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Working BCs are exactly what the description says...they are bred to work. A working BC is going to be thinner and sleeker, built for speed and endurance (more like a greyhound). They should have a strong instinctive desire to gather stock and bring it to their master. They range in size from about 25 lbs to 60 lbs and can be short, medium or long-haired. Traditional BC colors are black with white or red with white. Some are white with black or red patches. Some are mostly black. Some have solid white markings while others have freckles. They are all super intelligent, sensitive and have a passion for pleasing their master. The working BC will move around stock with its head and tail low indicating a working attitude as opposed to a playful attitude (head and/or tail up). Their interest in livestock will be intense and will increase with exposure. You can expect your working BC to "forget" everything you've taught them the first time you take them to livestock. Instinct will take over and sometimes obedience training becomes lost in the excitement for awhile. Your working BC will be exceptionally athletic. We breed dogs solely for herding, however they are capable of many tasks. Typical "work" for working BCs can include herding (of course), frisbee, agility, flyball, search and rescue, and just about anything else requiring a lot of energy, heart, and focus.
Scroll further down on this page to learn more about the levels of training related to herding dogs. When you buy a herding puppy, you can expect your puppy to show interest in stock probably by 8 months old and ready to begin serious training on stock at 1 year old. Dogs that are destined to work cattle usually will not be ready for that task before they are 1-1.5 years old. They may need to be trained on softer stock (we like goats) to get the commands solidified before moving to cattle. No dog is too old to learn herding unless it's health is such that it is unable to endure the strenuous exercise involved.
Conformation BCs are bred
primarily for their physical appearance. They
are usually stockier in build. They may or may not have herding instincts.
Owners wishing to work their dogs in multiple sports including herding
should do herding first so the dog is not taught to ignore their
To be competitive in any of the active sports, we highly recommend a working BC. AKC supports competitions in many areas such as agility, flyball, etc., however many of these sports also have their own organizations who may produce a significantly higher level of competition for their sport. The most common of these alternative organizations for herding include the USBCHA (United States Border Collie Handlers Association) and AHBA (American Herding Breed Association). AKC requires that all dogs competing it their events be AKC registered. AHBA allows a larger variety of breeds and mixes to compete. USBCHA allows any breed or mix that can successfully perform the tasks of the trial.
Having a Border Collie (or any other herding
breed) does not guarantee that you have a working dog. There are
many breeds that originated as working herding dogs but have been so
intensely bred for conformation that they have lost their
herding instinct. Their attraction to stock is reduced to a desire
to chase, not work. It is quite possible to buy a puppy from
working dog parents and find your pup to have less instinct than you
anticipated. Even top handlers and breeders admit the difficulties of selecting
the "best" pup from any given litter. When you buy a PHF
puppy, you can be assured that we have done all we can to assure you
will have a working dog when your pup is grown up. However, it is
impossible to determine the extent of the abilities of a puppy before it
is a year old. Of course the older the puppy becomes the better
your chances of getting a glimpse of its working abilities. If you have a herding breed dog and would like
to get your feet wet in herding, you would do well to take your dog to a
herding trainer for an instinct evaluation.
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Folks are all the time calling me for puppies and asking the age-old question, "Are they good with children?" My reply is always the same..."That depends." You see, while the breed of dog is definitely a factor in how it will behave with children, it is usually not nearly as important as how the puppy is handled as it is growing up. BCs are very sensitive dogs. That means they are easily trained and make very loyal and loving pets, but it also means they may be easily frightened by things they don't understand. I have seen BCs who were wonderful family pets and I have seen BCs that were biters. The difference is always the same...the family with a good pet has made sure that the puppy was not unintentionally (or intentionally) frightened while it was growing up. The family with the dog that bites almost always has allowed children to "romp and play" with their new puppy. What's wrong with that? First, a child is considerably larger than a puppy and can easily hurt the puppy without meaning to. But pain is not always the biggest problem. Children by nature like to run and scream and play active games. Imagine if you were a 5 lb puppy and a 25-50 lb child came running at you screaming at the top of its lungs! Imagine if every time a child came near you, it held you in very uncomfortable ways and wouldn't let you escape from the discomfort. Imagine if your new home had a child who thought growling and barking at you was funny, but you knew these things to be danger signs. I don't know about you, but I'd be an emotional mess after all that (not to mention things much worse). Simple things that children do without meaning any harm at all can often turn a nice dog into a biter. Dogs are not people and don't understand or want the things people want. They are very forgiving, but they are not stupid (and BCs are among the smartest dogs alive). So, if you want your dog to be happy and pleasant with your family, protect it while it is young or buy an older dog that is already proven to be well-adjusted to children. Parents, your best bet is to keep the puppy away from the children unless you are closely watching (and even then things happen and then it's too late). Protect your puppy until it is at least 8-10 months old. Allow only gentle interactions and pleasant relationships to develop. (Of course older children sometimes understand and can be allowed more liberty.) One easy way to circumvent some of these problems is to buy an older puppy. Puppies that are 5-12 months can be divided between those that are comfortable with children and those that aren't. They are big enough to be able to play with children and not get hurt while still small enough to bond well and not hurt the children. "But I'm buying the puppy for my child!" is a natural response to this advice. If you think about it, that's not entirely true. You are buying a DOG for your child. The puppy will only be a puppy for a very short time. Your objective is better met with the focus on the type of DOG you want for your child. Sometimes it helps to look at it this way...If you wanted a horse for your child, you wouldn't buy a colt and just plop your kid up there expecting the colt to behave peaceably. You'd scare the wits out of both of them and likely get someone hurt. So, you might buy the colt because you like it and you want it to grow up around your family. You'd let your child pet it and feed it grass and talk to it and brush it and things that won't scare it. When your colt is old enough to ride and understand that the child isn't trying to hurt it, you'd let your child ride. It works the same for dogs. There are lots of things your child can do with your puppy, but there is also a need for limits regarding the types of things that are ok.
