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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Some More Case Histories
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 Just a small bit of what we have been doing.

This collection of short case histories of nine dogs was originally composed as an article for the International Sheepdog News Magazine (the Newsletter and Magazine of the International Sheepdog Society - ISDS) and published in the June issue. The article was written to bring their readers up to date with what was happening in Border Collie Rescue and how we had moved on since Foot and Mouth days when they last printed a piece from us.

These case histories therefore cover just a few of the many dogs that have come through and gone on to working homes and in particular some of those that had come from ISDS registered bloodlines and even ISDS registered breeders and had been sold to the public as pets. Rather than strip the case histories from the overall article, we have reproduced the whole thing here to keep it all in context and included some photo's that there was no room for in the Magazine.

Border Collie Rescue in 2005

There are few experiences more rewarding than witnessing a Border Collie, described by its previous owners as an unruly, uncontrollable and badly behaved pet, shed it’s behavioural problems and develop into a focused dog with a willingness to please its handler and a contentment that comes with the realisation of its true mission in life.

It is immensely inspiring to see a hyperactive and aggressive young animal from a busy town home unwind in the relaxed atmosphere of a rural location and start to think before it acts; to respond to the world around it rather than over-reacting; to find itself in a compatible environment that it can relate to - one that fits into its instinctive expectations of ‘What is Right‘. These are just two of the best aspects of the work we do in Border Collie Rescue.

It’s 3 years since we last wrote articles for Working Sheepdog News and the ISDS Newsletter (now combined), summing up what we did during Foot and Mouth. It is interesting to look back on our records over that period. Some people we dealt with were surprised that a rescue existed for Border Collies and thought we had been set up to specifically deal with the problems arising from Foot and Mouth - completely unaware of our organisations previous 25 years of working with the breed.

Other folk have concluded that we only deal with working dogs and don’t have ‘pet’ Border Collies for ‘ordinary’ people - far from true.

The fact is that we cover all aspects and disciplines of the breed. Our job is to sort out why a dog is not happy in its old home and why it has developed problems and then make sure it goes to a home where it will be content and realise its potential. To do this we have to understand the dog - find out what it needs - so our first assessment on all dogs is livestock. We recognise that Border Collies are a working breed and only non workers should be taken on as pets.

We are particularly keen that puppies get a chance to work and now never re-home puppies into pet homes.

When Foot and Mouth ended we expected to go back to the ways of previous years, but time has proved this not to be the case. Some things are the same as they were before F&M. Still, as before, the highest proportion of dogs we are asked to take in are unwanted pets. Unwanted farm dogs only form about 10% of our intake. But there have been changes. We are now running our own assessment and re-habilitation centre with our own sheep available all year round for the dogs to be assessed on. What we have learned over the years is now applied to our re-homing program.

It was a surprise to many that a good working dog could come from a rescue, but it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise if you consider that most Border Collies in rescue come from working stock. That is why they are in rescue - they are not happy pets - they need to work. Just putting them back into pet homes solves nothing. Assessing them and re-homing to appropriate homes solves everything, particularly for pups with undeveloped instinct and a whole life ahead of them.

n the last few years we have seen a rise in dogs from ISDS lines coming into rescue - some already registered, others not. There has also been a rise in dual registered dogs and farm bred pups. It’s a sad fact that many of these dogs now end up in pet homes where they don’t fit in and are not happy. Yet there is a huge demand for working dogs out there.

Here are a few short case histories to illustrate what we do and where some of the dogs are coming from.

Pepper - came in from Port Glasgow with a real “wit are ye lukin at, diya wint a smack in the mooth” attitude. It was no surprise to find that head butting was one of his past pleasures. Bought from a farm as a pup to be a pet and 2.5 years old when he came in he was disobedient, moody, aggressive to strangers, children and other dogs.

Border Collie Rescue - Pepper with his herd.

