Managing Working Dog Stress Under Stay-at-Home Orders

Reader Contribution by Mary Powell and Barnyard Weed Warriors
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Welcome to the new normal, at least for a while. Stay-at-home orders are announced daily and people are sheltering in place. Not only is this a mental strain on humans, it is also a strain on your working Border Collie.  If your normal routine is to stay at home and farm, your Border Collie might not notice you are staying  home more, however, if you are normally gone a lot, you are spending more time than usual with your dog. What can you do to keep your dog’s mental and physical behavior as normal as possible?  What happens when things go back to normal?

If you and your family are normally on the go, this change in behavior may cause mental and physical behavioral changes with your working dog. Border Collies in particular demand a lot of time and work despite a stay-home order. You still need to be working with that dog and you may need to come up with ideas to keep your dog from becoming destructive or a pain-in-the-backside, while you are home. 

If your dog has a kennel, you should keep their kennel time as normal as possible but you also need to arrange a time to keep you busy as well, so get out in the yard or in the barn lot and work that dog and yourself. Take walks, work on new commands and enjoy the extra time you get to spend with your dog. Perhaps in the time you have together, your dog may learn some new commands or perfect those commands. You may also find some time to work on agility with your dog. This activity is a good distraction for your dog and might spend some of that extra energy that builds up. There are some pretty good Facebook pages that focus on agility dogs and training, they make for some good reading and might give you some answers to some of your herding dog training issues.

If you have a garden, you might even teach your dog to dig a hole to help you transplant tomatoes or dig a row to plant beans or corn. Find things for your dog to do, that can help you, in addition to being a herding dog. Whatever you do, get outside with your dog, walk, work and play, this is a time to take advantage of extra time with your dog.

What happens when things go back to normal? Your dog will have gotten accustom to that extra time with you and there will be an adjustment time when you go back to work and spend less time with the dog. You will probably see some behavior changes as the dog tries to figure out why you aren’t around as much. These changes may not cause you as much stress but your dog is another story. Take that into consideration if your dog shreds a shoe that they wouldn’t normally shred. All animals experience stress and a Border Collie is sensitive to change, it may take some extra time to adjust or to re-assure your dog that everything will be fine. It is important to think ahead about these changes before they happen.

There is nothing wrong with taking walks with your dog or taking care of your homestead while we are all in this quarantine phase. Fresh air, physical activity and mental exercise is good for both the dog and human. Take advantage of your extra time with your dog, you may find out things about your dog you never knew before.  

Mary Powell is a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with 30 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 Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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