Working Borders Collies are extremely high energy dogs. Don't confuse the phrase "high energy" with "playful." High energy dogs need a great deal of activity on a regular basis. Walks in the morning and evening without running will not release the pent up energy of a working BC. These dogs need to be "worked" until they are panting heavily and tired every day. Sniffing around in the back yard will not be enough. A working BC must be given a task to perform such as herding, running (with a handler), catching frisbees, chasing balls, etc. If not worked, they can and likely will develop emotional and/or behavioral problems such as spinning in the kennel, pacing in the kennel or yard, running fences, chasing cars, chewing, barking, climbing, and a plethora of other annoying and sometimes dangerous behaviors.
Working Border Collies (especially those bred for cattle) have certain instincts that, while very useful and desirable in a herding dog, can be all but impossible to manage in a pet. Herding involves moving livestock (or anything that moves) from one place to another. That function may include nipping at heels or noses, chasing around to the front and stopping the movement, and in general fretting to do what is natural if not understood. This may result in nipping the heels or legs of people (including running children), stopping anything that moves (including cars), and pacing or other obsessive, compulsive behaviors. Do not be surprised if your pet develops any or all of these unwanted behaviors and more. They are not being aggressive. In fact they are more likely simply following needs that they don't understand.
Recall that BCs are bred for herding. They are preprogrammed to gather things that move and put them into a nice neat group and keep them there. They will therefore try to gather not only sheep, cattle, goats or ducks, but also cats, children and cars! A Border Collie is not a sit-on-your-porch type of dog. They are VERY ACTIVE and if they don't have a job (like herding stock, retrieving frisbees, or running agility courses) they will invent one. If you don't have your BC in a fenced area it will most definitely chase the neighbors' animals and children. They may chase cars by running out in front of them trying to stop them and generally get into all kinds of mischief. Underground fences don't always work with the herding BC. When that herding instinct kicks in, your BC may run right through a shock and then think the object of their focus (like a car, pedestrian, or neighborhood pet) has hurt them and should be dealt with. BCs are most happy and secure when they have a kennel in which they stay most of the time and are allowed out into a larger fenced area daily. If left out all day, they will often run all of their nutrition off and you will have a hard time keeping them fit and healthy. They need to have a strong aerobic workout everyday. This doesn't mean a walk down the street before work in the morning and bedtime at night. It also doesn't mean being turned out into the backyard (no matter how large) to sniff about on their own. They need to work FOR you. This means running after the aforementioned frisbee, livestock, etc. until they are huffing and puffing. They want to DO something to make you happy and they want to do it with all their heart and stamina.
Train your puppy basic pet obedience and manners (for you and for it). You can start the minute you take your puppy home. Your PHF (Possum Hollow Farms) puppy is already able at 6-8 weeks to learn many commands such as "here," "no," "wait" (at a door for an ok to enter or leave), "stop," and not to chew on your flesh. Many PHF puppies already know "wait," "that'll do...here," and "stop." When you buy a PHF puppy we encourage you to access our recommended training schedule which is designed mostly for herding dogs but applies to pets, agility and frisbee dogs as well.