His previous owner, Mr. B., had tried everything, dog trainers, behaviourists, veterinary examination and advice - he had spent a fortune to no avail. The vet eventually suggested trying tranquillisers and if that failed, euthanasia.

But Mr. B. did not begrudge the expense and respected the dog, so called us first. We agreed to take Pepper but the waiting list was at around six months at the time. Mr B. followed some advice and coped until we had space.

Initially Pepper showed no interest in sheep, but there was something about his appearance and attitude that made Nicki think about some of the cattle dogs we had re-homed in the past.

She got back to Mr. B who passed on the telephone number of the farmer they had bought him from and sure enough it was a cattle farm and his background was from a registered line of working dogs, mainly used as cattle workers.

Border Collie Rescue - Pepper in control.

They were interested to know how he was getting on as a pet! We told them - they were nice people and saw the mistake - hopefully they won’t sell any more puppies as pets!

Armed with this information, Nicki took Pepper to be assessed around some Holsteins and his interest was suddenly awakened. In a matter of days he was shedding his frustration and getting a focus on life.

After a couple of weeks he knew what he had to do but it took a couple of months to get a stop command and recall - longer to get him socialised well enough to accept the presence of strangers. He also needed to gain muscle and stamina.

He was with us for 4 months and is now working on a cattle farm and has his own herd, of which he is very proud. His new owners are proud of him - everyone is happy - particularly Mr. B. who now regularly supports our work.

Ginty - Even a very busy man will find time to stop and talk about a good dog! We got a call from a young lady from Glasgow, desperate to find a home for her 5.5 month old bitch with attitude. Because she worked full time. we sent a vehicle up to Moffat and met halfway - Ginty came in. Put around sheep she showed wonderful natural instinct to herd with style and a lot of strong eye - this was not the result of an accidental mating!

Border Collie Rescue - Ginty being collected.

In this instance - like magic - all the aggression and dominant behaviour simply evaporated as Ginty became focused on the stock. Her previous owner passed on the mobile telephone number of the breeder and, as it is our wish to get as much background information on dogs as we can. Nicki gave it a call. She found herself talking to a very busy shepherd on his quad bike in the middle of a field near Stranraer on the extreme west coast of Scotland.

He was very surprised to get a call from BCR and told Nicki that he had bred from ISDS registered trials lines - his best working dogs - and normally sells the pups locally as sheepdogs.

But one pup had too much white on it to be of interest to local stockmen or trials men so he advertised it in the newspaper and let it go as a pet to a lady who phoned the following day.

Border Collie Rescue - Ginty going through her paces.

The breeder was actually quite upset to find out that the pup had ended up in a flat in Glasgow and had become a bit of a madam and aggressive with it. His lines had good temperament and had never shown any form of aggressive behaviour. Nicki spoke at length about Ginty and the sheep assessments and gained greater insight into the lines she had come from.

Border Collie Rescue - Ginty outrunning the flock.

With this on board and coupled with what she was seeing in the assessment paddock she looked for a home with an experienced dog trainer and a reasonable sized flock and one turned up to be just right on the North York Moors. 500 ewes + followers with some open fell work as well as field work.

No prejudice about a bit too much white from owner (or sheep), the farming family that took Ginty on could not believe their luck. The original breeder was very pleased to hear that Ginty had found a good working home and was a natural sheepdog and has put a few people in touch with us since.

Border Collie Rescue - Fly.

Fly - The most irritating dog in the world? A lady shepherdess contacted BCR with an ISDS registered non-worker that she couldn’t get started. She expressed doubts that she would even make a good pet as she wouldn’t housetrain, but hoped that we would be able to find the dog a more fulfilling life.

It didn’t take us long to find out why she had contacted us. ISDS maybe, but at four years old anyone would have hoped that she would have calmed down a bit at least! On the first assessment Fly drove our sheep at high speed across the paddock and although she seemed to want to help Nicki, she gave utterly no indication of knowing how! Nicki rapidly reached the conclusion that, if allowed, this could go on for a very long time and also said that she seemed to find this particular dog unusually muddle brained and irritating.

