Living with a Sensitive Border Collie

‘Dog Training’ is a loose term that encompasses treatment of complex behavioural disorders through to Puppy Play Parties. Somewhere in the middle is the pet dog owner trying to do their best with behaviour that makes daily life a challenge, this article is for us.

A term that has emerged from the modern-day dog training world is ‘reactive dog’. From my experience a dog labelled reactive will be displaying behaviours that range from socially embarrassing to downright dangerous. When a Border Collie arrives with this label attached, I usually meet a dog that is extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, known locally as Sensitive Souls.

This is where we begin: Get to know your breed and manage your expectations. To be successful at herding Border Collies need to notice movement AND react to it; quick response to movement is a normal collie behaviour. Border Collies often work at distance, in fog, wind and rain, acute hearing is an advantage. Sensitivity to movement and sound is part of the genetic package.

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Pick your battles. Management or Training? Putting effective management in place is always the starting point. Whether the management is in place for the life of the dog or a short-term provision, depends on your ethics, values, skill level, available time and living arrangements.

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Review your dog’s diet. Food affects behaviour. Whilst we are very comfortable with the concept of the brain affecting the gut, visiting the toilet before a stressful event for example, we are less familiar with the effects of nutrition and in particular the microbiome on the brain.

Provide quality rest and sleep. There is a cultural myth that Border Collies need lots of exercise, always want to be on the go and plenty of training just to keep them happy. This misconception combined with a busy family home can leave the pet Border Collie deprived of opportunities to de-stress and recuperate.

Think about pain. Border Collies can be stoic individuals and ‘working’ may mask pain. Repetitive actions, over exercising and poor diet can result in joint and muscles injury that need attention. Don’t wait for the limp to get your dog checked out.

Consider behavioural medication or supplements. Combining pharmaceuticals or herbal supplements, with a breed appropriate teaching programme can give effective results. Always consult a professional.

Take a risk without being reckless. Risk prompts learning. Before you take a risk, ask if it is for the benefit of your dog? We learn from failure as well as success but set your boundaries around any potential failure. If failure cannot include injury to another dog, keep the muzzle in place; if failure cannot include your dog running into a road, keep the long line in place; if failure cannot include a bite to a child, keep the baby gate closed.

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