Take your puppy everywhere you go. Your BC will love being with you and will usually stay with you (unlike many hunting breeds whose instinct is to run off searching for prey). However, the BC may take off after deer or other animals that run as their instinct takes over. Use your BC for herding. But, if you can't...Go hiking. Throw a frisbee (always throw low to the ground until your pup is fully developed to avoid joint injuries). Take up agility trialing. Play ball. Take it running with you. Teach it all kinds of silly tricks. Take it biking. PHF Border Collies are bred to be athletes and as adults can usually withstand as much exercise as you can toss their way. Basically do things that you like to do and involve your dog. NOTE: IF YOU PLAN TO USE YOUR DOG FOR HERDING, YOU WILL NEED TO DO SOME THINGS DIFFERENTLY. SEE THE SECTIONS BELOW ON TRAINING, ETC.
You will need to provide housing for your BC. The best type of housing involves a reasonably sized kennel (5x10' or bigger) with a roof so your dog doesn't develop the habit of jumping up and down in the kennel. This type of jumping is very hard on joints and dogs can get their feet caught in the fencing and break legs.
Socialization is also an important part of keeping a Border Collie in your home. If your BC is not accustomed to strangers it can become a biter, barker or create other annoying behaviors. To socialize your BC, take it everywhere and encourage people to pet and hold it as a puppy. Take it to an obedience class when it is about 12 weeks old where other dogs and people of all sizes and types are present. With proper socialization, a BC can be very friendly and loving to all. With improper socialization it can be dangerous.
A QUICK LESSON IN BASIC GENETICS: All characteristics for living things have two genes (one they got from their mother and one they got from their father). These are identified with letters such as A and a, B and b, etc. So all organisms will have two letters for every different characteristic. A big "A" indicates a gene that is dominant over the other. A little "a" indicates a gene that is recessive. When a big "A" and a little "a" come together, the big "A" will always be the characteristic that shows up. If a dog is "AA" it will only be able to give a big "A" to its babies. If a dog is "aa" it will only be able to give a little "a" to its babies. If it got a big "A" from one parent and a little "a" from the other parent, then it will be able to give either one to its babies (because it'll have both available to pass down). Please note that this is very basic genetics and many characteristics involve more than one set of genes to get the full effect we see.
BC Coat Color: Possum Hollow Farms breeds only two primary color combinations -- red & white and black & white. The amount of white on a dog can sometimes be influenced by what is called "white factoring" which is seen by looking at the hind legs. It is our experience that dogs with white going all the way up the back legs are considered "white factored" and may throw "white" pups. We should point out that white factoring is not a bad trait and "white" dogs are just as good as any other dog.
white factored... not white factored... white
The color, red vs. black, to go with the white is inherited separately. Black is dominant over red. So a black dog could be AA for black (meaning it can only have black babies) or it could be Aa with the big A dominating over the little a (meaning it has both colors in its genes and it could have black or red babies depending on which gene happened to get passed down and what its mate passed down). The only way to know if a black dog is AA or Aa is to breed it to a red dog and see what you get. If you get any red puppies at all, then your black dog is Aa. So, black + black = black usually; red + red = red always; and black + red = black or red depending on the black dog's genes. Tricoloring is a different set of genes and affects both black & white and red & white dogs. Tricoloring in a black & white dog will result in getting black & white with brown accents. Tricoloring in red & white dogs will result in red & white with lighter red accents. Tricoloring is most easily seen in the face.
"tricolored black and white"... "Tricolored red and white"
BC Coat Length: Coat length is controlled by more than one set of genes. Possum Hollow Farms breeds both rough (long) coated dogs and smooth (short) coated dogs. Smooth coat is dominant over rough coat. A smooth coated dog can be BB or Bb. A rough coated dog can only be bb. So, rough + rough = rough always; smooth + smooth = smooth usually; rough + smooth = rough or smooth depending on the smooth dog's genes. Also be aware that rough coated BCs sometimes don't put on their "collie" coats until they are about 7-8 months old. Although you can tell a difference they will look decidedly short coated (like a stuffed toy) until then. Smooth coats can range from very slick to what many handlers call "medium" which is similar to a German Shepherd's coat. We have never had a litter out of two rough coated dogs that produced a smooth coated pup, however I heard some stories to this effect. We expect that the dogs involved had a mixture of A and a genes and therefore were able to produce the smooth combination.
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT HIP DYSPLASIA AND GENETICS, PLEASE REFER TO OUR DOG FOOD PAGE.
For additional information about BC genetics and other BC topics go to www.bordercollie.org .
