Border Collies are amazingly instinctual when it comes to herding. Bred to herd sheep in wide-open spaces, they instinctively have the knack needed to round up and guide groups of animals. However, this can be inconvenient when it also translates to people, other pets in the home, or even cars.
Here are 4 easy tips on how to stop a Border Collie from herding:
- Commit to regular training sessions to stop herding.
- Start training your Border Collie as soon as possible.
- Teach a command to signal the end of work or play.
- Learn more about the Border Collie breed.
In the rest of this article, we’ll explore these different tips to stop your Border Collie from herding. We have a step-by-step guide to follow for the ideal training session, as well as some other tips that’ll help you get the best out of your time with your Border Collie.
1. Commit to Regular Training Sessions To Stop Herding
Because herding is such an instinctual behavior, you’ll have to commit to proactive and regular training sessions to give your dog a new default mode from which to operate.
Whatever it is that your Border Collie likes to herd, you’ll slowly expose him to that stimulus in a controlled environment. You’ll train him to listen to you over his instincts and will reward him generously along the way.
These training sessions are incredibly important, especially if your dog is fixed on herding a particularly dangerous external object. If you find your dog particularly interested in herding cars as they pass by, you’ll want to address this behavioral problem right away. This is a clear and obvious danger, as herding cars could result in an accident for your dog.
Border Collies are also known to herd children, other dogs or pets in the home, or any other moving object. No matter what the object of the dog’s fixation is, the theory is the same. Make your correction before your dog engages in the negative behavior and reward. By consistently repeating this pattern, your dog will have a new set of conditioned behaviors on which to rely.
Before you bring in the stimuli of choice (car, kids, other pets), you’ll need to spend time training your dog with your key command. Luckily, Border Collies are incredibly intelligent and should learn whatever command you choose very quickly.
For this command, we’ll use the example of “come.” If you have a different command that you deem more appropriate, feel free to use that.
To teach or reinforce this command, dedicate some training time exclusively to practicing this one thing. You can follow these easy steps to accomplish this goal:
- Choose your training environment. If you want to start out with more control, you may begin in a room of your home. You can work up to larger, more open spaces with more distractions over time. Prepare some small treats your dog loves for use during the training process. Amazon has plenty of dog treats to choose from. My dogs love treats from Wellness Natural. Hopefully this makes your decision easier.
- Allow your dog to behave naturally in this space. Position yourself, so you’re about 10 ft (3 m) away from your dog. In the beginning, have a treat in your hand and squat down before issuing the command.
- Say your dog’s name and get his attention. Showing the treat to your dog, deliver the command “come!” in a happy, positive, audible voice. When your pup arrives, give him an abundance of verbal praise and love. Your goal here is to create a link in your dog’s mind between the act of running to you and the command word. The treat and praise make it a positive experience for your dog that he’ll be excited to repeat.
- Repeat this training consistently. As your dog catches on, you can make it more challenging in different ways. You can position yourself further away from your dog when you issue the command. You can begin to issue the command while still standing.
Ultimately, once the behavior has been established, you should be able to issue the command while standing and without giving a treat. Once your dog runs to you consistently when you issue the command, he’s effectively learned the behavior. At this point, you’re ready to bring in the target stimuli.
Training Session Preparation
Let’s talk about how to get ready for your first training session with your dog. First, you’ll want to make sure your Border Collie is in a Martingale collar, also known as a no-slip collar. This collar is composed of two loops, one that goes around the dog’s neck and the other where the leash is attached.
This type of collar is ideal because the dog can’t slip out of it easily, and it also won’t choke your dog, even if he pulls on the leash.
Alternatively, you could use a harness for this training session. However, make sure that this harness is well-fitted and secure. You don’t want your dog to be able to slip out of it during the session, especially if you’re practicing with a slow-moving vehicle. I use this harness from Amazon for my dogs.
For this session, you’ll also need to find a space suitable for the stimuli you’ll recreate. For example, if you need to practice with cars, you’ll need a large, open outdoor space along with a friend with a car that your dog doesn’t recognize. If you’ll practice with your playful kids, you may use your backyard. Choose a setting that mimics the real-life scenario with which your dog is struggling.
Introduce Target Stimulation
When you feel confident in your dog’s ability to respond to your key verbal command, you can move on to this stage. This is where you’ll recreate the fixation of your dog’s herding instinct in a controlled way.
If your dog is obsessed with herding cars, you’ll want to be able to expose them to a moving car in a safe way while establishing a new behavioral pattern. If your dog herds and nips at your kids when they play, you’ll want to establish the new patterns while your kids play nearby.
