The short answer? Cause I’m sick.
No, really, I like a challenge. And I’m sick.
You see, I’ve never really liked the easy way out and I’m always looking for animals that I can form a strong bond with. That’s what got me into keeping parrots. I’ve also shared my home with house bunnies. So, I’m perhaps not the normal pet ‘owner’.
Sharing life with a border collie isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding. This is a breed with an incredible dedication to their job and an almost freaky level of emotional intelligence.
I want to tell you a little bit about my Ruby (aka Rubes, aka Ruby-Lou) and about border collies in general.
Border Collies- Don’t Do It!
I kid, mostly. Before you bring a border collie into your life, you should be able to answer yes to the following border collie FAQs:
Am I very active?
Am I very patient?
Am I willing to accept an animal’s inner drive for what it is, even when it conflicts with what I want?
Am I calm?
Am I consistent?
Do I enjoy training dogs?
Am I ok with barking?
Am I an experienced dog owner?
Am I ok with spending the next 20 years of my life throwing the same ball over and over ceaselessly?
Are my children and family also calm, consistent, patient and into throwing the same ball over and over?
If yes, you’re ready to take a wild ride into having a border collie as your companion.
If you can’t do these things, I would suggest a different breed. A dog like this in a situation where it can’t get validation and expel energy can turn into a nightmare.
If there is any large livestock in your life, run to get a border collie, however. I really wish I could watch Ruby work as she was bred for. I think she’d be incredible at it.
The Best Things About Ruby, My Border Collie
In some ways, this breed reminds me of terriers. They’re not very similar in personality, but they are similar in intelligence and sheer force of will. Both occasionally feel very strongly that they know better than you. They’ve seen Lassie. They know silly humans fall into wells right and left, after all.
Just like terriers, the best things about border collies are pretty connected to the things that make them very challenging. There is a lot of overlap on the border collie pros and cons list. Here is what to know before you take the plunge.
Border Collies Are Workaholics
This is first and foremost a working dog. It wants to work. It isn’t going to be satisfied with just any work, either. It wants to herd things. You can walk it until the cows come home and it will probably still want to herd things.
You can satisfy your dog’s desire to herd by getting it into some agility classes as soon as regular basic training is over. Border collies like to anticipate what’s expected of them and they like to take direction. Agility will help them burn off some energy, both physical and mental.
When you bring your dog home, I highly suggest to you that you pick out a ball larger than the puppy to be his best friend. Ruby will chase anything someone is willing to throw at her, but establishing a favorite toy your collie can play with by itself will save you a lot of sanity.
The ball should be big enough that the dog can’t get its mouth on it. This one’s for rolling and herding, not fetch. The next step to this plan is to limit the dog’s exposure to it. This way, when the best friend ball appears, your dog will be into it. It’s a wonderful distraction tactic.
It also lets the dog occupy itself for quite a while. This is something you will be thankful for.
I once knew a border collie who was completely obsessed with his ball. His owner had to remove it from view completely before the dog would leave it alone. Keep your eye out for unhealthy, obsessive behavior and do what you can to limit it. It’s kind of a fine line with this breed- they’re wound tightly.
Border Collies Will Shrink You
Ruby is seriously on the emotional wavelength of everyone around her at all times. She’s scanning the room with some X-men-ish superpower.
This is very special, since I feel like she really gets me. It’s challenging anytime I’m upset or even worse, angry. Not every border collie is so sensitive, but they do pick up on your emotions.
Just in case, I suggest a gentle approach to training when they’re puppies. We tried a stern obedience class at first and she just thought I was always mad at her.
Border Collies Bark
If your collie was out on the job and something appeared in her line of vision, she’d bark at it. Part of the job is to keep the herd safe and interlopers are going to be announced and, hopefully, intimidated.
This is going to mean a lot of barking at windows and noises. We tried the pennies in a can trick and it didn’t work for us because, see emotional paragraph above. What does seem to work is to acknowledge the dog and then try to distract her.
I realize this could reinforce the behavior, but Ruby really wants to feel like I get her the way she gets me. She settles down much faster if I acknowledge her.
In fact, when her favorite people come over, she can’t relax until they tell her they love her or missed her. I know this sounds crazy, but it happens over and over.
You Have To Socialize Them
Start socializing your border collie around other dogs when they’re young. It’s important that they feel friendly and welcoming to other dogs they meet because their natural inclination is to be wary.
Take new meetings easily and remember that these dogs pick up on your emotions in a big way. Stay calm and firm and start with dog friends who are friendly and low energy.
