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Border Collie Personality Quirks

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.


Did you know?

The herding instinct which is so ingrained in collies, is ultimately just a modified version of the wolves' killing instinct. Through centuries of selective breeding, the killing instinct was toned down enough so that herding dogs would not follow through the complete predatory sequence of orienting, eyeing, stalking, chasing, grab-biting, kill-biting, and dissecting. This means that collies were selectively bred for circling and gathering without actually going in to make the kill. A collie killing sheep would have been devastating! According to Border Rescue Rescue, it's more correct to say though that the herding instinct was bred "into them" rather than "out of them".

About the Border Collie Personality

So you want a border collie, but your not sure about those border collie personality quirks many talk about? As with other dog breeds, the border collie personality stems from this breed's past history and use. Acknowledging what this breed was selectively bred for is a first step in understanding the border collie better and setting realistic expectations. So what exactly was a border collie bred for and what qualities made this breed so popular in the past?

As with other collies, borders were working dogs. To be more precise, these black and white dogs were first class herding dogs utilized in the hilly countryside across the border between Scotland and England. These hilly areas required a tad bit different herding style. Indeed, unlike other herding breeds who were asked to drive flocks of sheep away from the shepherd, borders instead were had to circle them and gather them back to the handler. Great stamina, drive and high energy were qualities that made these dogs up for the task. These dogs were far from being couch-potatoes; indeed, most likely the only time they got to rest was after a long day of work, possibly enjoying the evening with their masters in front of a crackling fire.

Because these dogs were commanded by their shepherds from a distance, they have an uncanny ability to read the owner's body language. Their ability to follow directions, whether in the form of a whistle or a hand gesture, along with this breed's natural instinct to herd, made them valuable assets in the past where shepherds depended on these dogs, because back in time, the Industrial Revolution created a great need for lamb, mutton, and wool. Nowadays, these dogs make great companions as long as their owners are capable of channeling this breed's energy and deal with their strong-willed personalities.

A border collie working with sheep

Border Collie Behavior Quirks and Personality

Border collies are often sought because they are considered very smart and they have a reputation for making good family dogs. Living with border collies though seems to lead to two popular outcomes: those who cannot live their lives without these fanatical black and white dogs, and those who are desperately seeking help because they are exasperated by their border's behaviors. Of course, there are also those in the middle who still aren't sure what to think about the whole situation! So what are these border collie behavior quirks and how can they impact the lives of those considering this breed? The following are a few border collie behavior quirks. * Note: the term quirks here is used to just describe behaviors that may appear odd to those who haven't owned this breed. Border collie owners and breeders know for a fact that many of these "quirks" are really just natural, normal behaviors.

A Fanatical Workaholic

A look into the day of a working border collie can make couch potatoes cringe. Many of these workers can still be admired today in the many farms and ranches around the world. Their endless sprinting and stop-and-go action helps them gather and control herds of stubborn sheep a task known as "fetching or gathering." When the border collie is not in action, he's most likely using his eyes to stare the sheep as he crouches as low as he can and then creeps up to them as needed. If the intimidating stare doesn't work, he'll upgrade to barking, nipping and occasionally gripping when dealing with particularly stubborn sheep.

But what happens to border collies today when they are not sent to work? Failure to provide sufficient outlets for pent-up energy and failure to meet this breed's mental stimulation needs, may lead to destructive, and even obsessive behaviors. Many exasperated owners often underestimate the exercise needs of this breed.

A Compulsive Gatherer

When a border collie is awake he gathers sheep, but what does a border collie do when he's about to fall asleep? Most likely he counts sheep as he gathers them! As much as this sounds like a joke, it's not that far from reality. This breed is so into gathering sheep, that in absence of sheep, he dreams of gathering children, joggers, birds, bikes, cars-- you name it. This can become quite problematic over time, especially when chasing is also accompanied by nipping, which as mentioned this breed resorts to in some cases. Channeling his herding instincts may prove helpful, but herding remains an ingrained instinct that can be reduced, modified or redirected, but can never be removed completely.

