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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Battersea Observations

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A study of the effects of kennel frustration on Border Collies entering Battersea Dogs Home between November 1998 and February 2000

By BCR member Alison Taylor.

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Alison works at The Dogs Home Battersea as Deputy Head Behaviorist and Homing Officer. She has always had a particular interest in the Border Collie and joined Border Collie Rescue as a volunteer 'Active' member in 1998.

Working with BCR's National Co-ordinator, Nicki Oliver and applying general BCR principals wherever she could within the confines of the kennel environment at The Dogs Home, Alison is working to better the lot of the Border Collies that come into the centre. 

Rather than keep Border Collies in London, Alison seeks to move them to the Brands Hatch or Bellmead kennels which are more rural and subject the dogs to less background stimulation and distraction. Wherever possible Alison uses foster homes and has some dogs fostered on selected farms. She has introduced the BCR basic sheepdog assessment and applies it to as many of the dogs as possible.

When seeking homes for the dogs, Alison prefers rural locations and will home BC's, when applicable, into stock working environments.

Border Collie Observations - by Alison Taylor.
This observation took place at Battersea Dogs home from November 1998 to February 2000. there are anything from 350 -600 plus dogs at any one time. Such a large number of dogs and large level of noise ultimately leads to frustrated kennel behaviour developing. This is also visible in other kennels to varying degrees including our country annexes.
Environment also plays a big part in this issue with Battersea having limited land and very limited space due to being based in London.
Kennel design has also contributed to developing behaviours within the home. However, it has always been our aim to care for the dogs to the best of our ability under the pressure of the huge numbers Battersea sees every year. Numbers in excess of 10,000 are not uncommon.
There are a number of breed types that have difficulties in coping with such environments with the Border Collie being more predictable than most in its inability to cope here.

There was a random selection of 150 Border Collies. The dogs chosen were as follows -