Price ranges have been provided based on our own experience. These are general guidelines and you will notice that some overlap. Different dogs will bring different prices based on natural talent, individual training and working styles and abilities, beauty (yes, I'm afraid it's true), and type of stock the dog works and how well it works them. For example, a tough fully trained cow dog will cost more than a not so tough fully trained cow dog. An Open Trial winning sheepdog will cost more than a fully trained ranch dog.
Untrained: Dog shows instinct and desire to work.
Will move up on stock at own pace (walk or run and anything in between) with head and tail down indicating a
working attitude. Will try to bring stock to handler. Dog can
be of any age from puppy to adult but has not learned flanking or
herding commands. Dog may know a stop and recall. Dog will often try to hold stock to the fence
and has not learned to go between fence to bring stock to handler.
Commands: Recall and stop (or fewer). This level can
also include dogs that are working stock in a double-round pen
Some trainers consider this level to be a started dog.
(Approximate age = 6 months - 1 year or older)
Round/Square Pen Started: Dog will be able to work stock in a
round pen (about 50 ft diameter) or square pen (about 20x30 ft). Stock may include sheep,
goats or cattle. Sheep/goat dogs should be able to do
small outrun, lift and fetch to handler (go get stock at other end of
pen, gather them together and bring them to the handler) then work the
stock to the handler as handler moves around the pen (called wearing).
Commands: Starting to learn flanks (away to me and come by), stop, recall and
walk up. Cow dogs will be able to work on rope in square pen
moving to both flanks, stopping, walking up and hitting head
and/or heel. Commands: Both flanks, stop, recall, head and/or
(Approximate age = 1-1.5 years or older) Please
note that definitions of Started dogs are varied and you should clarify
what each breeder means when they say they have a Started dog.
Novice Dog: Dog will be able to work stock in a
paddock, small pasture or arena with handler a bit farther away. Stock may include sheep, goats or
cattle (all well dog-broke). Dog should be able to do small
outrun (up to 100 yards), lift and fetch to handler then work the stock
to the handler as handler moves around the pasture. Dog will be a
bit farther along on learning flanks. Commands: Outrun,
still just starting flanks, stop, recall, walk up, and head
and/or heel (cow dogs only).
Limitations are mostly that of distance from handler and difficulty of
stock the dog can handle. (Approximate age = 1.5-3 years or older)
Novice Trial Dog: Dog will be able to perform all
commands listed above in larger area on sheep (or cattle if
trained on cattle) and work with the handler to put the stock into a small pen or
through a chute. Dog should be able to work with other dogs and
people around and even inside the same pasture. Dog should be able
to pick stock up from a spotter (person holding stock still at the
beginning of each run). (Approximate age = 1.5-3 years or older)
Pro-Novice Dog: Dog will be able to perform all commands
listed above with a 250-300 yard outrun on sheep (or cattle if trained
on cattle) and will be able to drive the stock away from the handler and
along a course designated by the handler at a distance. Dog will
also work with handler to put stock into a pen or through a chute. (Approximate
age = 2-4 years or older)
Open Dog: Dog will be able to perform all commands
listed so far with a 400+ yard outrun on sheep or cattle. It will
be expected to drive stock away from the handler and along a designated
course at a greater distance than Pro-Novice. It will also work
with the handler to put stock into a pen or through a chute and to
"shed" (split off one or more individuals from the
group). Most dogs will also know a "look back" where
they will leave the stock they are working and move to a different set.
(Approximate age = 3-6 years or older) General working life of a
BC is from 2 years to about 10 years when they will begin to slow down.
come-by = command to go around the stock clockwise
How long does it take to train a dog to work stock? Most
pups are not worked heavily on stock until they are a year old. This age
may vary with individual maturity of each dog. From there it
usually takes a minimum of 3-6 months of working at least 3-5 days a
week to get a dog to the point where it
could be useful in a farm situation. Refer to "Levels of
Herding Training" above. Older dogs may have to unlearn bad
habits taking a bit longer to train.
Do you have a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll do our best to provide you with an answer.
