Border Collies and car chasing: herding instinct or fear?

herding or fear

Fear or herding instinct? 🐑

One of the many mistakes that I come across when others (non specialist trainers) asses a Border Collie for chasing cars or things that move is to base this behaviour on a fear response.

Fear usually comes with two big behaviours caused by the fight or flight response, run away or attack.

When a dog is fearful usually we see the obvious body language:

– tail down between legs

– panting

– shaking

– harched back posture

– wide eyes

– avoidance

When a dog picks the fight more then we see either straight away or an escalation of behaviour to …

– tense body language

– eyes focusing and closing

– growling

– pulling towards the trigger

– showing teeth

– barking

– snapping

When it comes to herding posture, I get how inexperienced owners can get confused when their collies stare intensely at cars as the behaviour you might see is a mix between the two lists above:

– tail down between legs (sometimes it disappears)

– tense body

– intense gaze

– shaking

– if restrained lounging, barking, spinning etc

All these behaviours can be mistaken for a fear response.

If you look at working Border Collie herding though, you will find that:

– TAIL BETWEEN THEIR LEGS is a sign of concentration and a brain switched on to work mode! Shepherds will not want a dog that works with a high tail.

– TENSE BODY LANGUAGE is an athletic body ready to run, react to the sheep movement to the point of shaking in anticipation

– INTENSE GAZE is a dog that doesn’t want to miss one bit of the sheep behaviour

– a dog that REALLY WANT TO GO TO THE SHEEP but it’s restrained and frustrated, can pull, bark, spin, bite the person holding the lead etc… I have seen it, I have been there myself with Moss and Moss WASN’T at all scared of sheep, BELIEVE ME.

In my experience working with Border Collies as a specialist trainer for now nearly 2 years and before that owning them for 18 years and working with them even before specialising, I can say that the majority of Border Collies will react to cars due to REDIRECTED HERDING INSTINCT rather then FEAR.

Fear can still be an element and is mostly related to noise sensitivity. Loud tracks or motorbike can trigger a fight response and it’s more to do with the noise itself, not just the movement.

Why is it important to assess the dog as a whole and not just ONE BEHAVIOUR?

Because making a training PLAN is about knowing which emotion and what pattern of behaviours we will have to work on!

A dog that is not scared of cars but want to control them and herd them will need such a big chunk of work that is about IMPULSE CONTRO, STIMULUS CONTROL, ABILITY TO SWITCH OFF, ABILITY TO RESPOND TO CUE UNDER AROUSAL, ABILITY TO WORK FOR THE HANDLER AND NOT FOR THEMSELVES as when they herd traffic they are simply doing their job.

Or they think they are.

Get in touch to start your training plant to teach your dog that CARS ARE NOT SHEEP 😅😅

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Martina Miradoli Border Coolie Expert Dog trainer

Hello, my name is Martina Miradoli and I specialise in training Border Collies.

I’ve owned Border Collies for many years and have trained them, along with other herding breeds in every sport and activity available.

This has allowed me to gain invaluable experience and an understanding of these unique dogs and the behavioural challenges that we may have to face as owners. 

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