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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Settling in a new Border Collie

Settling in a new Border Collie

If you are reading this leaflet, the chances are that you have recently acquired a Border Collie or you wish to acquire one.

If you have yet to take the step of acquiring a BC then we would suggest that you first read our information sheet
‘The Border Collie as a Pet’.

If you have already got a BC then the information contained in this leaflet may be of use to you.
You may also find useful information in some of our other information sheets
'Behaviour of the Border Collie' and 'Instincts of the Border Collie'.

There are links to all these information sheets in the sliding menu to the left.

Settling in.

Two common mistakes that people make when settling in their new Border Collie are -
Failing to clearly define boundaries of acceptable behaviour from the outset and -
Failing to ensure that the dog understands its position in the family pack and pecking order.

This is often especially true with a rescued dog.

Some rescue dogs have had traumatic experiences in their past which may incline the new owner to initially spoil the dog as a form of compensation. Often new owners, feeling sorry for the ‘poor rescued dog’ allow the dog to get away with all sorts of behaviour that they wouldn’t normally tolerate. Too much sympathy and space may be detrimental to the long term benefit of the dog.

It is important to understand that the main thing that the dog needs, to overcome its instability and become a sensible member of the household, is security and guidance. If the dog gets the wrong impression of its place in the family when it first comes into its new home, owners may find this difficult to correct at a later date.
To often, later attempts to correct errant behaviour will confuse the dog and make matters worse.

Our advice is to be kind - but firm - from the start. Begin as you intend to continue, set and enforce the rules and make sure the whole family sticks to them. It is important that the family works as a team - dogs understand team work and respond to routines, learning by habit and repetition. This helps to make them more secure in their pack and reinforces their position in the pecking order - which, in the case of a family pet, should be firmly at the bottom.

If you consider this you will understand that dogs can learn bad habits as easily as desirable behaviour if the examples set are wrong or the training methods inconsistent. It is important that the whole family takes a consistent approach to the dog, sticking to the same commands and backing each other up.

The Border Collie is a very intelligent breed and will quickly recognise and exploit any weakness.

Changing the Dogs Diet.

Before you take the dog in, ensure that you have a sufficient supply of the brand of food that the dog is used to, so you can continue its normal feeding routine.
If you change a diet too quickly the dog is likely to have an upset stomach and loose bowels.

This will not be much fun for you (or the dog).
It could even cause a breakdown of the dogs house-training.

If you wish, you can change the diet gradually over a period of 10 to 14 days, without causing stomach upsets, by gradually replacing a proportion of the usual food with the food you prefer to be feeding.
We suggest initially feeding complete balanced dried foods with a protein base appropriate to the activity level of the dog.
Once the dog is settled and routines are established you can think more closely about the best diet to suit your dog and your lifestyle and make the changes gradually so no-one is upset!

As a rough guide - Puppies need a high protein diet to encourage correct growth. From weaning to around 6 to 9 months a diet with 24% to 26% protein. After that, graduate to a Junior food with lower protein of around 20% to 24% Some puppy foods have a very high protein level and there is evidence to suggest that excessive protein can lead to health problems later in life as growth can be artificially ‘forced’.

At 18 months the dog can go on to an adult diet of around 20% protein. Some nutritionists think older dogs require lower protein levels, others think higher - jury is out on that one, but most manufacturers of special diets for older dogs tend to suggest lower.

It is important to understand that dogs - like people - are individuals. A dog with a sedentary lifestyle will require lower levels of protein and oil in their diet than a working dog that uses a lot of energy. They may also need a smaller quantity overall.
If in any doubt, we would suggest that you spoke to your vet - or an independent and qualified canine nutritionist.

At Border Collie Rescue, we do not recommend feeding on tinned food and mixer. Our own experience suggests that this type of diet can increase hyperactivity levels, so we avoid it. Initially it is best to avoid giving your dog the same foods as the family eats. This may give the dog the wrong impression of its position in the pack. Again, later, when the dog is settled in and its position in the family is established you can supplement its diet, providing you maintain a nutritional balance.

