Common Behavior Problems in Border Collies and How To Correct Them

Common Behavior Problems in Border Collies and How To Correct Them

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Border Collies" by David Anderson. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: David Anderson

Border Collies are awesome dogs, but they are not always perfect angels. Eventually, they will behave in a way that you will not like. Border Collies like to make their own rules and games and can develop strange quirks over time. This may be especially apparent in an adopted dog because they may not have come from a home that gave them the training they needed at a young age. If certain unwanted behaviors continue, your dog will develop bad habits that are hard to break. So it’s important to catch these behaviors when they happen, and immediately respond to the issues at hand.

What is Bad Behavior

There is no real cut-and-dry list of what is bad behavior in a Border Collie – it can vary from household to household and from dog to dog. For example, if you live out in the country, you might not care if your dog barks a lot because no one else can hear it. On the other hand, if you live in a densely-populated neighborhood, it’s not polite to have a dog barking at all hours of the day. Or if you don’t mind your dog snuggling up next to you on the couch, it’s not a big deal if your dog jumps up on furniture. But another owner may want their dog to stay on the floor at all times. With some behaviors, what is considered “bad” is personal preference.

Border Collies are capable of being destructive when it’s entertaining for them. Digging and chewing are common practices of the bored Border Collie. It’s safe to say that most owners don’t want their dog to destroy their property. Behaviors that cause harm to your property or possessions are clearly unwanted.

Border collie outdoorPerhaps most importantly, you need to watch out for bad behaviors that can cause harm to you, your dog, or others. If your dog becomes aggressive towards visitors, it’s not safe to have anyone come to your home if your Border Collie cannot be trusted. Many Border Collies try to chase cars or run away from their humans because it looks like fun. This can put your dog’s life in great danger and needs to be addressed immediately.

After living with your Border Collie for a few months, you’ll start to notice if there are any behaviors that are not conducive to a happy relationship between you and your dog. Hopefully, you can pick up on these quirks and deal with them before they get worse. But, as an owner, you need to decide which behaviors will be allowed and which will not be tolerated.

Why is My Dog Acting This Way?

To correct unwanted behaviors, you must look for the root of the issue. For Border Collies, a lot of bad behavior stems from the fact that they are bored or have too much energy. If your dog is digging holes in the backyard, ask yourself if they are getting enough exercise and attention. If you find shredded books in your home when you return from work, reconsider the amount of exercise and mental stimulation you give your dog throughout the day.

Border collie with shoes
Photo Courtesy – Toni Harvey

Some behaviors are a result of fear, usually stemming from poor socialization. If your Border Collie snaps at other dogs at the park, figure out if there’s a way to slowly work on your dog’s socialization skills. If they’re growling at strangers, maybe they had a bad experience that made them wary of people they don’t know. Maybe you need to spend more time re-socializing your dog in a safe environment.

Other bad behaviors are instinctual. Border Collies are known to nip at ankles and chase cars because their herding brain tells them to. These habits are hard to break because they are hardwired into their brain. But it is still possible to retrain your dog through positive conditioning.

In short, you can’t expect your dog to think in the same rational manner as an adult human would. Frustration often comes from a lack of understanding. When you see problems, ask yourself why your dog might be doing these things. Try to think like a dog and see if you can find a solution to your dog’s problem. A Border Collie wants to please, but their fears and weird ideas can sometimes overshadow that.

Many times, Border Collies are abandoned by their previous owners because their owner couldn’t handle their unwanted behaviors. These dogs are not necessarily bad but rather misunderstood, or the owner didn’t have the knowledge or patience to deal with them. A good dog owner will take the time to work with their dog and love them despite their oddities.

Bad Behavior Prevention

To correct your dog’s bad behavior, you must be present to witness it and handle it immediately. Like with potty training, you cannot correct your dog after the event has occurred. For instance, you cannot return home at the end of the day and scold your dog for digging a hole in the yard. Even if you lead your dog to the hole, he will not understand what you are talking about since his memory is not capable of linking the digging to your anger. But if you look out your window and see your dog digging like mad, you can call attention to the behavior and hopefully stop it in the moment.

Border collie on couch
Photo Courtesy – Deborah Morris

Along with noticing your dog’s naughty behavior, it’s also wise to practice good behavior so frequently that your dog won’t have the chance to learn anything otherwise. When you go on walks, never let your dog run ahead or pull. Always practice proper walking behavior so they never find reward in doing what they want to do.