Age Group Female Male
Under 1 year 17 17
Between 1-3 years 9 19
Over 3 years 6 7
Total 32 43
All of the 75 dogs above were Gifts to the Home where the owners have brought the dogs in and we were able to obtain previous history.
Of the others, 53 were strays -
Age Group Female Male
Under 1 year 13 14
Between 1-3 years 3 8
Over 3 years 3 12
Total 19 34
Also there were 22 collies that could not be continued in the observation and had to be put to sleep.
Reason PTS Gifts to Home Stray
Aggression shown 6 1
Medical reasons 2 3
Re-directed behaviour as a result of being in kennels 5 1
Extreme kennel crazy behaviour 4 0
Total 17 5
Aggression - The collies that were put to sleep due to aggression shown were all of a nervous disposition and had become liabilities within the environment, socialising was not continued due to their unpredictable behaviours.
Medical - The Collies that were put to sleep due to medical related problems, varied from poor hips (due to age), cancer, blindness (relating to age) and it was considered a kinder option to put them to sleep.
Re-directed Aggression - Re-directed aggression happens when the dog cannot reach the source of its frustration and will re-direct the behaviour onto the nearest target. Within kennels this was more likely to be seen on other dogs or staff. This was also the reason why some owners were having to give their dog up for adoption, as re-directed behaviour on the lead produced frustration. In total, I saw 20 collies displaying this more severe behaviour. 14 of these collies in this observation reduced this behaviour once taken out of the London environment - 7 went on to work sheep successfully, 4 went to farm homes, 1 went to a dog trainer, 2 went on to do working trials.
Kennel Crazy Behaviour - This behaviour begins as frustration but becomes so addictive and habit forming that the dogs are unable to snap out of the behaviour and the behaviour is unable to be interrupted. These dogs could continue this circling kennel behaviour to the point of exhaustion. (Hopefully, within Battersea, this extreme behaviour will be a thing of the past)
The most common age group of a Border Collie coming into Battersea as a stray or gift was under 1 year and this is still the case today.
From the 75 gifts to the home we were able to get the reasons why they came in.
Reason why dog was gifted to the Home Number of Dogs
Nipped / bitten children causing injury 15
Snapped at owners or visitors 7
Destructive in the home 8
Owners worked long hours 18
Aggression towards other dogs 5
Not house trained 3
Barked when left alone 3
Bitten adult needing hospital treatment 1
Owner couldn't cope 5
Owner moving house 6
Owner could not afford the dog 1
Owners were allergic to the dog 4
Total 75
64 of the gifts were brought in from urban areas (this includes the dogs that were put to sleep)
43 of these dogs were reported to be afraid of or had obsession with cars.
24 of these were involved in road traffic accidents.
9 were hit by cars.
32 were said to have chased cars.
11 were said to be nervous of traffic (but have chased in their new home).
It was a shock to see how many of these urban collies had chosen to re-direct instinctive behaviour onto traffic, although thinking about it, it shouldn't have been as the breed was being denied the working stimulus. The car chasing aspect is interesting and will be studied further.
28 gifts were from rural areas. Of these there was no report of car chasing, however there were reports of alternative chasing.
9 chased birds and small animals.
3 chased sheep.
1 chased a tractor.
All the stray Border Collies in this observation were collected from Police Stations within the M25.
Out of the 75 Border Collies that were gifted into the home by their owners, these are the sources from where they were originally purchased. (including the ones that were put to sleep).
Origins of the Dogs Numbers of Dogs
Breeders 34
Pet shops 16 (5 were traced to the same pet shop)
Friends Litters 12
Rescue Centres 9
Farms 3
Puppy Farms (Direct) 4
Found 3
Adverts in Loot (local free ads paper) 4
Not Answered 7
Total 92
The average stay of a Border Collie at the Dogs Home Battersea was as follows -
Average length of stay Numbers of Dogs
Under 10 days 55
1 month 30
2 months 26
3 months 8
4 months 3
5 months 1
6 months 2
9 months 1
Over 1 year 2
Total 128
The longest stay at Battersea was 18 months. This was a female 1-3 yrs. old.
It was noticed very quickly that Border Collies in kennel environments became very frustrated and a considerable amount had weight loss.
Of the 128 dogs, 41 lost weight. 87 maintained their weight or gained weight, however in the majority of cases some frustrated behaviour was noticed.
Listed below are the dogs that showed high levels of frustration and this was noticed within the first week of being at Battersea. What these dogs had in common was that they all lost the first Kg within five days of being at the Home.
Obviously, kennel cough contributed to weight loss within the home (IF POORLY), but with these collies the weight loss was more drastically noticed when considered well. Out of the 87 Border Collies that maintained weight, a small amount of weight may have been lost during kennel cough and then put back on.
Weight Loss -

Number of dogs loosing 1kg in weight during their stay at Battersea

4 dogs            
3 dogs          
2 dogs        
1 dog      
Stay 8 days 2 weeks 2.5 weeks 1.5 months 2 months 6 months

Dogs losing 2kg in weight during their stay at Battersea.

3 dogs                
2 dogs            
1 dog      
Stay 8 days 2 weeks 19 days 1 month 5 weeks 1.5 months 2 months 9 months

Dogs losing 3kg in weight during their stay at Battersea.

1 dog          
Stay 9 days 19 days 1 month 1.5 months 3 months

Dogs losing 4kg in weight during their stay at Battersea.

1 dog    
Stay 1 month 7 weeks

Dogs losing 5kg in weight during their stay at Battersea.

2 dogs        
1 dog      
Stay 1 month 2 months 3 months 4 months

1 Dog lost 8kg in weight after having been kennelled for 1 year.

1 Dog lost 9kg in weight after having been kennelled for 2.5 months.

39 Border Collies gained weight, although 15 of them avoided staying in kennels during the day. The other dogs were situated in quieter areas of the home. 10 were puppies that gained weight with size.
These dogs went on to a mixture of homes - Urban, Rural and Working. With the exception of 6, no problems were mentioned - any chase appeared to be controlled with toys and sound phobias were never mentioned. None of the Border Collie puppies went on to urban homes.
Of the 6 Border Collies that had reports of problems, 4 had dominance issues and as a result 1 was put to sleep. 1 became obsessed with tail chasing and was returned - this dog went on to a farm to see if we could eliminate the behaviour by working him - the tail chasing soon reduced. 1 had started snapping but the behaviour was corrected with time and advice.
It was obvious that noise played a major factor in the increase of frustration along with movement outside the kennel, however with any movement - such as dogs or people going past the kennels - came the increase of dogs barking for whatever excitable reason. This excitable behaviour was also noticed at feeding or exercise times (what we had now created in the environment was classical conditioning).


