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Why do so many Border Collies have these problems?

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I love Border Collies, so I'm not trying to bash the breed or anything, but I was wondering why so many seemingly well-bred ones have issues with OCD and aggression and other things? Is it impossible to breed good sheep-herding dogs without getting some dogs that are too extreme in the traits that make them good herders? And as such, is it impossible to consistently produce stable temperaments?

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I think that the existence of the border collie borders on a miracle (I think the original breed name was "bordering on a miracle collie" ;) ) . The tasks required of them are not only varied, but requiring contrasting characteristics. The dog that is expected to take on a ram, or a ewe in"mommy is very angry" mode, is also expected to be gentle with the lambs, to gingerly usher day-old duckling into their pen. They are expected to adapt the execution of a command to circumstances and have an exceptional ability to stick to their task.  It's a multifaceted, complex set of requirements where, to make things worse, more does not equal better.  Most of the problematic behavior in border collies are actually a desirable trait except too much of it.

And this is why I think various issues come out in the breed as an unintended side effect of mere humans trying to perform a miracle.  So it's a kind of a miracle with a limp.  

I also think that  because of the complexity of stock work, shepherds have to make compromises. So if a given sheepdog is a darn good sheep dog, who does not tolerate strangers, but is extremely dedicated to the owner, is scared of thunder, but even in a lightning storm is a darn good sheepdog,  that sheep dog is going to get bred.  

My third point is  many behavioral problems are present or exacerbated only in dogs that don't work stock.  

And my last point is that in some cases the dog's behavior is the way it is, because among nonworking BCs the relationship between the handler and the dog is not always on the right footing. Because border collies are usually obedient, it is  often not apparent to the handler outside of stock work.  In this case, many problems are easily correctable.  

This is  of course my opinion based on my observations of working and nonworking border collies. 

 

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Could it be less to do with breeding and more to do with their experiences in the first few months of life?

I'm only on my second collie (who is so very different to my first that they might as well have been completely different breeds) so I'm not greatly experienced but I think being aware of potential issues means that they can to some extent be avoided. With any animal I've worked with, I've considered behaviours that I would not want and trained with them in mind from the beginning. For example, as a child I was afraid of a dog that would take something and no-one could get it back. He was a scary dog, once he had something it was his until he had finished with it (he chewed my doll :() so with my first collie I spent a lot of time as a puppy giving him things and taking them away (food, toys, things he wasn't meant to have like my socks) and he grew into a dog who would not take anything without permission and would happily give up a bone if I asked him to (and I did, at least once every time he had one - I would return it after lots of praise and a little play). Another example is when one of my children found a laser pointer "Look! He loves this game! This will keep him busy for hours!" they said, but he had that crazed stressed look about him and the laser pointer was delegated to a secret location.

So, my theory would be that collies don't suddenly turn overnight into a dog with OCD or aggressive behaviour but that subtle signs aren't being picked up soon enough by their owners. I would be interested though to hear other peoples views because I am still very inexperienced.

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I think there are two types of aggression - acquired and genetically based. My Darine's aggression is genetic.  And I don't use it as an excuse, I simply state it as a reason.    

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I think there are two factors:

 

1-) As Maja said, a lot of the things that are problems are actually benefits in work, until you get *too much* of the thing going.  That means the traits are there and, yeah, you can sometimes over exaggerate it and wind up with a problem. 

2-) I sincerely believe that a lot of people believe border collies have 'problems' where the only problem is that they're a border collie.  They're sensitive.  They're responsive.  They learn things - *which includes things they are not intentionally taught*.  They do not suffer fools, either canine or human, gladly.  A border collie freaked out by a bunch of kids running and screaming probably does not have a problem.  It's a border collie.  A border collie snarling and snapping at an overly exuberant friendly dog is not aggressive - it's a border collie.  Yet people will keep trying to have those dogs play,  (or go to a dog park), rather than accepting that the dog doesn't want to play with 32 dogs jumping on their head, or that the other 32 dogs don't want to be stared at and chased.    Those are all, every last one, examples of what I would EXPECT a border collie's temperament to be, not a flaw within it. 


A whole lot people expect their pet dog to be happy-go-lucky,  and tolerant do-anything-to-them and they wag dogs. There are BC like that, but they're not the norm, and not what you should expect. 

Add the lack of understanding of what you can reasonably expect a BC's temperament to the dog learning things it's not being taught (whether it's that the owner doesn't have their back, or accidental reward of bad behavior) and you get problems in the individual. 

