You have a Border Collie. It
lives in the house with you and your family. It can sleep
anywhere it wants, on your sofa, even on your bed.
What else does it need?
Well maybe a little less freedom and a little more demarcation and guidance for a start, not forgetting a place of its own, to call its own where it knows it can go to when it wants peace and quiet and to be left alone.
We all want that. Humans call it 'personal space' and 'me time' and we regard it as precious - but oddly we don't transfer that need to a dog.
People who invade our personal space or interrupt our 'me time' are regarded unfavorably, tolerated sometimes but often told to 'get out of my face' or 'leave me alone' by those of us who are less tolerant and less polite!
Go into a rough pub and find the biggest bloke in there and stick your face 6 inches from theirs and you could come away with a sudden need to see a dentist.
So why shouldn't dogs feel the same and react in a similar way.
If you stick your face in a dogs face, hold it tight, keep hassling it when its trying to sleep, try and pull it out from under or behind something it is using as a hide away or even grab it suddenly, you may get a wide look or passive resistance, the dog may simply try and escape or occasionally a dog may lash out with a growl or even a bite.
Their reaction will be governed by two main considerations -
1) When they react depends on how far you push them before they loose patience.
The level of tolerance may vary with familiarity but the dogs character will dictate how much they will put up with.
2) How they react depends on how they feel about your position in comparison to them. If they see you as leader dogs usually react submissively. If they see you as a sibling it is likely they will try and escape or growl. If they think your down the pecking order they could snap or bite without any warning.
Personal space and 'me time' is important for any dog.
They all have a need for some space of their own and some time to themselves so we should be looking at providing them with a bed of their own in a quiet or out of the way spot in the house where they can go to, and we should respect their privacy when they choose to do so.
This is not simply a bed in the corner of the sitting room. (They should always have one of those so there is no excuse for them getting up on the furniture.) What we're talking about is a 'den'.
Dogs are animals that like to 'den' and one should be provided.
An enclosed area in a quiet room of the house which the dog can regard as a retreat and where the whole family knows it should be left alone.
Although it can be told to go to this 'den' it should be in a light tone of voice that implies that to do so is something fun and nice. It should never sound like any form of threat.
The dog should never be sent there as a punishment. It should be allowed to go there when it chooses and never be prevented when it does.
Positioning a dogs day bed
It's good to give a dog a day bed and a night bed. A night bed should be the 'den' tucked away somewhere quiet in an area the dog has free access to.
The day bed could be in a room where the dog is allowed as a privilege. In most households this would be the main sitting room.
Bearing in mind the basic principals of security and personal space, place the day bed against a wall or in a corner and where the dog can see you all and where you can see the dog.
Avoid loudspeakers, radiators, fires of any sort and draughty areas.
Other options are available.
The day bed could be in any room the dog has right of access to (see demarcation) as long as its not the same room as the den as that could be very confusing.
Your dog should be trained to go to its day bed when told and stay there on command but there is no reason why it should obliged to stay there all the time it is in the room - just when you tell it.
By all means let it lie down where it pleases, be it in front of the fire, on a favourite rug, or against the door for the benefit of any draught coming under it to help the dog cool down. Just don't let it on the furniture.
Make the sitting room a place of privilege by invitation only
At night the dog sleeps in its den in another room.
Separating 'day' from 'night' helps structure routines and define sleep patterns. We always give all dogs in rescue a small biscuit treat when they come in from their last excursion of the evening outside and go to their den for the night.
The biscuit becomes part of the bedtime routine.
The dogs get to look forward to it and it signals the end of the day.
A good form of 'den' is a dog crate. It can be placed under a worktop or table or put in the corner of a room and covered top, back and both sides with a blanket or similar. It should be padded out with comfortable bedding, be high enough for the dog to fully stand, long enough and wide enough for the dog to lay out fully extended and easily turn around.
The door should be left open so the dog can come and go as it pleases and in some cases have its meals in it.
It should be a secure sanctuary.
Covering it makes it feel more secure. The dog feels that it cannot be approached from above, behind or the side and only has to keep a look out in front for trouble. Imagine - you - creepy room - dark. Back to wall or in the open?
An additional advantage in using a crate is that it can be moved if necessary because it becomes the dogs sanctuary rather than the room it is located in. If you take your dog away with you it can be the home from home the dog needs at your destination. Somewhere familiar and secure and smelling of home.
If you have lots of visitors or any reason to keep your dog away from certain visitors it can be sent to its den in the crate away from all the activity. When tradespeople come to fix things or for any reason you need to be sure the dog is safe and out of the way it can be in its secure place where it feels comfortable.
