Reasons Not to Train a Border Collie to Herd Sheep

What else is there but sheep?
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Just as a fighter pilot feels the need for speed, the border collie hears the word to herd. The behavior is inbred, not taught. It can be controlled or diverted, but while the wolf-like stalking can be toned down to a manageable level, it won't go away all the way.

Sheep Deficiency

Unless you keep (or rent) sheep, your border collie doesn't need to know how to herd the silly critters. Why frustrate him by stirring up his instincts and then taking away the object of the exercise? The lack could leave him frustrated and possibly destructive -- he may eat the sofa.

Off Target

Once a border collie gets a taste of herding, it'll be difficult to get his mind on anything else. With no sheep around, he'll try to corral anything that moves, from kids to bugs. This may frighten small children -- especially if they're not yours and don't understand what the dog is doing or how to control him -- and will certainly not keep ants out of your pantry. If he insists on herding, he may find an outlet doing it with an alternate species. Canada geese, while protected, are a messy nuisance on golf courses and dangerous on an airfield, and if you and your BC can herd and harass them and are willing to do it regularly until the geese give up and relocate, the management of these and other venues may pay handsomely for the service. Border collies are ideal for this, since they have no urge to catch or bite the birds, but the birds perceive their famous "eye" (direct stare) and stealthy movements as threatening.


Herding sheep is a fast-paced, athletic sport -- erase and correct: job -- that is physically demanding for the dog. He may love it to the point of obsession, but it can make him old before his time. Like human athletes, working border collies are prone to sports-type injuries from pulled muscles to ruptured tendons to sore feet.

A Different Kind of "Job"

Redirect your border collie's extreme work ethic by involving him -- and you -- in an activity that gives him the workout he needs in addition to a mental challenge that will keep both of you sane. BCs can learn just about anything and excel at everything, so you have a wide range of possibilities to choose from. If you're into community service, see if your BC has an aptitude for search and rescue or even as a cadaver dog. For the sports-minded there's agility: jumping over and through obstacles, charging through blind tunnels, balancing on a see-saw but stopping and waiting on command; this will keep you fighting fit as well, since you run the course (but not the obstacles) right along with him. Flyball is a straight run over jumps down a lane to grab a tennis ball and bring it back. All this requires from you is starting him off, cheering him on and catching him on the fly when he gets back. He's part of a team and other dogs run alongside, which brings out his competitive side. Frisbee (aka dog disc) is a good pal-type sport, since you can do it alone -- just you and the dog and the well-known flying object -- or in competition against other odd couples. The most elegant alternative is canine freestyle: basic obedience heel work plus some circus-type tricks, all done to music and even in costume. If show biz is your bag, watch "Dancing with the Stars" and visualize doing it with your dog.

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