If you’re thinking about training your collie as a therapy dog, there are probably lots of questions going through your mind, not least of which is are collies well suited to becoming therapy dogs?
In general, collies really aren’t well suited to becoming therapy dogs. While collies are loyal, non-aggressive, and affectionate, they have a tendency to be wary of strangers, and can be a bit skittish in unfamiliar situations.
Although collies’ wariness towards strangers means they aren’t great therapy dogs for other people, they are still a great pet for the right type of person and definitely enhance the lives of everyone they accept in to their pack, even if it takes some time to get there.
In this article we’ll look at exactly what it takes to become a qualified therapy dog, and how that compares to the characteristics of collies.
Can Collies Be Therapy Dogs?
Collies are fantastic dogs. They are loyal, affectionate, energetic, extremely intelligent, and friendly so you might think they would make the perfect therapy dog.
Although collies have many great traits, anyone who has lived with a collie for any length of time will also know they take a long time to trust new people and can be on edge in new situations, which isn’t ideal for a therapy dog.
Check out the list below of characteristics that make up a great therapy dog, and see how it compares with the characteristics of collies.
13 Reasons Collies Don’t make good therapy dogs
1: Therapy Dogs must be open to interacting with strangers
This is probably the biggest pitfall of most collies when it comes to therapy dog training.
Collies tend to be wary of strangers, and it takes them a long time to build up enough trust to let people in and accept them.
Once collies accept you they will stick to you like a limpet, but until then their guard is definitely up.
Therapy dogs need to meet strangers on a regular basis and be instantly at ease with them, which is not typical collie behavior.
2: Therapy Dogs need a calm and docile disposition
Collies are generally not known for being calm. After two centuries of selective breeding for their agility and speed, it’s hardly surprising that today’s collies are just as energetic as their ancestors.
A collie’s heart is in the fields, tearing through the countryside at breakneck speeds.
Although collies may be calm after a long walk, prolonged periods of being still while being petted by a stranger is a collie’s idea of hell.
3: Therapy Dogs must be obedient at all times
It goes without saying that any therapy dog has to be completely obedient, and must have mastered some basic commands, so that they can be easily controlled when they are around people.
Collies are people pleasers at heart. They are eager to train, love learning new skills, and nothing makes them happier than showing off their skills to their family. (Preferably to earn a treat!)
While collies can be some of the most well-trained, obedient dogs on the planet, they won’t obey just anyone.
The problem is, collies simply don’t respect any authority other than that of their trusted inner circle.
Just like the wild wolf packs of their ancestry, collies form their own trusted packs and if you’re not in it, they will not listen to a word you say.
Wolves don’t concern themselves with the opinions of sheep, and when a collie doesn’t trust you, you are less than a sheep to them. All your sheepish commands will fall on their selectively deaf floppy ears.
4: Therapy dogs mustn’t jump up at or paw at people
Therapy dogs are often brought in to help with ill or elderly people, so it’s important that any therapy dog doesn’t jump up or pounce at the people they are supposed to be there to help.
While this behavior isn’t necessarily a feature of the collie breed, collies are easily excitable and without specific training can be prone to jumping or pouncing at their favorite humans.
The good news is that collies are easy to train and if this type of behavior is present, it can be trained out of them with minimal effort.
5: Therapy Dogs must not be sensitive to rough petting
Occasionally, people might unwittingly be a little rough with their therapy dogs, especially with people who haven’t owned a dog of their own before.
Therapy dogs need to be able to withstand being petted roughly by strangers, and they might be tested on this before they can be qualified.
Unfortunately, this goes completely against everything a collie stands for.
Though a collie is generally okay with being petted and played with by their family, they would not appreciate this behavior from a stranger at all. Collies take a long time to trust anyone and this would put them right off!
6: Therapy Dogs have to be able to walk without pulling at their lead
Therapy dogs need to be able to walk calmly on a leash without pulling or straining. This makes it easy for them to be moved between people, and for them to be taken outside with minimal effort.