With territorial, very active or poorly socialised dogs the crate can be closed and the front covered.
This secures the dog against the visitors and the visitors against the dog!
When travelling, the crate in the car becomes a useful safety feature, making sure the dog can't accidentally distract the driver and preventing it from being thrown round the vehicle if ever an accident of emergency stop occurs.
It's annoying to have a dog bouncing from side to side in the back of a car like a manic tennis ball. Distracting!
Yep - crates are a dog best friend yet some people (for reasons of personal sentiment or total lack of understanding) will deprive their dog of these facilities because somehow, to them, it feels wrong.
That said, crates can be misused. They should not be used to shut dogs away or secure them all day while at work.
Their correct use it to protect the dog, keep it secure and keep it comfortable for short periods when it needs to be shut in and to be used as a sanctuary with free access and egress the rest of the time.
Other den or sleeping areas
A den could be a normal bed placed against a wall under a work surface, between appliances or cupboards in a utility room. It could be under the stairs as long as the stairs are not open plan. It could be in a boot room, porch or even a 'dogs' room if you have one. Trick is to make it shielded back top and sides in some manner and make it available.
Avoid conservatories, kitchens, hallways (unless under stairs), any busy area or one subject to temperature extremes.
If you have a secure garden you may want to offer your dog a day bed in a shelter of some kind, be it a garage, outbuilding or shed. Only use a garage if it's not used to store anything that gives off fumes or strong smells.
This could be in addition to what's provided inside the house, particularly if your dog prefers being outside (some do).
A variety of beds and sleeping places can be good for a dog - but there should only be one 'Den'.
Give free access to any bed outside the house. If it is not enclosed in a building of some sort make sure it is covered, waterproof and draught free and that the entrance has some sort of flap and some sort of porch, both to prevent rain and wind. Make sure the entrance is set facing away from the direction inclement weather normally comes from.
Make sure there is enough space inside for the dog to stand and turn without actually getting on to the bed and make the bed area higher than the floor level by raising it on a plinth (about nine inches high).
In outside shelters we use Vetbed as a top layer over any other bedding. It has a quality of letting water through without getting wet itself so if a dog gets caught in the rain and comes in wet, the bedding in contact with it remains almost completely dry. Straw does pretty much the same thing but Vetbed is tidier!
You could install a purpose built kennel and run in your garden so the dog has a covered run and access through a hole into a sleeping section. These outdoor arrangements will suit some Border Collies very well and to have them available enables you to offer your dog another useful facility and variation in its accommodation.
If you have a party or large family gathering when there are kids playing and running about, music, loud conversations, food being prepped and eaten and lots of people moving around, your dog can be safely out of the way getting a bit of peace and quiet. Many dogs appreciate this more than being in the thick of things.
Beds and Bedding
There are so many dog beds on the market. The choice is huge. Important factors to remember are hygiene, comfort and warmth.
Plastic beds are fairly cheap and easy to keep clean, They are generally raised on a little built in plinth and often have vents in the base to help stop condensation.
They have high sides to prevent draughts and a cutaway front for ease of access.
They are not very comfortable but soft bedding will take care of that so these are what we recommend as a base for any dog bed providing you get the right size for your dog - bear in mind the laying out flat option dogs like to take!
To prevent it indenting your carpet, put it on a small rug or spare piece of carpet just big enough for the base to sit on.
The type and amount of bedding used will depend on the heating in the room where the bed is. Blankets are good. Duvets too. Many other materials are also suitable. Make your own bed liner and fill it with hollow fibre pillows!
Top off any bed with a layer of Vetbed big enough to cover the base and up the sides of the bed. Vetbed helps trap loose fur as well as moisture and can be brushed and then machine washed at 40%. Lasts well if you look after it.
Get two pieces the right size for the bed and rotate them. Providing you wash one piece as soon as you take it off the bed you should always have a clean piece available. Brush it before washing it.
Did we mention that Vetbed does not retain water so it spins off and dries very quickly.
We tend to steer away from foam filled beds and cushions as some of these give off fumes for a long while after they are made. We also stay away from anything filled with feathers and fur filled things.
Cheap beds need looking at very carefully to ensure materials and filling are suitable and flame retardant.
A lot of modern soft dog beds are made using hypoallergenic hollow fibre filling in lined, shaped sections that make up the beds structure. The whole being covered by a suitable material that can be removed and washed when needed.
So take your pick for inside use - even colour co-ordinate to your furniture or curtains!