A Misunderstood Family Dog

The border collie breed has the potential to be a good family dog, especially in the case of specimens with a lower than average herding instinct, that are fortunate for being placed with families aware of this breed's instincts and prepared for dealing with them. The truth is, to a border collie a child running in play, is often the equivalent of a stubborn sheep. The Border Collie Rescue claims that to a border's eyes, a child is "a sheep in kids' clothing." His instincts will soon prevail and he'll do what it takes to gather the rambunctious child and attain more control of the situation. Problems start though when the child starts screaming and running more and more, which can lead to the border's means of last resort :gripping.

A Master in Anticipation

After years of being selectively bred to follow the shepherd's instructions, this breed can be shaking in anticipation when it comes to obeying commands. His great intelligence and eagerness to follow orders may seem like a great thing, but it can backfire. The problem is, that he tends to want to analyze and often anticipate every move you make, and his analytic precision may at times pose some challenges to novice trainers. You will need meticulous precision and loads of patience with these fellows. At the same you cannot show too much frustration and can't get irritated. Scolding this often sensitive breed, may cause it to shut down and give up trying.

A Streak of Shyness

It's vital to purchase a border collie puppy from a reputable breeder, who knows the breed well and has started to accustom the pup to seeing people and hearing common noises. Then, it's up to the owner to continue socializing this breed with as many people and other dogs and animals as possible. A good amount of time should be also spent in getting the puppy used to noises as these dogs can be quite noise sensitive. Shy borders may bark and be suspicious of everyone.

An Astute Escape Artist

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If you plan on getting a border collie, make sure you have a good fence. This means, tall, sturdy and with wire sunk underground to prevent a border from digging his way out of China. And prospective dog owners shouldn't rely on locks too much, this astute breed has been known for even picking at those!

An Compulsive Candidate

Many border collie owners report that their borders are somewhat obsessive to some degree. Normally, they would be obsessed about sheep or other animals they could gather, but in absence of that, they'll easily get obsessed about the Frisbee or the sport of fly-ball. Usually,though this is a "healthy obsession" and not a behavior problem. Problems start instead when borders start engaging in certain behaviors and cannot be disengaged from them. Turning in circles, chasing the tail, chasing shadows, staring at walls are a few examples. Often these behaviors are the result of a lack of mental stimulation. The bored, under-stimulated dog "invents" a behavior that is repeated over and over. The compulsive behavior soon becomes a reward and the dog engages in it more and more.

Why are So Many Border Collies Given Up?

Several dog shelters and rescues have many border collies and border collie mixes that are surrendered, why is that? The Border Collie Rescue has three explanations: 1) the border collie is given up because he lacks enough instinct and drive to herd sheep as desired. Of course, this means that some fortunate dog owner may end up with a more manageable specimen with toned down "herding instincts." 2) Sadly, a larger percentage of border collies are given up because they have bitten, and more often than not, a child is the victim. 3) The top reason border collies are given up though is because of their high energy levels. Because most dog owners today don't own a farm with sheep, many find it difficult to find the time and commitment needed to drain the needs for energy and mental stimulation of these dogs.

As seen, border collies can be a handful for those not prepared to deal with these fellows. However, there are many success stories and several people who are "stuck" and would never want to own any other breed. Overwhelmed by this breed's exercise needs, but still want one? You can contact a rescue and ask for an older specimen. Older borders may considerably mellow down. Fostering a border for a shelter may be an option that will allow you to get an idea of what to expect. The bottom line is that choosing a dog should never be a light-hearted decision. As the Border Collie Rescue puts it, goes a long way, they claim: "Many people spend far more time choosing their next car then picking the right breed and dog for them." For sure, there would be considerably less dogs in shelters if some more time and effort was spent in making informed decisions.

Alexadry©, all rights reserved, do not copy.

Dogs 101: the Border Collie

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Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 01, 2020:

My mother-in-law had a rescued border collie, and she was such a sweetheart. It was fun watching Wendy herd our dogs when we would visit her. She loved to play ball in the backyard. on October 27, 2015:

I have a border collie he is every thing wanted ina dog and more. Why does he want to lay out in the rain.?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 04, 2015:

Hello Claire, sounds like you have two smart doggies there. Is your border collie nipping at people's hands when they try to pet her?