This was a sentiment shared by everyone in BCR that handled Fly - there was just something about her that rubbed you up the wrong way and left you feeling mildly irritated - yet she was a willing dog and you could not help liking her.

Getting back to the previous owner revealed that Fly, two years before, had been sent off to a professional sheepdog trainer for some tuition. Armed with the number of the trainer, Nicki contacted him, hoping to glean some insight into the dogs faults - but would the man remember this one dog from so many he would have handled, and two years ago?

No problems there - although he could not remember the dogs name he did remember that she had been one of the most irritating dogs he had ever taken on and strongly advised Nicki not to waste too much time on her.

Nicki took his advice and passed on the sheep but was still aware that this dog had an overflowing instinct to work and would therefore not be that happy as a pet. She decided to try Fly with cattle and found that she became quieter, more controllable and obviously more respectful to the larger animals she was confronted with.

Although we would not normally want to pass a potential sheepdog on to work cattle, a herding home to a herding dog is better than none at all and Nicki sought a compromise for Fly. Daily visits to the cattle and nightly visits to a porch where she was able to sleep away from other dogs was making a marked difference to her temperament. Her confidence was rising.

Border Collie Rescue - Fly watching the sheep.

She was less competitive for attention when with the other dogs and seemed to feel she had less to prove. This went a long way to improving her standing in the ‘irritation’ stakes and we started to see a very sweet side of her nature. She needed to be an ‘only dog’.

The sought after compromise came in the form of an application from a cattle farm where they wanted a dog to be a companion and to help around the stock. Perhaps Fly would be the companion the gentleman was looking for?

Fly went out after the usual home visit on the normal 4 week trial we give to all working dogs, with the standard stipulation that the gentleman taking her on would keep BCR informed of her progress by means of a weekly report.

It seemed that she settled down well from day one. The gentleman was a good dog man with experience of many working breeds and had taken to Fly straight away. She, in turn, had responded well to him.

Each weekly report was very positive. Fly had shown herself useful around the cattle and very loyal to him. She was training well and was responsive. At the end of the trial he reported that he had gradually broken all his lifelong rules.

He told us - “She started off sleeping in my porch way and would not come through to the house, but after a few days, tentatively followed me through to the kitchen one evening before going back to the porch to sleep.

Eventually she gathered up the courage to come through to the sitting room and proved so quiet and clean in the house that one night I decided to leave her inside to sleep. I moved her bed in, left her downstairs and retired.

About 30 minutes after I had switched my bedroom lights out I heard stealthy movements on the stairs and something very dark, low and quiet crept into my bedroom and lay down on the rug at my bedside. I was amused by this and kept quiet with one eye open to see what she did.

She didn’t move for about ½ an hour but then very slowly and tentatively she got up and approached my trousers which were hanging from their braces on the wardrobe. Stretching out as far and thin as she could go, she sniffed the bottoms of the legs and gave a small wag of her tail before very quietly creeping back to the rug and curling up.

She didn’t move again all night and sleeps there all the time now. She has made the most affectionate companion I have ever had and I would like to seal the adoption as I would hate her to leave now. She also loves to help me around the cattle and is getting better every day and I am so pleased you found her for me. Thank you so much.”

Sooty, Sweep and Chip were two sisters and a brother from the same ISDS registered litter that had been sold, as pups, to a Hotel owner as pets for their three young children. As the pups developed and the children lost their initial enthusiasm, the care of the pups fell on their parents who already had their hands full running a 24 hr business.

Border Collie Rescue - Sooty.

After working their way up the waiting list, these three came in to our care and we started to do some research into their background - which included getting back to the breeder, who was understandably upset that they had ended up in rescue.

The sale of these pups as pets was a series of unfortunate events but to cut a long story short, the transaction was completed in the absence of the breeder by a member of his family, much to his chagrin when he returned.

