I guess you’ve found this because you’re either struggling with your Border Collie or you can totally relate to the craziness that is unmistakably the Collie.
You’ll learn the reasons why Collies are so crazy, and if you want to know if they ever calm down this is something you’ll want to read.
Discover treats and toys that your Collie will love, as well as activities that’ll help take the edge off their manic behaviour. Only a little though, I mean that’s why we love them right?
When I brought home my first ever Border Collie pup, I knew they were hard work but, boy, I was not prepared for the little snapper crocadog that was Bertie as a puppy.
Rescued from a litter of working sheep dogs, I’m not sure what I expected, the ingrained stereotypical Collie behaviours were being seen from day one and I knew he was going to be a challenging pet.
Why are collies so crazy?
Who better to explain that the queen of Collies and author Tam Wilson
Why Are Collies Crazy?
“There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line” – Oscar Levant.
This quote could easily have been talking about border collie ownership. Collies are incredibly intelligent, however sometimes it can feel like they’re just hanging around the edge of insanity.
Before I became the ‘Collie Coach’, I was the collie hater. I didn’t trust them, and l figured them all for crazy, nippy, neurotic bags of floof.
While working as a veterinary care assistant for the PDSA, I saw a lot of collies and 99% of them looked like they may flip out and burn your house down at any moment. They had that nervous look about them, one that made you think something very bad could happen if you made a sudden movement.
My sister owned a collie cross in the 1980s and she would growl, snarl, snap and if pushed, would bite.
When I met my ex in 2007, he had a fluffy blue merle collie with a walleye and a tendency to put bite marks in any dog which made the mistake of straying too close to her.
These experiences were so negative, and they shaped my opinions of border collies in such a way, I swore it was a dog I’d never own.
However, I am of the mind that I can be wrong (yes, I admit it!) and when given new information and knowledge, I will change my mind on things. I feel that is a rare thing nowadays, with the internet full of people who refuse to change their mind on a subject (usually politics) despite having access to new information
I like to have my mind changed. I like to see things in new ways, and I like to be able to say, ‘this new information has given me a different insight and I now see things differently’.
That was how it was with border collies. While working in the vets, I saw 2 collies which were different to the rest. They were so sweet; they would nuzzle into me as I helped the vets and would do as you asked. They didn’t pull on the lead as I walked them back to their kennels, they didn’t frantically bark at the other dogs, and they were quite calm. This was new to me, as most of the collies we had seen were manic, stressed, and ready to nip you.
My mind opened ever so slightly.
In 2009 I wanted to add another dog to my home, so I went along to Dogs Trust to pick a new furry buddy. I saw a few dogs over the course of a couple of weeks before I spotted a little black dog in the kennel with a collie puppy. My ex fawned over the collie puppy, but I was not yet entirely won over, so we looked at the black dog.
She was down as a collie cross, 6 months old and lacking all training. However, when I walked her, she was fairly calm, walked well on the lead, sat when I asked, gave a paw and was a very sweet girl. I checked her teeth and could see she was no puppy. The yellow and plaque covered teeth told me she was probably closer to 5 years old.
Brenna, as I had named her, came home with me the following week, and settled in well. I saw no collie traits in her, but plenty spaniel ones and a tendency to run off after deer or rabbits.
In 2010 I started agility training with her. I thought that might help focus her energy and help with her general wellbeing. It was while at agility training, something awesome happened. I saw well trained collies flying around the course, listening to cues, and following their handler’s every move. I saw amazingly intelligent dogs which knew dozens of cues and would sit and gaze at their owners, waiting to be told what to do next. It was mesmerising.
Don’t get me wrong, I also saw manic collies too. I saw collies run out of the ring and refuse to be caught, I saw collies twirling manically at the end of a lead, barking, and pulling, frantically trying to chase the other dogs. I saw collies nip passing dogs, shred toys and generally just look anxious.
However, it was the well-trained collies which captured my imagination.
One border collie won me over, and his name was Moxie. He was a 2-year-old red merle, devastatingly handsome and smart to boot. His owner was Shaun, my agility trainer. Shaun and Moxie had this amazing bond and Moxie would listen to no one else. Shaun was his centre, the sun which Moxie orbited (unless I had cheese in my pocket, then I would get a nudging Moxie nose trying to tease out the treats!) and to watch them navigate a course was sublime. I was in love.
Two months after I started agility training with Brenna, I had brought home my first border collie puppy. She was named Brae, she was 11 weeks old, and she was stunning.
