Border Collies and obsessive behaviors

Border Collies obsessive?  Of course not, well, maybe just a little bit.  What can you expect from a dog that has been bred to work all day, every day?  Can such a dog adapt to living in an apartment where his sole source of exercise is a walk around the block?  Or how about one living in a more rural environment with sheep just out of reach: he can see them, he can smell them, he watches other dogs work them, yet he’s kept in a kennel or on a leash because he’s not old enough to start training.  Border Collies are extremely creative in their obsessive behaviors.  Some stare at balls or other toys, many herd other dogs, children or cars (those that do that don’t live too long).  The more creative ones stare at shadows or try to herd the ceiling fan or even clouds.  Some convert their caregivers into ball throwing machines.

I am blessed in that I live in an area where I can take my dogs for miles-long runs on the ATV.  That burns a lot of excess energy.  Since I only have the two dogs they both get a good amount of stock work to do on a daily basis.  But that still doesn’t even put a dent in what they could do if the work was there for them.  I sort of hate this time of year.  It’s cooled off, which is wonderful, but we’ve lost light in the morning.  It isn’t light now until almost 7 AM.  This morning, for example, I was out at 7:00 using Gel to separate out goats from sheep and then to push the sheep out of the goats’ food and keeping them out until the goats finished.  This is one of Gel’s favorite jobs, keeping stock off feed troughs.  He loves it.  After everything was settled in the goat and sheep department, I used Fern to put the ducks back into their pasture.  She’s still funky around Kitty and Rose and I need to get to the bottom of that situation.  I think what I might do is one day leave her in the fenced-in area with Kitty and Rose for company and let her work out her issues.  Luckily, Gel doesn’t give the two puppies the time of day when he’s working around them.  They run to great him, he jumps over them and continues with his work.  Fern is starting to get better about working around them, but her nose is still out of joint.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  Managing Border Collies, or any active, intelligent breed, is a lot of work and commitment.  I am only a little bit good at it.  I wish I had more energy when I got home from work for training.  I’m trying to remedy that by adjusting my diet.  I am doing some experimenting with raw honey and B vitamins.  I’m hoping that will result in more energy after work.  I called the man who hays the fields around me and he said he’s going to get out there to cut in a week or so, which will be great.  Once the fields are cut and baled, I can set my panels and pen up and leave them there until next spring.  Once I get the new sheep I’ll start working them with the lambs in groups of four or five so they will be a bit more workable.  I’ve got to get that damned dog (Gel) driving.  I have an entry form for the Red Creek trial the first weekend in October sitting on my desk.  Not filled out, just sitting here so I can look at it and think about it.  I had a good time at their last trial … but I haven’t been training much and won’t be able to train much until the fields are cut, unless I go over to Wally’s house, but his fields are relatively small.  I could enter the trial, go and get experience from it or I could just say gas is too expensive to drive two and a half hours for five minutes on the field.  But, it’s five minutes on the field plus learning experience watching the open handlers run.  Decisions, decisions, decisions … must stick with my original decision to not trial any more in 2008 and shoot for 2009.  It will be better to go to trials if I have two dogs to run, so must get my butt in gear and train that other damned dog (Fern).  I do love my dogs.

I keep running off on this topic.  I got an e-mail from a woman I only know from the Internet.  She seems like a nice enough lady, but she runs with the crowd who don’t think much of me.  I first read her e-mail and I almost didn’t answer her, but my willingness to help others won over and I wrote back.  She was fostering two kittens and she’s having difficulty with her dogs not being able to settle around the kittens.  I can understand that, been there, done that.  Gel used to be obsessive about the cats, he still is to some extent, but I don’t let it get out of hand.  Gel’s “job” is breaking up cat fights.  Sometimes that is a useful skill, but usually it’s more an irritation.  Fern likes to mother the kittens and she plays with them.  For the most part, Fern’s interactions with the kittens and cats is acceptable.  The woman who wrote me wanted to know if I had any suggestions on how to find them homes.  “Good luck!” I told her.  There are way more kittens and cats looking for homes than there are homes for them.  I then asked her if she’d let her dogs act the way they were around the kittens (constantly circling them and staring obsessively) if they were sheep.  Well of course she wouldn’t; so where the difference?  It’s a matter of consistency.  You demand the same behavior of your dogs no matter what the situation.  If they cannot play by the rules, then you need to put them somewhere where they don’t have the option of making the wrong choice, i.e. in a crate or on a leash.  They are smart, they learn pretty quickly that either you play by the rules or you get put up in a crate.  If you act up in the crate, your crate gets covered.  Giving intelligent, active dogs too much time on their own to make up their own fun and games is never a good thing, especially if you want to develop a solid working relationship with them.  You can nag and constantly correct them, or you can take away the distraction until you have the type of relationship with the dog that allows you to be in a stimulating environment and still have focus and control.

It has taken me a long time to get to that place with Gel.  He turned me into a ball throwing machine.  He developed quite a few obsessive behaviors, some of which he still tries to engage in, but a quick correction from me is enough to stop it in its tracks and he doesn’t go for it again.  I make sure I give my dogs jobs to do so they can be useful, something they all want to be.