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Those Border Collies sure are different...

30/07/2018 - Dog Training

My fascination with border collies began several years ago when I fostered 9 year old Becker. Over 8 months I worked with his reactivity issues while he taught me all about the strange characters I now know as “border collies”. Initially, I thought he was just an odd individual. I think he would have stared at the hole in the back fence for hours on end had I allowed him to. There was air-snapping at flies, ball obsession and a complete fascination with movement on the television. Then I discovered many of his idiosyncrasies were actually common border collie characteristics.
What was this strange creature I asked?
My quest to find an answer led me to the amazing Kay Laurence, a well-respected UK dog trainer who understands the border collie better than most.
This year I not only attended her yearly musings at the IMDT Conference, I also had the opportunity to participate in her border collie weekend. My intrigue is leading to obsession – am I becoming border collie?
So what I have learnt in my quest?
Border Collies need to control movement, yet many live in a world of movement they cannot control. 
They have incredible peripheral vision and, news to me, peripheral vision is wired straight to the amygdala in the brain – the area responsible for how we react to stimuli, especially how we react to danger. No wonder they can seem on edge.
Imagine what traffic looks like to a border collie. All that movement they have no way of controlling. As Kay Laurence puts it -  “traffic is just sheep that growl”. As she further explained, traffic chasing would be a displacement behaviour for a labrador but is a normal behaviour for a border collie.
Remember that border collies are designed to prevent movement and escape of sheep. They are not chasers – they just want to stop the movement. Yet we still throw that ball again and again and again. There must be a better way!
Furthermore, they are sensitive souls who are visually hyper alert. When working sheep they do not bark, they are calm. So, if they are barking, as many of our urban dogs are, they are over-aroused and we need to look how we can manage their environment to resolve that. Border collies make their best decisions when calm, so try to keep their arousal low.
So, what can we do to help them live in our world and remain calm?
Firstly, try to understand how it is for them in our fast paced urban environment and make a concerted effort to minimise their exposure to uncontrolled movement. If you don’t have to walk them on the street, then don’t. If they struggle in the car (all that uncontrollable movement whizzing past) pop a sheet over their crate.
Give them a healthy outlet with herding games they can play with you. Then we can teach them “you don’t need to herd that, we will herd this instead”. Kay teaches “sheep balls” a great game with a couple of balls. It can look quite boring to an outsider – as a good game involves little movement. Remember, the aim for a border collie is to prevent movement! It is also a great game to play with your dog as border collies are designed to work in a partnership and this is a true partner game.
Would you like to learn more? I would be happy to show you how to play sheep balls and I currently offer 30 minute private classes in fun activities relevant to your dog – herding games, scent detection or doggy gym – at Oakford. Book at https://www.thedoggylady.com.au/private-classes/
Alternatively, check out Kay Laurence at https://www.learningaboutdogs.com/ - I would highly recommend her online course all about border collies.
I will leave you with my favourite Kay Laurence quote – “Marmite is a question of taste, border collies are a question of understanding”.
(Please note, this blog is based my interpretation of Kay Laurence’s teachings and any mistakes are purely my own!)