Preparing for your PHF puppy. Your PHF puppy will be fine indoors or outside. They have been living outdoors since birth and all they need is a warm house and enclosed kennel. Be aware that fabric (pillows, etc) in your puppy's pen/house will become pieces. Your puppy will love to chew and your carefully selected doggy bed will quickly become a pile of fabric pieces and stuffing that can make kennel clean up a real task. If you live in an excessively cold climate, you may want to use unscented pine shavings or just an old blanket or rug you don't mind getting destroyed. Try to avoid pillows that have foam fillers. Your PHF puppy is tough and will weather just about all temperatures easily. For hot days/climates just be sure your puppy has plenty of water and shade. If you find that your puppy likes to play in its water bucket (and turns it over), use a flat plastic storage bin for a while to hold the bucket upright. I often have a bucket for drinking and a tub for playing. I attach the bucket to the wall with a double sided leash clip. Lots of BCs like water and this will help them to stay cool in the summer. If your puppy uses its mouth to flip the bucket over, switch to a metal bucket -- they don't like to feel their teeth on metal as much. Your puppy will need a feeding dish made of indestructible material. You can get rubber dishes at most feed stores. Your puppy will chew up plastic dishes, but the traditional style plastic dish does work well for not getting tipped over. Dishes that attach to the kennel wall are wonderful! Your puppy will need to be housed in a kennel where it cannot see other dogs or livestock. If you have more than one dog and want adjoining kennels, place a divider between the kennels so the two dogs won't learn to kennel fight (and to keep down noisy barking at each other). Your puppy MUST NOT BE HOUSED WHERE IT CAN SEE LIVESTOCKof any kind (including horses, poultry, etc.). Your best bet is to build your kennel so that all walls are solid at least 4 feet up. Jumping in the kennels is a bad habit and can cause joint problems. Build your kennels about 4 feet high and put a top on them. If you have chain link kennels, be aware that small puppies may be able to wiggle their heads through the links and can hang themselves in panic when their heads won't come back out. House your puppy away from where children play or walk by (even your own). For information on custom built kennels click here.
If you choose to house your puppy inside, keep it in a crate except when you are there with it. To help with house-breaking your puppy, take it directly from the crate to the yard and give it ample time to relieve itself. When finished bring your puppy back inside directly back to the crate for at least 15 minutes (no cheating!). If your puppy relieved itself outside, then after 15 minutes you can let it out into your house to play with you. If it didn't relieve itself, then after 15 minutes, take it back outside and try the whole thing again. The idea is that your puppy will begin to realize that if it doesn't relieve itself outside when it has the opportunity, it will have to hold it or go in its crate (which it won't want to do). This usually avoids the problem of a puppy who plays while outside then relieves itself when it comes indoors! While your puppy is young, always make it sleep in its crate all night. When it is older you can allow it to sleep outside of the crate (although you're still better off with it in a crate). This accomplishes a couple of things. First, your puppy will learn that the crate is it's "room" where it can go when it is tired, hurt or scared and feel safe. If you ever have to leave your puppy at the vet, it will already feel comfortable in a confined space and you can even take your crate with you so it will have it's familiar "room." Second, you will prevent lots of bad habits that puppies can develop in the wee hours while you sleep.
Exercise and Training Your PHF Puppy. (Purchase the
Stimatze Way of Puppy Training video. See the list of
Recommended Videos above. We start training our puppies at age 8 weeks using
this method and strongly advise that you do the same.)
Socialization. Take your puppy everywhere so it will be
accustomed to strangers and strange places (very important when you
begin herding work). Encourage people to pet your pup, but be
aware of children who may scare it without meaning to. Do
not baby your pup. If it is scared use a calm voice and a
business like attitude.
Preparing for Herding. DO NOT TAKE YOUR PUP AROUND LIVESTOCK NO MATTER HOW TEMPTING OR INTERESTED THEY MAY SEEM. Your puppy can develop all kinds of very difficult to correct habits on stock when left to its own devices. Lying and staring at stock can cause a pup to become "sticky" not wanting to move when around stock. A pup that is cow-kicked (or horse kicked or chased) early on may not recover physically or mentally. Pups who learn aggression through a fence may become dependent upon it. A puppy allowed to follow stock around may be hard to teach an outrun. A puppy allowed to fetch stock (horses included) with another dog will often become afraid because the stock will not give to the puppy like they do the adult, and will have a hard time learning that they can be the aggressor. The puppy may become dependent upon the older dog or develop the habit of running when the stock faces it -- a serious problem later on. A knowledgeable trainer may be able to prevent these problems by knowing what to look for, but novice handlers are better off to just enjoy their puppy's young years and worry about training on livestock when the pup is older. Teach your puppy a recall of "That'll do, Here..." by patting your leg and calling the pup. You can use a long cord to aid in this lesson. "That'll do" is the traditional signal used by herding folk to tell the dog that they are released from work. "Here" is the signal that tells them that although they are released from work, they must come directly to the handler. Do not use "come" to avoid confusing your puppy when it is time to learn the "Come By" command later (or you can use Go By). Teach your dog a strong stop in such a way that it will drop at a distance. Refer to the Stimatze video above. If your puppy is older than 8 weeks it will already be started on the Stimatze method and you will need to continue its training. Teach the lie down command separate from your stop command. You can do this by giving the lie down command and then stepping on the leash near the collar pulling the pup's head down with your foot. Expect your puppy to fight the first few times you do this. Once your puppy lies down, keep your foot on the leash holding the puppy down for a count of no less than 25 seconds -- and more is better. When you are ready to let your pup up, give it a release command like "ok" and then let it get up. Do not allow your puppy to get up when you say "good dog" or other words of praise. It will need to learn to accept praise and maintain it's position. Remember to praise your puppy quietly and calmly while it is lying down and with more energy when the exercise is over. Your puppy does not need to know sit. Teach your puppy "stand" meaning to remain on its feet but not moving. You can also begin teaching your puppy "walk up" and "back up" in a narrow hallway. Do not use hand signals with your pup. When it is on stock, it must continue looking at the stock, not the handler. If you plan to use a whistle, decide what signals you will use and go ahead and implement them into your training now and then. Do not use treats to get your puppy to obey -- you will not be allowed to use them in a trial. Teach your pup to jump into and out of a truck if you'll be using one later, but be careful of jumping too much. Teach your pup to listen even when you talk quietly. Your PHF puppy is bred to be a powerful herding dog so don't underestimate it's intelligence or will.
