How I Chose a Border Collie as a Working Dog Breed, Part 2: Lessons from a Stock Dog

Reader Contribution by Mary Powell
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Photo by Pixabay/JGaland

ReadPart 1, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5in this series.

There is an excellent book written by Bruce Fogt entitled Lessons From a Stock Dog that is a must read for anyone looking to own a Border Collie. I borrowed the book from a friend, who had and uses Border Collies on her farm. There is a series of videos that go with the book and if you get both, it is an investment worth having.

The book alone is a great reference and lesson book. After reading it, I already knew I was way behind the curve, with Allie, but she was forgiving and she became my teacher. I just had to realize, she was trying to explain to me, how, she wanted me to command her.

She learned from me that I would not mistreat her, but would praise her greatly, when I learned something from her and that built trust between us. I was not disappointed in my decision to get her and she was totally amazing!

I was tasked with moving 900 steers through two pastures,which meant two gates in two miles with a dog and a horse. Allie took her position on the opposite side of the herd and moved back and forth between her side and half-way towards me, continually watching, me, the steers and where we were headed.

If I noticed a steer falling behind, I called Allie’s name and pointed, she would look and immediately run after the steer, circling and using her eyes, to move the animal back with the others. Inside, I was excited and thinking, “this is too easy!”

When we had the cattle, penned, I dismounted and petted Allie. That is when I noticed, she was smiling! Yes, Border Collies will smile, especially when they know they have done something good. Over the years, Allie has learned to smile on command and is a constant ham, when we have visitors.

The second week of work, Allie continued to prove herself. She and I gathered a sick steer from the pasture. As we neared a pond and the dam we needed to cross, to get to a gate, Allie takes off, running around the pond.

As I drove the steer across the pond, Allie had almost gotten to the dam. I yelled at her to get away, thinking she was going to turn the steer back on me. I waved my arm for her to move back, but she didn’t move away. She laid down, hiding herself in the grass.  As the steer reached the other end of the dam, he turned away from the gate, toward Allie. When she sat up and stared him down, the steer turned around and walked quietly through the gate.

Allie had taught me a command, and how to command her. I had raised my hand and dropped it, to tell her to get away, instead, she dropped down. That hand movement is now a common command for all my dogs. If they can’t hear me say the command, they can look at me and watch as I move my hand from above my head, down to my side. They will drop to the ground and wait for the next command.

Learning to listen to your dog is important. They cannot speak, but their actions can tell you much. Watch them; learn how they respond to you and what they want to learn from you.

Border Collies are amazing, with over 500 years of breeding behind them, can certainly teach you a lot. They are great teachers; you, the owner, must learn to listen to what they have to show you and figure out, how they want you to command them.

All working dogs, bred to herd or to protect livestock have pedigrees that were bred for specific work and reasons. Working dog owners must understand the reasoning behind the breeding, the reasons for the breeding and be able to recognize that natural ability or trait and then figure out how to maximize that ability with a simple command.

Breeding, practice, patience and a lot of trial and error is involved but once you get it figured out, there isn’t anything you and your dog can’t manage.

Mary Powell is a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with more than 27 years’ experience working on ranches, farms and feedyards. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University with an emphasis in Livestock Production Management. Follow Mary and her many misadventures with the goats on Facebook at Barnyard Weed WarriorsandAsh Grove Goat Ranchor on herBarnyardWeedWarriors.comwebsite.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary

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