*ETA:*  At this point, I don't think most people should have BC as pets.  Not because they need a lot of exercise or anything dumb (they don't), but because I consistently see people who expect 'smart' to translate to either 'easy to train' or 'obedient', while also expecting the dog to be... a golden retriever.   I see unreasonable expectations and portents of doom from people in every breed, labeling dogs as having temperament problems because they, I don't know, barked at the mail man or stopped being dog park friendly or stopped wanting to be pet by every tom, dick and harry in the world.   I find those expectations unreasonable of ANY dog over 6 months old, but I particularly find them unreasonable of a BC (and, in fairness, some other breeds that people want because they're 'smart' or 'good sports dog' or some kind of weird ass status symbol of dog ownership'. )

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I used to have a dog trainer who said in a quiet aside to me, "Really, the only dog most people should have is a lab or a golden retriever". More and more I come to agree with her.

I agree w/all of what's been said above. The intersection of nature & nurture is a subtle and sometimes moving line. If Shoshone had been raised in a decent home, would she have been a canine sociopath? I think not, but probably quirky, even for a border collie.

And genetics and genetic expression are such very, very complex things. Look at the things that crop up in dogs that have been bred exclusively for looks. For example, cavalier king Charles  spaniels and http://cavalierhealth.org/syringomyelia.htm.  Warning, pix and descriptions of this condition are graphic and might be distressing.

Breeding more specifically for calm, stable temperament might just take out the keen eagle-eye that we expect from border collies, or the need to be part of a team, or a lot of different things. Herding behavior is basically truncated prey drive, aimed in different way and with a different result than taking down prey and eating it. And it's a BIG Complex of behaviors, not just one.

Breeding for working traits is complex enough. Not every border collie pup becomes a working dog. My Gibbs and 1 of my 3 previous dogs were dogs that didn't work as needed. It would be interesting to take a poll of working border collie breeders and find out what percentage of dogs they've bred from working stock went on to work and what percentage couldn't work. 

Ruth & Gibbs 

 

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Regarding Obsessive compulsive behavior.   I got Tommy at 8 weeks old and she already was showing her OCD.  She bites at shadows and she does this little hippy hop pounce thing.  

I think that at least in this case her OCD is genetic. 

And I got my 2nd bc from a woman who tried to breed a bc that didn't have so much fire.  What happened was that the herding instinct/ability fell apart really fast.  Everything about these dogs us interconnected.  You can't modify one behavior without affecting the whole. 

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There've been a lot of really good explanations already offered. I'm not going to repeat them but just add an additional comment that people often overlook.

Border collies were not created to be pet dogs!

They weren't intended to lie around and be social with the family, or strangers coming onto the farm. Many of them never, or only very rarely, even left the farm at all and most of them didn't live in the house and weren't treated as pets. If the family had a pet dog that lived in the house with them and played with the kids, it was another type of dog.  The collies were working dogs and sometimes thought of more akin to livestock than as the kinds of dogs ppl kept as pets. Farmers and shepherds needed those dogs to be "useful" dogs (i.e. useful in managing livestock); if they weren't, they usually weren't kept (no frugal Scots farmer would want to feed a random hanger on, especially in lean times) and they certainly weren't bred.

So, because they weren't pets and those necessary characteristics of intelligence, boundless energy and stamina, extreme focus on their work, etc., those behavioral traits were sought after and bred in, and few really cared whether or not those traits were desirable in other contexts. And they're now well established in the genetic makeup of the breed.

Cue in the different contexts and this is where the trouble begins. Now that ppl have decided border collies should be pet dogs, those traits are no longer so desirable. The dogs often aren't getting the same amount of exercise and mental stimulation and so all those drives are coming out in ways that aren't really conducive to the modern concept of a pet dog.

The irony is that the same characteristics that give border collies their appeal -- the intelligence, eagerness, even their antics, etc. -- are the same ones that can lead to so many problems. But I really don't think it's a lack of socialization for many pet border collies but more a lack of understanding of their quirks.

People can breed away from those characteristics . . . in fact, it's already being done with the Barbie collies. But those dogs may look like border collies but they're not the same. The ones I've met seem flat, not nearly as interesting personality wise.

The converse is also true. The really hyped up sports (not working trial) bred dogs have done a lot I think to cement that negative stereotype in the breed.

This is why I always tell ppl who are interested in buying a border collie, no matter what the reason, to look for working bred (not "working lines," truly working bred) parents. Of course, I think rescue's the best way to go for anyone not needing a real working dog . . .

