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Selecting your Border Collie

This information sheet has been initiated by and for Border Collie Rescue to give insight and perspective to the background and behaviour of the breed.

The following text and information has been compiled by Border Collie Rescue with a prefix by BCR member Viv Billingham - Parkes.

Although, primarily, this sheet is aimed at people who want to take on a Border Collie for Stock work - the principle employed in selecting a suitable dog is applicable to anyone who wishes to take on a Border Collie for any purpose.


A working sheepdog is not a toy or a child substitute. Ownership of one is not a status symbol or social statement for a city dweller longing for country roots. We must remember that a Collie is a herding dog, bred by herdsmen - carefully bred for that one purpose and bred to be able to think for itself and work on its own initiative for long hours over great areas with minimal instruction and supervision.

When understood and its energy and instincts properly directed and handled, this is a wonderful and versatile breed of dog, but in the wrong hands or environment - it can be a dangerous, self targeting, semi automatic, potentially lethal weapon.

I find that most people get on best with the dogs that are very much like themselves in make up. If I sell a dog I try to match it up with someone who has a similar temperament. For instance if the dog is very very boisterous I put it with an extrovert. If it is very sensitive I will put it with someone of the same ilk.

These days most sheep are herded with the assistance of a vehicle or quad bike. At trials they are often very wild and unruly, resulting in a fast, flying, flanking machine type of dog being bred. I personally do not like this kind of dog, I much prefer a dog that lines its sheep up in a quiet manner.
A dog that walks on its feet with a low head and high shoulders.
If a dog is eyeballing the sheep with a high head, often there will be a stalemate and something will have to give - usually the sheep's temper or the dogs temper.
Although I do not want to breed a flying, flanking robot type of dog, I do realise that the old fashioned type of animal that had lots of power and did not particularly like flanking - didn’t need to flank, really, because it was always on the heavy side of sheep - isn’t the type of dog that we are going to win trials with today.
I have found that by crossing the rough and smooth you are much more likely to breed a flanker and a follower that will suit all kinds of sheep and all kinds of situations.