The line was a good one and all the dogs has shown well during initial assessments but there were a few things to overcome before they could be properly assessed and re-homed. Their experiences as pets and the formal obedience training had left them rather dependent on continuous instruction and uncertain of their own ability to make decisions based on instinctive reactions. One of the bitches, Chip, had also become rather dependent and shy.

None of these problems were insurmountable, it just takes time and patience, and we have plenty of patience in Border Collie Rescue, although time is a bit precious.

Border Collie Rescue - Sweep.

Border Collie Rescue - Chip.

As usual, the lure of the sheep and the quiet of the environment played its part in de-stressing and focussing these dogs. Although litter mates they each had their individual characters which had to be considered when re-habilitating them so a different approach was needed for each. A different sort of home was also required for each, to suit their ability.

Sooty, the dog, was strong and biddable and went to Hampshire to work as part of a team on an estate with over 1000 ewes. He is rapidly becoming lead dog as his training progresses. Sweep, the stronger of the two bitches went to a hill farm with over 1000 ewes as part of a working team.

Chip, the shy one, went to a local farm with just over 200 ewes where she is the only working dog on the farm. She is apparently the best dog the farmer has ever had.


Border Collie Rescue - Ted - Shy when he arrived.

Ted - Came from a pet shop in London. Enquiries Nicki made with the shop owner revealed that he had been bought from a breeder in Wales that supplied all the shops needs for Border Collie pups.

The people who bought him from the shop had no garden, worked full time and he was alone all day and had become hyperactive and destructive.

He came to us at Christmas - 16 weeks old.

He was initially rather shy and withdrawn but came out of his shell around the sheep and started to show his working background, gaining confidence as every day passed.

Border Collie Rescue - Ted - Not so shy now and in his new home.

After some work to undo his bad habits and stress related problems and also to improve his socialising - as he had missed out on a lot of basic ground work due to him leaving his mother and litter mates at around six weeks of age, he became a confident and outgoing character that loved people, loved working and got on really well with any other dog he came across.

A home was chosen for him where he was to run with an older working dog that was on the edge of retirement. There was also a retired greyhound as a companion.

He fitted in well and gave a new lease of life to the old boy, however - a year or so on - the old boy has stepped back and allowed Ted to take on the role of lead dog to the 400 + ewes on the farm.

Dumbo was a pup that came to us from an army home on Catterick Garrison. A rather desperate phone call to our office from an exasperated lady left us with the feeling that we should check this one out on our way home that evening. We arrived at a typical military semi to a scene of chaos. Mum, on her own while her husband was away on manoeuvres, was trying to cope with three hyperactive children and this monster in her kitchen. The list of charges against this dog was a long one. He had been relegated to the kitchen because of his behaviour but to him the kitchen was a playpen.

While the three kids sat on the work surface, dangling their legs and Dumbo made a good effort to nip at their swinging feet, Mum read the riot act. He had caused around £2000 worth of damage. Amongst his victims were two mobile phones, a hair dryer, two remote controls, a tumble dryer (he had got onto the work surface and pushed the machine off), the freezer (he had chewed the cable and ruined all the food), plus an endless list of toys, clothes, ornaments and chewed furniture. To top it all he had chewed into walls, skirting board and floor coverings which, under army rules, was to be repaired at the expense of the occupiers. He was 15 weeks old.

Although we had a lot of dogs waiting to come in, it was obvious when looking at this jovial and clumsy lump enthusiastically rushing around the room with three noisy children egging him on, that real disaster was just a short way down the road. If he stayed there any longer he was a lost cause. When we left he came with us.

The next day we got back in touch with his previous owners to find out about his background. We discovered his ISDS ancestry. Dumbo turned out to be one of those rare and valuable assets - a good all rounder that could herd anything. Sensitive enough for sheep, strong enough for cattle - nothing fazed this dog.

