Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Border Collie Behaviour

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

Behaviour of the Border Collie

Some insight into what makes a Border Collie 'tick'

Border Collies are a working breed of dogs and, generally speaking, it is the exception rather than the rule to find individuals that will make good pets in domestic family environments.

You may come across people who disagree with the above statement but it must be viewed in perspective.
Although the numbers of companion BC's has been rapidly increasing over years they are greatly outnumbered by those kept as working dogs.

Of those percentage kept as pets, a significant proportion cause problems for their owners.
Many owners cope with minor problems because they love their dog and the problems are acceptable compared with the idea of parting.

The Border Collie is a unique breed with great intelligence and loyalty so once a bond with the dog is established, a decision to part is not easy.

Unfortunately not all problems are minor ones and some are so significant that it is impossible for the dog to remain in its home. It is best to consider this before taking one on rather than risk having to part with the dog when it's too late.

The root of the problems.

The most common problems of pet BC's are rooted in the herding/chase instinct.
This is there - to some degree - in all BC's, even those registered lines bred specifically as show dogs.

All blood lines of Border Collies originate from working stock.
Even with careful, responsible, selective breeding it will take many, many generations for this instinct to be bred out. It is actually unlikely that it ever will because of the need to keep a wide gene pool available to prevent inbreeding. To enable a wide gene pool breeders at all levels have to periodically bring in 'fresh blood' from working lines.
It is this instinct, coupled with 'eye' (the dogs ability to control stock by eye) and the bonding instinct, that makes Border Collies the worlds best herding dog.

If a Border Collie has a strong chase instinct and it is not trained and not worked to control and channel this ability, the dog is a liability, chasing anything that moves. It is likely to become frustrated and develop further behavioural problems that may include a degree of aggression. This then results in a dog only being walked on a lead and kept muzzled when it comes into contact with strangers. This is not a satisfactory solution in the long run as it only adds to the dogs frustrations.

Under these circumstances it is certainly a more responsible decision to part with the dog. It is better to re-home to a more suitable environment where it can lead a full, happy life.  The alternative, insisting on keeping an unhappy, frustrated dog, runs the risk of the dogs behaviour degenerating to where it ends up having to be destroyed. 


As a working dog, the Border Collie needs to think for itself. It is better to re-home to a more suitable environment where it can lead a full, happy life. This ability has also been deliberately strengthened by breeding and allows the dog to adapt its training and to work under a wide variety of conditions, making its own decisions when it is out of the sight of its handler.

Because of its intelligence. It is better to re-home to a more suitable environment where it can lead a full, happy life.  it will think for itself and in a domestic home may - sometimes rightly - believe that it knows better than its handler.
If the handler is not as strong willed as the dog, the dog will naturally try to dominate and take over as leader of the pack.

All dogs have 'pack instinct' and all packs have a leader - the most dominant dog - that will hold its position by virtue of the respect it has earned from the rest of the pack.
Top dogs do not need to rule by fear or aggression. Their body language and confidence induces submissive behaviour from the pack and apart from occasional leadership challenges they rule because other dogs accept them as superior.
It is generally in the lower ranks of the pack that competition occurs - most fiercely between 2nd and 3rd in the pecking order - then to a lesser degree throughout all levels.

As dogs get older, pack positions will naturally shift, younger dogs rising in the pack as they mature, superseding the elderly as they weaken.
Apply this to the Border Collie in a pet home.
The family is the pack. - The dog is looking for its position in the pecking order and, being intelligent, will naturally ( and instinctively) exploit any weakness to enhance its position. Unless the dog is particularly dominant, the natural leader of the household will be automatically accepted as top dog and will not be challenged.
The dog may be less likely to accept the leadership of less dominant adults and children can be particularly vulnerable.
This is why it is very important for families who wish to take on a BC as a pet to be more concerned with the character and nature of the dog they acquire, than its appearance.

If the dog is inclined to be dominant and has a strong herding instinct the children of the household - especially the younger ones - will not get respect from the dog and will not be able to control it.
Children may be regarded as stock to be herded into corners and penned. If they resist they are likely to be nipped in order to oblige them to comply with the dogs wishes.
Children may be treated as litter mates to be played with - but playing is also 'training' for adult competitiveness and litter mates will compete in their play - the strongest and most agile being given most respect and rising in the pecking order.
If the dog sees a child as a litter mate it is likely to nip during play - possibly quite hard.