Always bear in mind that in a naturally competitive environment like a pack, the strongest top dogs will eat first - and get the best of the pickings. Bottom dogs eat what is left, when the others have finished. Demonstrate this to your dog by example.

Helping the dog feel secure.

A dog is a dog - not a little furry human!
They think in a different way to us and if we want to relate to them we have to learn to think in their terms and understand their needs.
Don’t expect them to learn to think like us - humans are more intelligent than dogs and with our superiority comes a responsibility to get it right for them. To get it right for them we need to learn to think like them.
To a dog security comes in a very simple package - a place to sleep - something to eat - its position in the pack (family group) and stimulation, both mental and physical.

Somewhere to sleep.
Every dog needs its space. It is important that your new dog should have a space of its own where it can retire to when it feels under pressure or in need of privacy. There is more on this subject in our 'Accommodation' information sheet.

When you have decided where the dog is going to sleep make sure that everyone in the family knows that this is the dogs personal area and if in its bed or den, not to disturb or harass it.
If the dog has done wrong do not chastise it in its bed or den.
Do not make it a punishment to be sent to its bed or den - removal of privileges can be used as punishment.
The dog will probably want to retire after a reprimand but, if it associates being sent to bed as a punishment it will have no retreat or place of sanctuary.

If the dog is to sleep indoors, locate the dogs bed in a room that is away from the special living areas of the family - the porch, a utility room, under the stairs or a recess of the hallway are good - a kitchen will do, although not if its a busy one!
Avoid bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms - these are special areas where the dog should only be allowed a privilege - not as a right.
Never allow the dog to sleep on your bed or in a bedroom.
If you do, the dog may get the wrong idea of its position in the family.

Something to eat.
Dogs should eat separately and away from people. They should eat dog food not human food and they should be fed as part of a regular routine.
They will know when its feeding time and will learn to expect their meals at the same time each day.
A regular routine will aid their security and also help regulate their bowel movements. This will enable you to set up an exercise routine which will mean that the dog is outside when it most needs to relieve itself and will make house-training easier to teach & maintain.

However it is important that the feeding and exercise routines are fitted around your own lifestyle and schedule.
Regularity is important but the dog must learn that it has to fit around you, not you around the dog - which leads us on to -

A position in the family group.
Dogs are pack animals and each dog has its position in the pack.
A family dog has its position at the bottom of the pack with the rest of the family higher up the pecking order.
This is important.

If a dog gets the wrong impression of its place in the family, the dog may become increasingly dominant, seeking to raise itself up the pecking order by asserting itself on the weaker members - usually the children at first.
Eventually it will think it is top dog and will proceed to sit in your chairs, steal your food and resist any attempts to move or prevent it, possibly going as far as biting anyone who interferes.

It doesn’t matter about the size of the dog - dominance is a state of mind - the dog must never be allowed to believe it is the most dominant member of its pack (your family).
If it does - you, or other members of your family, will loose control.

Give the dog the guidance it needs in these matters so its position is clearly understood - not only by the dog but by all the family. Support the weaker willed members of the family when they instruct the dog and set up rules that everyone agrees to follow.

Dogs should only be allowed to share your space as a privilege, not as a matter of course.
This means keeping them off your furniture, not allowing them to sleep on your bed and restricting the dog to certain rooms of the house.
Allowing the dog to be with you when it demands to be will enhance separation anxiety which will place the dog under stress when you have to leave it alone.
Don’t allow the dog to be with you ALL the time. Leave it alone in other rooms on occasions and don’t pay it attention on demand. Help it to learn to have some independence so it can cope when you are not around.


Treats should only be given as a reward for following instructions correctly and then only on a random basis - not every time.
Don’t feed family scraps as treats - only dog treats and never human chocolate, it is toxic to dogs.