For an outside bed.
The base unit can be the same - a plastic oval bed of the right size. If it's cold, fill it with straw and line it with Vetbed.
If its warm the Vetbed will do on its own.
You need to bear in mind that in an outdoor environment the dog may get wet so avoid any bedding that retains water.
It is important for a dogs well being that there are some demarcation zones in a house where the dog is not allowed to go, some areas where it can go by invitation and some areas it has free access to as it pleases.
Bedrooms should be no-go zones (on any floor) as should stairs, all of upstairs and landings. Front porches the same if the front garden is not secure.
Dining rooms, kids playrooms and other such by invitation.
Hallways, kitchens, utility rooms, conservatories (but watch temperatures and never shut a dog in one), garages and the main family sitting room or lounge should be free access. Back garden as well, providing it is secure.
In any of these rooms a dog should not be permitted to get up on furniture, play with any item not specifically given to it for that purpose, jump up or on to work surfaces, tables or the like or get into the habit of blocking walkways.
The whole family should know these zones and rules. So should the dog.
Anyone finding the dog breaking the rules should correct the situation at the time.
If a dog is allowed freedom in the house with no demarcation it starts to get the wrong idea. It starts to see itself as an equal to everyone else and not subordinate.
It has to be made clear that people can do things and go places a dog cannot and this will not be achieved by instruction alone. It is best done by example and integrated into the routines and lifestyle of the household.
Dogs think differently to us.
At least two things can go wrong if your dog is allowed to sleep in your bedroom, or worse, on your bed!
It can start to see itself as an equal and/or start to take on the role of an intimate personal protector.
Both of these attitudes can quickly become serious issues.
Did we mention hygiene? Dogs tend to have things sticking to them. Things you would not like sticking to you. These will end up sticking to your bedding and you as well.
Dogs lick areas of their body it is unlikely that you would be persuaded to lick. Then they lick other parts of their body and rub themselves on bedding. They enjoy having a little wriggle before settling. Makes the bed smell more familiar.
Next time you see your dog licking it's paws you may note that it's tongue is not overly accurate and will tend to lick anything immediately adjacent to the paw. Think of where the paws may have been before being licked. Scary.
Dogs can also carry parasites and infections that can be passed onto humans. Lets try and keep these in limited areas!
In other leisure situations if the dog is allowed to share the sofa it gains a degree of intimacy above its position in the family. If not corrected this could lead to it taking over, occupying the sofa and warning everyone else off on to the floor.
Did we mention hygiene?
Feeding from the table or from your plate also gives a dog the wrong idea. By all means share some delicacies with your dog but don't allow it to eat with you, or in a dining room. Eat first and then put any scraps in its bowl with its normal food and feed it at the routine time.
These are all very basic, well known rules to follow if you want to avoid problems and misunderstandings - and spells on the toilet or on courses of antibiotics - or worse. Ever tried to eliminate Giardia - not easy.
Good and Consistent Guidance
This is all part of training a dog - remember everything you do with a dog is part of its training. It's learning all the time so be concise, precise, consistent and assertive with all instructions and repeat as necessary.
Use gestures to compliment and elaborate instructions, but remember the concise and precise bit and more importantly the consistency bit!
Don't ever think your dog has finished its training and let your standards lapse. If you stop being consistent the dog will modify its relationship with you accordingly and will be less likely to obey promptly, or at all.
If family members do not use the same instructions all the time it could confuse the dog. Border Collies in particular will try and differentiate variations in an instruction if it sees some detail has changed - be consistent.
In some cases, over time, a dog will learn to take into consideration the inability of some humans to issue an instruction in the same way and tone every time - but don't rely on your Border Collie being that dumb!
If it is a bit dumb it won't misinterpret variations in commands as requiring a different response. But the smarter the dog is, the more attentive it will be to variations and trying to work out what they mean. Border Collies are smart dogs.
Being consistent with commands throughout the family also re-enforces the dogs position in relation to all the family members. If it hears the same instructions from everybody it is less likely to try and dominate weaker family members.
So why confuse the poor dog in the first place?
If a dog gets it wrong, it will know from its handlers reaction, be it voice tone or body language (or both).
Border Collies like to get it right and if one thinks it was doing something right but misinterprets a poorly given command and gets it wrong, it will be upset and confused and unhappy you are annoyed with it.
Why put the dog through the trauma of feeling all of that because of a mistake you have made?
Be clear about what you want the dog to do.
Inconsistent guidance and training is not the dogs fault, its yours.