These situations are remarkably common with companion Border Collies, often being mistaken for aggressive behaviour. In the majority of cases these 'attacks' would not occur if the dog understood its position in the family pecking order.
Bites from Border Collies, under these circumstances, are not likely to be serious but they will be painful and may draw blood. The experience can be traumatic to adults and children alike, and as Border Collies nip and bite more children than any other breed, it's worth bearing in mind.

As we have said above, this is not bad behaviour - undesirable - but perfectly natural for a Border Collie needing to move stubborn stock in a herding situation.

It does not necessarily imply that the dog is dangerous or suffering from behavioural problems. The dog is merely doing what it has been bred to do but is doing it in a domestic situation where its instincts are out of context.
If the dog is not getting its way with the animals (or humans) it is attempting to control it will re-enforce its will by diving and nipping at stock (or people). If it is excited or frustrated it can draw blood unless you have a thick layer of wool on!

In working sheepdogs on the farm or hills this behaviour is controlled but is not discouraged as it is sometimes necessary to encourage stubborn stock to move in the direction required.
In the formal discipline of sheepdog trialing it is frowned upon - dogs are supposed to be able to move the sheep by 'eye' alone.
But even the best may grip when frustrated.

If stimulated to herd, a Border Collie may nip out at arms, ankles or the back of legs of humans. This may also occur when a normally sound dog becomes hyped up, frustrated and excited.
Training may help control this but success will depend on the strength of the dogs instinct.
In many cases nipping can remain an unpredictable part of the dogs behaviour all its life but once a dog has nipped or bitten, particularly a child, it will not be easy to re-home it if the parents decide they do not want to risk it happening again.



When young it is important for a pup to be left with its litter mates and mother for the first 8 weeks of its life and for the puppies to be regularly handled by a variety of different people.
Mum teaches the puppy how to keep itself clean, how to fend for itself and behave.

A well socialised Mum will also show the puppy that it can trust humans and need have no fear of them.
Interaction with the rest of the litter teaches the puppy how to play and how to relate to other dogs.

Early and varied human contact also teaches the puppy to like and trust people - even strangers.
If a puppy is taken out of the litter too soon, it will miss this basic training and can develop a variety of problems.

These may include a wariness of humans, a poor understanding of doggy body language or at worse, fear aggression with dogs or strangers.
This is often misinterpreted as a reaction of a dog that has been abused as it will flinch, start or run when you raise an arm, move suddenly or approach quickly or may be more wary of men because it has had less male contact.

Don't be fooled. This is not fear of a blow, sticks, boots, hats, men, women or a bad experience. It's fear of the unknown based on lack of experience.
The furtive sheepdog lurking around the corner or peering out between a farmers legs is a familiar rural image and often a source of humour, but is a prime example of a poorly socialised dog!.

Another strong instinct of the BC is to loyally bond with its handler.
This instinct helps the shepherd to control his dog and train it to carry out his commands. - One man & his dog.

An old trick of the shepherd is to keep his new puppy very much to himself, allowing no-one else to feed or handle the dog from a very young age. This strengthens the bond between the dog and the handler but can contribute towards making the dog very protective of its handler and wary and suspicious of strangers.
As a result the dog may nip out in pre-emptive defence or because it thought there was some sort of threat to its handler or simply because it has picked up its handlers concern or dislike of a situation or person and feels the need to intervene.

This reaction is often interpreted as aggression, rather than guarding behaviour. There is a huge difference - although the end result is the same - blood can flow!
If a dogs inclination to bond is satisfied by working and focusing on its job it is unlikely to react like this but in a companion home it can become a domestic hazard!

In the companion home, if this instinct is too strong to control or is inadvertently re-enforce by the dogs owner being too intimate the dog can become over possessive, leading to attacks on any perceived threat to the handler. Over petting a Border Collie or making the dog over dependent on one individual will contribute to this sort of behaviour pattern.

Working Border Collies need to be courageous and extremely tenacious. Its teeth are part of its toolbox to do its job.
Although not normally an aggressive breed they move quickly and can bite hard if they loose control - or feel the need.

If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please phone 0845 604 4941 during office hours.
(2 pm to 5 pm weekdays)

Please do not write to us or email us about adoption - we want to speak to you before we start the process.