This Holidays 4 Dogs article follows in a series about different breeds of dog in the U.K.; focusing on particular traits and requirements of various breeds, especially with regard to their requirements and suitability as family pets. The article will look at the Border collie; sometimes known as the Working Sheepdog.
Origins of this remarkable dog are not clearly recorded, but it is suggested they originated in Ireland where the name ‘collie’ refers to the Celtic dialect for ‘useful’ (though personally, having owned several ‘useless sheepdogs free to good home’ this point is debateable!).
These dogs are bred to herd and many of the early Irish dogs were taken to Scotland to manage their large flocks of sheep on huge swathes of upland pasture. For centuries these dogs have been bred to work livestock and 1873 heralded the beginning of sheep dog trial competitions and more consistent breeding of successful dogs not just on the farm, but as a trials dogs. ‘Old Hemp’ was considered to be the best dog in 1893 and is often deemed as the forefather of all modern-day collies since then.
Despite modern intensive farming methods the Border collie still has a place as a herding dog where their usefulness remains invaluable on farms across, not just the U.K. but many places abroad including New Zealand and Australia. However, due to their increasing popularity as a pet dog their aptitudes have been demonstrated in other dog sports such as working trials, tracking, mountain rescue, obedience, agility, flyball, heelwork to music and Frisbee competitions!; there really is no end to the talents of a Border Collie!
This is a medium sized dog and although traditionally black and white with the characteristic white blaze down the muzzle, white ruff and white tail tip, this breed does have a wide array of different coat colour and types. Some are rough coated, others smooth and there is some variation in ear carriage with some strains having pricked ears while others do not. They are an attractive breed and not too large for the average home. However, as their history suggests, this is an energetic breed of dog and should not be the first choice for the faint hearted dog owner!
Border Collies were not registered with the Kennel Club until 1976. However, dogs were registered with International Sheepdog Society (ISDS) in 1906 and later a stud book register was formed. Dogs that cannot be registered with either the ISDS or the Kennel Club are generally referred to as Working Sheepdogs. It is very important to be aware of the distinctions of registration when considering purchasing a Border collie. My personal opinion is that ISDS or un-registered collies from true working stock will be much harder dogs with much higher drives than those bred for the show ring, simply because the objectives are not quite the same. Some breeders would no doubt beg to differ and indeed there are now working trials for owners of show bred dogs in the U.K. to showcase the fact that their dogs have retained their instincts as working dogs. I would only suggest to anyone considering this breed to visit as many different breeders as possible before making any concrete decisions and I would particularly advise the novice owner not to purchase a Border Collie (or working sheepdog) puppy from working farm parents.
Border Collies really do thrive on being active both mentally and physically and if these needs cannot be met this often results in behavioural problems that could leave the average pet owner at their wits end. Sadly, many border collies are bought as pets and with no outlet for their instincts they often quickly end up in rescue centres. There are many dedicated Border collie rescue groups in the U.K. who deal with large numbers of collies who end up in their care because the owners have not fully understood their needs. If the collie is a breed which really appeals to you, it is well worth chatting to some of these rescues who have many dogs looking for loving new families. Most dogs are fostered out to experienced homes rather kennelled. This means the dogs can be evaluated by experts who are highly familiar with the breed and their traits. In some cases, if behaviour issues are present, these dogs are re-habilitated by dedicated foster carers and set on their way to positive new behaviours before being re-homed.
Anyone who acquires a Border collie is effectively taking a working dog into their home. The herding instinct in the majority of Border collies is very strong. This instinct is in fact the instinct to kill and contrary to the idea that the herding instinct has been bred into collies, it is in fact the killing instinct which has been bred out by selective breeding; thus, the herding dog circles and stalks but is much less inclined to go in for the kill. That said, many working dogs, especially novice dogs, even on T.V. programmes such as ‘One Man and His Dog’ can still be seen rushing at sheep nipping and gripping. This is a common trait seen in pet collies and a significant reason why people decide to re-home their dog due to herding and nipping; often involving small children in the family who are apt to run around quickly. This is not to say that collies are nasty or snappy because in the right home where their instincts can be channelled appropriately they make one of the most devoted and loyal breeds of all.
As well as physical exercise, these dogs need to be stimulated mentally. Walking may not be enough and it is common to come back home from a hike with a collie only to have him shove a toy at your feet ten minutes later; goading you to play! They are the sort of dog which will jump up the minute you do, often to be found under your feet, circling and weaving as you walk around the house (collies do NOT do straight lines!). They are excellent Houdini’s and can slip through a door or gate so fast and so seemingly silently, that even when you think you’ve shut the dog behind you, you suddenly find he’s in front of you! They want to be with you every minute of the day!
Collies are extremely clever, but unfortunately this can lead some people to the misconception that they are easy dogs to train. The dogs at obedience and agility competitions such as those seen at Crufts are owned by people who have spent years working with their dogs and it takes great patience and understanding to build such a rapour with any dog, but especially so with a breed like the Border Collie. While they are indeed exceptionally good at picking up new things, they are equally apt to pick up things you don’t want them to and can become quite obsessive with certain behaviours. This can be quite frustrating for even the most experienced owner. While it may take five minutes for them to learn something, it could take several months for them to ‘un-learn’ it!
A point in case would be my own collie, Floss. Acquired as an older rescue dog she already had considerable behaviour issues of a more pressing nature. However, while running her one day with my Labrador she quickly picked up the annoying habit of hanging onto the base of his tail, so much so she made it bleed. Although this was not aggression, this neurotic habit developed partly because of her instinct to herd and partly because I had not yet taught her to retrieve (thereby channelling her pent up instincts and desire to be doing something while out walking). Collies like to have an activity when walking and some dogs, if not provided with focused interaction such as retrieve or other games, will find their own entertainment! So, I had to begin separate walks; teach Floss to retrieve and gradually run them together again. However, it took a further few months, using the clicker and positive reward methods, to completely stop her of this habit. This is, in my experience, a fairly typical scenario when owning Border Collies!
Because Collies always want to be somewhere and to be doing something, they are one of those breeds that don’t fare well in kennels. A cooped-up collie is very likely to be seen bouncing off the walls desperate for something to do. Trying to confine a Collie is a fruitless and futile exercise! This is where Holidays 4 Dogs can help as we have a wonderful network of carers across the U.K., many of whom are experienced with working breeds and specifically with Border Collies. One to one care in a lovely home environment by a dedicated Holidays 4 Dogs carer is the ideal solution for Border Collies especially! At Holidays 4 Dogs we know our breeds and will always closely match our clients to the most suitable carer for you and your dog.
Despite their exuberance, and some would say ‘nuttiness’ collies are a wonderful breed. For people prepared to interact and spend time with their collies they make the most wonderfully loyal and clever companions with good looks to boot!