The best way to describe this effect -
Have you ever watched a horror movie with the sound turned off ? It just doesn't have the same effect of being scary and the story line is hard to follow. You can, however, watch a football match without the sound and get excited, as you tend to be focusing on one particular thing throughout (the ball). But, by watching the game with the volume up you will increase the need to join in and so display a higher degree of excitability.


By decreasing the level of noise you will see a noticeable change, however you need to adjust daily routines in order for it to have any type of effect.
One such effect that helps is music - soft, calm music and not your discotheque type. Music selected was - 1) Whale song. 2) Sea and Ocean sound effects. 3) Pan Pipes. 4) Light Classical. 5) Selective talk stations.
In order to achieve optimum effect, the music was played at random times throughout the day. The type of music was also selected at random from the list to avoid desensitisation. Daily routines were made unpredictable ( classical conditioning ) as the dogs were picking up on cues such as feeding times, exercise times, Etc.
Therefore feeding times were made at random throughout the day and done as creatively as possible e.g. Scatter feeding, Kong, Activity balls, Feeding during training and occasionally from the bowl.
Physical stimulation was decreased as it was found to lead to higher levels of frustration if not done in conjunction with mental stimulation. A combination of mental stimulation and occasional physical stimulation was found to be more effective at calming down the dogs. This was coupled with a random approach to their daily routine.
To increase public involvement and to improve the dogs re-homability, tennis balls were placed in between the bars of the kennels along with a bag of treats on the outside of the kennel. As members of the public approached the kennels a poster informed them to ask the collies to sit. If the dog responded it was to be verbally rewarded. If it sat without barking the tennis ball was pushed into the kennel. If the collie didn't respond the public were informed to ignore the dog and walk away.
Change of diet was investigated briefly.

No major effect was found by altering the diet at Battersea, however at our other sites a small effect in the change of the dogs behaviour was noticed when their diet was altered. It appears that at the Dogs Home the other influencing factors - such as dog numbers and sound levels were outweighing the influence of the diet.

Remedies were also used to varying degrees of effect. None were found to exert major influences apart from one and this was only in a few isolated cases.
One major success was the introduction of the 'chill out' room. This comprised of a room that was furnished and had soothing music and low level lighting. A booklet of tests that had successful results is in the process of being developed.


Some Definitions -
Excitable -
  • To rouse, to call into action, to stir up, to set in motion, to move to strong emotion, to stimulate, to irritate.
  • State of being easily excited or easily irritated.
  • The rapid response to stimuli.
  • Capable of being easily excited, sensitive, susceptible, irritable, passio0nate, hasty, hot tempered and violent.

Obsession -

  • To fill the mind completely, to preoccupy, complete domination of the mind by one idea, a fixed idea.

Instinct -

  • A complex and almost unvarying mode of behaviour which guides in the unreflecting spontaneous performance of acts useful for the preservation of the individual of the species, inborn impulse, unconscious skill, natural.

Addict -

  • To apply habitually, devoted, wholly given over to.

Taken from the English Dictionary. These words alone sum up many of the behaviours which are noted with a high percentage of the Border Collies that are coming through our Home and are struggling with kennelling.

