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Interactive Skills for a domestic Border Collie

By BCR Member and Dog Trainer - Jo Phillips.

The Border Collie is a breed that has been born and bred to work.
People keeping them as pets often need to be able to find an alternative to working the dog that will release the pent up energy and fulfill the need for mental stimulation that the breed has.
If these needs are not satisfied the dog may end up very frustrated and develop behavioural problems.
This leaflet covers a variety of things you can do.

First

Have you ever thought of joining a club so that you and your dog could do more things together, meet new friends and join in some activities orientated towards the dogs needs, as well as your own?
If you are lucky enough to own a Border Collie then you probably know by now that this breed needs mental stimulation as much as physical exercise.

There are many ways in which you can provide this mental stimulation, sometimes taking care of the physical exercise need as well.
Above all, joining a club and learning how to work together will help to build a bond between you and your dog so that you can both, more fully, enjoy the years ahead together with common interests.

You don’t have to compete to enjoy these activities. - You can do them simply for mutual fun!
WARNING: You’ll probably soon catch the bug!!
It can be fun for both you and your dog - but - don’t start to take it too seriously. Competitive work can be very grueling and in some cases, obsessive, putting pressure on the dog to WIN.

That’s not what it’s all about at all - it should only be FUN.

Agility

Agility is an obstacle course for dogs, consisting of things like jumps, tunnels climbing frames, see-saws and weave-poles which the dog must negotiate in the order specified by his or her handler.
You negotiate this obstacle course within a certain time limit and you loose marks for making mistakes - like knocking over obstacles or refusals.

A sense of achievement and bonding can be achieved whilst working together. It’s great fun, people enjoy it and the dogs can enjoy it too - but only if their handlers enjoy it. Dogs like it because they do it to please YOU, especially collies.
If they think it makes you happy they will be happy too and its good for developing timing and control for the trainer, it also develops dog-trainer rapport.

It's main drawback is that it is inclined to make most dogs hyperactive and over excited which is not healthy. As it is very repetitive there is a danger of repetitive strain injuries and if a dog becomes too obsessed and intense it can cause long term damage to joints, bone and spine which comes out later in life.

Because it is so equipment intensive, it does usually have to be carried out with an agility club that has the necessary safety regulations etc. It does help if you're fit!


Flyball

Flyball is a relay race between teams of four dogs who must, in turn, jump over four hurdles, paw a trigger release mechanism called a Flyball Box, catch the tennis ball which flies out and then come back to their handler over the four hurdles with the tennis ball.

The first team to complete successful runs with their four dogs wins the race.
This is an extremely predatory, addictive activity for dog and an exciting spectator sport.
Many Flyball participants play just for fun and exercise.

Like agility, it's main drawbacks lie in causing hyperactivity and repetitive strain injuries and long term damage to joints, particularly in the front legs.


Tracking

The dog is taught to follow the path of a track-layer, who leaves a scent trail.
In tracking, the goal is not to teach the dog to scent - he already knows how to do that - but to motivate him to want to keep tracking the layer’s scent.

The dog also needs to indicate articles the layer has dropped and discriminate between the scent of the layer and other people who cross the layer’s course.
The scenting ability of dogs is truly amazing.

It’s a time-intensive sport but truly satisfying if you like witnessing dogs employing their natural gifts and like all these other interactive disciplines it will satisfy the need of a Border Collie to work with its handler.
It can be a competitive discipline as part of a team or competing individually but it could also be done for fun with just you and your dog but it helps to have someone else to lay the scent trail for you.

There are other activities that involve scent discrimination. Finding a string of objects laid on a course is similar to tracking in the respect that the dog and handler should follow the scent and locate the objects in a given order.
Finding particular objects hidden within a lot of other objects is another form of scent work as is selecting one particular object from others spread over a wide area.

The key to all of these is that the dog uses its natural abilities to locate the right thing in a disciplined way.
These activities come with no particular health warning. They are steady and require the dog to think and apply its brain so it is particularly good for Border Collies.


Sheepdog Trials

This is the obvious choice for a Border Collie owner and many people are now getting involved in this pastime on a weekend basis - even if they are not farmers or shepherds.

