do you start with Border Collie training?
With alert, pricked ears, an always at-the-ready stance, distinctive white-tipped tail and eyes fixed firmly on their favourite human, the Border Collie is a responsive and intelligent dog.
Incredibly quick, both mentally and physically, Border Collies thrive on the opportunity to learn new stuff. Pet Plan advises: “Due to their intelligence and working backgrounds, Border Collies are responsive and pick up training quickly. This breed responds exceptionally well to positive reinforcement techniques, so make sure you always have training treats on hand!”
The insurer also notes: “Their chasing and herding instinct means you should spend plenty of time on recall training before letting them off the lead to keep your Border Collie safe.”
Still very much a popular working dog on farms, the name ‘Border Collie’ derives from the border regions of England, Scotland and Wales where this breed was developed to herd sheep in the hills and mountains. The Kennel Club observes that: “The natural activity and intelligence of the Border Collie means that he or she needs to be engaged to lead a fulfilled life.”
The power of positive, reward-based training
This is where positive, reward-based training comes in. Veterinary charity PDSA states: “Training is a great way to keep your dog’s mind active. It also helps you bond and understand each other. Without training, the world can be a pretty confusing place for your dog. We all expect dogs to behave in set ways and follow certain rules. Your dog needs to understand those rules before they can stick to them. It’s easier to learn when it’s fun. The kindest and most effective method is called ‘reward-based training’ – also called ‘positive reinforcement’.”
The technique works like this – by rewarding your dog when they do what you want them to, they’ll want to behave that way again. With regular repetition, your dog will eventually respond to a command without needing the reward – although it’s always nice to keep the positivity going by giving your best furry friend the occasional treat when they’ve been especially good.
Rehoming charity Dogs Trust says: “Training your dog is an important part of being a responsible owner, because it can prevent unwanted behaviour problems developing. Through training, you can make sure your dog is rewarded for good behaviours that will enable them to lead a safe and happy life.”
The charity advises: “As dogs are clever animals, they need suitable mental and physical exercise so that they don't get bored. Learning useful life skills such as recall, loose lead walking and settling are just as important. This ensures that you and your dog can spend enjoyable time together, both at home and out and about. Find out what your dog loves so you can use this to reward them after a success. Whether it’s treats, toys or lots of praise, training with rewards is the best way for your dog to learn.”
DID YOU KNOW?
When the earliest recorded sheepdog trial took place at Bala, Wales, in 1873, the crowd was astonished that the Border Collies were able to herd sheep into a small pen, guided only by hand signals and whistles from their owners!
Border Collie puppy training – vital things to know
Certified trainer Karen Pryor, who has an MSc in Clinical Animal Behaviour, says: “People often ask for Collie training tips including how often they should train their puppy. My answer is ALL THE TIME. If you don’t teach your Collie puppy, they will still be learning and the chances, are she is learning things you don’t want her to learn. When training a Collie puppy, it’s important to remember that this is a breed with unique qualities.”
“Border Collies, because of how they have been bred for so many generations, are very different from other breeds of dog.”
Border Collie expert and certified trainer Rachel Rodgers agrees, stating: “Border Collies, because of how they have been bred for so many generations, are very different from other breeds of dog. Successful Border Collie training involves working with Collies' natural behaviours rather than trying to suppress them. Once they reach about 12-18 months old, they are an absolute joy to own, but ONLY if you have the knowledge to understand them and have successfully navigated them through all the things that can go wrong. Starting your Border Collie training while your puppy is very young will help to ensure that all the right things are learned, and all the wrong things are NOT learned.”
She explains that because Border Collies have been bred to work outdoors, usually with one person, in the peace and quiet of the countryside, only meeting a handful of people, it can mean that life in a domestic setting doesn’t always come naturally to them.
What’s more, their movement-sensitive sight (to see moving sheep in the distance), sensitive hearing (to hear a shepherd’s whistles clearly), can make the sights, sounds and demands of everyday life rather challenging.
