Border Collie Training and Puppy Training
11th December 2022
Categories: How to Train
Everyone knows that Border Collies are considered one of, if not the most intelligent, dog breeds in the world. Border Collies have a well-honed herding instinct from breeding countless generations of hardy working dogs. They can seemingly follow any command trained on them whilst being able to fend for themselves against animals much larger and more numerous than they are.
Border Collies – Champions of Dog Sport
All dog trainers should envy their razor-sharp precision in Kennel Club Obedience (even though many wouldn’t necessarily admit it depending on their chosen persona or social circles), and if you’re not astonished by their super-human/canine routines in Doggy Dancing, you’re not really a dog trainer (in my opinion).
They excel in other dog sports, too. Most agility trainers at the sharp end of the sport probably own or would like to own a top-quality Border Collie to run in the ring. Flyball and other high-intensity sports also feature their fair share of Border Collies.
German Shepherds, Malinois and other tougher herding-type breeds dominate IGP Dog Sport. However, it isn’t unheard of to see the occasional Border Collie training or competing in a dog sport that is most well-known for its protection bite work.
Scientific research (John W. Pilley & Alliston K. Reid, 2010) has demonstrated just how intelligent some Border Collies are. One super smart Border Collie named Chaser had learned an incredible 1022 words over three years. No wonder Border Collies are widely accepted as “Most Intelligent Dogs”.
So what are you waiting for:
A perfect working dog that can do pretty much anything any other dog can do
Understand in excess of 1000 nouns
Equivalent vocabulary/intelligence level of a 3-year-old human toddler.
What could possibly go wrong?
Border Collie Training – Behavioural Problems
Lots of things can go very wrong. I’ve seen many dogs from the top tier of intelligent breeds develop behavioural problems. These problems can present for pet owners and experienced owners alike, regardless of their best intentions. Problems can develop for owners who have tried everything from puppy class to dog sports to give their working breed puppy every chance to become a successfully trained adult dog.
Unfortunately, many Border Collies and other intelligent dogs are prone to being amongst the most hyperactive breeds leading them to over-enthusiastic behaviour such as car chasing, reactivity to other dogs, nervousness, aggression and problems with recall training.
Over-enthusiastic behaviour from their strong herding instinct can counter-intuitively make it challenging to train a Border Collie. To achieve even the most basic life skills, often enjoyed by many much less intelligent breeds (and dog owners), can be exacting.
Border Collie Training – Recall
One devilishly intelligent Border Collie I had the pleasure of training had learned his owners’ routines and behaviours. As soon as he detected their intention to head home from the park, he wouldn’t go anywhere near them. It was the recall from hell in the center of London with the world’s most stubborn Border Collie.
He had learned as soon as he was off-lead that he was faster than us and smarter than us. Despite his keen motivation for positive reinforcement, there was nothing more fun than tearing around his favourite parks for as long as his heart desired. He seemed to enjoy knowing he couldn’t be caught or enticed by anyone or anything; this is the dark side of intelligence in dogs.
One Man and his Dog
Experienced trainers can successfully raise Border Collies to be great dogs. They are undoubtedly a wonderful breed, ranking amongst some of the most popular family dogs in the UK.
“One Man and his Dog” was a British television staple that aired on BBC 2 for 23 years from 1976. The program attracted an audience of 8 Million viewers every week who tuned in to watch real farmers competing in Sheep Dog Trials.
I remember watching it regularly from a very young age. It was always at its best when things weren’t going to plan, but most were exceptionally well-trained working Border Collies at the top of their game.
Border Collie Training – Chasing Cars
I encountered a few Border Collies requiring basic training whilst training dog owners at our dog school in Hereford. A common theme stemming from this hyperactive breed was their propensity to chase cars.
Thousands of years of evolved animal behaviour and selective breeding have collided with the modern world. This collision turns hard-wired instincts, explicitly bred for herding sheep, into irresistible urges in the untrained border collie brain to throw itself into the path of speeding automobiles.
We used our sit-down lawn mower to safely start teaching one old dog the new trick of not constantly trying to get run over. This novel learning process worked extremely well. We successfully diverted the dog’s attention away from vehicular infatuation.
Using Vislor’s ‘Following State of Mind’ Training and some spectacularly slow laps of the training field on the mower, the Border Collie could now loose lead walk calmly near traffic.
Border Collie Training – Positive Reinforcement
To train a Border Collie, many will point to positive reinforcement techniques, good mental stimulation and consistent advanced training to achieve good behaviour.
Of all the breeds, I would say, depending on the individual dog’s characteristics, that the Border Collie probably has the best chance of success with the above training tips.
Border Collies’ have a strong tendency to fixate on the reward. Hence, you’ll almost always have the dog’s attention if they pick your chosen form of positive reinforcement to channel its over-enthusiastic behaviour.
