Ranking as the most intelligent dog breed by more than 200 professional dog obedience judges, you'd expect the border collie to be relatively easy to train. Not so fast. While it's true that border collies can learn very quickly, this shouldn't be mistaken with being easy to train. Along with learning desirable behaviors, border collies often learn many undesirable ones. Training a smart border collie requires care and precision so you don't end up reinforcing problematic behaviors.
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Drain Out Energy
The border collie breed was selectively bred to gather sheep from the hills found along the border of England and Scotland. This required a breed who was sensitive to commands, light on its feet and blessed with loads of endurance so they could sprint after sheep all day. When kept as pets, border collies require a job to do and it can be challenging to adequately exercise them. Unless you have sheep, you must find appropriate outlets for this breed's needs for exercise or you'll end up with a border collie who is bouncing off the walls. Draining those energy levels is the secret for a calmer border collie who is capable of focusing on your commands in a controlled way.
Without adequate exercise and mental stimulation, border collies will put their smart brains to work to find creative outlets for their pent-up energy. This may lead to opening cabinets, removing stuffing out of couches, ripping up carpets, chasing shadows, not to mention, relentless barking, destructive chewing and even obsessive behaviors. Luckily, there are more productive ways to put their minds to work.
Teach Them Words
It's no secret that working border collies are capable of distinguishing the slightest variations in their shepherd's whistles responding appropriately to each tone, but not many know that this sensibility to their handler's whistles makes border collies very adept to learning words. Take Rico, the border collie who learned 200 words, or even more impressively, Chaser, the border collie who learned more than 1,000 words. Through a process known as fast mapping, your border collie has the ability to increase his vocabulary too. Here are some tips:
- Teach action words by saying the word of the action as your dog performs it. For instance, say "yawn" every time your border collie yawns. Through repetition, your border collie should start associating the word with the action and start performing it upon hearing you pronounce it.
- Show an object and repeatedly say the name of the object. Afterward, test your border collie's understanding by placing it nearby another object and asking him to indicate it after hearing you pronounce its name. Praise and reward for indicating the right one.
- Teach the names of more objects and then test your dog's ability to discriminate one particular object among the others.
Hold Your Ground
Border collies can be extremely sensitive to the slightest sounds or movements you make. This predisposition may lead to frustrating training sessions because you border collie may start anticipating you by performing commands even before you open your mouth. To solve this problem, the secret is to hold your ground. Don't reinforce the behavior fueling it with treats, praise or any form of positive feedback, otherwise you'll be telling him that it's fine to use his own judgment and engage in random acts . Instead, ignore the behavior and try again a few seconds later. Once he allows you to pronounce the command without anticipating, make sure to lavishly praise and reward. By ignoring the wrong, and rewarding the right, your border collie should catch up quickly.
Border collies thrive on variety. When you ask your border collie several commands in a row, make sure you vary the order in which you give them so your border collie is less tempted to anticipate you. Also, make sure to always use the same precise command. A mere change in tone of voice may have your border collie thinking you're using an entirely new command.
Despite appearing hardheaded, border collies are quite sensitive dogs who may freeze and shut down if corrected. If at any time during a training session you feel like you're getting frustrated, stop the session and take a small break. Always keep training sessions fun and upbeat.
Train Alternate Behaviors
Many border collies are sadly surrendered because they engage in instinctive behaviors that were much prized by shepherds years ago. Many dog owners have a hard time accepting a border collie's intense herding instincts especially when they involve chasing cars or attempts to gather and nip joggers or even children. It's important to realize that instinctive behaviors are neither trained nor learned. While there's no way to remove this instinct, the good news is that it can at least be modified and redirected into other more desirable and appropriate activities. Engage your border collie in a fun game of Frisbee or if you want to make him extra happy, enroll him in a sheep herding trial, and if no sheep are in your area, let him discover the fun sport of Treibball.
Never leave a border collie unattended around children.
Start on the Right Paw
The saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" perfectly reflects what you should be doing with a border collie puppy. Don't miss out on the early window of socialization in this breed who is often standoffish by nature. Teach your border collie from the start how to behave around people, other animals and children. Early training and socialization will set the foundation required to prevent behavior problems, and should you ever notice the eruption of a new problem, the secret to solving it fast is enrolling a professional to help you out and "nip it in the bud."
- Stanley Coren: The Intelligence of Dogs
- Psychology Today: Canine Intelligence—Breed Does Matter
- Border Collie Rescue: Do I Really Want a Border Collie?
- The United States Border Collie Club: Border Collie Characteristics
- Daily Mail: Owner Taught Dog One Thousand Words
- Your Purebred Puppy: Border Collie Temperament What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em