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Question in response to "A common Misnomer"


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This is a question is response to Mr McCaigs post, A common Misnomer I appreciate that "herd" or "herding is not the right word to use to describe a border collies instinctive behavior, what would an appropriate description be?

I see many people come on the board asking for advice about this particular unique behavior and all use the word "herding" as they have no other term to use. I regularly have people tell me Brody is herding when he is using these behaviors with other dogs or while playing catch and I have no language to say that is not herding BUT ---------

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In my view, it depends on what the dog is doing. (I assume here you're talking about stuff happening off stock, if you are on stock then I think you could use stockwork or learning to work stock, etc). It could be prey drive, chasing, or even just plain obsessive behavior. A lot of dogs like to try and control movement of people or other animals or even balls, or get aroused by movement such that they want to chase it.

 

I didn't get this either when I first got here, because Odin did seem really different from other dogs to me. But I realized that, watching my in-laws' doberman, she does a TON of the same behaviors, only without any crouching, and it was never labelled herding when she did it. Watching other dogs at the dog park I see the same thing, and you might too - if it is a non herding breed the exact same inappropriate or prey drive-driven behaviors won't be labelled herding, yet pretty much ANYTHING a BC or other herding breed does will be labelled as such. And sometimes proudly, by the clueless owner of the dog in question (he'd be so good on sheep, I know! - Just watch him "herding" everything!) Like I said, with the dobie it really became clear to me - she is clumsier than Odin and more upright, so you don't have the classic "stance" and "eye" to fixate on - but she's way worse than Odin ever was about these inappropriate behaviors and is obsessed with trying to control and chase moving objects.

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. . . so you don't have the classic "stance" and "eye"

 

I think you have brought forth one of the key distinctions. The stance and the particular way that they use their eyes is very characteristic of the Border Collie. Yes, it's prey drive, but it does manifest itself in the Border Collie in a very distinctive way. There is an intensity to it that I have yet to observe in any other type of dog - many of whom have very strong prey drive that is evident in different ways.

 

I don't really consider staring at balls during play, crouching in anticipation, running in big sweeping arcs while keeping an eye on the action, watching other dogs and activity in the environment, etc., to be inappropriate behaviors. Sure, they can be when taken to certain extremes, or in certain circumstances, but those things can also be very natural and normal - especially for a dog at play. In fact, many of those particular distinctive traits are the very thing that I love about these dogs. :rolleyes:

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I use terms like "crouching," "stalking," "eyeing," "chasing," "obsessing," etc., but I never refer to it as herding. And I always try to correct others who refer to it as herding and I explain why it is not really "herding," since there is no stock and no shepherd. Most of the time, I'm sure it goes in one ear and out the other, but I feel obligated, I guess, to try and correct misperceptions about the breed that I love.

 

I found that other thread interesting, though I didn't really understand some of the strong feelings. For me, it doesn't bother me when people use the word "herding" to describe working a dog on livestock, or heading to a lesson where they will learn how to work a dog on livestock and other animal husbandry stuff. But, it really bugs me to hear people to say things like "he likes to herd other dogs, kids, cats, bikes, [insert any other word here]. That TRULY gives the wrong impression of what this breed does.

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But, it really bugs me to hear people to say things like "he likes to herd other dogs, kids, cats, bikes, [insert any other word here]. That TRULY gives the wrong impression of what this breed does.

I think you expressed this idea very well - food for thought!

 

As for prey drive, I enjoyed reading Coppinger's book about dogs. It explained how the development of many breeds has taken the components of prey drive and altered them in one way or another, providing us with dogs that range the gamut from LGDs to Border Collies to retrievers, setters, and spaniels and so on. And that still doesn't stop me from the old habit of thinking of Celt and the cat as "Celt working the cat". Old habits die hard...

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I didn't get this either when I first got here, because Odin did seem really different from other dogs to me. But I realized that, watching my in-laws' doberman, she does a TON of the same behaviors, only without any crouching, and it was never labelled herding when she did it.

 

And I think this is an extremely important point. People tend to get offended when they come here and say their dog is herding cars or whatever and they're told "it's not herding; it's just bad behavior." No doubt this happens with many breeds that have been conveniently lumped into groups by the AKC. If it's a herding breed, it must be herding, no matter what subtle differences may exist (that is, whether the dog is actually just exhibiting prey drive or something similar). If it's a terrier, then chasing small prey is just "being a terrier," and so on. Sure border collies tend to use eye, but as we all know, there are plenty of looser eyed border collies who don't really stare at things and there are plenty of dogs who work with an upright stance (I have one of those). Those characteristics occur along a continuum in the breed.