Claire on September 04, 2015:

is my new BC/BMtn mix. smartest girl but absolutely stubborn. almost a year now - wild prey instinct is making it difficult to allow her to run off leash other than fenced property. Luckily, have acreage. have another BC/Chow mix - he's as fast/smart but the Chow calms him that he will listen/follow rules better than my little girl - gives him more freedom on hikes. Hoping my Claire follows his lead and chills a bit. right now, she is my beautiful little (50 lb) wild thing! Feel badly - have to keep her leashed while my boy runs after creatures. She's smart enough to learn the rules once she settles down. Both are fine with my cat. they wrestle together -cat is a large/good soul, luckily and I also catch them cuddled up. What I read re their nipping at people - true (she tries and is being trained out of, but her nips aren't out of aggression - I think the explanation of "shyness toward strangers" is the reason. Why I checked this site) Gotta love them. No gym membership required to stay fit too! This breed is wonderful and very loving but also very stubborn and it take an immense amount of commitment and gentle returned stubbornness to train.

lk on July 13, 2015:

I "rescued" a border collie in my subdivision. The vet estimates her age to be between 8 and 14 years of age. Although she has some dementia, she is a sweet, determined, busy dog. I walk her twice a day and play in yard 20-30 minutes a day. She "herds " our cats and our other dog, but she doesn't nip them. She uses one of the "busy" puzzle balls from Kong while we are at work to get treats. She is constantly on the move and rarely stays still. Channeling her energy is the answer to the problem of boredom.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 11, 2013:

Thanks dahoglund, you're so right when you say this breed is not for everyone. They really have potential for being great dogs though for those who have time to train them and enroll them in sports.

Mklow1 on December 11, 2013:

I really learned a lot from this article. I have a border collie lab mix that I adopted. His mother was a full blooded border collie that was purchased for breeding. His father was a full blooded lab that was a neighbor and thought it was the perfect time to visit the female next door who was in her first "season". The owners decided that since the dogs could not have papers, they decided to give them up for adoption, which is how we got Rosco.

My vet said if he could get the border's brains and the labs demeanor, then he could be the perfect dog. The first year was a challenge and there were times that I thought the vets prognosis might not come true, but once he finished his "puppy stage" he became everything we wanted in a companion and more.

I realized right off the bat that he was smart because the few things I taught him, he picked up very quickly. I only wished I was a better trainer, or could afford someone to train him because it seems like his potential is unlimited. I never thought about the body language until I read your Hub because when I am exaggerated in my commands, he responds better.

He does have a tendency to want to "herd" the children, but other than that, he is a sweetheart with the kids and is very patient. He is also suspicious of strangers, but when he gets to know someone, he remembers them as a friend even after only one meeting.

I always take into Caesar Millan's advice when dealing with the dog, which is: Give them plenty of exercise, discipline and love. And that has worked so far.

Thumbs up for a great Hub!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 11, 2013:

The Border Collie is a fantastic dog but not for every one. We haad a German shepherd/Border Collies mix at one time. I had never even heard of border collies back then. It was a great dog but because she was so smart she got bored and thought up some rather annoying tricks. We also did not have the space for her to run etc.

Very informative hub.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 24, 2013:

Great tip Solaras! I can see them wearing each other out. My in-laws instead has a border collie who would escape every chance he got, it 's also true though that he was kept outdoors most of the time and I feel he didn't get to bond much with his family. It was amazing watching him on sheep!

Barbara Fitzgerald from Georgia on November 24, 2013:

Having a pair of border collies is easier than just one. They help wear each other down. lol Mine have no interest in escaping; even when the wind blew the front door open they just went out in the front yard and milled around in the grass. They also have very little interest in the backyard unless I go out to play with them. They are very people oriented.

Great hub voted up and useful!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 18, 2013:

Thanks FluorishAnyway. These dogs really need exercise and mental stimulation and it's unfortunate several are surrendered because the owners couldn't keep up.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 15, 2013:

I learned so much from reading this hub. I'm impressed by gate unlocking and feel sorry about the repetitive behaviors due to lack of mental stimulation. It's not always easy being smart, huh? They are absolutely gorgeous dogs. Voted up +++ and pinning.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 14, 2013:

Like with the huskies these dogs can be the canine version of Houdini. They say some BC owners had dogs pick combination locks~!

Shasta Matova from USA on November 14, 2013:

I always thought I would want a smart dog, but after reading this, I know I'd rather not. Don't want one that can figure out how to unlock a gate!

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