Border Collies have a very high need for exercise and can be expected to have high indoor activity. They are vigorous dogs that require good hard exercise on a regular basis. They make good watch dogs and poor guard dogs. They have a high learning rate and a very high obedience level.
—Country Journal, December 1987.
Criteria for Assessing Working Ability
Training and Working Dogs for Quiet Confident Control of Stock
By Scott Lithgow
Heading. This is the ability to control the lead, to shepherd, or to block with force as required. It is essential to be able to send your dog around to the head of the cattle. No dog can effectively control cattle if he will not head. Many people need to see cattle being worked with a heading dog for some time and to receive some guidance and experience before they are able to appreciate the amount of control possible and the great importance of the heading ability in achieving quiet confident cattle control. A good heading dog can control the lead of a herd, either just to steady them and keep them from running, or to bite the noses or front feet of the leaders of the cattle to stop them and turn them back to the herd. Associated with the heading instinct is the instinct to cast to the other side of the herd and to bring (draw) stock back to you. It is much easier to teach a natural heading dog to cast.
Herding. This is the natural ability to gather stock together quietly into a herd and to keep them together using speed and force when required. This trait is strongly heritable and can be evident in the exploits of a naïve pup. The natural desire and style are developed as the dog gains experience. A dog with very good herding ability may be relied upon to control a herd of weaners, needing very little direction from his trainer. A dog with only average herding ability will need to be directed much more frequently.
Heeling. This is the ability to bite, hard and clean, below the hock when obviously necessary. Although a good dog may bite the nose and/or front foot of a beast to block and turn the animal, the dog should not keep going for the nose and ringing a beast around. As the beast turns back towards the herd, the dog should drop in behind. If the beast has been bossy, a hard quick bit, low on the hind leg, will ensure that the dog is boss. A dog should not change cattle to heel them several times as they are galloping. Heeling should be used for bossing cattle rather than chasing them. A top dog only requires that cattle submit to his dominance and herd together quietly. A dog which will not heel may lack force when driving or when a beast balls up.
Heeding. Obedience involves being attentive to the trainer’s directions and interpreting them correctly. Obedience develops with training and the establishment of a means of communication with your dog. It is necessary for both dog and trainer to f3eel they are working together and to preserve an awareness of each other even while working independently. This creates a feel of confidence. A dog is like an extension of your arm which can reach around the stock and keep them together. The dog is not much use to you if he is cut off and can’t get your messages. A dog which has inherited the desire to work with people will be a pleasure to train, and this is a heritable trait. However, this desire can be inhibited if you, as trainer, do not allow your pup to enjoy his work or if you do not make the effort to train him as he develops. The establishment of a happy companionship with your pup gives him a purpose in life, and finding pleasure and fulfillment in obeying your commands will promote obedience. You need to be able to control your dog to gain quiet confident cattle control.
Hardiness. A top dog must be a good traveler with tough, deep-padded feet. He needs enough pace to outrun and head your cattle fairly quickly. The coat type should be compatible with your climate and any grass seed or purr problems. Although lightly built dogs may have endurance as travelers, particularly where burrs are a problem, very lightly boned dogs tend also to have less substance in their dental structure. A reasonably strong head and teeth are an advantage for a biting dog. When teeth get broken, a dog’s useful life can be shortened. There is an old saying: “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dogs that counts.” Others say: “If a dog is good enough, it is big enough.” No doubt both clichés are true, but I believe the main requirement is for speed rather than size. Any dog needs exercise on the type of terrain where he is going to have to work to toughen his foot pads ready for hard work. Although a lack of depth of cushioning in the pads and other foot problems can be hereditary faults, the majority of such problems are caused by lack of exercise. Good health, a determined spirit, and plenty of exercise are prerequisites for hardiness in your dog. Contrary to a commonly held belief, I do not consider that a short-coated dog necessarily has more heat tolerance than a longer-coated dog. It is a dense woolly undercoat that will keep a dog hot. The shiny longer hairs that make up the outer layer or top coat have a reflective action (so take care about clipping your long-haired dog).
Temperament. The temperament of a dog is initially dependent on both his inheritance and on his experience. Environment and handling will have a conditioning effect on a young pup’s temperament. The trainer has an important part to play in molding the temperament of his dog and in bringing out the best of the potential that dog has inherited. For top performance, a dog needs to be a combination of seeming opposites:
• High Strung—Relaxed. The dog should be spirited enough to be alert on the job and easily stimulated by action. The ability to relax when the stock are under control and going quietly is just as valuable. Dogs that can’t relax and are constantly racing around as if they are looking for trouble usually make trouble.
• Dominant—Submissive. The top dog is boss dog. He will have a haughty dominant attitude to stock and yet be submissive to his trainer as his leader.
• Sensitive—Hard to Offend. A dog with a soft nature can be a delight to train and will become very obedient. He can become a problem to those who get a bit hot-tempered when things go wrong unless he has been conditioned to accept harsh voice tones, loud noise, or is naturally hard to offend. It is helpful if the temperament of your working partner is compatible with your own.
Intelligence. A dog with average intelligence will learn steadily through repetition, forming habits. Your commands and signals need to be kept simple, and both regular work and training are needed to produce a really good dog. A dog with above-average intelligence will learn more quickly. He will think for himself and go to the right places at the right times. The dog with high intelligence learns rapidly and may take very few lessons to learn. He will do clever things and work independently; at times, even in new and strange situations, he will naturally seem to know the right thing to do. Brilliant dogs of this caliber are very rarely offered for sale at any price and should be sought out for breeding purposes.
Male or Female. I have no real preference. In my experience, males have sometimes been slightly more dominant in their attitude to stock that their sisters. I believe that a bitch is sometimes more loyal to a man, and that a dog may be more loyal to a woman. If you want to raise pups, there is an old Scottish saying that a breeder can maintain the standard of his dogs for more generations by breeding to the female line than to the male.