Since getting Buddy, despite how much I thought I knew about Border Collies, this question has cropped up many times in my mind and I think I am now comfortable with my answer having dwelled on it a fair bit. I can imagine it’s crossed many a Border Collie owner’s mind too!
For a while, I did wonder if it was fair.
When you scour the internet forums (god awful un-moderated places where all sorts of opinions and nasty comments fly about and to be avoided at all costs) you will find MANY dog owners tell you that it’s totally irresponsible to own a Border Collie as a ‘pet’ and that they should only be bred to work.
So why then do we have them as pets?
So, for me, the reason I got a Collie was because we had a beautiful collie cross spaniel as a child. My husband also had a Collie, who was a bit crazy in the outside world but perfectly lovely at home.
I knew I wanted a dog to keep me busy, and I knew Collies needed to be stimulated. This was going to be a hobby as well as a family dog. I had the time to take it to training, do agility – whatever the dog needed I would be able to provide.
However, just having the time and the commitment wasn’t enough.
There is a lack of understanding around Collie’s for sure.
One of the biggest myths is that Collies need to go and go and go and go and go to get tired. Three 5 mile hikes a day. “It’s the only way to wear them out”. Or even worse, three ‘hour’ sessions daily of ball throwing.
You also probably only see the ‘calm’ collies when out and about. The ones not chasing cars or walking off lead next to their owning ignoring the world around them. They are either super trained, or perhaps a bit broken! For every one of those, there are far more at home not able to walk the streets. All Collies are bred with that insane chasing instinct and it’s something that most owners have to work with.
So, like all good meaning owners, I started out this way – lots and lots of highly arousing and highly stimulating walks. In addition to training. Was he getting tired? Nope. Very rarely. The only time Buddy falls asleep even now is in his crate out of the way, or the kitchen outside of his crate when the house is quiet and no one is moving around.
So why do we think Collie’s need this?
So imagine a working Collie. It goes out to work with it’s handler. Uses it’s brain a fair bit to make lots of decisions when herding. Gets a fair bit of exercise in. Then it spends the rest of it’s time in a quiet kennel. So we imagine that they need to work their balls off to be happy and contented right?
Collies are sensory beings! They are so attuned to smells, noises and movement. They’ve been bred that way. They are actually INCREDIBLE.
So putting them in a home environment, with noisy running around children, cats, people coming and going, and be expected to relax around all of that, when they have a sensory system that is made to be heightened, you can see WHY they are seen as notorious at making bad decisions.
Some dogs cope with this just fine and have a pretty relaxed optimistic approach to life.
Some dogs are like collies in that they are just highly sensitive.
Did you know that about 20% of all animals and humans have sensory indifferences? Highly sensitive in some way or another to the point that it effects their day to day life?
I know this already as my son has sensory processing disorder. His sensory regulatory system isn’t quite wired as it should be. Light, sound, taste, smell and touch. They are all amplified. He’s 11 now and he is better able to manage this himself. But as a toddler, he had some real struggles. Heart-breaking struggles. Imagine your child crying and tell you they can’t go to sleep because they can’t ‘physically’ close their eyes and then having a panic attack because of it. Or crying and asking you to make the sun go away because it hurts too much. His sensory system would overload so much that it effected his every-day life.
After lots of research and getting lots of help, we now know what we need to do to help regulate his system better. Downtime away from too much light. Staying away from crowded places. Not having too many different noises battling over each other in the house. Massage and movement. I’ve spent years looking into all of this.
Now I have a dog who is super similar – isn’t the universe great! LOL!
So the idea that a Collie, would go out and work and then spend downtime out of the way in a dark kennel to switch off, and allow that bucket to empty, and that sensory system to stay regulated makes COMPLETE sense to me. It also explains why he loves a good massage!
Also, just as my son has learned to adapt, I would go as far as to say that his sensory system has moulded and he copes better with so many things. This means that my dog can do this too.
So, if your Collie is out and about in the house all day long, with no enforced downtime, and you are wondering why he’s being so difficult? Then think back to this blog and make some steps to change that.
So, in summary do I think it’s fair to keep a Border Collie as a pet?
I think that so long as you have the correct understanding and can adapt for all their needs, they make the most wonderful and loyal companions.
If you however expect them to slot in with your life, and cope with very young children running around, lots of noise and comings and goings, without any training, and without providing the calm rest they actually need, whilst thinking three walks a day is going to cut it, then think again.
If you need help with your Border Collie then check out our awesome trainer (who also does live classes online! Cool!) at On The Ball Dog Care and Training