Be Very Consistent With Training
I encourage you to learn all you can about border collie psychology. I recommend Understanding Border Collies by Barbara Sykes and Sheepdog Training and Trials: A Complete Guide for Border Collie Handlers and Enthusiasts by Nij Vyas.
Adapt any training tips you can to your dog’s life, even if she lives in the city with you.
Establish a handful of commands that your dog always responds to and use them to get your dog’s attention when she’s being headstrong.
These border collie puppy training tips are good ideas, too. I strongly agree with the author that obedience training is essential when the dog is young to establish good habits.
They’re Not Food Motivated
I am sure there is a border collie out there that loves to eat. Maybe it’s yours! Ruby could really care less, though.
Do try to be sure your dog has enough to eat, however. They’re high energy dogs. I have to remind her to drink water a lot. We’re probably a little too close.
They are praise motivated and also seem to have an internal pride for a job well done.
Ruby eats Nutro Adult Dog Food- Natural Lamb & Rice and she seems pleased enough with that. She is pretty sensitive to some food, and she tolerates this well. She just isn’t the type to gobble down her chow, but this means she’s not a food beggar, either.
For treats, she is just as happy with an ice cube or small piece of carrot as anything else. I do buy some treats for her, BLUE Health Bars, but she seems equally excited by frozen water. What I like about these treats is they don’t make her itchy and they’re pretty healthy.
Can we have a TMI moment? She sometimes gets constipated. She’s also a nervous pooper, which means she gets nervous about pooping especially if it isn’t going well. To keep things going smoothing, my vet suggested mixing a little canned pumpkin into her food. Be sure to ask yours how they feel about that before giving it a shot, but most experts agree that it’s perfectly safe.
They Do Need Grooming
They’re a long haired breed that require some grooming. If you play with your dog outside a lot, all kinds of plants will get stuck in this fur and create mats.
If you can make brushing fun, you can stay on top of the grooming pretty well at home. Ruby gets her glands expelled and a trim a couple of times a year. She’s very healthy otherwise.
They Can Get Really Excited
Ruby has a boundless enthusiasm that can be a handful at times. This is why exercise is very important. We also have some verbal commands that signify I am all done throwing things for the day. She still tries to coerce me, but ground rules are important.
When people come over, her manners leave a bit to be desired. She tries so hard to stay seated but the wiggling starts and she wants to cover the visitor in hugs and kisses. Yeah, she hugs. It’s adorable.
It goes against all dog trainer advice, but we’re all better off if I acknowledge her when I come home, sit down for a second, and give her the darn hug. I’m not saying this is the right response for you, but if what you’re doing with your border collie simply isn’t working, try thinking outside the box.
In return, she tries super hard to keep all four feet on the floor until I sit down. It’s our little compromise and it works for us.
Exercise for border collies should include some straight out running as well as a chance to anticipate and chase something. We play soccer a lot (she’s an amazing goalie) outside and a ridiculous game that looks like a basketball pick and roll drill where I try to get around her over and over.
If you’re a runner, take your border collie with you when you run!
My Chuck-It Love
For days when we’re tight on time or when I’m just over it and she is not, the Chuck-It is a lifesaver. It’s pretty fun for me, too, and I don’t have to touch the dog slobber. She knows I hate that and will actually offer the non-slobbery end of the toy during tug of war sometimes.
Another reason this toy is helpful for us is that she is very good at anticipating where I am about to throw something. The fact that she catches everything before it gets very far means it takes longer to tire her out. The Chuck-It gives me a slight edge in the fake out department.
How Much Does It Cost To Get A Border Collie?
Ruby doesn’t have papers but she did come from a responsible breeder. The cost to bring her home was only around $500.00.
It’s toys that I spend the most on, though. She has several of them and they get a lot of wear and tear because she’s obsessed with fetch. I have to keep an eye on her so she doesn’t eat the toys, and even indestructible ones only last so long.
When she was a puppy, I did crate her but we stopped that as she grew. It seems very important to her to patrol the inside of the house and she doesn’t react well to certain noises, so I like giving her the ability to get away from anything that’s making her nervous.
A smoke alarm on low battery terrorized her one day while I was at work. She isn’t nervous so much as vigilant. I imagine she thought she should be fixing the obvious alarm sound and since she couldn’t, or figure out why it was happening, she got a little bent.
If you can afford a few toys every couple of months, a couple of vet visits a year, and your initial supplies, border collies are quite affordable over all.Insert block
Conclusion: Border Collies are Rewarding Friends
Overall, I truly love this dog. She nearly drives me literally nuts, but my love for her is eternal.
If you told me you were about to get one, I would tell you it’s a tough job, but it’s worth it.
Will you share your border collie story with me? There’s room in the comments below!