Since the 1700s we have been breeding collies to herd livestock. As a result, we have whip-smart dogs with a high chase drive, which means we have to put in extra work to help them be content as pets instead of working animals.
Owners can struggle with a collies’ herding behaviours so it’s important to do your research before getting one to know what to expect and how to manage them.
Finding ways to harness their instincts into training and games to mentally stimulate them is key to managing them at home.
Collies are a herding breed, they are hardwired to want to control movement such as chasing cars, rounding up children and collecting objects. Herding Behaviours can be managed through mental stimulation, training and positive reinforcement.
In this article, we are going to take a look at why collies perform particular behaviors that can sometimes be problematic. We will also suggest some extra training and management techniques owners should put in place to keep their collies content.
Herding Instincts in Collies
Collies were bred to be able to work for long days so they tend to have plenty of energy. What we refer to as herding instincts is just that innate need collies have to control movement.
Even young dogs are fascinated by movement so you will see them chasing things that move including other animals, people, and anything in their environment. Dogs chasing leaves or traffic is common in breeds like collies because it scratches that itch we’ve bred into them.
The intensity of the herding instinct depends on the lineage of individual dogs.
A collie bred from working stock on a farm is more likely to have greater herding instincts and behaviors than one bred from several generations of pet collies who don’t work.
A collie bought directly from a working farm would have been bred based on the parent’s herding instincts so will have greater herding behaviors.
Collie Herding Behaviors
Even collies who are not bred to work will still have a level of residual herding instincts. They have been bred for so many years to chase movement and control it, it’s hard to completely avoid a collie having some herding behaviors.
1. Collies Herding Children
Collies love movement, their instinct is usually to control that movement which can become a problem when it involves children. Children are often super exciting to dogs, especially collies who will instinctively want to keep everyone together.
Early signs of the behavior are intense eye contact and collies finding the movement of children very interesting. They can escalate to stalk and chase children which can get in the way of their play and activities.
Herding alone can have its benefits of keeping children safe in the backyard so they don’t wander off but can become an issue when it escalates into trying to keep them in rooms or not allowing them to run.
2. Collies Herding Cattle
Collies are bred to herd animals. Their instincts tap into their prey drive which tells them they need to chase. Collies who are working dogs need training to control themselves around herds of animals and come away when asked.
Cattle are a far riskier animal for collies to herd, they are far more likely to behave in a defensive way to a dog and kick or run towards a threat instead of running away. Cattle herding dogs are highly trained.
If a dog is not trained but passes cattle, they can chase and can ultimately hurt themselves following their instincts. Cattle weigh well over ten times more than a collie and can pose a massive threat – dogs have been killed by cattle when they’ve tried to chase them.
3. Collies Bumping Into You
When collies herd, they will often bump at the legs of animals to push them in a certain direction if they aren’t moving quick enough. Collies bumping into their family’s legs is a really common problem and can happen in the house or out on walks.
Sometimes they will push their owners towards their food before it’s even mealtime or when they’re out on walks they will want to keep the whole family tightly packed together.
Bumping can become an issue when your collie decides to dictate their day-to-day schedule. They’re bright dogs that are notoriously clever at getting their way!
4. Collies Rounding Up or Collecting Their Toys
If a collie can’t control movement, they will often collect piles of things which in some cases leads to them collecting their toys.
It is a similar drive to get a group of livestock into a small area but instead of livestock, they use what they have available.
Collecting toys can be beneficial if they’re actually putting them neatly away but it’s not usually the case and you end up with a pile of toys sitting in the middle of the lounge or at the top of the stairs to fall over.
5. Collies Chasing Cars
Although collies aren’t bred to chase cars, it’s a very common issue with non-working collies. If a collie lives in an area where they’re more likely to encounter a car than sheep, their instincts will tell them to chase the moving thing.
These instincts can lead to undesired behaviors out on walks like lunging and barking at passing vehicles. Not only is it difficult to manage your dog while it’s doing this but if they get off lead, they can get seriously hurt.
6. Collies Nipping at Heels
Nipping at heels is a perfectly normal herding behavior.
Collies will nip at the legs of animals they are herding to get them to speed up or change direction. In a home, it’s usually an escalation of herding behavior that they resort to when they’re struggling to keep the family together or move them to where they want.
Nipping can be a really difficult behavior to ignore just because it hurts and any reaction will usually reward the dog so as far as they’re concerned, it works.
How To Manage Herding Behaviors in Collies
Working dogs need to use their instincts, even when they’re not being used for the work they were intended for. Trying to train a collie out of its herding instinct can be difficult because you’re working against its genetic disposition.
Basic training and management you can put in place for a collie that herds will involve controlling their environment. There are a range of classes you can attend to give your collie an outlet for their instincts. Activities like agility, flyball, and treibball will help tire them out but also get them to use their brains and fulfill their desire to chase something.
Setting up your home with a series of child gates in doorways will help with managing where you can put your dog while you need to move around the home.
You can also teach a place cue to send a collie to a specific area when you need to do something they might find exciting. A crate or bed area that you can ask them to settle in while the children play will help to move them out of the way if they can’t control their instincts around them.
If they like to collect their toys then teaching them to put them away in the toy box can at least be productive in tidying the house. Simply put a box where they normally like to collect things and reward them for placing anything inside the box.
To sum up, collies tend to have differing levels of intensity when it comes to their herding instincts but even a dog bred to be a family dog can still feel the need to chase.
Before getting a collie you should be aware of the levels of exercise they need and be ready to come up against a few common issues caused by their desire to herd.
Collies will need training in the home to help them overcome their herding instincts but there are some great ways to help harness these instincts and use them to play games and partake in activities.
Every breed of collie can have herding instincts so be prepared to manage and train them to help them cope with your lifestyle.