 

Honestly, I think most folks wouldn't have an issue with the term herding if it wasn't used as some sort of catch-all to describe behaviors that aren't necessarily at all related to controlling livestock, and especially if it weren't then used as some sort of excuse to allow the behaviors to continue. Maybe a better word to describe the instinctive behavior is "control." For me, the act of herding requires the thing being herded to be living (i.e., able to think and react), so while I would accept that one dog might be trying to "herd" (control) another, I don't accept that a dog is "herding" a ball. This instinct for control requires a response from the thing being controlled, and the dog's instinct is to be able to read the intent of that other living, sentient thing and adjust its own behaviors to more effectively control the other. I suspect that for most of us, it's easier to just call none of it herding, rather than to have to describe why it's different if the dog is trying to control animate vs. inanimate objects. And so we tend to just make a blanket statement: "that's not herding," rather than go into some long explanation about control of living beings.

 

The other part to that is that while I may want my dog to nip at a steer's heels to get it moving along, that sort of behavior is completely unacceptable when the object of the dog's attention is, say, a human or another dog. These dogs are smart and they know the difference. My Pip knows that it's okay to chase one particular rooster on command and not okay to bother any of the other chickens. He knows he can bite a charging sheep on the nose, but that he should ignore its little lamb, and that nipping a human is completely inappropriate. I would call his reaction to the charging ewe "herding behavior" and I would call his attempt to nip the running child's feet as "bad behavior" (especially considering that a terrier or doberman, neither herding breeds, might also chase and nip children's heels).

 

Sorry, that probably was something of a tangent, but as with many things, it's a matter of perspective. ETA: As Mary said more succinctly, using the term herding as a catch-all for a bunch of different behaviors diminishes the true work and value of this breed.

 

J.

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I found that other thread interesting, though I didn't really understand some of the strong feelings. For me, it doesn't bother me when people use the word "herding" to describe working a dog on livestock, or heading to a lesson where they will learn how to work a dog on livestock and other animal husbandry stuff. But, it really bugs me to hear people to say things like "he likes to herd other dogs, kids, cats, bikes, [insert any other word here]. That TRULY gives the wrong impression of what this breed does.

 

Amen, sister!

 

As for an appropriate word to use, I think it depends on the context. If someone is talking about a dog "herding cars", I'd call that chasing cars. "Herding other dogs", I'd call that circling, chasing or annoying other dogs. You get the picture. :D

 

I do see how people end up misinformed, though, if they're not coming to the right place for information. My DH just finished an obedience course with Will. The only thing Will had a bit of problem with was the down. Several times the instructor (who breeds conformation Aussies) told DH that Will's down problem was just part of him being a "herding dog". And how it goes against his instinct. Really? If you say so... :rolleyes:

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it always drives me nuts when people describe circling and snapping and controlling other dogs as "herding" ever since I got Electra..why? because neither of my BCs do this sort of thing! I mean Happy gets locked into her "eye" when she see's other animals and dogs who are smaller then her, but thats it. my Retriever on the other hand everytime my BCs play fetch, she runs around them in circles barking and biting, yuppers my retriever is "herding" lol

 

and BTW show people from other breeds who are against BCs being bred just for working DO describe this behaviour in non herding breeds as "herding", it amazes me to see how many show folks claim their toy/terrier/working/sporting etc.. breeds "herd" other dogs and claim that our argument that a BC is defined by work is defunct because that would clearly mean that their dogs can all be called "Border Collies" based on their controlling behaviour with other dogs and tennis balls! :rolleyes:

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and BTW show people from other breeds who are against BCs being bred just for working DO describe this behaviour in non herding breeds as "herding", it amazes me to see how many show folks claim their toy/terrier/working/sporting etc.. breeds "herd" other dogs and claim that our argument that a BC is defined by work is defunct because that would clearly mean that their dogs can all be called "Border Collies" based on their controlling behaviour with other dogs and tennis balls! :rolleyes:

That is one excuse some of the places that allow any and all breeds to "go herding" utilize to allow just about anything to chase sheep or other stock. And, people can continue to "justify" their point of view by specious arguments like this.

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I think you have brought forth one of the key distinctions. The stance and the particular way that they use their eyes is very characteristic of the Border Collie. Yes, it's prey drive, but it does manifest itself in the Border Collie in a very distinctive way. There is an intensity to it that I have yet to observe in any other type of dog - many of whom have very strong prey drive that is evident in different ways.

 

Yes, but that does not mean the behavior is herding, so it's still not right to use that term. For one, wouldn't anyone agree if asked straight out, no matter what they call "herding behaviors", that the crux of "herding" as colloquially understood is presumably to control movement of a group of other animals? So, why is a doberman that is obsessively attempting to control others' movements in an upright fashion not described as herding, but a BC crouching and staring at a ball (and not apparently trying to move it at all, except maybe with his mind :D) totally "herding" the heck out of that ball?