What triggers certain Border Collie behaviours such as chasing and nipping?
“All these things that made them great sheepdogs can make life away from farms and sheep very difficult for some Border Collies,” advises Rachel Rodgers. “Their movement-sensitive sight means that they are drawn to moving objects – making cars, bikes, joggers, and children a conflicting mix of desire to chase and frustration because they are not allowed to. A Border Collie's sensitive hearing means that some Collies find loud traffic absolutely terrifying, and most car-chasing Collies start off being very fearful of cars.”
Border Collie puppy biting behaviour can also become an issue – but it’s something that’s hardwired into their genes. Rachel Rodgers reveals: “If sheep refused to move or walked too slowly, Collies that were able to nip at the heels of sheep were prized and used for breeding because it made the shepherd's life easier. This nipping behaviour, once so prized on farms, becomes disastrous when dogs follow their instincts and want to move children, other dogs, joggers or cyclists.”
What Border Collie habits should you watch out for?
Karen Pryor advises that there are three key things that Border Collie owners need to remember:
- Border Collies learn much more quickly than most other breeds.
- A bored Border Collie will find things to do, usually, things that you don’t want them to do.
- The longer a dog practises a behaviour, the more likely it is to become a habit.
She notes that behaviours that can turn into issues with Border Collie puppies include:
- Barking at strangers
- Reacting in any way to vehicles (barking, lunging, lying down and freezing, stalking etc)
- Barking and lunging at other dogs
- Reacting fearfully around other dogs or people, including children
- Chasing shadows, lights, reflections
She recommends: “As soon as your Collie puppy starts to demonstrate any of these behaviours, immediately ensure that they aren’t able to practise the behaviour and, if you can’t resolve the issue yourself, get in touch with a trainer or behaviourist who can help.”
Where’s the best place to get good training advice for your Border Collie?
When it comes to training your four-legged friend, you may come across varying opinions on how to do it. Unfortunately, some of these ideas and ‘methods’ – from choke chains to dominance – are completely outdated.
The best way to get training tips and advice to help dogs feel safe and comfortable in the human world is from tried and trusted sources such as Dogs Trust, PDSA and Battersea. These charities work with all sorts of dogs and use the latest thinking and techniques so that training is a positive experience for both you and your dog.
- Members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers only use reward-based methods – visit their website to find a trainer in your area
- If you're looking for training classes for your dog or puppy – be sure to sniff out Dog's Trust Dog School
- You can also find lots of advice and training videos through Dogs Trust YouTube
- Visit the pet advice section of Battersea’s website for lots of tips and techniques
- Canine Principles runs several ‘Dog Skills for Humans’ courses and workshops
- Find out more about The Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Training Scheme
Is a Border Collie the right breed for you?
The natural activity and intelligence of the Border Collie means that he or she needs to be engaged to lead a fulfilled life and will thrive on lots of positive reward-based training, plenty of exercise as well as the right nutrition to keep them happy and healthy throughout their lives. Here are the Kennel Club’s guidelines on Border Collies:
- SIZE: Medium
- EXERCISE: More than 2 hours per day
- SIZE OF HOME: Small house
- GROOMING: More than once a week
- COAT LENGTH: Medium
- SHEDS: Yes
- LIFESPAN: Over 12 years
- TOWN OR COUNTRY: Either
- SIZE OF GARDEN: Large garden
TASTY, NUTRITIOUS RECIPES FOR YOUR BORDER COLLIE
Each and every dog deserves a first-class dinner. Burgess Pet Care is a British, family-owned company and all our dog foods are made in our own factory in the heart of Yorkshire. We use premium ingredients to ensure excellent quality and superior taste to help keep your dog happy and healthy – from puppy, to adult and senior and for active, sporting and working dogs.
All Burgess dog food is a complete food. This means, whatever variety you choose for your Border Collie, it will contain all the nutrients they need in the correct balance.
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