 

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agree with everything others have said about the qualities of the breed. They are meant to be intense dogs.  My husband calls them Ferrari dogs.  Most  pet people have at least some trouble with a Prius dog, at least at some point, unless they are very experienced and dedicated to dog training or naturally talented, which is a minority. Also, remember this board is going to have a disproportionate amount of owners writing in about problems, because they are looking for help. Fewer people get on just to announce things are great with their BC!

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Thanks for all the replies, they were informative and made sense.

And to respond to what GentleLake said about "Barbie collies", I felt the same disappointment with them as well. Their personalities are kind of generic. It doesn't have the Border Collie weirdness and intensity that I love. It's that drive, that passion, that dedication that draws me in and I never saw it in the show dogs I met. I also don't really like their appearance. They're all short-legged and have faces that don't appeal to me at all. Plus they have almost no variation in color. They're like all black with irish white markings. I love this coloring, don't get me wrong, but BCs have so many other beautiful colors and I want to see those colors too!

Anyway, I know looks aren't everything but when I love a dog's personality AND appearance, that makes it just a little bit more special. And I like how a large number of the working dogs look. They look more lanky than the show dogs (maybe due in part to less coat?) and have a look to their faces that says, "Border Collie!" to me :D 

And I did not know that the dog-sport bred Border Collies were the most difficult to live with. Could somebody elaborate on that on a bit more?

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18 hours ago, urge to herd said:

I used to have a dog trainer who said in a quiet aside to me, "Really, the only dog most people should have is a lab or a golden retriever". More and more I come to agree with her.

I agree w/all of what's been said above. The intersection of nature & nurture is a subtle and sometimes moving line. If Shoshone had been raised in a decent home, would she have been a canine sociopath? I think not, but probably quirky, even for a border collie.

Herding behavior is basically truncated prey drive, aimed in different way and with a different result than taking down prey and eating it. And it's a BIG Complex of behaviors, not just one.

This is a bit off-topic here, but I disagree that herding is "basically truncated prey drive" (though I do realise that it is a bit of an abbreviated definition), particularly that it does not go quite agree with the second sentence, with which I very much agree.   After analyzing for many happy hours the key features of working stock, I came to the conclusion  that stock work id formed from elements out of separate sets of behavioral repertoires of a dog (including elements from hunting). This selection  of traits forms a sheepdog whose tasks are not something that really reflects what happens in nature (I imagine a wolf would cry rivers watching a sheep dog  work sheep, but it would not do so watching an actual hunting dog assist in a hunt (which is indeed "hunting sans kill)) . And (here I am coming back to the topic)  this is why maintaining the balance of myriad of features in a sheepdog is so difficult: not because "hunting sans kill" is incredibly complex, but because stock work is incredibly complex

10 hours ago, starry777 said:

Anyway, I know looks aren't everything but when I love a dog's personality AND appearance, that makes it just a little bit more special. And I like how a large number of the working dogs look. They look more lanky than the show dogs (maybe due in part to less coat?) and have a look to their faces that says, "Border Collie!" to me :D 
 

If it makes you feel better, a standard course of action for working dogs is that you choose the litter your want to buy from based on parents's skills, but you pick the pup based on looks :D .

 

 

 

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I'm not sure if when you say OCD you are talking about the dog having an actual mental ilness, or just a tendency to be obsessive over certain things. And I am not sure if when you say aggression you are talking about actual aggression, like wanting to attack every dog/human they see, or just not being interested in playing with other dogs or meeting new people, and not being shy about telling those that invade their personal space to back off. 

Actual OCD and actual aggression are problems, definitely. Behavioural therapy and/or medication would be in order I would think for dogs suffering with these problems. 

Not wanting to play with other dogs, and telling them off for getting in their space, is not aggression. The dog has a right to be who they are, and if who they are is not very social, then that's okay. There's a big difference between just not wanting other dogs in their space, and actually going after another dog that's a good distance away minding their own business.

Obsessive tendencies are not the same as OCD. I know we have a tendency to throw that phrase around; "oh yeah, I'm OCD about my closet having to be just so." But being a little obsessive about your closet is NOT like having OCD. Totally different thing. I think you can get almost any dog obsessed with light and shadows if you do excessive playing with the laser pointer, and any dog obsessed with fetch if you throw the ball all day long. It's just easier with BCs, they're more prone to it. Not a problem if you just don't play with the laser pointer, and keep fetch session short and don't leave the ball lying around the house.