Brae was a pleasure to train. She just absorbed everything and was so willing to learn. She had beauty and brains and I accepted that I was a fully-fledged, collie convert. I competed in agility with both Brenna and Brae up until 2015, when a rather large pregnancy belly put a stop to racing around the agility courses. By then I had added another collie to my house, a smooth coated rescue girl called Taryn. I was fostering for a rescue in 2012 and Taryn was my second foster dog. She was from Ireland and arrived as a tiny, smelly, 12-week-old puppy who was petrified of the world. I was a failed fosterer, because Taryn had bonded so well with Brae and I couldn’t let her go.
I often get asked if Brae and Taryn are sisters as they apparently look alike, however they are two very different collies and have each taught me very different things.
What is a border collie?
I typed this into Google just to see what they threw up and Wikipedia had this to say – “The Border Collie is a working and herding dog breed. They come from the Anglo-Scottish border region and are used to herd livestock, specifically sheep. The Border Collie is considered a highly intelligent, extremely energetic, acrobatic, and athletic dog. They frequently compete with great success in sheepdog trials and a range of dog sports like dog obedience, disc dog, herding and dog agility. They are one of the most intelligent dogs of all domestic dog breeds. Border Collies continue to be employed in their traditional work of herding livestock throughout the world and are kept as pets.”
Nowhere does it mention anything about them being crazy. Nor does it tell you exactly what a collie is.
Are they just a neurotic bag of crazy? If so, why?
To figure out what’s going on in our collies, we must look at genetics, heritage and why collies exist. No dog is a clean slate, even as teeny, tiny puppies. They come hardwired with a specific set of traits, and no amount of training will make those traits disappear. Before getting a dog, you should consider what your chosen breed was bred for and whether you can handle those breed traits. It’s no good getting a Belgian Malinois if you want a calm dog to just plod along side you on afternoon rambles and it’s no good getting a collie if you don’t know how to handle their innate drive and work ethic. I have seen many novice dog owners with border collies, and they struggle so much. Being a first-time dog owner and getting a collie is like just passing your driving test and then being asked to drive an F1 car in the Grand Prix. Everything moves too fast; you feel out of control, and you may or may not soil your pants.
Collie History 101
Herding dogs are referenced in the Bible and although they probably weren't the collies we know and love today, they were probably ancestors of our modern breed. Romans are said to have brought over dogs with a strong 'eye' too, but the earliest reference we have in literature which seems to describe our collies was in 1570, a book by Dr. John Caius called 'Treatise on Englishe Dogges'
Collies were favoured by the shepherds in the border lands between Northumberland and Scotland and were bred for their work ability alone. Queen Victoria was said to have been taken with them when she visited Balmoral Castle and she elevated them to Royal Status. Dog shows were becoming popular and with Queenie loving the breed, the regular folk took to them too. However, the Shepherds who bred the dogs realised that if they started breeding for a dual purpose, the working ability of the collie would be lost. This was the birth of the Rough Collie, who was destined for the show-ring, while our border collies remained work focused.
Because these dogs were bred for working ability only, they didn't have a uniform look and come in many different colours and patterns.
Sheepdog trials date back to the 1870s and in 1906, the ISDS (International Sheepdog Society) was formed to preserve the constant improvement of the shepherds dog.
The Grandfather of all Collies
In 1893, an amazing dog was born.
That dog was Old Hemp, and he was bred and owned by Adam Telfer. He combined a work ethic with a dog more easily handled and Old Hemp was born. He had a style not seen in other sheepdogs in the era and Adam Telfer was quoted as saying "He flashed like a meteor across the sheepdog horizon. There never was such an outstanding personality"
Old Hemp went on to be premier stud dog in the border region siring over 200 puppies! He died in 1903.
As I have said above, border collies weren’t bred for uniform looks or measurements, they were bred for working all day out in the fields, both independently and as a team. They needed stamina, intelligence, sensitive hearing, restraint, and a strong eye to do their job correctly.
All breeds of dog have an exaggerated feature which can be traced back to their wilder cousins. I’m in no way saying dogs are wolves, but they do share that heritage and some things have been passed down to our domesticated buddies.
In wolves, we see a sequence occur in hunting which goes like this - ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE > GRAB-BITE > KILL-BITE > DISSECT > CONSUME. This is how wolves work. First, they locate the prey, they watch the herd to see which animal is young, old, weak or injured, they start the stalking to get the herd moving, they chase and if they are lucky, they grab the animal, kill it, open it up and eat it. A tad grizzly, but that is nature for you! Our dogs don’t have the full sequence because they don’t need it. They were more scavengers than hunters, but we do see parts of the sequence in all dogs. Every time your sweet puppy goes nuts on a squeaky toy, that is them practicing their GRAB-BITE and KILL-BITE. When you see a spaniel sniffing and flushing out birds, you see ORIENT, STALK, CHASE, but not the rest as it flows, because a hunter doesn’t want the dog to eat the prey, only return it once it’s been shot.
