Dangerous Minds

Why do people always insist that Border Collies are bad with small children? I have 2 purebred Border Collies and 3 children under the age of 10. The children came first in my house. We got our first Border Collie as an 8 week old pup last February and we adopted another Border Collie from a rescue group 7 months ago. The ONLY time I have a problem with the Border Collies herding instinct is when the kids are riding their noisy 4-wheeler motorcycle and that's not much of a problem. What gives?

I believe you and people visiting this site have a very false impression of the real world of Border Collie owners. You ARE NOT the average Border Collie owner out in the world. This is not a very good sampling of typical owners. For one, you're researching the breed. This puts you at the upper end of the spectrum as far as Border Collie owners go. You love your dogs - heck some of you adore them. You doublecheck your vet's opinions. You worry about when your dog poops too much. Heck you even KNOW if your dog poops too much. You worry about every little thing that your dog does. These are all wonderful things. It makes you great owners... Exceptional owners (emphasis being on "exception").

But as rescuers we aren't dealing with people like you exclusively. We deal with the entire spectrum of Border Collie owners. I don't doubt that if you poll people reading this article that you'll find many fine examples of Border Collies getting along with small children. But you are the exception, not the rule. You hang out with like-minded people, be it in a chat room or at a doggie event. I can see how it would be easy to get the impression that all dog owners would be willing to chop up their food into little pieces if they couldn't chew one day or wipe their little dog's chin if they dribbled on themselves. It's easy to understand how you might feel that Border Collies get along wonderfully with children, because you and your friends are very careful to regulate your dog and supervise your children. But this isn't how the "real world" works.

One need only do rescue for a week, or read the week's postings of rescue dogs available on the Web to understand that on the whole, Border Collies are terrible with small children. Many of the dogs we get in have been relinquished because they have bitten a small child. They are wonderful dogs with children, up close and personal, but once the child breaks out the back door, their instinct kicks in and they go into full "herd" mode. I should start posting the private emails I get from people who are utterly frustrated with their Border Collie biting their kids. I should transcribe the daily phone calls I get (yes, DAILY) and post them as well. I should scan the relinquishment cards from the shelters and put them on file here. "Bit child", over and over again. Poll the Border Collie rescuers out there and ask them if they think Border Collies are good with small children. Many of them even refuse to *consider* a family with children under 8. I am not that strict but I do understand the feeling.

Nothing against you, but owning 2 Border Collies since Feb. of last year won't really give you the full outlook on the breed. We've increased our numbers here by that many in the last 2 days. When wonderful and conscientious owners like you go out and tell folks how wonderful their dogs are and how great they are with children, you're doing the breed and us a disservice. The media plays up on this and the breed's popularity goes up and up every day. This is a working breed and most of these dogs have very strong "working blood" coursing through their veins. They're meant to be out chasing and nipping at stubborn ewes, not small children. I don't condemn anyone for owning a working dog and not living in a working environment but realize that this is akin to putting an ox in your kitchen. He may be fine in there if you're really careful with him and he may help you haul laundry from the bedroom to the laundry room but it's not really where he was originally intended to be. My own dogs are certainly wonderful dogs and about the best trained ones you'll find, but around small children I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them. I don't have kids around here to worry about though, and if I did, I'd definately take a very different approach to rescue and owning Border Collies.

Border Collies with strong herding instincts can be ticking bombs just waiting to go off. And it only takes one incident. If that day never comes, then we can sit back and breathe a sigh of relief but far too often I have seen it explode and I am the one that has to go in and pick up the pieces. This is the part of rescue work that I really hate. My heart gets broken almost every day. A child gets hurt in the process and if we're too late, the dog dies (read "euthanized") after the explosion. This story is repeated over and over. Nobody really wins. So when we say that Border Collies are not good with small children, we're not doing so out of spite or ill intentions. We're not slandering the breed nor are we looking down on other people. We're saying this out of experience and love for the breed. And we try to get others to do the same.

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Page last updated April 30, 1997. All material Copyright 2004 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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