This is not a sport to be taken lightly - the dog will take it very seriously and you should only be looking at this form of interactive skill if you have a field and sheep of your own or access to sheep on a regular basis, so you can practice and work your dog. It takes a lot of practice.

Without these facilities, you may find that your dog gets overly frustrated between events and this may lead to uncontrollable reactions around the sheep.
Particularly bad if you are out on a walk and the sheep receiving the attentions of your dog belong to someone else.

Official competitive Sheepdog trials throughout the UK are run by the International Sheepdog Society and most of the events can only be entered by society members. But anyone can join.
Some events are by invitation only and others by winning earlier events and qualifying that way, but there are open trials in which novices can take part.

This sort of sport requires close teamwork between dog and handler and trust on both sides. It requires the dog to have an understanding of what is expected of it and the ability to think for itself to achieve the end result but at the same time be responsive to instructions the handler gives.

For most of the run, the dog works at a distance from the handler who has to remain at the post and can only leave that position at certain stages of the run. The dog must work steadily and not scare the sheep or cause them to run.
Stages may vary in different events but the most common are - outrun, lift, fetch, drive, shed and pen.
At the beginning of the run dog and handler start of with a maximum number of points for each stage. Mistakes on a particular stage will result in points being deducted from the total for that stage.
The dog and handler with the most points remaining at the end of the event will be the winner.

In competition it can be frustrating because a judge will disqualify a dog and handler if they loose too many points to soon and don't have a hope of being in the running for any sort of place.
You could wait all day for your 15 minutes of fame and then have your hopes dashed within the first 5 minutes if you don't get it right.

Nevertheless it is what Border Collies are designed to do and has no drawbacks for the dog in terms of psychological or physical problems arising from participation, although in competition even the most seasoned and successful handler may suffer from occasional embarrassment!

Working Trials

Working trials cover a variety of doggy activities related to different working applications for dogs. Hence the name.

The dog and handler have to prove themselves in Obedience training, Sheep work, Agility, Searching and Tracking, Etc..
In fact working trials cover most of the activities in this leaflet.
Competitive Working trials also include Police dog work so the Border Collie competing in this sport will need to be strong and assertive to stand a chance up against GSD’s and other ‘Attack’ breeds.

Working trials were most popular with professional dog handlers in the army, police force and prison service but these days they are outnumbered by the non-professionals.
An all round activity for the best, working trials welcomes all comers.

There is a leaflet in this range that explains more about working trials - see the floating menu on the left.


Obedience Training

There is a difference between obedience training classes and an obedience club.
Many clubs hold public classes but not all Classes are associated with a Club who’s members compete at KC events.

Obedience is teaching your dog to carry out exercises by cues that you give him.
It builds a bond - you feel you can communicate with your dog almost as if he can speak the same language.

In Competitive Obedience there are certain tests set. Within each test there are various exercises.
The dog has to win so many exercises before it can progress to the next level where the programme becomes harder. To move up a level is an achievement.
It makes you feel very close to your dog because you have taught him to do these exercises and to do them well.

You can join Obedience Classes almost anywhere. You don’t have to compete if you don’t want to, but if you do wish to compete then ensure that the classes you join are run by a KC registered club.
Some clubs hold what are called match nights when the competition is between members, for fun. This activity isn’t as energetic as Agility but still provides the mental stimulation and concentration that a collie needs.

It’s a great hobby if you are not up to charging around a ring at 100 miles an hour.
Border Collie Rescue recommends all dog owners to attend obedience training classes until they have good control over their dog.



Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme
The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme is to promote responsible dog ownership and in turn, enhance our relationship with pets and to make the community aware of the benefits associated with owning dogs.

Essentially, the scheme centres around an obedience examination or test, conducted by a recognised dog training expert, under the auspices of local dog training societies.
The scheme is open to any dog, irrespective of breed and since the scheme was introduced, almost as many mongrels and crossbreeds as pedigree dogs have taken part.


If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please phone 0845 604 4941 during office hours.
(2 pm to 5 pm Mondays to Thursdays)

Please do not write to us or email us about adoption - we want to speak to you before we start the process.