With collies, shepherds need the ORIENT, EYE, STALK, and CHASE, but not the grabbing or biting. In trials, a dog will lose points for biting the sheep and a collie can do a fair bit of damage if left to go into the next part of the sequence. Collies are required to show an awful lot of restraint while working, and the ones who can’t don’t make the cut as a sheep dog.
So, what happens when the working dogs of the field end up in homes where they are in the house for a large proportion of the day, with owners who are perhaps a little clueless about the dog they have gotten?
Chewing, obsessive behaviours such as shadow or light chasing, chasing cars/cyclists/small children, lead frustration, over excitement and general chaos!
Collies are awesome, I will argue with anyone who says otherwise; however, they are not a breed to be taken on lightly and unfortunately, many people just see a cute fluffy puppy and don’t think about the dog they are buying. Collies doing agility at Crufts, or doing heelwork to music on talent shows, seems to have convinced people Border Collies are easy to train and will grow into a well-balanced dog with little effort. They bring home these incredibly cute balls of fluff and they can teach them to ‘sit’ and ‘give paw’ within a week, giving them hope they can handle the rest. Then 3 months later – BAM! You have an adolescent dog, pumped full of hormones and energy and suddenly you have no idea how to handle it.
Not all collies reach that level of madness, some are calmer and more laid back, but you find those collies have been bred for temperament rather than working ability, essentially changing what a collie is. And I feel that’s kind of ok, because as border collies become more of a household pet than a working partner, they need to have slightly different genetics to be happy. However, they won’t be true border collies anymore and that also makes me a bit sad.
Adolescence is a tough time in all species, but for collies it can be either their making or their downfall. A large number of dogs end up in rescue at around 8 months old and collies are no exception. By that point they are entering the second fear phase, where they get easily spooked by things which had previously not been a bother to them. My own collie Brae developed a fear of a stationary motor scooter one day while out walking. It wasn’t moving, however when she saw it she was suddenly gripped with fear and wouldn’t walk past it. Why had she suddenly become scared of an object she had seen before? Your guess is as good as mine, but I managed to help her past that fear by looking like a lunatic gently stroking the scooter to show Brae it was safe to investigate.
Since owning collies I’ve always been out walking with them as a dog walker or training them to do agility. This has helped them to lead a life doing a ‘job’. They say if you don’t give a collie a job to do, they will go self-employed and they may choose the role of a rogue trader, destroying stuff and leaving chaos and expensive repair bills in their wake.
Who Should Own a Border Collie?
I try hard not to be a snob when it comes to collies, because I do think a collie can be for anyone, if they know what they are getting themselves in for and research the line of the dog they are getting. It’s no good buying a collie puppy from a farmer who has bred generations of dogs with a strong eye and work ethic if you are not an active person and want to leave the dog in the house all day when you do a 12-hour shift. That way lies madness and a chewed-up house. However, if you do love the outdoors and are willing to pay for dog walkers while you’re out all day, it is feasible. You also must put the work in from day one.
So many people don’t start training their dogs the essentials (recall, loose lead walking, focus on handler and good manners) until the dog is 4 or 5 months old, and that is when the hormones and madness really gets going. It’s harder to train a recall in a dog at 5 months old than it is to train it in a 12-week-old puppy. At 12 weeks dogs will naturally stay closer to you and don’t yet have the confidence the sex hormones bring, so it’s a great time to start practicing. If you keep your puppy on lead until they’re older and then try to get a recall off lead, you’ll find yourself frustrated and empty handed as your dog revels in its newfound freedom and confidence.
I think if you are active, you know what a collie is and where they have come from and you are willing to put in the time and effort, anyone can have a collie and give them the life they deserve. A farmer once told me I shouldn’t have a collie because I had my Brae on lead in a pub. They told me they belonged in a field and in a farmyard, not indoors. I disagreed and vowed to prove to him that my collie could live a happy and fulfilled life without toiling in the fields all day and sleeping in a cold kennel at night. I like to think I’ve managed it, with happy dogs lying comfortably in a soft bed in my living room, trained, content and loved.
So Why Are Collies Crazy?
Are they crazy
And at the same time, no.
They do a lot of crazy things, like chasing lights or shadows, trying to herd cars, nipping other dogs, giving the eye to unsuspecting children, digging stones out of rivers, reacting to power tools....... but a lot of the time, it stems from boredom, frustration, no enrichment, early experiences (or lack of them), lack of structure and pent up energy. Yes, genetics come into play and we cannot change that, but we are responsible for everything else. It’s up to us to train, enrich, exercise and build a bond with our dogs so they can live their best lives, with minimal craziness and madness.
