The Border Collie - A New and Refreshing Look
Why Choose a Border Collie?
While the origins of the Border Collie are lost to antiquity we can make some historical links that are fascinating - since Biblical times small human outposts, surrounded by hostile countryside, were in need of protection. A clan's wealth was measured by how many flocks of goats, sheep, and cattle were kept and more importantly - protected. There was an overwhelming need to develop a reliable dog to drive and protect these flocks. Modern sheepdogs are known for their tenaciousness, intelligence, and trainability. As the AKC notes, 'Rather than savage a flock as a wild dog would, sheepdogs willingly protect it. And it is this active ability of the dog to serve and respond to a master's bidding which clearly demarcates the various sheepdog breeds'.
The Romans had been tending sheep for millennia and it was their conquest of the British Isles, beginning in BCE43 and Emperor Claudius, which proceeded the introduction of the herding canines. The Celtic clans took note and created their own varieties of sheepdogs which became associated with their regions and were later known as Welsh and Northern Sheepdogs, Highland and Scotch Collies, and so on. We have clues that they originated in the border region between England and Scotland with the Scottish dialect word 'collie' used to describe these dogs. The Border Collie has also been celebrated in artwork with a lithograph titled 'Sheep Dogs' published in 1880 receiving general acclaim and showing the breed on a bucolic grassy hill with its' head raised in a noble posture.
As we can see from the Border Collies' history - it was meant to be a herding dog and subsequently has a high level of energy which needs to be satisfied. Due to their herding instinct they will try to herd small children with a gentle nip - it is important that your pup is socialized and trained early on to keep this instinct where it belongs. I interviewed Trish Boswell of G Force Border Collies located near Alexandria, Louisiana about this trait, 'Border Collies are good with kids as a whole but they are a herding breed and may try to herd children. Being a mother of four kids, I have never had a Border Collie who didn't get along great with children - if your Border Collie tries to herd your kids you need to redirect and not allow this instinct to happen. If you happen to get an older dog it may be harder to stop her from wanting to herd your children.'
The Border Collies' need for a 'job to do' is very important or she will become anxious and nervous. Trish employs a physical regimen for her puppies and adult dogs, 'Border Collies require a lot of physical and mental stimulation. Border Collies are the athlete of dogs so be ready for a lot of walks, lots of playing ball and lots of fun! '
The breed is excellent for owners who have acreage where they can run, animals that they can guard and property that they can watch and keep safe.
Trish knows this trait well, ' I am in love with the breeds ability to be versatile. The Border Collie can go from laying around the house and chilling on the couch to putting up livestock that get out of a pen. Border Collies are great for people who like to be outside and enjoy fast paced activities.'
The Border Collie is a high energy dog that will not respond well to being separated from its owner or confined to a small space for long. I asked Trish what was the number one need of the breed and what should an owner expect to give in a partnership with the dog, 'You can expect to give a lot of time to the Border Collie. Border Collies love to be with their people no matter what you are doing and are happy to hang right along with you and give it a try.'
It is important that your pup is trained at an early age as the breed is known for bouts of mischievous behavior which can include chewing, clawing and digging.
As with any socialization programs repetition and trust is key. From all her years of experience Trish has many interesting and fun stories, the three that fascinated me were these, 'I was trying to teach another breed of dog how to alert to the phone and one of my Border Collies was being a "know it all" and wanted to get the phone every time I made it ring. I made my Border Collie go lay in his crate and leave me alone while I tried to get this other dog to alert to the phone. After about 15 minutes the session was over with the mix breed dog and I let her outside to go have a play. I let my dog out of his crate and went into the kitchen to get something for one of my kids. I heard my toilet flush once and then the handle rattle again with a half flush. Being a mom I thought my son was up to something - rushing over to the bathroom I find my Border Collie sitting next to the toilet - inside the toilet was the phone.!' Trish continues, ' The same dog learned to turn off and on the lights and he loved to turn them on just for fun. It was fun in theory until you are half asleep and your dog flips on the light and wakes you up just because. Lesson learned, if you don't want something done over and over don't teach it to a Border Collie.'
Trish wasn't done yet and continues, 'I also have a very old boy here who loved to sneeze on command. Sneezing is a great trick other than when company is over and your dog walks up to them and sneezes right on them!'
