Herding the Kids


I've heard about diversional tactics for Border Collies who herd children. This is a problem I have been battling for 15 months now with my 2 yr old Border Collie. I can tell you that the first time our dog had my baby screaming "Owww. He bit my butt!", I was ready to find him a new home because I didn't realize this is just what they do. I think that we've found a compromise - diverting the behavior to play. I intend to try this for awhile. The behavior can be managed, but you can't extinguish it (at least I don't believe). Border Collies herd sheep and ducks other livestock and are trained not to grip or bite, right? So, can't we teach our son to be tough on the whole issue of the dog's jumping and biting? The hardest part is our son's consistency. When they are playing and the dog jumps up on him, his job is to stop and, in no uncertain terms, tell him "NO BITE". Our son is going to be five next month.


People need to remember that herding for Border Collies is an instinct - not a learned behavior (though it is refined through learning). Trying to teach your Border Collie not to herd moving objects is like trying to teach a bird not to fly. It is "just what they do." Yes, it can be redirected somewhat and channeled into other activities (like Frisbee) but it can never be eliminated. You might say, "Well I can stop him from herding on command. I say stop and he stops." That's great but it's dangerous thinking. I can stop mine from herding too and any trial dog worth their salt knows the command "That'll do" but the problem is not when you are standing there watching the dog go out after your kid. The problem arises when the child and the dog are in the yard unsupervised, or when your attention is drawn to the neighbor you are talking with and not on the dog. Then, the dog goes out without the "That'll do" command to stop and gets in trouble. Countless rescue dogs are "created" this way. I would never trust a well-bred dog not to herd.

As you put it, Border Collies are TRAINED not to grip. It is not all too uncommon for a dog starting out to rush right in and grip. The other problem is that kids and sheep do different things in response to a Border Collie. Sheep flock and come back to the group, kids panic and run away from the threat. Gripping is the Border Collies natural reaction and escalation to an animal that refuses to come back (stubborn sheep get the same response). Most normal young kids (and I consider almost 5 to be young) are not capable of handling this when confronted with a pressure situation. If your child is mature enough to cope with this at all times and at all levels, then my hat's off to him. But remember, a Border Collie's response will always be the same instinctive response - the same may not be true for your son's learned response. Careful supervision with a Border Collie and children of this age is probably very appropriate. (Some Border Collie rescuers will absolutely refuse to place a rescue dog with a family with kids under 10 - I don't but I make sure it is a dog with very low herding instinct).

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Page last updated April 1, 1997. All material Copyright 2004 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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