Raising a Border Collie

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Samantha vs. the camera

My sweet and super-smart Brittany spaniel had passed away in 2004. There were other dogs around my family since then, but I did not get very attached to them. Losing her had been very hard for me, because I had become so close to her, to whatever degree you can have a personal friendship with a dog.

In 2010, after two years of being married and home owners, we decided to get a dog. Based on what I had experienced with dogs in the past, there were a few criteria I was looking for. I wanted to get a puppy, so that we could raise it from as young and impressionable of an age as possible. I wanted to get a female, as, in my anecdotal experience, they seemed to be more mild-mannered. And I wanted to get one from a breeder that really cared about the dogs, not someone just trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of the typically unprofitable activity of having puppies.

But what kind of dog to get? I had a certain fondness for Brittany spaniels, though there were some attributes that I would just as soon not have to deal with: the tendency to capture live birds and squirrels and bring them to me, for example.

I had read many positive things about border collies. But I had also read many negative things about border collies. On the positive side, they are very intelligent and adorable dogs. On the negative side, they can be super hyper to the point of acting crazed. Somewhere in between those two sides is the fact that, hyper or not, they generally need plenty of quality exercise.

There are border collie breeders who go so far as to try to persuade prospective adopters not to get a border collie, as the care and maintenance can be very extensive. Border collies are among the breeds of dogs most frequently given up to animal shelters, as their owners either cannot or do not want to do what it takes to keep them.

Somehow I managed to take all of this information in, process it, and come up with the decision that a border collie would be a good dog for us. In retrospect, I do not understand how I came to that decision, as I saw warning sign after warning sign that I might not be able to keep up with a border collie’s lifestyle… but I had made up my mind, and all that remained was to find where to go and get one.

Finding Our Puppy

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It was December when we began to plan in earnest for adopting a border collie, but we did not want to adopt one right away. We decided it would be better to wait until warmer weather, so that we could do our initial training of the puppy without having to deal with snow and ice on the ground.

We began researching possible sources. Farms are a good place to find border collie puppies, as farmers often use border collies to help around the farm, and they understand the importance of taking good care of their dogs. Living in Iowa, finding a farm wasn’t hard, and we actually located several farms that brought up border collies.

Making the search process easier was the fact that my parents were also looking to adopt a border collie, to be a companion to their five-year-old Australian shepherd. In May of 2011, I was on a church ministry trip in Mexico when I received a text message from my dad, which included a picture of some month-old border collie puppies he had visited at a nearby farm.

A week later I was back in Iowa, and we all went out to see them. Nine puppies! Eight of them were black & white, and one was red & white. I had envisioned getting a black & white puppy, but the red one caught my attention; she seemed the most mild-mannered of the bunch, and she washed her paws in the water dish before eating. This was the one! We wrote out a deposit check, and were told that we could pick her up the following week. And we named her Samantha.

Samantha’s New Home

The ride home from the farm was a little bumpy for Samantha; everything outside of the farm was a whole new world to her: being held by new people, riding in a car, being in a city… we rode along with my parents back to their house, holding Samantha in our arms, and then put her into a small kennel from there back to our house.

When we arrived at home, we set the kennel on the floor and opened the gate. I laid down on the floor to see her as she very slowly and tentatively emerged from the kennel, and then curled up next to me on the floor, where she stayed for quite a while.

We had bought a soft mesh kennel for Samantha to sleep in. Initially this was fine, but after a few days she began to realize that she didn’t like being put into a kennel, and she started biting at the mesh door. Several times she got her teeth briefly stuck in the mesh. We were concerned that she might hurt herself, and we soon moved her into a more traditional plastic kennel.

Dogs try very hard to not relieve themselves in the same area where they sleep. If you get a kennel that’s too big, you may find that your puppy will relieve herself in one end of the kennel, and then sleep in the other. Try to get a kennel that is just large enough for her to comfortably sleep in… which means that you may need to replace it a couple of times as she grows. Our local pet supply store graciously accepts returns even on used kennels, so we’ve been able to easily swap kennels as our puppy as gotten bigger.

Your puppy may well cry when being put into the kennel. Samantha certainly did, and we are told that this is normal. She’s probably feeling a bit of separation anxiety being kept away from you. As hard as it may be, the best thing to do here is to ignore her crying, and eventually she will settle down.

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However, sometimes she does have a more pressing need. If she’s still crying ten minutes later, you might consider the possibility that she requires something outside of the kennel. For instance, she may need to relieve herself. She may need to drink some water. She may see a toy or a treat that she wants outside of the kennel.