While this behavior doesn’t come naturally to collies, they are very easy to train and this should be one of the first things you train them on.
With enough training, collies can be very well trained and obedient when it comes to walking outside, even to the point that they don’t need to be on their lead at all.
7: Therapy Dogs must not display aggression
An aggressive dog is no use for a therapy dog, and this is one area where collies really excel.
Although collies have a tendency to bark more than most other breeds, they are not at all aggressive and in fact are very gentle when it comes to humans.
Collies have been working with people for hundreds of years, and are very cooperative. They would never bite unless they feel threatened and were backed in to a corner.
Even during play time, collies very rarely show their teeth or bite except maybe a playful nip with their teefles.
8: Therapy Dogs have to be Friendly towards all people and children
Therapy dogs are used by all types of people, and have to be friendly towards everyone.
Collies are generally very friendly dogs, but it does take them a while to trust people, and they can form negative associations with certain types of people for reasons only known to them.
Some collies can even take a dislike to people wearing certain types of clothing, like hats and sunglasses.
Collies can hold a grudge for a long time, and it can be difficult to convince them to overcome them.
9: Therapy dogs never show guarding behaviors
Guarding behaviors include your collie running off with something they value, or being overly protective with their toys, food, or owner.
Collies are very rarely aggressive, but they do exhibit strong guarding behaviors, especially with strangers.
Collies are intelligent enough that this type of behavior can be managed with training, but they are naturally more prone to it than some other breeds.
10: Therapy dogs must not be easily distracted
Therapy dogs need to be able to be around other dogs, crowds, loud noises, tempting sounds and smells, unusual situations, and lots of different people without being distracted.
If you’ve owned a collie, you will know this is just not possible.
With the best training in the world, if you put your collie in to a noisy, bustling, unfamiliar room they will absolutely not be content just to sit and be petted.
Collies are masters of their environment and like to know exactly what’s going on at all times. Anything unusual must be investigated right away to determine if it’s a friend or foe.
While collies can definitely be trained to be calm in many situations, when you place them in a brand new situation they have never been in before they have an innate need to figure out what’s going on before they can let their guard down.
11: Therapy dogs shouldn’t be afraid of sudden movements
Therapy dogs are often used to help people calm down and feel safe.
Collies can be easily spooked and are always on high alert in new places or situations.
Sudden movements may frighten a collie and evoke some barking and frantic running around, which probably isn’t ideal in a therapy setting.
12: Therapy dogs should be okay with being alone
This is a big one for collies, and is probably the number one reason they are not well suited to being therapy dogs.
Collies become very attached to their owners, and don’t like being on their own for extended periods.
Being alone can be very stressful for a collie, it’s cruel to leave a collie alone for a long time, it breaks their hearts as well as their minds and can lead to a number of problems including separation anxiety.
A therapy dog has to be happy to be left alone with strangers, away from their family for extended periods and unfortunately that’s just not acceptable for most collies.
13: Therapy dogs need to be easy to care for
One often overlooked requirement for a therapy dog is that they need to be easy to care for.
A therapy dog needs to be willing to let people pet them, but also must be willing to let people look after them.
This could mean checking between the pads on their paws, checking their ears, and looking in their mouths.
Most collies will be okay with this as long as the person checking them isn’t a stranger.
Conclusion: Why collies aren’t good therapy dogs
Although collies are fantastic pets, their wariness towards strangers, boundless energy, tendency to bark, and unease in unknown environments mean they really aren’t the best choice for a therapy dog.
Where collies do excel is in being a loving and loyal pet.
Collies are among the smartest breeds in the world, and their high level of emotional intelligence means they form a deep connection with their owner.
While this means they are often not ideal at working with strangers, it also gives them a uniquely complex and expressive personality and anyone who has owned a collie can attest to how fulfilling they are to live with.