Remember to set your dog up for success. If your dog gets nervous and pulls on the leash in crowds, practice walking in quieter areas until your Border Collie is ready for places with more commotion. If your dog cannot stop barking while in the backyard, bring him inside and close the blinds until you have the time to go outside and play with your dog. If your dog gnaws on your shoes, keep them out of reach and supply appropriate chew toys in accessible areas. It’s frustrating when your dog is being naughty, but you cannot expect them to act like anything other than a wild animal until they are taught how to behave properly.

How to Correct Your Dog

As mentioned in the chapter about reinforcement, it’s never a good idea to punish your dog. This will only cause more negative behaviors from your dog. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot correct your dog, either. Corrections can be done in a kind way that won’t create lasting wounds to your dog’s psyche.

First, call attention to your dog’s bad behavior. You need to have a marker that lets your dog know that you don’t like their behavior. Some will clap loudly when they catch bad behavior, while others like to shake a can filled with rocks. Whatever you do, you’re not trying to scare your dog, but catch their attention. Once they acknowledge you, give them a stern “No.” Also, avoid doing anything that they might take as a reward. Chasing them around the yard after they’ve dug up your flower garden is a fun game to them and will ultimately give them a reason to dig again.

Next, praise good behavior. If your dog is barking up a storm, clap to get their attention. The moment they stop and look at you, praise them for being quiet. You can say “Good no bark!” and give them a treat. Praise your dog when you catch her being well-behaved. This reinforces your dog’s proper behavior and makes them more likely to seek out a reward for being a good dog.

Common Border Collie Bad Behaviors

Border Collies are more prone to certain bad behaviors because of their breed. But, not all Border Collies are the same. While one might have no interest in barking, another will bark right in their owner’s face. The following bad behaviors and possible fixes are not a comprehensive list of bad behaviors you might see in your dog, but these can be more common in Border Collies than in other breeds.

Jumping

Border collie jumpingBorder Collies are friendly dogs, and this might cause your dog to jump up on people when she wants some love and attention. While you might not care if your dog jumps on you, other people might. A polite dog waits until the human notices them and gives them a pet. A naughty dog jumps up on people, leaving muddy paw prints and claw marks on their clothes.

Don’t reward a jumping dog with attention. Instead, quickly turn your back to a jumping dog. Turn around and freeze until your Border Collie waits patiently for attention. When they are sitting, reward them for not jumping. If this is a common problem for your pup, you may teach them the “Off” command. When they have their paws on you, wait until they get down and say “Off” while giving them a treat.

If your dog is persistent with her jumping, attach her leash to her collar when she’ll be in a situation where she’ll want to jump. When you see the look in her eye that says she’s about to launch up, step on the leash. She’ll find that she has nowhere to go and doesn’t like the feeling of being held down. This is considered self-correction and might break your dog of her annoying habit.

Running Away

This is a nightmare for a dog owner. Somehow, your dog gets loose and takes off at a sprint. The faster you follow, the faster your dog runs, thinking that he’s playing a fun game with you. Only you know how dangerous this situation is. You might try to call your dog, but he isn’t responding because the reward of a chase is better than whatever treat you’re offering. So what can you do to get your dog back?

First, practice the “Come” command constantly if you have a wandering dog. Practice this in all different places. You might also want to buy a long lead, like a twenty-foot lead, for advanced practice. Have your dog stay while walking to the end of the lead. Then, call your dog towards you. If he doesn’t come, you can always give a quick tug on the leash to remind your dog what he’s supposed to do. Practice this until you can trust your dog to the point where they can be off their leash.

Border collie pulling clothBut accidents can happen before your dog has perfected her recall. Have a backup plan in case your dog doesn’t listen to your calls to come back. If your dog likes car rides, a good way to catch your dog is to slowly drive up beside her and open the door for her to jump in. Your dog might think the ride is more rewarding than the run and hop in next to you.

If you’re on foot, don’t try to sprint after your dog. Your Border Collie is likely much faster than you and will disappear. You may have more luck switching directions and running back home. Your dog might think it’s her time to chase you, in which case, you can run right back into your yard and shut the gate. Others find that if you dramatically fall onto the ground and stay still, your curious dog will come back to see what’s going on. If you get the chance, try to grab onto your dog’s collar and secure her.

Chasing Cars

There’s something about a speeding car that must remind Border Collies of cattle, because this breed commonly chases vehicles. Not only is it irritating to be on the other end of the leash when a dog goes crazy, but it’s downright dangerous. To break your dog of this inclination, you must teach your dog that there is more reward in walking nicely than in chasing cars.