They are a quirky breed with many weird foibles, but that is the best thing about them. I think if we do our part properly, we get to enjoy and love every tiny detail of collie chaos. I adore them and I hope I never have to live without them.
How do I get my border collie to settle
One of the most valuable things I have taught my Bertie is to settle. They're not all wired to be able chill in the home and when I first adopted him I knew I wanted this to be the first skill he learned. I mean, we all have busy lives and who wants to have to entertain a manic dog 24/7,not me that's for sure.
A number of people fall into the trap of over exercising their Collie. Yes they do need a lot of exercise, but give too much and they'll just want more. You'll end up turning them into athletes and you could be making a rod for your own back.
Being super smart it didn't take long for Bertie to learn how to settle. I did this by having a specific area when I wanted him to be calm and lay down on a blanket. I threw treats on his blanket repeatedly so he knew that was the place to go for something exciting.
Once he knew to go to his blanket I would wait for him to stay there longer before I rewarded him and progressed to getting him to sit and finally lay down before rewarding him. The length of time he was calm on his blanket for was slowly increased before he was rewarded, and now all I have to to is tell him to lay down and he'll happily chill.
By the age of 8 months Bertie had learned how to settle and will take himself to his blanket after his morning walk where he'd stay until a stint in the garden at lunch. He then returns to his blanket until around 4 pm when he'll tell me it's time for playtime and walkies. Don't get me wrong, he's not sleeping the whole time, but is quite content with a chew or a toy and will happily entertain himself. Pretty impressive hey?
Calming treats your collie will love
The most effective treats I have found to calm my busy collie have to be chews and bones. There's something about chewing that releases feel good endorphins in the brain which helps to calm them. I know bones are not for every dog, or owner, but anything that's chewy and long lasting will help calm your anxious or stressed collie.
There's also a variety of treats that have natural ingredients which are proved to help calm your dog. A favourite of ours are the Green & Wilds Farmer Fred's Wild Garden Herbal Bakes.
These 100% natural treats are natures calming treats and include ingredients such as dandelion, rose hip, spinach, nettle, alfalfa, chamomile and carob.
They can be found in our Oldies Club hamper. 100% of the profits are donated to Oldies Club, a charity which helps senior recue dogs find loving forever homes.
Hiding treats in toys such as Snuffle toys will slow them down and get sniffy which will help to calm them. And who better to tell us about Snuffle toys then the original creator of the Snuffle Mat Sarah-Jane from Ruffle Snuffle, and award winning writer for her Life With Pets blog. Her Snuffle balls also feature in several of our hampers including the one above.
Using Snuffle Toy Enrichment to Wear Out Busy Dogs
So your energetic pup is starting to wear you out? Then you might be looking for a way to help your dog relax. There are many ways that you can do this, but one of the most effective is through enrichment. Enrichment is an important and often overlooked part of a healthy lifestyle for dogs, and it's easy to get started! So, what do we mean by enrichment? We're talking about providing your dog with the opportunities to exhibit their natural doggy behaviours.
Enrichment is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and is one of the best ways to help your dog stay happy. Dogs are intelligent animals that need something to stimulate their minds as well as their bodies. The benefits go beyond just physical exercise; enrichment also offers mental stimulation and leads to emotional happiness.
Enrichment comes in many forms, from simply spending quality time with your dog to playing a game of fetch. There are also various types of enrichment toys and activities that you can use for mental stimulation. For example, dogs will spend hours digging through their favourite toy pile or exploring the contents of a puzzle feeder full of food treats.
Nosework (or scentwork) uses up as much energy as a long walk and is an excellent form of enrichment for high-energy dogs. Dogs are natural hunters, and nosework gives them the opportunity to work hard sniffing out food you have hidden in different locations around your house and garden.
Snuffle mats and balls are another way that you can give your dog nosework stimulation. Your dog will use their sense of smell to uncover treats or other items while they play with the toy. This helps wear out busy pups so that they'll be more relaxed at home!
I love enrichment, it creates happier dogs by engaging their minds with interactive games, puzzles, scent work etc., which counteracts anxiety and boredom behaviours such as excessive barking or chewing on furniture. It's easy, you just need some creativity from you and your dog.
About the Author
Sarah-Jane White, is an Animal Behaviour & Enrichment Expert. Helping pet parents use enrichment for a happy and fulfilling life together. Ideas that support the instinctual behaviours of your pets in safe, fun, and enriching ways every day. She run’s award winning business Ruffle Snuffle® and her UK Top 10 ‘Life With Pets’ Blog.
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