Traits and grooming of your Border Collie
Border Collies are a medium sized breed whose proportions are the same tall as long. They have a double coat - an undercoat and topcoat which is either smooth or coarse. While we are on the topic of her coat we want to keep it in good condition. This is done by weekly grooming which will also help to keep any shedding under control. Bathing is not on a schedule but only necessary if they become dirty.
Border Collies come in a variety of colors such as black, blue, red, and lilac all of which can be with white or tri markings, gold color which has no other color besides white markings, various types of sable or saddle patters, merle pattern, and brindle. Gold is technically a masking color hiding the dogs base color, markings and/or patterns.
Nails are usually not an issue with the Border Collies since they are so active. Check her nails when you groom her and if they need attention have your dogs nails trimmed or ground at home or at the vet to keep the cuticles short.
Quirks and Health Issues of the Breed
You can expect to enjoy the company of your Border Collie for 12 years but they can live for up to 14 years with the proper nutrition. The owners of G Force Border Collies are well aware of the inherent health issues of the breed, 'Border Collie's are prone to Hip Dysplasia and breeding parents should be OFA'd (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) or Pennhip scored here in the USA. At this time we have DNA testing for CEA/CH (Collie Eye Anomaly),CL (Ceroid Lipofuscinosis) and TNS (Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome) for Border Collies. DNA testing is a tool that ALL breeders should be using to insure none of their puppies will be affected with these diseases. Seizures are another disease in Border Collies. At this time we have no test for seizures but breeders should avoid bloodlines with known epilepsy.' Border Collies can also often be allergic to fleas which can be controlled through diligence and preventive collars and sprays.
Finding the Right Breeder
A good breeder will breed their dogs in order to minimize the health risks mentioned earlier.
Ask questions as to how the pups were socialized, what are the behavior characteristics of the parents, what size are the parents, vaccinations, worming, guarantees, are the most important. Trish Boswell, who has been breeding Border Collies for over 16 years, has some good advice, 'When looking for a breeder you need to find a person who is experienced with the breed and does all health testing possible. Border Collie breeders should be experienced in all aspects of the breed, everything from temperament testing, health testing, genetic information, pedigrees, know about structure, and what to look for in breeding dogs. A breeder should have the time to devote to raising puppies and time to talk to all potential buyers and educate them on the breed.'
How to House Train
I always like to start my pups from a crate. The crate is their 'safe place' where she can retreat and be left to herself. Shortly after weaning, your collie will whine every few hours - it will remind you of your newborn! Take them out to relieve themselves, cuddle for a few minutes and place them back in their crate. A ticking clock and a warm blanket will help calm your puppy. As we mentioned before the breed is active! Start their house training by placing newspaper in a large area of the room that their crate is in. When your puppy relieves itself on the paper praise and cuddle her. Over days and weeks make the paper area smaller and smaller with the last step taking the last sheet of paper outside. Did I forget to mention that collies' are extremely intelligent? They will get the connection of 'going' outside - praise her and give her a treat.
What to Feed
As we have learned the Border Collie is an extremely energetic dog. Therefore, they require a greater amount of carbohydrates and proteins which the body uses to produce energy. A good dry/soft mixture is a good choice - some owners cook and blend their own mixtures (time permitting!). Your vet can offer advice on the right combination of vitamins, minerals and carbs to keep your dog healthy.
Your border collie will also enjoy an apple or carrot and are a great healthy choice!
What if you Want to Show?
In the 1860 Birmingham Dog Show - classes for "Scotch Sheep Dogs" were first exhibited in England. On a trip to the Balmoral Castle Kennels Queen Victoria saw and became a great enthusiast for the breed. It is at this point that the modern Collie and the original shepherd's dog began with today's Border Collie remaining the true working animal with very little change from the Celtic original.
This breed is also the world champion at Frisbee chasing as can be witnessed from the many spectacular exhibitions at halftime shows around the country. I asked Trish what traits in a Border Collie puppy should potential owners look for in a pet only or if they wish to show, 'Both - a puppy should be outgoing, playful, socialized, desensitized, have a good start as far as training and rearing is important no matter what you are going to do with your dog. If you want a show dog you should find a breeder with structure evaluation experience to help you pick the right puppy. '
For the discerning owner, the Border Collie can be a great companion, albeit one that needs a lot of exercise and a job to do. If you have the patience and the property (and like to hike!)this is a great dog for you.