Furthermore, if it’s another dog or pet that they like to chase, you’ll have to do your training near where that animal can freely play.
The goal of this session is to establish a positive, desired behavior in a situation that usually triggers your dog’s herding impulse. Follow this step-by-step guide to see how you can begin training with your Border Collie:
- Bring your dog to the environment you have chosen for your training. Have your dog on a long leash, giving him enough room to move without creating tension but not enough to really get away from you. Set a relaxed atmosphere. You can warm up by practicing your key command a few times and rewarding your dog generously.
- Introduce the target stimuli. Begin with this happening a bit far away from you and your dog. You can work on getting closer over time.
- Signal to your friend driving the car or your children playing to begin. Focus your attention on your dog. You’ll likely notice their herding instincts begin to kick in. Their breathing might become deeper or more rapid and may begin barking, tensing their body, or crouching down slightly. These are signs they’re ready to herd.
- Issue the key command when the dog is starting to herd. It’s important to give the command before the chase begins. They’ll be in full instinct mode at that point, so it’ll be hard to get a good result. You need to issue the command before their herding thoughts turn into action.
- Observe your dog. If they come to you, give them plenty of praise and rewards. This is the behavior you want, and you can continue to practice this training exercise consistently to reinforce this target behavior.
- Use the leash if they don’t respond to the command. If they launch into herding mode, you’ll want to use the leash to prevent them from continuing the chase. As you stop the chase with the leash, you’ll want to say “no” or another negative word.
The goal here is to associate the attempt to herd with a negative outcome while not herding receives a positive outcome. Consistently practice this over time until your dog catches on and builds a new behavioral pattern.
Over time, as your dog gets better and better, you can make it more challenging by moving closer to the target stimuli or, if it’s safe, removing the leash.
2. Start Training Your Border Collie As Soon as Possible
Remember, the earlier you can start the process, the better. If you notice this kind of behavior when your Border Collie is a puppy, you’ll want to get to work right away, establishing new patterns.
It might not feel dangerous at the time, as it may even be cute to see a young Border Collie attempt to round up children. However, the behavior will only continue as an adult, and it can be more dangerous when the dog is fully grown.
Additionally, it’ll take more time and effort to retrain an adult Border Collie. As a puppy, the habit is still new, and they can learn a more appropriate habit quickly and use that as their default.
If they have several years of herding as a default behavior, it’ll take much more diligence and training on your part to give them a new operating system when faced with the same stimuli.
3. Teach a Command To Signal the End of Work or Play
Border Collies love to work. While they might not have any sheep to herd with you in your home, they’ll love the “work” of playing fetch, catching the frisbee, completing the agility course, or any similar activity. The Chuckit! Ball Launcher is a great toy to throw balls really far.
They love to use their physical and mental energy, and letting your Border Collie release these energies each day is important for their health and happiness.
An additional command you might consider teaching your Border Collie is an “off switch” for when their work is finished. Border Collies may struggle to accept that the game of fetch is over if they still have more energy to burn. By teaching them a command that tells them the work is over, they’ll understand and comply.
You can choose any phrase that you naturally say when the game or activity is over. Examples include: “that’s all,” “all done,” and “that’ll do.” Whatever you choose, use it consistently when you end the activity each day. Your dog will soon associate that phrase with the end of working time.
4. Learn More About the Border Collie Breed
If you’re struggling with training your dog, take a moment to review what you know about the breed. These dogs are highly energetic and immensely smart and need these attributes to be recognized and used regularly. They crave intense exercise for their minds and bodies and need to receive it on a regular basis.
If you’re struggling to get your Border Collie to pay attention to you during your training session, make sure you’re meeting his basic needs first. This isn’t just food and water; it also includes plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If these needs are being satisfied, your dog is much more likely to focus and listen during your designated training time with him.
A lot of Border Collie owners find agility courses the perfect fit for their special dogs. These courses combine the perfect mix of work, intensity, physical fitness, and mental stimulation. Border Collies are exceptionally good at these courses, and running them helps them be happy, well-behaved pets when they return home.
Border Collies are exceptionally smart and learn new skills very quickly. This’ll work to your advantage as you establish a new behavioral pattern to replace their herding instinct, particularly if you catch it early enough.
Consistently work on your key command and use that as you introduce your dog to the problematic stimuli. Continue this training regularly until he has a well-established non-herding response to the target stimuli.