Border Collies “smart” partners
To say that Border Collies are the smartest dogs in the world, doesn’t really do them justice. I have found them to be the most valuable companion, as well as employee and friend, I could have hoped for. They are smart in the head, and also extremely sensitive to all the “other” messages we impart,with body language, eye contact, and attitude, and so they have also become my teachers. Jon Katz probably said it best: “If you want to have a better dog, you have to be a better person.”
These dogs are from working stock, champion trial lines, as well for agility, and some have become service dogs. Both parents work on the farm, and they are also incredibly “smart” partners in my life. It is commonly suggested that they “need a job,” but my take on this is that they need a routine, and they need to feel successful.
In this regard, they are more human than dog, and can offer you the wisdom of reflection on; what are the messages you as a handler/companion/friend/keeper may impart. They are gentle reminders of the importance of being consistent and forgiving, as they endeavor to do the same. They want to know what TO do, rather than rushing around in their heads to negotiate negative reinforcement. If they are chewing the wrong thing, they are relaying their need to chew, so give them something they CAN chew.
Busy and active in their minds and bodies, they also need downtime, to process. They are canines, and love their “den.” Having a crate for meals and a place to call their own, even if it is an imaginary space, provides a space to be at rest and at ease.
Some BC’s are bred for pet quality, and may not have the same level of instinct to learn as fast or respond as empathically to their handler, allowing the mischief in their heads to rule the day. These guys did not get to the top by being tuned out to their person.
They want to be connected with, and respond in kind: lots of eye contact, listen to them so they are validated and they will definitely do the same. If you are angry in your message, they will live in fear.
As newborns, I leave them with their mother for sole life support and give her all the time, attention, and fresh meat she needs to make as much good milk as she can for the defenseless hairballs.
When their eyes open, I handle them everyday. They each get cuddled, get to know the gentle touch of humans, and the smell of trust. When they start to wiggle enough to move around, they go for routine romps as a pack, slowly transferring their attention from dog mother to me, and learning to respond to whistle call and positive reinforcement for achieving simple milestones like making deposits in the tall grass and coming when called.
They get their needs met, have bones or rawhides to chew, and are quite happy to return to the kennel or safety of a fenced yard. If possible and as they find new homes, I keep as many together in the pack, to learn from each other, the difference of playing rough house, and the discomfort of being bitten on the ears or tackled too hard by a sibling.
This is reinforced by me as I expect them to come to a sit, bite only things that are to be chewed (not me!), nor jump all over my body, unless invited. This is simple programming that leads to whatever next set of expectations are in store for this dog’s successful life. If one is shy, and wants to hide, I work with it till it has confidence.
If one is exploring and about to hit an electric fence, I am always there, watching. They all hear “No,” and the yelp of a sibling, who is comforted till ready to resume pack time. They all join in the comforting and curiosity of the new learning, and seem to learn by osmosis, it’s okay to hit the fence by mistake, you may not want to do it again, and you will return to the comfort zone.
I give the pups names only so they have consistency, and call the whole litter by “pups.” I give them names for convenience, and these are not necessarily going to be their papered name. This is for you to choose.