So IMO, a lot of people confuse not being social as "aggression" and pestering them with the ball as "OCD" when the dog doesn't actually have a serious problem, they're just being a Border Collie.

On a side note, I don't think it's very responsible at all to breed a dog that actually seriously has OCD or aggression no matter how well they work. 

Lyrically_Speaking It made me quote you and I can't undo it so that's why that's down there. 

On 7/12/2018 at 9:23 PM, Lyrically_Speaking said:

 

 

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7 minutes ago, Maja said:

After analyzing for many happy hours the key features of working stock, I came to the conclusion  that stock work id formed from elements out of separate sets of behavioral repertoires of a dog (including elements from hunting). This selection  of traits forms a sheepdog whose tasks are not something that really reflects what happens in nature (I imagine a wolf would cry rivers watching a sheep dog  work sheep, but it would not do so watching an actual hunting dog assist in a hunt (which is indeed "hunting sans kill)) .

I believe it's generally accepted that border collies' herding behavior is indeed modified hunting behavior, sans of course the final steps of catching (which can still show up to an extent in gripping), killing and consuming their "prey." And the fact that some border collies are unsuitable for their work because they've retained too much of this final steps (at least catching; ask me how I know) would seem to confirm this.

I don't think that the fact that hunting dogs were developed with a focus on different aspects of the predatory sequence belies border collies' behavior as modified predation. Hunting dogs were developed for different working purposes, so different portions of the predatory sequence were selected for. They actually don't require as much of the range as border collies do for their work, so not as much of the full range was retained. And of course, there were a fair number of hunting dogs, especially spaniel types, that went into the development of border collies, I assume because their behaviors were useful to shepherds. But neither the behavioral complex of border collies nor hunting dogs truly reflects what happens in nature. Certain behaviors are exaggerated and many more are truncated or diminished in the selective breeding process.

I'm curious and would be interested hearing what other, non-hunting behaviors you believe are integral in the behavioral mix.

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I’m not sure the wolf would cry to see a good sheep or cattle collie! Having watched wolves at Yellowstone several times, what I think we largely have in the collie is the role of the wolves that set up the ambush, that drive the prey towards the wolves that will do the kill, and the ones that use their speed and pressure to split off the prey from the herd that will be a focus typically for another, fresher wolf to take down. Now wolves play many roles in the hunt over the course of their lifetimes, and we ask the collie to stick to that “herding” part of the pack unt behavior, and mix it with a huge amount of biddability. 

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Starry777, dog sport bred collies are not bred to retain working characteristics (which include a hefty dose of impulse control, thoughtfulness, etc), instead typically only for the drive and speed portions, and the balance tends to get out of wack quickly. 

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I agree with Baderpadorercollie.

Socialization alone isn't enough to prevent true OCD (or, more accurately for dogs the term animal behaviorists use, Canine Compulsive Disorder or CCD -- probably because we can't know if they have obsessive thoughts but can observe compulsive behaviors) or inherited aggression.

Border collies are very definitely prone to compulsive behaviors; it's hardwired into most of them, probably because of the shepherds' need for a dog that wouldn't quit. It's why we so often see the "ball obsessed" border collie or one too focused on laser pointers. But there are degrees of OCD among humans and I would assume CCD among dogs as well and it's all too easy to help a border collie go over the edge.

But it's true that border collies have a real propensity for diagnosable CCD. OCD in humans is considered an anxiety disorder. So if we mix a genetic predisposition to compulsive behavior with the sensitivity of the breed (many border collies are anxious dogs), it really shouldn't be surprising that some of them will end up with "an illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions," the definition of a disorder (Oxford English Dictionary), some more or less severe than others.

Absolutely, no dog with CCD should be bred and risk passing it on to descendants. And while socialization won't prevent compulsive behaviors, being aware of the breed's predisposition to the anxieties and compulsive behaviors should be on every owner's radar so that it's not inadvertently encouraged and is deflected early.

 

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24 minutes ago, Ooky said:

Starry777, dog sport bred collies are not bred to retain working characteristics (which include a hefty dose of impulse control, thoughtfulness, etc), instead typically only for the drive and speed portions, and the balance tends to get out of wack quickly. 


This, basically.


