about the history & characteristics of Border Collies...
Collies are perhaps the best known of "farm dogs."
They come from a long tradition of working farm dogs that
date back to Roman Times and beyond.
peoples have always shared a relationship with dogs. These
dogs hunted and protected both people and farm animals.
They also herded, and at times, were used for "draft,"
pulling loads like small carts. The German Shepherd was
at one time a breed that both protected and herded the livestock.
Rhos and Tarr herding ducks on the farm
Collies trace their ancestry to these multipurpose dogs.
They were developed as a breed in the British Isles and
were given the breed name Border Collie as late as the end
of the 1800s. Today they are known as a specialist and as
the best herding breed, although other breeds, such as the
Kelpie from Australia, have their supporters.
Collies are popularly known as "sheep dogs." Although
it runs against the popular press, predators such as coyotes
and foxes, do great damage to small livestock, like poultry,
sheep and young cattle. Border Collies are not usually good
guard dogs for warding off predators, but some Border Collies
are more multi purpose than others and still do a good job
"watching for trouble."
Goose Chase NE border collies chase wild geese from
a school playing field
the breed was used to herd all sorts of livestock like poultry,
cattle, and even pigs. Today you can still find BCs working
on cattle ranches, open range poultry farms and diversified
farms. Border Collies are even used to lead sled dog teams
because their personalities allow them to cooperate closely
with their "handlers." BCs are also used as rescue
dogs. Some owners have found their high energy level and
cooperative natures makes them great agility dogs. Some
people have turned their BCs onto a sport called Flyball.
of the farm situation, BCs are well known for their ability
to compete in sheep dog trials, where they are almost without
peer. These trials are set up to judge the individual dog's
ability to herd. Small groups of sheep are herded through
a course in a field, usually through "gates" and
into a pen. In the most advanced of the 4 levels of "classes"
in these herding trials, the dogs are told to "shed"
or separate the group of sheep.
course operators, schools and owners of properties with
grass and water have found that the border collies instincts
to "move" almost any type of livestock makes them
a perfect solution to controlling the increasing problem
of over population of wild geese. Commonly called "goose
chase dogs," they will herd wild geese off a property
usually by "pushing" the wild birds till they
most breeds we find in this country, BCs are not bred for
looks or ability to be a "pet" but for their instincts
and workability. Many BCs are loving affectionate dogs but
they make bad "pets." Most people can not live
with BCs because their instincts and high energy level make
them unhappy in the common modern home.
breed has many personality types. Some are aggressive, some
are meek, some are very instictive, some BCs are a bit lazy
or do not like to work. They are bred for different working
attributes needed on the farm. For example, some BCs need
to be bolder say, on a cattle ranch, some quieter on a sheep
farm. BCs also come in different sizes, colors and hair
breeders and handlers can tell, early in a pup's life, something
of his or her personality and working instincts. Socialization
starts before 4 to 6 months of age. The pups are given plenty
of exercise and playtime. The young pups should be "introduced,"
be around, the livestock they will be working with in their
lifetime. For example, if the pup does not associate with
cows at a early age, that pup will be nervous or even scared
a young border collie starts its first lesson on how to
herd with a handler, they work with quiet sheep or even
ducks. Most people do not know, that sheep can be aggressive,
depending on circumstance, breed type of sheep, or time
pup's earliest training will work from its instincts to
"circle" the sheep or ducks and - it is up to
the handler to teach balance. This means the pup needs to
learn to "mirror" or get to the opposite side
of the group of sheep from the handler.
the pup is taught to stop, and gather itself from what is
almost always an excited disposition at this young age.
The handler will then tell the pup to bring, or fetch the
sheep to the handler.
directions are taught to the pup, again in a circular fashion.
These directions are to teach the pup to go to the left
and to go to the right. "Away" or "away to
me" is the usual command to go to the pups right, "bye"
or "go bye" is to the left.
this, the pup is taught to "drive the sheep" which
is to move the sheep away from the handler. Most handlers
will replace the verbal commands taught at an early age
with whistle commands. It takes a few months for the pup/dog
and the handler to learn these basics of herding. But it
will take longer to fine tune both the handlers' and the
Collies make a great addition to farms and lives, but it
is important to invest time in understanding and honing
their behavior, and developing one's own relationship to
their unique abilities and characteristics.