The Spectrum of Motivation
Training your border collie is not as simple as finding what they want and exploiting that desire to achieve the heights of agility training or even basic commands.
All dogs lie on a spectrum of motivation from obsessive overachievers to couch potatoes who would rather avoid physical stimulation at all costs.
Suppose your Border Collie doesn’t have that naturally occurring strong desire to work for a reward. Perhaps they find the prospect of hurtling down a busy main road more rewarding than the gourmet sausage you can afford to line your training jacket pockets with. In that case, they will inevitably please themselves in ways you might not always agree.
Living with a Border Collie
Since October 2021, I have shared a house with my colleague, Sego, and Java, her Border Collie. Java is Collie(ish) and may have some Alpine Mountain Dog breed mixed in his family tree from the Savoie region of France, where he was bred.
He joined my two German Shepherds, a scruffy Battersea Dogs Home Mutt and a little black rescue Cat just as he turned one year old. He was swift to learn house rules, got accepted by the established pack immediately and started working in Film soon after.
He exhibits the common Collie eye anomaly, heterochromia, making him a very striking stunt dog coupled with his repertoire of advanced tricks.
In many ways, he shows the same intense desire to work for food and toys as my more familiar working breed dogs. Still, there are some striking differences in how he learns and behaves.
Border Collie Puppy Training
Training a border collie puppy can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it requires commitment and dedication. As one of the most intelligent breeds, border collies are highly trainable and eager to learn, making them an ideal choice for those looking to take on the challenge of puppy training.
The first step in training a border collie puppy is establishing trust and obedience. This involves teaching basic commands like sit, stay, come, and heel.
Establishing a positive relationship with your border collie puppy is also essential for successful training; exercise and rewards are crucial to building trust. Taking your border collie puppy for regular walks and providing treats for good behaviour will help reinforce the desired behaviours.
In addition to basic obedience training, socialisation is essential to raising a well-adjusted border collie puppy. Exposure to different environments, people, and animals can help your border collie puppy grow into a confident adult dog who feels comfortable in any situation. It’s important to begin socialising early on to reduce the chance of behavioural issues later on down the road.
Java was trained from a young age to perform an impressive variety of behaviours specifically for working in Film and TV. As a border collie puppy, he also had crate training until mastering toilet training before being allowed to sleep on Sego’s bed, where he usually prefers to reside.
He was habituated to as many different situations as possible to prepare him for his future career in front of the camera. Java has been thoroughly socialised with the local dogs, many of whom he still remains firm friends with when he visits his hometown back in France.
On top of his film behaviours, good manners and house training, he is still learning new tricks, such as IGP Obedience heel work for fun. He demonstrates all the positive traits of an exceptionally intelligent breed that has been well-trained and loved.
In the time it takes me to teach one of my highly motivated Working German Shepherd Dogs a novel trick, such as pulling a rope that is attached to a mechanism backward for a Tesco Commercial, Java will learn it twice as quickly.
In just a few sessions of IGP Obedience training, his left-about turns put many top competition dogs to shame. Even more complex behaviours that are composed of several different tasks to be performed in sequence, such as rolling himself in a blanket, took Java less than one day to learn.
Border Collies are not Always the Most Confident of Dogs
The root cause of Border Collie’s behavioural problems often stems from the breed’s tendency towards nervousness. Having peeked behind the scenes at Crufts, I’ve witnessed Collies capable of incredible agility rounds, obedience competitions or doggy dancing in the ring that are nervous wrecks in everyday life.
Experienced handlers know how to navigate around these issues but be aware that what you see on TV is a highly trained performance equivalent to an international rock star who exudes effortless confidence on stage whilst suffering from crippling anxiety in everyday life.
Breeding for Extreme Traits
The more emphasis placed on extreme drives in breeding working dogs, the more you can expect hyperactivity or reactivity in the offspring. It is surprisingly difficult to source good Border Collies to work in the film industry because they are often not steady enough to cope with the unpredictability of being on busy sets where everything is changing all the time.
Finding a Pet Home Border Collie
If you are looking for a Pet Collie without aspirations to work or compete in dog sport, then you might have a better chance of finding a steadier family dog by looking for breeders who specialise in the show ring or pet homes specifically. They will tend to be less demanding, easier to handle and more suitable for home life. Prioritize parents who present calm, stable and outgoing temperaments, especially if it is your first dog.
Border Collies are incredible dogs that excel at many things, but they do require a lot of time and training. If you’re thinking about getting a Border Collie, be sure you’re prepared to put in the work required to train them properly.
If you need help, or have any questions about Border Collie Puppy training or adult Border Collie dog training, recall training, or anything else related to your Border Collie’s behavior, we can help. Our team of experts are experienced in helping owners train their dogs and solve behavioural problems.