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Sunday, July 19, 2009

So You Went and Got Yourself a Border Collie Puppy...Now What?

Anna of The Stockdog Ranch with her dogs

We started having trouble with our border collie puppy when she was quite young. She would not just nip but bite people hard, with a growl. Seemingly pleasant almost all the time unless she didn't want to do something or was denied something she wanted, we dealt with it by going to weekly pet store puppy training classes. They were good up to a point, but didn't really address her behavior. Border collies are different and need more and different training and other dog breeds. We read books and followed through with the instructions. And we ended up with what happens to a lot of families: a dog that was terrorizing the household. Our cute little puppy was unmanageable no matter how consistent we thought we were being. As she grew bigger this became more of a problem. Add a serious medical condition that made her teeth die and need extractions and root canals, and we had an expensive pure bred dog that we couldn't justify keeping.

(I'm writing this to help someone who's thinking of getting a border collie, because there is a lot you should look into. I didn't believe it, but now I do. People are fascinated by border collies; they look really neat and have the reputation of being super smart. But they don't make good household pets. This story tells how we're dealing with that.)

Yes, Penny Lane had become a slightly dangerous adolescent who needed thousands of dollars worth of dental treatment. One late night I contacted the Border Collie Rescue of California to ask a few questions. I found out that her behavior was unusually aggressive; as a matter of fact the group won't take any dogs from the breeder we used because of how aggressive the dogs are, biting volunteers, etc. All of a sudden I felt such relief, knowing that it wasn't all our fault. It wasn't just our inexperience, it was partly her genetic programming to act this way.

The group immediately stepped forward with names of dentists and trainers in our area who worked with border collies. At this point the universe began to step in and support us. We called one recommended trainer who worked an hour from our house. She trains herding dogs on stock. Here's her website. Penny's life changed as soon as she met Anna, who takes no guff. Our life changed. On her second visit to the ranch, Penny got to do what she was born for: chase sheep. My kids, husband and I stood and watched as Anna put Penny into a small pen. Penny chased the sheep one direction and then another under Anna's guidance. Penny stared down the big sheep who wanted to head butt her, and she nipped at the sheep's haunches, but not too hard. It was the first time in Penny's life that she was allowed to bite anything living, and she did it with aplomb. Afterwards she was quite pleased with herself.

So now my quiet little life is expanding to include trips to the country for sheep-herding lessons. It kind of goes with getting that breed of dog. So many border collies are given to rescue groups after families find they can't manage them at home, it's really sad. My case was worse because the breeder was putting out way too many litters, not caring well enough for them, and breeding border collies for looks instead of work. Somehow some aggressive genes got mixed into the dogs and now they are famous for their bad behavior. They sure look cute when they're young, so you wouldn't guess they'd go full Cujo on you! Watching her take a nip at my five-year-old niece's face kind of turned my stomach.

So, the warning to you is: if you're going to buy a border collie, don't just go to the breeder's kennel to see it. You might think you can judge cleanliness and the parents by seeing them, but you can't get enough info about how the puppies will turn out that way. Contact the border collie rescue groups and ask for the name of a reputable kennel that puts out good dogs. Believe me, they will know.
It will save your life and that of the dog. Our breeder actually stated in writing that they wanted dogs back if they didn't work out or had medical issues, but after we picked up the puppy she stopped returning our calls and emails. I later found out that she'd done this to many, many people. And she said she'd stop breeding, but there are new puppies all the time on her website.

I wish there was more oversight of dog breeders and that a bad one could be forced to comply with standards, but it seems that there isn't much regulation. A buyer has to beware. All I can do is write of my family's experience and hope it gets passed around. Luckily, it turns out some new blood got into the kennel and my dog isn't 100% born aggressive, but is instead extremely trainable and salvageable. So that's what we're committed to. She's already much more manageable, but we're training her 24 hours a day in a much more strict way.

In a lot of ways this has taught me a huge amount, I just don't want to see others go through it if they don't have to. Never buy a dog without knowing the breeder through and through. A cute puppy today can become a real problem as an adult.

Penny is now becoming the sweet, biddable dog she wanted to be all along. But it's taking some work. And my thoughts go out to all the other dogs that this breeder is putting out and to the families who are buying them, as well as to the breeder. I hope she is able to turn her kennel into something more positive and stop exploiting the breed and unwary buyers. I think she could do it with effort. Fewer dogs per year, better medical care for them as puppies, keeping shot records, not using any dogs with biting tendencies as parents, filing promised AKC papers for buyers, taking back dogs with medical problems—these things would do a lot to help turn her kennel around.


elsiee said...

As difficult as I'm sure it has been I'm so proud of you for seeing things through with Penny, she is one lucky dog to have ended up with you and your family. With most other people her outcome would have been very sad I'm sure - you're a good "doggy momma"!!

Laura said...

Hi Elsie,
That is just the sweetest thing to say. You're so cool.

If one person reads this and researches their breeder better, it will be worth all the work.