We have gotten in the habit of ensuring that Samantha has recently relieved herself before putting her in the kennel for the night, and giving her opportunity to drink water directly before going in the kennel. We also give her a few dog biscuits as she goes in the kennel, and we keep several of her toys in there with her. As such, she may cry for a few minutes, but we’re pretty confident that she’s taken care of for the time being.

Now, she may need to go out to relieve herself again in the night, or she made need to drink more water (especially if the weather is hot and dry). Some nights she sleeps through the night, other nights she cries to be let out several times. Most nights I expect to need to let her out once.

It’s a bit harder for your puppy to express some other needs, but try to be attentive to things like: is the kennel large enough for her? Is the room temperature acceptable for her? Are there any lights or noises going on that are bothering her? We keep Samantha’s kennel in our bedroom, so we are able to immediately hear her if she needs out, and have some clue as to the overall environment that she’s sleeping in.

Puppy Obedience Class

If you’re new to raising a puppy, or if it has been a long time, it would be a good idea to take your puppy to an obedience class. You can often find such classes at community colleges and larger pet supply stores. We found a local organization that specializes in dog training education, and Samantha there.

An introductory obedience class will cover basic behavior such as sitting, laying down, standing up, and walking on a leash. While some classes may actually do the training for you, more often you’ll find that class time is primarily for you rather than the puppy! You’ll learn techniques to use for training your dog, but most of the actual training will happen on your own time outside of class.

Couldn’t this all be done online then? Or through DVD training? A lot of it could be, but by being at the class in person you can get some hands-on help going through the behaviors with your puppy, and your puppy has opportunity to get used to being around other people and dogs.

It took Samantha nearly the full seven weeks of her class to warm up to being around the other dogs. While most of the other puppies were eager to run around and play together, Samantha mostly hid behind our legs, staying close to us the entire time. But she did an excellent job learning how to sit, lay down, and stand, once we learned how to properly give her commands to do so!

Swimming

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On Independence Day, we took Samantha over to my parents’ house and thought we would see how well she did in the swimming pool. I was so happy to see that at only three months old, Samantha was an excellent swimmer… but she didn’t seem to enjoy it at all.

In this case, it turned out that maybe Samantha knew best. About a week later we had her in for a regularly scheduled visit to the vet and learned that she had a mild ear infection.

“What could have caused this?” I asked.

“Probably some water got in her ears, and with it being so hot, an infection grew in there.”

Uh-oh. I had a pretty good idea of how water got in her ears. The vet gave us some ear drops and told us to put them in Samantha’s ear twice a day for a week. Samantha disliked the ear drops even more than being in the pool, but by the end of the week the infection was cleared up.

Puppy Agility Training

Immediately after completing the basic puppy training, we enrolled Samantha in an introductory puppy agility training class. As with puppy obedience training, a lot of the class time was for our benefit as much as for Samantha’s, but this time a lot of the specific activities we were training on would be impractical to duplicate at home.

The activities covered in the puppy agility class including jumping (stepping) over a short hurdle, running through tubes and chutes, jumping through hoops, walking up and down ramps, weaving through vertical poles, and walking across a teeter-totter. We don’t happen to have any hurdles or chutes or teeter-totters at home, so all of our serious agility training took place in class.

Samantha seemed to remember the activities from one week to the next pretty well. However, she also had progressed leaps and bounds from the puppy obedience class with respect to socializing with other dogs, and was very eager to play with her classmates. This was only slightly problematic as long as we kept her on her leash, but toward the end of the agility class, we were running her through the activities off-leash, and she ran off several times in search of other dogs to play with.

Regrettably, I was too occupied with the actual training to be able to take much in the way of photographs or videos of Samantha. This YouTube video gives a good idea of the sorts of things involved with agility.

Eighteen-Month Update

Between walks and playing with toys and multi-hour visits with other dogs and occasional agility activities, Samantha seems content with her physical activity. She does not seem as wild or crazed as some other border collies that I’ve seen. I think that overall, we ended up with a fairly mellow dog.

For the most part.

She seems to have developed a certain anxious defensiveness toward people she doesn’t know visiting our house, and in some away-from-home situations. While we had her around a fair number of people all throughout her life so far, it was pretty sporadic: weekly classes, monthly vet visits, etc. In retrospect, we should have made sure to have guests over to the house frequently so she could get used to having strangers around at any given time.