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 AndersonIf you want your Border Collie to be able to leave your home, socialization is a must. When we think about preparing a puppy for adult life, we tend to focus on potty training and tricks and neglect the socialization aspect. Without good socialization skills, you’ll find that your Border Collie has no idea how to act around strangers and other dogs. This can become a huge problem when you want to burn some energy at the dog park, but your Border Collie is unwilling to play with the other dogs or becomes agitated at their attempts. Socialization can happen at any age, but it’s best to start early. When your dog is in the three-to-six months range, begin working on socialization skills.
The Importance of Socialization
As the proud owner of a beautiful dog, you’ll want to bring your Border Collie everywhere with you. But the world can be a very scary place for a dog. Border Collies are especially prone to noise phobias, so a scary sound can send them into a state of panic. Always on high alert; your Border Collie will notice everything that is going on around him, especially anything new or threatening.
While we know that there’s nothing dangerous about construction workers roofing a house or a garbage truck backing up, your Border Collie does not know this. Similarly, your Border Collie may love other people but fears anyone who doesn’t look like the people they’re used to, like a person holding an umbrella on a rainy day.
And while the dog at the dog park is clearly friendly and wants to chase your Border Collie around, your dog may not know how to play with other dogs and may immediately turn onto their back to surrender. Or they may cower in fear until the friendly pooch gives up and moves onto another friend. Worse still, your Border Collie may be so nervous that he lashes out at other, baring his teeth and growling.
None of these scenarios are ideal if you want your Border Collie to have a normal, happy life. Fear can keep your dog from doing things they once loved to do, like going on walks, playing with other dogs, or even going outside to go to the bathroom. A Border Collie cannot live a fulfilling life stuck in the house all day. So the better socialized your dog is, the happier you and your pet will be.
Socialization with Other Dogs
In general, Border Collies tend to be good with other dogs, but this is not a natural trait in all Border Collies. While your dog may love to chase (and be chased) by other dogs, it can take time before your dog feels comfortable playing with others of his own kind.
When starting out with this type of socialization, find a place where your dog can interact with others but won’t be overwhelmed with closed spaces or too many dogs. A busy dog park might be too overwhelming to start, but perhaps your local dog park isn’t as crowded in the early morning. If your Border Collie can safely sniff a couple dogs without feeling bombarded, this can be a good way to get your dog comfortable with others. Dog training classes are another good way to allow your dog to be in the presence of other dogs without having to worry about navigating the rules of play.
When a dog wants to know more about another dog, they sniff butts. To a human, this behavior seems inappropriate, but it can relay a lot of information to a dog. Don’t scold them for doing this, but rather encourage your dog to greet others. Sniffing a dog’s backside will let them know if they’re dealing with a male or female and if they’ve been neutered. It is believed that there is more information passed through smell, but humans do not have a keen enough sense to gather this information.
When your Border Collie is comfortable, he will either initiate play or allow the other dog to initiate. If the front half of your Border Collie is low to the ground and their tail is up high and wagging, this is a sign that your pup wants to play. If they flip over to their back or tuck their tail between their legs, this means that they are not comfortable in their position in the pack and are surrendering to the more dominant dog.
Stand back and let your dog interact with others. If you’re nervous, your dog will pick up on it and feel nervous too. Standing too close gives them the feeling that they need to be on guard in case something bad happens. You want your dog to believe that there is nothing to worry about.
If you see your dog lightly biting another dog on the neck, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is being aggressive. Dogs use their mouths to play, so what you’re seeing is an invitation to play. Dogs speak through non-verbal cues, so your dog is gathering information about who is dominant and who is submissive as they interact with other dogs.
If your dog becomes seriously scared, do not push them to stay in a situation they want out of. Growling and snapping are signs that you need to separate your dog from the others. A traumatic experience can cause your Border Collie to be scared of dogs for quite some time, so it’s important to watch for these cues and let your dog get some space if needed.
Once your Border Collie is comfortable around a few familiar dogs, you can work on meeting new dogs of all sizes. The goal is to have your Border Collie calm and comfortable around any dog he may approach. And it’s an added bonus if your dog can run out all of his energy chasing dogs around the park.
Greeting New People
Just as Border Collies tend to be good with other dogs, they are great with people too. Your Border Collie will probably be the first to greet a stranger with a wagging tail. You probably won’t have to worry about your dog being shy around new people. They live for attention and want all of the love and affection they can get.
However, this does not mean that they will not use some caution when meeting new people. Border Collies can be suspicious of new things they’ve never experienced before. For example, if you’re a small female and your dog has spent time with other people like you, he will get used to the idea that all people look and sound like you. But if a large man walks into your dog’s space, he may bark and be wary of the different-looking person. This is why it’s important to socialize your dog with other people. You want your Border Collie to be comfortable with your friends, a dog walker, or just passing strangers on the sidewalk.
When introducing your dog to new people, have the person stay calm and act as if a dog is not there. When your dog approaches them, allow your dog to sniff the person before being pet. If your dog is open to being touched by a stranger, you might have the friend give your dog a treat. You can also use this method outside of your home. People are often eager to pet Border Collies because they’re so cute and friendly. If someone wants to pet your dog, have the person give your dog a treat if he responds positively to being pet.
Just like with introducing your Border Collie to other dogs, if your dog is scared or uncomfortable, don’t force them to hang around anyone they don’t want to. Remove the dog from the situation and try again once he has calmed down. You’ll know that your dog is well-socialized when he is calm around strangers and is not over-stimulated by meeting new people.
Border Collies and Children
While children fall into the category of “people that Border Collies like,” there may be instances in which a Border Collie will become annoyed with small children. Much like a dog, children can be unpredictable with their actions. And as much as you instruct them to play nicely with your Border Collie, both species have the tendency to ignore an adult’s rules in favor of their own.
Border Collies make good family pets because of their friendly disposition. But problems can arise when your Border Collie begins to see a group of kids as a herd that needs tending to. Nipping at ankles and running circles around children is not uncommon with this breed.
It’s always best to supervise if children are playing with your dog, especially in a boisterous fashion. You will need to monitor your dog’s nonverbal cues to know when it’s time to go to the crate to relax away from the noisy children. After all, a Border Collie may not know how to handle loud, high-pitched noises and rough petting if he’s not around children on a regular basis. Practice a little extra caution, and your dog will learn to be calm around children.
When socializing your dog with people and other dogs, work slowly so you don’t end up overwhelming your dog. A scared Border Collie can be very stubborn and hard to break of bad habits. When dealing with others, the goal is to get your naturally excitable Border Collie feeling calm and comfortable. It’s natural for your dog to be excited around strangers, but this should be a happy excitement and not a nervous excitement.
Once your dog has mastered one location, try another place. For the noise-sensitive Border Collie, start out at quiet parks and work your way up to noisy or busy places, like outdoor shopping malls. The more places your dog can function and be calm around others, the more your dog can do with you.
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