When your PHF puppy is about 4-5 months old, you can take it to a trainer (bring it back to us if you live close enough) for an Instinct test. This consists of putting the pup on a long cord and allowing it to move freely around gentle dog-broke livestock. Do not do an instinct test on unbroke stock. The trainer should be able to evaluate your pup and advise you about further training schedules based on how your pup handles itself. If your pup is not interested in the stock, bring it back again in a month or so. Different pups will "turn on" to the stock at different times and when this happens has nothing to do with how good it will be when finished training. Most PHF pups will be turned on to stock by 6 months. However, while training may begin it should not be lengthy or overly frequent. A trainer will know how much work your pup can handle and how fast to proceed. By the time your pup is 8 months old it will likely be ready for more regular training sessions and beginning to learn basic herding commands in a round pen (see info above). By 1-1.5 years you should be able to have a true "started dog." It will take several years for your dog to become mature enough to handle tough stock, but it should have the foundation needed to progress in that direction.
Out of all the Working BCs that are born (and we're talking only about those with a desire to work), about 90% of them can work sheep. Out of that 90% about 50% can work goats. Out of that 50% about 10% can work cattle. All of these jobs requires good focus, ability to listen and obey, a strong desire to please, and good herding instinct. Now let us define the difference in the three types of jobs we've mentioned. Working sheep typically requires a quieter moving dog. Many BCs can work sheep most of the time. A good number of those can work sheep that are willing to fight -- like a ewe with a lamb to protect. Sheepdogs rarely get hurt working sheep (at least not by the stock, that is). We have found that dogs needed for ranch work must be stronger than those used in most trials. This is true for sheepdogs, goatdogs (although goats are rarely used in trials), and cowdogs. We feel that this becomes more obvious with the difficulty of the stock. Sheepdogs can often be used for both in a trial situation. Sheep can be very aggressive at times on the ranch. A ewe with a lamb at her side can be tough and some rams can be quite dangerous. Goat dogs must have enough bite to be able to move stubborn and sometimes aggressive goats. Goats can be quite large and are usually more willing to stand down a weak dog. They are also considerably more likely to charge a dog if they think they can frighten it. Goats usually have horns (including the nannies and kids) and will use them as well as front hooves to fight or attack a weak dog. Cow dogs must be the toughest of all. Cow dogs must have the desire to fight and enjoy gripping (biting). A cow dog that won't fight or grip is simply a sheepdog working "sheep-cows." When faced, a good cow dog will take the challenge and bite the face. Weaker cow dogs will bite the heel only. The best cow dogs will bite head and heel. Most cows will challenge a dog at least at first. Some cows will challenge a dog even after having learned that the dog will bite, just to make sure. A few cows will go out of their way to kill a dog. It is possible to win a cow dog trial with a weaker cow dog (I've seen it done), but when your cow dog is put into a difficult position on the ranch it better have the guts and power to get control of the situation.