Viv Billingham - Parkes

Of course, most people don't keep a working sheepdog just to win trials, but many farmers and shepherds will participate in trialling on one level or another. Sometimes for fun, sometimes more seriously but always with a sense of competition and pride in the dogs they have bred and the training they have given. This is a traditional rural sport that is becoming more popular  - as a spectator or participant - within all walks of life.
Outside of the trials field there are many terrain's, environments and situations that face farmers and shepherds throughout the world. There are also many breeds of sheep that have been developed to best exploit these varied environments and this has led to a wide diversity in the blood lines of the Border Collie, as individuals seek to develop a type of dog that would best suit the working conditions they farm in and the stock they raise.
The end result is that we now have wide variations in the appearance, capabilities, levels of instinct and stamina of Border Collies today. There are even some blood lines that are being deliberately developed to reduce the working instincts and stabilise the temperament of the offspring so that they will make better pet and companion dogs. Others are being developed to a Kennel Club breed standard and the priority of the development of these blood lines is to produce a dog that conforms to the requirements of the show ring.
To the uninitiated these are all Border Collies, and many problems facing the breed today is a result of the misunderstanding of the importance of this diversity. In reality, you cannot treat the Border Collie as a 'Breed' in the accepted sense. The diversity of these blood lines results in many 'breeds within the breed' all with common links in the background of their lineage and all sharing the same breed name but with different needs and capabilities.
In Border Collie Rescue we get a variety of registered and unregistered dogs - the one thing they all have in common is that they were in the wrong environments or with the wrong people. Our job is to find out what makes these dogs tick, overcome any behavioural problems and social conditioning that has resulted from them being initially sold or placed into the wrong environments. Then we have to find a home and handler for them that does suit their needs and gives them a future. We cannot possibly apply the same criterion to each dog.  It would be disastrous, they are all very different.
It certainly helps us if the dog is registered. With a registration certificate we can trace back the blood line and see what makes it up. We can trace any links to potential hereditary diseases and faults. With the assistance of the breeder, we can research the rest of the litter and see how they are coping with life. This we do where we can.
With unregistered dogs it is not so easy and we need to rely on interviewing the previous owner and tracing back from there. Sometimes the information we are given is inaccurate and cannot be relied on.
In those circumstances, and with some dogs that come through as strays, there is no way of knowing the dogs genetic back ground and we are working from scratch. Sometimes it is obvious from the dogs physical appearance and behaviour that there is a recent link in its ancestry to a certain well known blood line and this gives us a pointer - but even this is speculative and we have to keep the dog for long enough to get to know it before we can make an informed judgement as to its future. Registration is a bonus that pays dividends.
It therefore makes great sense to us to encourage people to get the right dog in the first place and avoid the problems they and the dog would face if they make the wrong choice.
Whatever your needs - working or pet - do a bit of research before you even start looking.
Look at what you want the dog to do for you, the environment it needs to live and work in - examine your own temperament and personality - criticise your own training skills - and if you intend to bring on and train the dog yourself - make sure you have enough time set aside to do the job justice.
Only when you have all the above in perspective, should you look for a dog to suit those needs. The question remains then, as to how to locate the right dog.
This is where registration helps. If you take on an ISDS registered dog you will be able to research the background and discover traits that may help or hinder your goal. Buying from registered stock will help cut down on the risk of getting an unsuitable dog. Certainly, if you intend to use the dog for breeding or to found or re-enforce your own bloodline, you would be a fool to use anything other than an registered blood line, carefully researched.
The International Sheep Dog Society may be able to assist you in tracking down a blood line with characteristics that would best suit your circumstances. There are also commercial outlets for advice and research of this nature. You may find out, through advertisements , media or word of mouth, about a particular breeder and blood line that has the right qualities - but if its not a registered line with registered puppies - our advice would be to pass. There may be a number of blood lines (and breeders) you find out about - all with characteristics that make them a possible choice.
So having found potential dogs by researching pedigrees, the next step is to interview them. Yes that's right, interview. Its unlikely that anyone would take on an employee, feed them, lodge them and train them and give them an important job in the management of their business without first interviewing them - especially as they will be entering into a relationship that goes far beyond any employer / employee level and will involve working closely together over many years.
The simple fact of the matter is that you are a Customer and the breeder is a Vendor. this simple relationship implies that you are seeking a product and the breeder is offering one - so the breeder should expect to be questioned and have his products examined.
We know some breeders are extremely arrogant and will behave like selling you one of their dogs is a privilege generally reserved for Royal Accounts, but you don't have to buy - do you?
Our experience at BCR is that the majority of registered breeders will go out of their way to ensure that their dogs are going on to good and stable homes - so expect them to ask you a few questions as well.
The important thing to do at this stage is to narrow down the selection until you have one or two choices that seem to best suit your circumstances and needs. You can do this by talking to the breeder and talking to people who have already had pups (or trained up dogs) from that line, bearing in mind all the criteria you established in the research stage before you started to look.
Having decided on the blood line/s you need and examined your potential choice of pups it is time to make a selection. At this point you should have established that the blood line/s chosen are most likely to produce a pup that will do the job you wish it to do and fit into the environment it needs to live and work in.
The next thing to consider is the personality of the dog you are going to choose. If it is to work with you for the rest of its life it needs to be able to relate to you and wish to please you. If it is frightened of you or has no respect, the relationship will not work.
Even at a very young age the character of each puppy in a litter will begin to develop and show. At eight weeks of age it is possible to predict the likely development of character of any individual dog. You should look for a character that suits your own, a kindred spirit that reflects your personality (so it is important to be honest about yourself - to yourself  - or having come so are lost !!).
Having selected your pup you now have the potential of a good, well bred and enthusiastic young being that will be looking up to you for guidance and as a role model for its future development. Now the work really starts and the results are up to you.
If you have done your homework you will be aware of how much training you are capable of giving and how much time you have. You may decide to pay out and have your dog sent away and trained professionally. this does work for some but in the majority of cases we have come across at BCR we are aware that there are many drawbacks to this.
You and your dog need to develop and work as a team. The dog needs to know and understand you and your routines. You have to understand the dog and its abilities and short comings.
Dogs will always behave differently with different handlers. If you send your dog away it will come back to you as someone else's dog that is trained to work for them. You will then have to continue with the training routine and you will need to learn the commands or whistles of the trainer and gradually transfer the dog to your own system without loosing the benefits of the basics movements that the trainer has established.
It is not as easy as it sounds and many dogs have fallen back at this stage because the owner did not have the time or skills to transfer the dog successfully. The trainer did his bit and earned his fee, its not his fault. This system of training a dog can work well but can only substitute for the absence of training in the owner - the time and work will still need to be put in.
Alternatively, and better, learn how to train your dog yourself. There are courses available that both dog and handler attend together. In this way your own skills will increase and the dog will learn to look to you initially. In the long run this is better, cheaper and probably faster.
Of course, if you already know how to train up a sheepdog - no problems - you will have good basic material - go to it.

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