“So, you think you want a Border Collie?”
That was the question asked by many people who knew the breed well when I announced my plans for a new puppy. Veterinary employees, fellow trainers, boarding staff, even the breeder I had chosen.
They warned of the breed’s high energy, highly motivated, and highly intelligent habits.
“You can’t wear them out.”
“They are into everything.”
“You can throw them a ball for hours, and they want more.”
“Mine herds my children.”
Border Collies are a working breed that originated in the border regions between Scotland and England for herding livestock, specifically sheep. They can become hyperactive with obsessive and sometimes destructive behaviors as they seek a creative outlet for their physical and mental energy.
I have never owned a dog with the physical qualities and needs of a Border Collie. But, I’ll admit, the thought of having a Border Collie was at first daunting. I don’t live on a farm. I am typically not a high-energy person, nor is my 10-year-old Morkie. Currently, in my home, step-over gates and closed doors keep my dog from going where he’s not supposed to be, things that will become meaningless to an adult Border Collie.
I appreciated the advice of friends and acquaintances, but as a responsible dog person, the decision was made not on a whim or on looks. For nearly two years, I have read dozens of books about the breed, studied them on videos, and talked to those that owned them. In addition, I have researched breeders, genetic issues, and history. Therefore, I will not be surprised by my new dog’s behavior unless it is not all of the things I was warned to expect.
What possible use could I have for such a dynamic dog?
Ask Alexa what the smartest dog breed in the world is, and she will tell you, it is widely suggested that the honor goes to the border collie. For my new dog, the future will include many cerebral tasks, including learning tricks, agility for fun, and pet therapy work. In other words, developing an on and off switch for many of the breed’s traits. My little Morkie has set a high standard with hundreds of meaningful therapy dog visits and earning the title of Trick Dog Elite Performer from American Kennel Club, but his small size, age, and durability are sometimes limiting factors. He has done everything I have ever asked him to do, but he has his days where being a senior citizen is at the forefront.
I want the sky to be the limit, so to speak, in what my new pup and I will be able to achieve. However, I also want to put my abilities as a trainer to the test, and I need smarts and willingness in my future partner.
Often, dog lovers do not think a lot about their needs or the needs of the dog they seek. Rushing into things without proper research about a breed’s natural habits can lead to a host of problems that lead to both owners and dogs being unfulfilled.
Dogs were the first domesticated animals in the history of the world, even before horses and cows. They’ve been at humanity’s side for somewhere between 14,000 and 40,000 years. Over our time together, dogs have been bred to specific sizes and attributes and, most importantly, to perform specific tasks. Among their many uses, dogs were bred to pull sleds, retrieve, hunt, guide, alert, search, herd, and even to be comforting lap pets.
I had to smile once when the owner of an Alaskan Husky told of her frustrations with her dog pulling her on the leash when out walking. Just like this Husky doing what it was made to do, a terrier will chase things with determination (and digging). A Labrador Retriever will retrieve anything and everything even in the water. A German Shepherd can be fiercely loyal and protective or, in other words, aggressive toward strangers.
And behavior is not the only thing to be considered. Dogs bred for specific environments may present problems within other environments. For example, dogs bred for cold climates may not be too comfortable in hotter environments. In addition, dogs with double coats like Golden Retrievers can shed year-round, yet other breeds may shed seasonally while others do not shed much at all. Remember, too, that big dogs prefer more space as well as more food.
If you are interested in a mixed-breed dog, you will likely get a mix of traits and habits. For rescues where dogs may be mixed with multiple breeds over generations, some breed traits are usually more prevalent than others. Shelter staff should be able to help you understand the predominant behaviors of a particular dog or, better yet, be adaptable to whatever your one-of-a-kind canine might present. You may even find an older dog whose habits, likes, and fears are apparent.
These are all the types of things that need consideration when choosing a companion dog. There are many resources to help you explore breed behaviors and particulars. Online bookstores have books available on almost every breed. Videos on YouTube can also offer more insight. In addition, you can find social media groups about every type of dog, including a lot of mixed breeds, for you to join, read posts, or ask questions. I even found a woman who has a Morkie and a Border Collie, both excellent trick dogs, and we are now friends on social media!
A search on the American Kennel Club’s website for a breed will generate expert advice. The AKC even offers an interactive guide to help find the dog that’s the best fit for your circumstances. Likewise, a Google search for “finding the right dog breed” will offer many options for similar interactive guides.
Below is a list of questions typical of online dog breed selectors.
What is your experience with dogs?
What is your daily schedule?
Do you live in an apartment?
How much time can you put into training?
Describe your home life.
Do you have young kids?
What’s your activity level?
The important thing is that you do your homework, especially if your experience with dogs is low. Be proactive. Don’t just get a dog for its looks or because you might have seen a particular dog in a movie. They are not interior decorations or just something for the kids. They are living, breathing creatures with personalities and needs, including love, tolerance, and understanding. This understanding should start before you bring them home.