Training Border Collies: Getting Started

Reader Contribution by Mary Powell and Barnyard Weed Warriors
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Previously, I wrote about spending time with your dog and learning how to work with her.  Time is a big factor in how well your dog behaves and works for you.  Actual training takes a lot of work on the owner’s part, if you are going to train the dog yourself.  A lot of things can go wrong but educating yourself on training border collies and going to working dog clinics are the best way to improve the outcome of how well  your dog turns out.

I recently sent one of my young dogs to a trainer and they informed me that she will not make a cow dog.  That may be, but that doesn’t mean she won’t make a sheepdog or a goat dog.  So it is up to me to either find a sheepdog trainer or get myself set up to train her myself.  After attending my first working dog clinic in November of 2018, I have a good idea how to start my pup but I need more information and that comes through more clinics and books.  I purchased a book entitled Herding dogs: Progressive Training  by Vergil S. Holland.  I am enjoying the read and highly recommend it as well as any other book on border collies as a way to get ideas and theories for your training your pup.  There are various ideologies to when to start your dog and what stock to start them on, so you need to read many books, go to clinics by different trainers and remember, you won’t train a world champion the first time around.  As long as you and your dog can work together, that is what really counts.  Unless you intend on trialing your dog, you don’t have to have a dog that is perfect.  My dogs work for me because we have learned to work together, which is where my current problems are starting to pop up.

My dogs work for me and as I transition myself into better trained dogs, I am beginning to find more faults with my dogs.  I have to either, retire the dogs, buy a trained dog, OR start retraining my older dogs.  The later is what I have chosen to do.  This will entail being more critical of my older dogs, stopping them more often and trying to relay to them what they need to do and correct.  Easier said than done, but it isn’t impossible, as before, it just takes time.  We may never get completely retrained but we will correct things that I have over looked and let by.

To start my retraining of the older dogs, I need to get them more focused, which means investing in materials to set up a working pen that will allow us to contain the goats in smaller areas, rather than pastures, which is where all my dogs learned to work in an on-the-job situation.  We will take time from each day to work each dog separately and focus on basics. Border collies are smart enough to understand when they are learning new things and will work hard to please as they take on a new challenge.  Time will tell if my Jinx and Joy will turn around but I look forward to the challenge.

For more information on finding books about training working dogs, Amazon has a great list of books, starting with Lessons from a Stock Dog by Bruce Fogt  and Herding Dogs Progressive Training by Vergil S. Holland.

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 Warriors and Ash Grove Goat Ranch or on her website.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at

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