That said, most sport dogs I know (and I know a few) are pretty wild and insane in performance settings (so yes, agreed there, in many cases their brains fall out easily/they often seem to lack impulse control and tend toward over-arousal), but outside of them they typically strike me as... well, bland is the best word I can come up with.   They're not difficult to live with, from everything I've seen and heard from people who own them, but they're also not to my taste.

And like others here, I don't consider any dog not bred with the purpose of working stock a border collie.

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I agree with most of what has been written, all of the issues that you mention are usually aggravated by inexperienced border collie owners who do not realize what is happening. We have had 3 rescue border collies, 1 ISDS dog and fostered a lot of them. They all except my ISDS dog have been prone to obsessing about things, the key is recognizing it and not allowing it to happen, redirect them, remove the obsession etc especially when they are pups. One of our rescues came to us with some aggression problems, once we understood him it was easy to manage and keep him under threshold ( he is the reason I found these boards) but with his previous family he had been allowed to practice these habits and found them effective and so had continued. 

When you watch the dogs work sheep they are really in-tune with the sheep and their shepherd, they are totally focused, now that focus if it is not given an outlet can easily become an obsession for balls etc. Border collies need that intensity to do their jobs, but it also makes them challenging pets and sadly is often the cause for them ending up in rescue.

 

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I chose 'truncated prey drive' because I attended a clinic w/a well known sheep dog trainer who said it. I would never have come up with that on my own, I'm not knowledgeable/experienced enough to see it. Of course, I can't remember his name. It will come to me later today while I'm doing dishes or clearing my desk. Will report back.

I've remembered it, (maybe 4 years ago) because it made absolute sense to me. I classify myself as an amateur in the world of working border collies, and perhaps a gifted amateur in the world of dogs in general. Packs of feral dogs will definitely take down prey, sometimes large prey. The clinician defined the stalk/hunt/take down sequences of actual hunting for food. The stalk/hunt portion of the sequence is what is useful in the border collie, and what has been developed over many generations of working sheep dogs. And the take down portion of that sequence is what has been bred away from. My interpretation of that is that breeding for biddability instead is the solution.

Good discussion, thanks, everyone.

Ruth & Gibbs

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Baderpadordercollie said:

Actual OCD and actual aggression are problems, definitely. Behavioural therapy and/or medication would be in order I would think for dogs suffering with these problems. 

Not wanting to play with other dogs, and telling them off for getting in their space, is not aggression. The dog has a right to be who they are, and if who they are is not very social, then that's okay. There's a big difference between just not wanting other dogs in their space, and actually going after another dog that's a good distance away minding their own business.

Thanks for these statements, Baderpador. I've a keen interest in human behavior, especially the intersection of humans & other animals. The expectation that a 'normal' dog LOVES other dogs is so far off from reality, I'm always a bit stunned when presented with it. I don't like everyone I meet,  nor do I want to spend an hour chatting with all the strangers I come across. Why on earth would I think any dog is outgoing and friendly to everyone?

Thanks again, this discussion is illuminating for me.

Ruth & Gibbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I've been balancing my paid work with making the guest room for a soon-coming guest, but I soon as I find some space I will share my thoughts in detail on the subject of what stock work is in my unorthodox opinion :).  The thing is that the "truncated hunting" describes the striking elements of stock work, so the definition being short and concise is deemed satisfactory.   I wanted to go further. The first thing that got me thinking was when I had started having people come with their dogs of various backgrounds, I found myself often saying "your dog is showing a hunting instinct, we have to see if  the switch will flip, and it will actually star working sheep." 

The border collie stalk is obviously from hunting, and obviously many aspects of stock work come from hunting.   But not all, and I will share  my thoughts in detail in a separate topic. In the meantime I will just say this: After watching many movies, imo, wolves don't gather (the flock gathers itself as a defensive mechanism, because gathering is not good for hunting (particularly not gathering of the entire blooming flock) and why do we have to teach to single.  

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Just to clarify, when I threw out the examples of "OCD" and "aggression" I meant when it's bad enough to be a major problem and isn't merely caused by the dog being in an unsuitable environement. I was thinking dogs that are really disabled by their obsessions or are so aggressive that just owning them puts you in danger of a lawsuit--what if they get a hold of somebody? 

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I would imagine if a farmer had a working dog that was developing OCD and aggression, bad enough to be a major problem that was affecting its work, if he/she couldn't fix it pretty darn quick the dog would be disposed of whereas pet owners would be more likely to battle on or surrender the dog to a shelter.

Do we know if there are lots of farmers disposing of well bred dogs due to OCD and aggressive behaviours?

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