Out of all the dogs we raise at PHF, we try to select breedings that will produce dogs of the type we seek. At PHF we have two separate breeding programs (one for cowdogs and one for sheepdogs) to help ensure the dogs we raise will perform to expectations. Our cowdog breeding program concentrates on power, courage and bite which we feel are most important for our cow dogs. These dogs must be able to handle cattle with the handler and without the handler when they grow up. We try to breed dogs with considerable power (defined as ability to move stock without bite), bite (head and heel, with heading be primary), and control-ability. As we have dogs that reach working age and begin to be trained on cattle, goats or sheep, we begin to try to identify which type of stock the dogs are best suited to work. Often a cowdog can also work goats or sheep. Seldom will a sheepdog effectively work cattle. Goat dogs can occasionally work gentle cattle. From our cowdog litters, many of the pups will make good cowdogs. Some of them will be exceptional cowdogs. A few will make good goat dogs. Versatility is usually important in goat dogs as these dogs need to be able to work quietly with newborn kids and still have the power to handle billies and obstinate nannies. When we take a dog for training for goats we will handle it slightly different from a dog destined to work cattle. Our sheepdog breeding program is design to produce quiet-working, easily handled dogs with lots of natural balance and a natural outrun. We breed for sheepdogs with great style, intensity and a nice pace. Occasionally our sheepdogs will be aggressive enough to also work goats. We can usually assess a dog's tendency toward one type of stock or another around 8 months-1 year. If you are not sure what your dog's tendency might be, contact us for a free evaluation.
A NOTE ABOUT WORKING HORSES: Don't. BCs are not good horsedogs and usually will be ruined or killed by working horses. Their approach to work is so different from other breeds that they typically do not do well working with horses. BCs have been bred to work with handlers on horseback and should not try to work their handler's mounts. We recommend using other breeds for working horses.
Not all Border Collies (or any other herding breed) are meant to work cattle. A cow dog must have a strong desire to work cattle (as opposed to sheep, etc.). Dogs that work cattle will get hurt eventually. They can be kicked, stepped on, run over, and butted. They can even be killed. Just like police dogs, cow dogs have a job to do that involves a certain element of danger. There are cattle out there who simply don't like dogs and will put forth significant effort to kill them. A cow dog must be able to figure out the best way to manage these wild cattle as well as work gentler, non-aggressive cattle with self-control. Aggression toward people or other dogs is in no way an indication of a dog that will be tough on cattle. Most working BCs will work sheep. Sheep are light (meaning easy to dominate and move most of the time). Some dogs can work goats. Goats are more stubborn, will try to stand a dog down and may even chase or butt a weak dog. Goats do not kick. A few dogs will work cattle. Cattle are stubborn and will not move unless forced to move. Lots of eye does not always mean power on cattle. The only thing that cattle understand as power is bite. A cow dog must be willing to bite the cow if it must. Sometimes cow dogs need to be able to fight. So, a dog that is going to be trained on cattle, must have a desire to bite the stock. This is called gripping. Dogs that grip sheep in competitions are disqualified immediately. Dogs working in ranch and farm situations at some time or other usually will find a need to grip. When evaluating a dog for working cattle, we usually look for a dog that likes to bite, has a high tolerance for pain, and will leave sheep or any other stock in preference for working cattle. We advise against anyone training a dog to work cattle if it does not show this preference. This often, but not always, is related to the genetics of the dog. A dog that likes to run in and bark, chases stock (including horses or cattle), and works with another trained dog working cattle does not necessarily have what it takes to be a cow dog. One way to evaluate an adult dog's potential for working cattle is to see what it does when the stock turn to face it. This can be done with sheep, but is better done with goats or calves, and must be done without a fence between them. If the dog turns away (or worse, runs) when faced, it is likely not going to make a cow dog. If the dog stands its ground but has a "ready to run" attitude, it may be able to work cattle with the right training and confidence building. If the dog stands its ground with a "let me bite" attitude, you may just have a cow dog.
Puppies are a different matter altogether. We feel that no pup (regardless of how aggressive it may be) is ready to show its potential on cattle until it is at least a year old. You should not start a "pup" on cattle. Wait until the pup has become a dog. This is more of a maturity issue than a physical issue, although it is important that the dog be agile and fast enough to win a race or fight. Someone once commented that all BCs go through a more timid "adolescence" during which their prior bravery (usually puppy ignorance) and their true courage (as working adults) is in transition and they are unsure of what to fear and what not to fear. We agree. This stage will be different for different pups but usually occurs between 7-13 months old. So, how do you pick a pup that will be a cow dog? You can't. The best you can do is look for the right breeding. There is a pain tolerance test that Anthony McCallum shows that may help but isn't a fool proof method. You pick up the pup and squeeze between its toes. The reaction of the pup will tell you a bit about its pain tolerance. A pup that whimpers and pulls away likely has a low tolerance while a pup that completely ignores the squeeze likely has a higher pain tolerance. I have seen pups who were shy and timid with people turn out to be wonderful cow dogs and pups that were friendly and bossy as pups turn out to be too cautious on cattle. When you buy a pup from PHF, we remind you that we can't guarantee that your pup will be a cow dog any more than you could guarantee us that your next child will be a race car driver, dancer, or anything else. We can tell you that we've done our best to breed a litter that has the most potential for turning out good cow dogs and hope along with everyone else that we are right.