 

Additionally, Odin crouches and stares when playing ball way more than he does when he is actually working sheep. He is very upright and has a loose eye, while still showing nice instinctual talent for completely covering and balancing his sheep (others' opinion, although I am a proud puppy momma :D). So, when is he "herding"? My opinion is that it's when he's on the sheep, looking more like what you might describe as a less intense dog! But I guarantee you that despite appearances, that is when he is at his most intense and focused, and most border collie-ish!

 

So, if your border collie is getting all crouchy and starey, by all means if he's not bothering another animal, enjoy it! Just call it that - not herding. :D

 

By the way, I was watching an episode of Planet Earth in HiDef last night and there was a (I think) Himalyan fox that has the styliest BC crouch and stare taken to the max - it was really neat to watch. This behavior was for stalking rabbits - IOW, definitie predator behavior, NOT herding. When BCs or kelpies with lots of style do a similar thing on stock, they are most definitely NOT using it for predatory behavior, but to control movement.

 

ETF preganancy brain! :rolleyes:

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So, if your border collie is getting all crouchy and starey, by all means if he's not bothering another animal, enjoy it! Just call it that - not herding. :rolleyes:

 

I actually don't use "herding" to describe the behavior. I would call it Border Collie intensity, or Border Collie crouching, or Border Collie staring, etc.

 

At the same time I do recognize that there is a link between those particular distinct behaviors, and the specific purpose for which Border Collies are bred. Of course, there is overlap with predatory behavior that we see in other types of dogs. But there are very obvious distinctions at the same time.

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At the same time I do recognize that there is a link between those particular distinct behaviors, and the specific purpose for which Border Collies are bred. Of course, there is overlap with predatory behavior that we see in other types of dogs. But there are very obvious distinctions at the same time.
I've seen our sight hound stare with the same intensity/focus as our Border Collies. I'll be the crouching can be observed in terriers and pointing/flushing breeds.
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I actually don't use "herding" to describe the behavior. I would call it Border Collie intensity, or Border Collie crouching, or Border Collie staring, etc.

 

At the same time I do recognize that there is a link between those particular distinct behaviors, and the specific purpose for which Border Collies are bred. Of course, there is overlap with predatory behavior that we see in other types of dogs. But there are very obvious distinctions at the same time.

 

I dunno, stalking usually precedes a mad dash for my dog, so I tend to watch her rather than concentrating on the shot. Still, here's one of her half-way out of a crouch

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I've seen the same from GSDs, Pitbulls, and generic brown dogs. Oh, and I've been to a handful of USBCHA sanctioned trials, so it's not as though I don't know what the BC crouch looks like.

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I've seen our sight hound stare with the same intensity/focus as our Border Collies. I'll be the crouching can be observed in terriers and pointing/flushing breeds.

 

Have you seen sighthounds stare, crouch, and slowly stalk, with head lowered in the same way that Border Collies often do when at play? And would you consider that a typical play style for a sighthound?

 

Have you ever met a terrier that would stare at an unmoving ball with unbroken focus, body completely still, but poised to spring the second his person reaches to pick it up? Unmoving, intense, unbroken focus for minutes on end? Is that a typical terrier play style?

 

Like I said before, of course there is overlap. There are still, typically, very obvious distinctions.

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Have you ever met a terrier that would stare at an unmoving ball with unbroken focus, body completely still, but poised to spring the second his person reaches to pick it up? Unmoving, intense, unbroken focus for minutes on end? Is that a typical terrier play style?

We had a terrier who would stare with rapt attention at small animals, for hours. Atypically for a terrier, she didn't try to eat them.

 

Re: Herding behaviors as Kristine is describing, I think it would be more correct to call them border collie behaviors. I know plenty of herding breed dogs (other breeds) that exhibit none of those behaviors described as herding behaviors.

 

J.

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I've seen the same from GSDs, Pitbulls, and generic brown dogs. Oh, and I've been to a handful of USBCHA sanctioned trials, so it's not as though I don't know what the BC crouch looks like.

 

How interesting!! I've never seen a Pitbull maintain a full body slightly crouched position while on the move in the way I see Border Collies move quite often. I had no idea that was considered "typical" in that breed!

 

Edited to fix grammar. It's still off, but it's better.

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The behavior that I was thinking about when I started this thread was not Border Collie prey instinct put to bad use, like the "herding" :rolleyes: of cats and cars, but the unique body language they have for example when playing nicely with other dogs. Since we got Brody his level of concentration and focus has developed amazingly, when he arrived he had none of the classic body positions and as time has gone by he has started to look like a "proper" Border Collie and as we all know there is no other dog that has that combination of body language.

An example of where I get the herding question would be agility. The dogs play while we break down the equipment, and every week someone will comment on Brody "herding" I know it is not herding, he is not being rude just watching, anticipating and waiting for the right moment to join in. Basically a Border Collie at play but he just does not look like the other dogs, in this case Aussies and Border Collie crosses. I have no idea what to say that would be a correct answer. "that is not herding but--------------"

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