Border Collies usually get sufficient reward by knowing that they have got it right and many can't be bribed by treats.
That does not mean they would not enjoy or desire a treat, it just means that they do not see a treat as a powerful incentive to do what they are told.
A Border Collie may work out that they can get a treat if they can fool their human into thinking they deserve one, but that is 'cupboard love' and not to be relied on as a confirmation that training is going well!

Plenty of praise is a good reward for most Border Collies. Make sure the dog understands you are pleased with the way it has behaved and what it has done - offer treats sparingly and irregularly so one is not expected every time.

Following these simple rules will help to place the whole family higher up the pecking order - providing you all stick to them.
The dog will know its place, will be a happier pet and will be more likely to behave itself when told.

A few simple rules

What the dog will need most will be security and leadership.
These are by far the most important gifts you can give them in a new home.

It does not matter if it is a rescue dog or one you have been given or purchased, it has moved from a familiar place to an unknown place and it's had no choice so it is going to be upset to one degree or another

Some dogs will settle very quickly and others take longer. Much will depend on their past experience and their character.
Some dogs will retreat into themselves, others will become more animated, all will be a little confused and worried.

You need to offer the dog some form of security and reassurance to help it overcome its initial fears in its new home.
Do this by being very patient, gentle and kind, tolerating some initial odd behaviour, being very firm and demonstrating good leadership and making sure everyone in the family is calm around the dog and gives it space.

Common mistakes -
Allowing the kids to climb all over the dog and invade its space.
Inviting the family and neighbours over to meet the new dog.
Putting on loud music and having a bit of a party to celebrate.
Feeding the dog lots of treats to compensate for its long face and nervousness.
Constantly petting it to compensate for its long face and nervousness (this will just make it more needy).

Things to do -
Take the dog out for a quiet walk before even going into the house. Let is sniff around and see where it is.
When you take it back to the house, make sure it can see where home is in relation to everything else.
Keeping the dog on the lead, take it though the house and into the garden so it knows what is out there.
Still on the lead, take the dog into all the areas of the house it will be at liberty to use and show it to its bed and its den. Making sure all other pets and people are settled and steady, let it off the lead and make a bit of a fuss of it.
Allow it to explore in its own time but keep an eye on it in case there are any 'mistakes'. Show it to its water bowl.
Feed it at the appropriate time and take it out for a walk immediately it has finished.
Act as though everything is perfectly normal.

For the first few night we would always suggest the dog is shut in its crate at bedtime after it has been out for the last time.
Give it a late night biscuit as a treat. Get up as early as you can the following morning so it can get out and relieve itself.


A Border Collie will need plenty of exercise - again - regular routines help to make a dog more secure, so set up regular walks and outings and allow the dog some free running time but always include some lead work to ensure discipline is maintained.

For a Border Collie, mental stimulation is as important as physical - the BC is a working breed and the need to be doing something is common to all members. Good quality toys that double as training aids are best - avoid squeaky toys and soft chewy toys - they are just going to overstimulate prey instincts by simulating killing a small furry animal.
We also suggest avoiding soft chewy balls unless they are being used as a training reward for search or scent work.

Use toys to play with the dog in the garden and out on walks. Encourage the dog to play on its own with suitably designed  and sensible toys which will help the dog to cope and pass time happily when you have to leave it on its own.
Leave it the toys and it may leave you with your furniture. In this way you will also decrease the chances of the dog causing itself injury by chewing a dangerous article while alone and bored.
If a dog toy is designed to appeal to humans don't get it. Think dog. Toys should engage and educate, not turn your dog into an obsessive lunatic.

Don’t wait when you get your new Border Collie.
Get into these routines from the start - and book into dog training classes - it will help the dog bond with you and teach it to obey you instantly when distracted or off the lead.
Be firm from day one - your dog will respect you and want to obey you if it sees you as its leader - simply to please you.
Praise should be the biggest reward you can, or need to give.

If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please do not write to us or email us - we want to speak to you before we start the process.
Please phone us during office hours. Details here.