If you want your dog to be a cow dog...Do not make a fuss over it when it gets hurt. Take care of it in a business like manner. Do not allow your dog to work horses, ever. Do not put your puppy in a situation in which it will be frightened by older dogs during play. Do not allow your pup to work the cat, especially if the cat is of the predisposition to smack it if it gets too close. Do not allow your pup to sneak into the pasture, ever. Take your pup with you when you are around cattle, but keep it in the truck, in your arms, or on a leash. Do not allow it to get around the cattle at the fence. Teach it a good stop starting the day you get it home. Let your pup work stock that you know it can dominate (ducks, chickens, lambs, goat kids (young), etc.). We recommend goats, starting with kids and working up to big nannies. Goats don't kick, so the dog will still have to learn about kicking later. However, goats will protect themselves by facing the dog and tucking their chin between their front legs which puts the horns out front. The dog must learn to bite on the face, bite low under the head and avoid horns. This low biting movement can often be transferred to heeling and therefore helping to create a better low-to-the-ground heeler.
If you still think you'd like to own a cow dog, or have a dog that you think might make a good cow dog, contact us and we'll happily help you on your way.
A good cow dog will also be able to work goats. A good sheep dog may not. In our opinion, the perfect goat dog is somewhere in between. When selecting a goat dog, look for many of the same characteristics of a cow dog. The goat dog will need to be willing to bite. Many goats, nannies and billies alike, will try to dominate your dog. A dog that will take a nip will quickly convince even the most stubborn goat that the fight simply isn't worth the effort. Once they have learned to respect the dog, your goats will usually move along nice and easy and seldom will challenge. Exceptions to this will include an occasional billy or nanny with an attitude and nannies who have kids. A dog who is willing to bite, but is still controlled will be able to handle any of these situations. Goat dogs can be trained more easily than sheep or cow dogs if they have the appropriate breeding and temperament. Goat dogs will need to be able to work up close without biting, fight when needed (but only for short bouts and rarely to the point of true danger), and work quietly when needed. Dogs that are trained on sheep and then asked to work goats usually require a period of adjustment. Do all the same things with your goat dog that you would do with a cow dog. If looking for an adult working dog, try to find one that is already working goats. If this is unavailable, look for a not-so-aggressive cow dog. Do not buy a sheep dog unless you see it stand down a fighting ewe or ram. Because gripping is not allowed in sheepdog trials, many sheep dogs have been trained not to grip and sometimes this can be difficult to change. If you are looking for a puppy, your best bet is to buy a pup bred to be a cow dog. PHF will guarantee that any cowdog puppy we sell will work goats with the proper training. Some pups will be more aggressive and some will be softer, but the breeding of our pups should provide a dog with enough grit to work goats. If your dog is a sheep dog at heart you may or may not be able to convince it to work goats.
If you have a dog that you would like to be trained on goats or if you would like to consider a puppy, contact us and we'll happily provide training or a puppy.
A good cow dog may also be able to work goats and sheep, however to have a winning sheepdog your best bet is to buy a dog that has the temperament for handling stock in a quiet methodical manner. A dog that is too quick to grip (bite) will be harder to handle as it will have to be considerably more controlled. At PHF we like our sheep dogs to be very quiet, small to medium in size, and have a natural balance and pace. This way they will automatically work without disturbing the sheep and will be easier to train. We look for intensity and high working desire. There is a large selection of training videos for sheep dogs available from Border Collies in Action . In light of the many high quality videos and books available on sheep dog training, we will not go into the specifics here as our techniques are quite similar to those shown on the videos.
How To Learn More
The Best Way: The single best way to learn how to handle stockdogs is to attend as many clinics, take as many lessons and watch as many stockdog handlers as you possibly can. There is no substitute for real time experience. Take your dog or puppy with you to all of these events. The atmosphere will be positive for learning about herding.
Finding Clinics, Trials and Trainers:
USBCHA (US Border Collie Handlers Association)
SHEEPDOG-L Group List
COWDOGS Group List
REGULAR HERDING CLINICS
Sources for Herding Videos:
Will I Grow Up to Be a Cow Dog? by Anthony MacCallum
The Perfect Stockdog by Ben Means
Border Collies in Action
Sources for Understanding and Raising Your Puppy:
Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer by Adam
How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren
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