Saturday, January 24, 2015

Breaking The Herding Instinct

Breaking the herding instinct of your Border Collie.

I will start by saying anything stated here is based on my experience with my own dog, Ali. For the record she is a purebred Border Collie from a line of working dogs.

Understanding the herding behavior.

Herding behavior is a trait in dogs that has been bred into them over centuries by man. The natural predatory instincts have been bred out while still maintaining their instinct to herd their quarry. This produces a very effective helper. I won't go into detail on this behavior, if you want to know more you can read up on it here.

Understanding that this is a natural instinct they are born with is the first step in managing it.

How do I know if my Border Collie is herding?

The behavior is not easy to miss. Does your dog circle around other animals or people, moving in and nipping at them? This is herding.

This can be cute when you see them playfully keeping other dogs where they want them. Not so cute if it is a group of children or guests at your home. If left unchecked it can quickly lead to problems.

Make no mistake this is what a Border Collie was born to do. Once they are in the zone their focus is intense and difficult to break.

Do I want to break my dog of this habit?

Yes. Unless your dog is meant for working. In that case you will want to encourage further training to refine this behavior. If you live on a farm or acreage but do not plan to work your dog you will not want this behavior. They will at some point exercise their skills and it can lead to injuries to the dog or your other animals. No one wants their cattle unintentionally herded through a fence.

How to I break this behavior?

I have read many articles on this. I have mixed opinions on what I have read. Based on my experience with Ali I will agree that the instinct is just that, an instinct. Therefore I do not believe it can ever be fully broken. Remember this has been bred into their line for centuries.

Herding Instinct - Focused Border Collie
Border Collie Focus

What can you do then? The one thing greater than their desire to herd is to work. Herding after all is a job they were bred to do. If your dog is herding it is likely bored. A Border Collie does not do well with idle time. What you can do then is give them a job to do. Anything that they can focus that desire to work on.

Transfer the need to herd to something else.

Giving your dog a job is not as difficult as it sounds. Anything that they will give that intense focus to will work. If you own a Border Collie you know the focused look I am talking about.

Many people use these dogs as agility dogs. This works great as it satisfies their need for mental stimulation, their desire to learn and gives them a job.

For Ali it was easy to transfer that herding desire to fetching. Fetching is her job. Watching her fetch you can tell she is not like other dogs. She is focused and in the zone, she is not playing, she is working. If I want her immediate attention all I have to do is pick up anything that could be thrown. Actually, she is so used to me bringing a ball on our walks that I just have to put my hand into my pocket and she is instantly in the working zone, eyes glued to my hand.

Herding dog, border collie, fetching
Working, not playing.

The flip side of this is that it is the one thing that can break her attention from me when we are out just walking. Seeing anyone with a ball, boomerang or something similar and she is ready to go to work.

My final thoughts.

Finding a way to redirect your dog's focus is not hard to accomplish. Each dog will be a little different of course. It is simply a matter of finding what your dog likes. Generally anything that stimulates their mind is a good place to start. Fetching, agility training or basic trick training are all good things to try. Even their basic training can be utilized, I have taught Ali her basic commands in English, German and with just hand signals. These dogs have no shortage on the willingness to learn.

Be sure to check out A Border Collie & You.

© Irwin McNeely | BorderCollieAli & Border Collie Corner, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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