He was eventually re-homed to a mixed farm with sheep and cattle where he is a good all rounder and dads best mate.

Ziggy came in from a ground floor flat in Telford, his second home. The lady that had him had ‘rescued’ him from another lady in a first floor flat who couldn‘t cope. He was hyperactive and destructive but had turned most of his frustration inwards and had developed an obsession with chasing his tail.

Border Collie Rescue - Ziggy in foreground 3 days after coming in.

This he had chewed to the point that all the fur on it was gone and a number of sores and infections had started. The vet prescribed antibiotics & docking or re-homing.

This was another desperate situation where the dog needed to be out of the environment as soon as possible or serious problems would soon set in. Nicki got back to his breeder who claimed to be using ISDS registered trialling lines, but not registering the pups.

He was able to fill in a lot about Ziggy’s background, confirming what Nicki had thought about the dog from the descriptions of his behaviour gleaned from telephone conversations with his desperate owner.

The best foster space we had for him was on a holding in Devon with a shepherdess who is also experienced in training sheepdogs. This seemed ideal, and her husband was willing to drive her all the way up to Shropshire to collect him. After 5 days with her he was beginning to forget he had a tail and was turning his attention to the sheep.

Border Collie Rescue - Ziggy - Quality eye, works on her feet.

The reports we have had back state that “Ziggy works on his feet and is a natural sheepdog”. After just a couple of weeks we received a DVD showing him gathering around 80 ewes, flanking naturally and balancing the flock.

His future as a sheepdog seems assured and the foster home have decided to keep him permanently - sadly we lose a foster home but Ziggy gains a home for life. As for that tail - well its still there, although at one point the vets thought it may have to be docked. He has other things to occupy him now!

So where do we go from here?

Since Foot and Mouth we have seen a huge increase in calls from the public with unmanageable pets. We are now running at the rate of 100 + calls a week to take on unwanted pets and last year we logged over 8000 pet BC’s people wanted us to take in and re-home.

This is a staggering figure and made worse by the fact that most of these dogs were originally from farms and were sold as pets when puppies.

One Shepherd wrote to us in an e.mail that he was disturbed by the fact that local farms were allowing their bitches to be served at every season because the price they got for a pup was a better return than what they would get for a lamb.

The Welsh assembly has been offering grant aid to farmers who wished to diversify into dog breeding - this just makes a bad situation worse - an already saturated market is being overloaded. There are just not enough homes for these pups.

There has also been a noticeable increase in dogs that their owners claim are from ‘pedigree’ lines. Mainly of ISDS origin. This is most alarming. With farmers and stockmen from all over the country phoning us in search of a working stock dog, we are getting calls from pet owners in flats in cities with exactly the sort of dog these stockmen need.

But by the time the pet owners give up on their errant (and often expensive) pets the dog is in such a state of frustrated trauma that it takes months to get them back to a frame of mind that will allow them to work with their instincts. If this trend continues we predict a sad state of affairs for the working sheepdog in the future and a lot of unhappy border collies making life difficult for their owners who only wanted a happy pet to be their companion.

To help us deal with the problem of frustrated sheepdogs in pet homes we now run a centre with sheep, secure paddocks and other facilities to help us assess and re-habilitate them as they come in. As time goes by we wish to improve this facility and duplicate it around the UK.

This is where the future of BCR lies - we don't need kennel blocks - no dogs need kennel blocks - we still need to use foster homes to accommodate most of our dogs but we also need these assessment facilities to help the dogs coming through and direct them on their way. But we see it as more than that - we see it as a centre for understanding the breed - a base for our growing reference and breed information library - a facility for other rescue organisations to use to help them assess their Border Collies.

A place to focus efforts to help the potential working dogs that end up in pet homes get back to a working home  - a carefully selected and checked working home - that will enable them to realise their full potential and lead a happy and fulfilling life and a place to assess the non workers that want a more static lifestyle and enable us to satisfy their needs in a companion home.



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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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