What are collies bred to do?
This is the obvious answer, but what does herding actually involve?
We are seeing more and more Collies in pet homes, but also seeing more people not fully knowing or understanding what collies were bred to do, or what that actually entails.
So what are collies actually bred for?
• To be stimulated by movement, but not just stimulated but also reactive to it as well. As if a small number of sheep are starting to break off from the main flock, the dog has to react and respond to control that movement, keeping the flock as one. This can make living in urban life pretty hard going, when a lot of stuff, cars, people, dogs move.
• To have very acute hearing, collies can work at great distances from their shepherds, the shepherd will use whistles a few fields away and the collie have to be able to listen and respond to cues. Urban environments can be very noisy places, just stop for a couple of seconds and listen. How many things can you hear? Think how overwhelming this could be for a dog, especially one who comes from a traditionally quiet environment.
• To work independently, collies can work at great distances from the shepherd, using their natural instinct to manipulate the movement of sheep.
• To control movement, collies aren’t bred to chase, in fact the opposite they want to manipulate, control and stop movement. They are the ultimate control freaks. Bet when your Collie is playing with other dogs, that they aren’t running behind them, but instead generally alongside them, this is your collie herding them. You may also see it with balls, people, children, bikes along with any other items seen daily in urban life.
• To be the other half of your partnership. A collie and their shepherd really are a team, both equally need each other to complete the job, and look after all the sheep in their care. Collies can become very bonded with their person.
• To ignore pretty much everything else but the job, Collies will entirely focus on the job at hand, and will seldom stop to go to the toilet or eat until the task at hand is completed. Which is why some owners can really struggle to get focus and engagement from their collie in the urban environment if their dog has found a job to do. (This could be herding other people, dogs or anything that moves).
• To go from low stimulation too high. On the farm most collies are kept in a kennel of some description. They are brought out to work, where there is loads of stimulation, and at the end of day put back in their kennel, where there is very little. This gives them opportunities to decompress, process the day and switch off. In the home there is generally something going on, so it’s important we help teach our collies to switch off.
The intensity of the behaviours varies from individual to individual with factors such as breeding, experiences and temperment impacting the intensity.