Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mighty Dog -- Part Two

Mighty Dog--meaning a Border Collie that can do amazing things on a daily basis--doesn't just happen accidentally. It takes work over years to bring out the best in a Border Collie.

Their natural instincts play a huge role in their varying abilities.  The two pups we are currently "developing" have most of the natural abilities of a Border Collie.  They are not, however, of the quality that we have had in the past when we purchased a puppy from "working parents."  These two pups are smart, granted...but they are not as farm-savvy as dogs we've owned that originated from a farm situation. Or maybe I'm just picky.  My recommendation if you are looking to buy a Border Collie puppy: don't worry  about its being "registered."  Worry instead about it's potential for working, and take the time to go see the parents work.  Finally, don't purchase a puppy from a pet shop.

Have you ever heard the saying, "They've bred the brains out of the dogs"?  When kennel clubs get hold of a breed, they often focus on "conformation" and "color" and all the exterior attributes that don't matter.  Thankfully, the Border Collie has been kept largely free of those types of judgments and evaluations, using trials to highlight working prowess.  But trials, too, are very different environments, and a trial dog doesn't equal a farm dog.  The American-International Border Collie Registry has always been my contact of choice for finding good Border Collie puppies from working parents that have the potential to do well on a farm.  I am sure there are others.  Googling will help here.

Working with a puppy during the first year of its life is more or less the same as working with any puppy.  Basic obedience training if the first platform.  The major difference is in the way you play.  Border Collie puppies are quick to learn, so the play should be consistent with what they will eventually be doing:  retrieving stock, not grabbing it (no tug-o-wars, please) sitting and staying put with butts on the ground when commanded, and over the course of a year, learning to jump up with feet pointed AWAY from the master; jumping down (from a trailer) on command only; going back (for more stock, eventually) and of course, coming when called, even when the voice tone of the master is stern!  Our dogs learn roughly 40 different commands to do different things.  During this time, too, the pup is learning about us.  They learn our expectations and they become manageable.

Voice tone and pack language plays a huge role in their learning processs. Body language from the master is also important.  Think of how the memhers of a wolfpack teach their young, and follow similar behavior yourself.  You're the Alpha-wolf.  It is a Border Collie's nature to please.  So, when they don't (providing they're somewhat tuned in to your commands), it takes very little, as they get older,  to call their attention to a mistake.

Once the pup has some basic obedience (that doesn't curb its desire to work) at about nine months to a year, the pup will show signs of wanting to work stock of one kind or another.  and then the fun really starts.  Making the transition from pupphood to stock work is a big leap.  I have used several different books to help me with methodology. 

Border Collies are known as "heading" dogs which means they primarily go to the front (heads) of a group of animals and get the animals' attention so they will then turn and move way from the dog.  Border Collies also have what is known as "eye."  They "stare down" the object of their pursuit and overpower the herd leader(s) with their eye.  For more power, they add what I call the Border Collie creep--low to the ground, creeping forward, one foot at a time until the cow or the sheep or the chicken gives over and does what the BC wants, which is to move.

Teaching to dog to go left or go right on command is accomplished in many ways.  I use a bottle on a string tied to a stick.  Since BC's LOVE to play, it's easy to attach a command to the chase.  Putting a small rock in the bottle for a little noise adds some intrigue for the pup.

Finally Border Collies are just plain FUN!  They have a sense of humor and they laugh.  See the picture of my all-time favorite Border Collie, Nellie, (who is no longer with us)?  She was always in the mood for fun and a day never went by that she didn't have some game in mind.  She was a faulous working dog and a wonderful friend.  She and Jessie were half-sisters.

So there you have it.  If you want a Mighty Dog, you'll have to invest the time and the effort.  It takes about three years for a Border Collie to mature.  There are no shortcuts.  Finally, don't waste those hours by just turning your Border Collie loose on the world.  Give it a home of its own, with a house and a fenced-in yard.  Take the dog with you as you go about your day on the farm, but when you aren't needing the dog, put the dog in its castle.  That way, you can be sure the dog isn't rounding up the neighbors' livestock and you won't lose your beautiful dog to a bullet or a car.  Good stock dog managment is key to the dog's longevity.

It's officially spring! The snowdrops are in bloom, and I have never anticipated their grand opening as much as I have this year.  I took this photo yesterday and most interesting, I believe my image is the only one of about 15 that I took, that doesn't have a cluster of honeybees on it, but there were, perhaps, 30 bees--real bees--hovering over the tiny patch.   Maybe they'll help us this year in pollinating our garden.  See you tomorrow!  Have a wonderful afteroon!


  1. From one dog lover to another -- two great posts -- barbara

  2. Oy! I need your help with Pedro, my 1 year old Jackahuahua. Need to train him not to chase! Thanks for another great entry.