Border Collie – what are they like to own?
Today I am interviewing myself. I was in an agility class on Saturday morning with five other people and Busy was the only Border Collie in the class. This is fairly unusual, although increasingly agility is being done by all sorts of people and dogs, as people realise just how much fun it can be!
I said to Busy “now behave, you are representing Border Collies here!” I was struck by just how much she is typical of her breed, and how different that looks compared with the Cocker Spaniels, Labrador, German Shepherd and Terrier that were in the class with us. So what exactly does make this breed different? And why would you choose it, or NOT choose it? I have had a page on Border Collie Breed Information which talks about what makes them so special since I first started this website, but I thought I would try and offer a more direct comparison with other breeds.
Intelligence – the No 1 trait
Everyone knows that Border Collies are intelligent. According to the Stanley Coren Intelligence of Dogs list they are the most intelligent breed. But what does that mean? Everyone believes that being really intelligent means:
“Border Collies are easy to train”
To some extent that is true. They have a fantastic desire to work and to please. That means they will try really hard to figure out what you want and will then do it for you. However, it also means they can easily outsmart you! If you don’t believe me, try visiting my house. If you go outside with my dogs, you will discover after about 30 seconds that you are throwing a ball! No matter who you are or what you think you wanted to do, you will be THROWING A BALL! Sunny will train you to do this instantly. This is what happens:
- Sunny finds a ball
- Sunny brings it to you
- She looks at you with pleading eyes, quite obviously saying “throw the ball”
- If you fail to pay attention to this instruction, she will pick the ball up and throw it at you, then do a bit of ‘woo wooing’ to get your attention
- You throw the ball
- You are hers! THROW THE BALL! THROW THE BALL! THROW THE BALL!
Seriously, she is relentless. I have seen her do this with toddlers who can barely walk, never mind throw a ball. She will insist that everyone, of any age, throws the ball.
Border Collies train you. They are so smart, they figure out how to get you to do what they want. Then they never let up.
Fitting into family life
I have had seven Border Collies and I personally have never owned another breed. So you could say my experience is limited, but I certainly do know about this breed. I have written about my life in dogs up until the point of getting Sunny, who is definitely my dog of a lifetime. Re-reading these posts, it seems clear to me that I never chose to have Border Collies, they were chosen for me. I never considered how well they fitted into my lifestyle, or whether there were other alternatives. This is the breed for me and no dog I have ever met has made me think differently.
Over the past 12 years, since owning Sunny, my experiences of Border Collies have changed my views of the breed and their suitability for family life. I think they are great in a family, provided they have been well bred, well raised and are well managed! Which is a challenge in itself, isn’t it?
I think if you take on this breed on purpose, after full consideration, you might just be able to cope. They are potentially fun to have, as you can certainly train them to do a myriad of different tricks, sports and activities. But that is the key – you must do something.
A Border Collie who is left to its own devices can be:
- reactive to children, other dogs, cats, cars, etc
I am so used to the tendency towards these characteristics that I don’t always recognise these things in my own dogs. Generally, I believe my dogs to be calm, well trained, well behaved and super friendly. However, they are definitely demanding and their behaviour can be ‘full on’ if I do not pay attention.
Ounce demands that I play with her at various intervals throughout the day and gets really cross and shouty if I don’t do as she wants. Aura gets really worked up over kitchen noises and when people arrive. Busy struggles to control her excitement and then cannot listen to instructions. Sunny is as I have already explained ;-). (Luna is lovely.)
I often tell people that Border Collies are the most commonly re-homed breed. I think this is not entirely true, but very often they are just too much for people.
How much exercise?
I have talked about how much exercise dogs should have in general. A Border Collie will basically have as much as you want to give it. My 79 year-old mum potters along the shoreline with hers, (Luna’s sister) and that’s fine. Mine have an hour off lead, plus training and play. Most people do way more than that. It doesn’t really matter. What is really important is that they have a routine and a consistent amount of exercise so that they are not over-exerted suddenly. Of course if they are fit, they will easily cope with the odd mountain walk on holiday.
Unlike some breeds, Border Collies are designed to go all day, every day.
A word of caution here; do not let your dog tell you how much exercise they want and DO NOT THINK YOU CAN TIRE IT OUT! That would be a big mistake. Border Collies do not tire. Sunny did the Three Peaks with my sons a few years ago. She would walk up and down a mountain for 6 or 7 hours, sit in the pub for a bit and then play frisbee with the kids in the campsites. NB: You MUST let your dog rest properly, so that they learn to be calm. If you let it, your Border Collie will just keep going. The Duracell Bunny has nothing on a Border Collie!
Border Collies are really tough, resilient dogs. They have few health issues, the most notable being epilepsy. Sadly, there is currently no test for this, so we try to prevent it through careful, responsible breeding. Other health issues, such as Collie Eye Anomaly and Hip Dysplasia are tested for prior to breeding.
Collies to have a tendency towards sensitivity with their digestion. They are not a foraging breed, not being particularly food driven, but can have issues with sickness and are inclined to be fussy eaters.
They may also be injured through a tendency to tear around, as well as taking part in more dog sports than most breeds. They are known for hiding injuries though, as they would rather just keep going.
Get a Border Collie if you like a challenge! They are not a breed for lazy people. Not just because they definitely, absolutely, categorically should be exercised, but because they demand stimulation. This can be play, or training, or tricks, or just cuddles and conversation. Anything will do, just DO IT! (throw the ball :p)
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