The “Watch me” command is useful here. While you’re walking, you may notice that your dog gets into the Border Collie crouch when a car arrives. Do whatever you can to get your dog’s attention off the car and onto you. If your dog is proficient at the “Watch me” command, they will take their eyes off the car and onto you. If you successfully make it past the car without any pulling on the leash, give your dog yummy treats and lots of praise. If your dog still has issues looking at you when a car is in the vicinity, try holding a treat in front of their nose and drawing it towards you. This might be enough to break their locked-in gaze.

Walking Problems

Chasing cars is only one facet that might make walks a nightmare. Border Collies are very strong and can easily pull you forward. If they’re not chasing cars, they’re launching towards squirrels and rabbits. Or your dog might want to be in charge of the walk and lead the way at her desired speed.

As mentioned before, the best way to avoid these bad habits is to teach good walking behaviors from Day One. But you may find that your adopted dog wasn’t properly trained by their last owner and is difficult on walks. This can create a ton of frustration if you don’t know how to remedy the situation. You may have to start from scratch and re-train your dog’s walking skills. Start with walking on the leash inside or in the backyard until your dog is used to walking close to your side. Then progress to a familiar place close to home with few distractions. Once your dog is walking better, you can try to return to the places you once walked. Figure out what triggers your dog to be naughty and try to avoid those factors until the skills are down. Then slowly integrate them back into the world.

Border collie walking
Photo Courtesy – Lynne Frater

There are tons of collars and harnesses in pet stores to choose from, but the flat, buckle collar is best. Harnesses might alleviate some of the throat pressure from a pulling dog, but it may teach them that it’s okay to pull because it doesn’t hurt with a harness. If you do choose to walk with a harness, choose one with a leash attachment on the front. This way, pulling will only cause them to turn towards you, making it inefficient for them to pull. An attachment in the back only encourages their sled-dog behavior.

Choke chains are not appropriate for this breed. If your dog gives chase, they can seriously injure their neck and throat because the chain can put so much pressure against their throat. Some trainers swear by prong collars for training purposes, but they are somewhat controversial. The prong collar has small, metal prongs that make it uncomfortable for your dog when they pull too hard against the leash. While the prongs don’t allow for extreme pressure to be placed on the neck and throat, they can be uncomfortable for a dog that pulls really hard. On the other hand, this type of self-correction can be useful in stubborn dogs because they learn to associate the bad behavior with discomfort. But if you use this method, you must also use positive reinforcement alongside it. After your dog corrects himself, you need to give your dog praise and treats. This collar should only be used in extreme circumstances where your dog is a danger to himself or others because of his pulling. Also, it should only be used for training and only as long as it is necessary. Ideally, you want to get to the point where you can switch back to the flat collar.

If you’re unsure about which harness or collar to use, talk to a trainer or a vet. They may be able to provide you with advice that is specifically tailored to your dog’s needs.

When to Call a Professional

If you’ve taken training courses, then you should have a trusted trainer you can contact with questions about your dog. A vet might also be helpful in giving advice or referrals to a specialist. Sometimes, undiagnosed conditions can even trigger behavioral issues, so regular checkups might help diagnose a problem. When it comes to issues with your dog, you’ll want to get them taken care of as soon as possible.

Border collie pulling shoeIf you’ve tried everything you can think of and you still see no progress in your dog, find a professional who can help you. Similarly, if this issue is generating so much stress that you constantly feel frustrated with your dog, then you need help right away. A behavioral problem can strain a good relationship between a dog and an owner to the point where the owner gives up hope and surrenders the dog to a shelter.

If you can promptly seek help, you have a better chance of correcting the bad behavior before it gets out of hand. Between your knowledge of your Border Collie’s specific quirks and a trainer’s experience and wealth of knowledge, you should be able to quickly sort out the issue and fix it. As a result, you’ll have a better relationship with your dog if there is no unnecessary stress between you.

Conclusion

Border Collies are a lot of fun to have as pets, but they take an incredible amount of work. Not only do you have to train them to behave properly, but you have to fix behaviors that they already have! This can be highly frustrating, but do remember that there are lots of resources out there for you.

Set your dog up for success. If your dog is afraid of strangers, don’t push them into a large crowd and expect them to be fine. Start slowly and work your way up. Think like your dog and never expect them to know something they weren’t taught. You can condition your dog, but you cannot reason with them. Finally, remember that positive training is best. You can correct your dog and show them the proper way to behave, but punishment can be detrimental to their behavior. Positive energy and enthusiasm go a long way with a Border Collie.

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