It was noted that many a collie that passed through the environment displayed frustrated behaviour within kennels. Those that were of a nervous disposition may have displayed such behaviours to release forms of stress, whereas - those collies that displayed higher obsessions, created behaviours due to stimulation being denied.
What was also noticed were the areas in which collies were situated. The amount of dogs per kennel block could vary between 18 and 35 and in extreme cases 50+, creating higher levels of noise which would multiply kennel frustration. Circling would increase as would jumping from side to side or jumping up at the front of the kennel.
Obviously the breed has greater desires - chase, herd, Etc. but due to being confined in the kennels and denied the stimuli, other behaviours were apparent.
Number of Border Collies re-homed of the 150 randomly selected for this observation = 128
Type of home found Numbers of Dogs
Agility 17
Flyball 5
Obedience (attending only) 23
Working Trial 5
Working Sheep 9
Pet - Urban 16
Pet - Semi Rural 8
Country  - including farms 32
Competitive Obedience 13
Total 128
Of the 128 owners, 92 had previously owned a Border Collie or Collie crosses.
Out of the 128 Border Collies re-homed, 45 went on to live with one or more dogs (including collie crosses) and 31 went on to live with another Border Collie.
Out of all the Border Collies that came into the home, 11 were merle and these all had weight loss and more noticeable problems within the kennel environment.
After a week of being re-homed, all the owners were contacted.
All the weight losers were reported to be extremely sedate and calm in their new lifestyle, in fact they spent a considerable amount of time sleeping !
Those that had no reports of weight loss, with the exception of a few, were lively, boisterous and going through a settling in process. Noted initial problems were minor chewing, attention seeking, manipulative behaviour and excitability.
When the new owners were contacted again a month after taking their dog, all weight losers had some form of phobia towards sound or had a high instinctive chase drive. Three of the owners were having severe re-directed chase problems and noise played a factor with the triggering of the chase. these owners were advised to return their dogs to Battersea as the environment was not proving suitable for the dogs needs.
Our most extreme case at Battersea was the collie that lost 9 Kg in weight. Not only was his frustrated behaviour such an extreme in the Home, he was recognised as a candidate to become addicted to this behaviour.

Re-directed behaviour onto people and other dogs was also a factor and although we eliminated the kennel and placed him in the offices to try and break the pattern of behaviour, different triggers from the environment would create it again (just walking past a barking dog within the environment). However there was no display of jumping up hysterically in the office, just the need to sleep.


It was obvious that this behaviour pattern needed interrupting before the dog became accustomed to it. Another factor with this case was that this particular dog was placed in the noisiest sector within the Home, although quite unintentionally. This particular dog was luckily re-homed to a farmer who, initially, was the victim of a nip to a place that is vital to a man. The good news is that his obsession is now to work and frustrated problems are no longer visible. (this dog was a car chaser in his original home).


Although some Border Collies will adapt to an urban lifestyle quite happily, there is still a high percentage that continue to be abandoned for quite obvious reasons. I realise this also occurs in other areas but I can only answer for the Urban Collies due to where I am based.
Some indication of the problem.
Chart showing the increasing numbers of Border Collies entering Battersea since 1995
300           290
250       242 252
200     209
150 147 145
YEAR 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000

The figure for this year - 2000 - still has two months remaining to add. Sadly, you can easily triple the figures each year for Collie cross breeds.

The numbers of Collies being abandoned is on the increase and the age groups are mainly under 18 months which is the exploratory and juvenile age group.
Reasons for this include dogs bought on an impulse or those dogs owned by people who never imagined the amount of work that needs to go into owning one. Its even more work when your environment doesn't cater for such a breed. There are, I agree, some collies who have adapted to London life and are well cared for.
Although my plan was originally to attempt elimination of kennel frustration with these collies, it now appears that to get a more accurate reading of the dog in most cases, it is better to allow them to exhibit the behaviour in the first three days to get some indication as to their excitability and their coping mechanism.
It was also demonstrated that those dogs who displayed such behaviour in such a short space of time also had the stronger impulsive behaviours.
What was important was to interrupt the behaviour, once it was displayed, to avoid addictive stereotypic continuity.
In the last seven months of completing this Observation (Feb-Sept) another 22 Border Collies gifted to the Home were reported to have been in road traffic accidence.
Obviously with strays we have no indication of this.
  • Tove Scherfig  - for all the socialising and fostering.
  • Veronique Cezreac - for giving me feedback and for the chill out rooms she came up with.
  • Erik Mitchell - who typed up the original manuscript for me and has always been a support.
  • Border Collie Rescue - for what they do.
Copyright  - Alison Taylor - The Dogs Home Battersea - Y2K - published here with her kind permission.

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Border Collie Rescue is a UK based charity, working Internationally to Rescue and Re-home Border Collies and Working Sheepdogs and promote a better understanding of the breed and its Welfare.

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