What is a failed sheepdog? Is a failed sheepdog a good fit for a pet home?

This post is not to scare people away from adopting a failed sheepdog but it’s to raise awareness of the potential issues you can encounter if you go and adopt or buy a failed sheepdog from a farm. Being aware and be prepared for it is better than finding yourself and your expectations in the wrong place.

First let me tell you, failed sheepdogs can be of any age, colour and sizes. They are proper sheepdogs that for some reasons cannot stay at the farm they are born or bought into and so the farmer decides to re-homed into a pet home rather than sell on to other farmers to use.

I have seen failed sheepdogs advertised at ANY age. In order to say that a dog has “failed” to do the job you should at least wait until the dog has matured into themselves so they show their true potential but not everyone has the time for it so sometimes young dog at 8-10 months are re-homed and sold as “failed sheepdogs” because they are not showing any interest in wanting to chase sheep.

In my experience being around Border Collies and sheepdogs for the last 20 years I can tell you for certain that some dogs don’t start until they are 12 months or older! I have one like these too. Tay didn’t show enough interest in sheep until he was 15 months, he has always been a late starter in life.

This means that you might be taking home a dog that doesn’t want to chase sheep at 10 months and that fills you with a sense of security that they will never develop any bad chasing habits. Please DON’T put the guard down and treat that failed sheepdog as you would do the potential puppy from a Supreme Champion. Any dog can develop need to chase and control things even if they are sold as “failed” at any time during their life.

What does a farmer means when they label a dog as Failed Sheepdog? It can mean an array of different things that didn’t go right and didn’t suit the farmer or the livestock and instead of selling it on to another farmer they decide the easies way is to advertise it as a pet and not having to deal with a “return”.

What are the other possible issues that make a sheepdog to “fail” their job? Let me tell you.

Excess of prey drive! What? A sheepdog can have TOO much need to chase? YES! They can be too aggressive and too driven to chase rather than stalk and work and also they can have a severe bite that not everyone can train out of them. Farmers might decide that those dogs are too dangerous to have around livestock and so they are labeled as failed.
What does this mean if you re-home in an urban environment a dog like this? It could turn into a dog that has the need to chase everything that moves and will have no issue to bite things when they can’t control them. Knowing this in advanced and having a plan in place with a dog trainer before things get out of hand is useful to help you and the dog succeeding. ASK QUESTIONS. Ask why the dog has failed in the job assignment!

Noise sensitivity is another big issue, especially if your farm is around a shooting ground or any other source of noises that can interrupt the activity of a sheepdog while it’s doing the job. YES, working sheepdog can be very sensitive and can even struggle to work sheep while exposed to laud noises. If you are taking a dog like that into your urban home, you need to contact a behaviourist ahead of time and make sure you have a plan in place as cities and towns are noisy and you need to work with it from the beginning.

Lack of biddability and will to please… Border Collies SHOULD be dogs that are breed to work for and with their handler BUT breeding is not a perfect science and even from two biddable and easy dogs you can still breed one that has no will to please and rather prefer to entertain themselves doing other things. It’s more rare but it happens and these dogs sometimes cannot be trusted around livestock and they will do what they think they are meant to be doing as they know better what livestock is going to do. The reality is that YES they can read livestock very well and react accordingly, but when you use a dog on livestock you also need to go agains their instinct and ask them to move sheep the opposite direction to the natural one the sheep and dog would like to go to. Having a dog that is able to do what you ask without questioning it every single time makes life easier for farmers, so some of those dogs are sold on as failed sheepdogs.
These are the “stubborn “ dogs and the ones that “don’t listen”. They just don’t need you as much so if you don’t know how to win them over they rather do something that pleases themselves. I had one these too although I had him since he was a puppy and we have now the BEST relationship, but it wasn’t an easy ride! It took time, perseverance and a big learning curve!

The last and MOST important issue that some failed sheepdog might not suit their job is physical problems.
Dogs that won’t listen at distance might have hearing problems (look at EAOD a problem recently discovered in Border Collies) or eye problems (CEA or PRA).
Dogs that won’t cover ground enough to be reliable to gather or stop sheep might have hips or spine problems.
When you take home a failed sheepdog especially if an adult one, make sure you go through with your vet of all the possible GENETIC CONDITIONS that the breed has and do the tests to check they are healthy. It will save you a lot of struggles and money in the long run.
The amount of Border Collies that I see with some behaviour traits that come from chronic pain are a very high numbers and sometimes owners have been around few trainers before coming to me or to go to my suggested behaviourist and NOBODY before us has thought to check if the root of the problem comes from pain or a physical limitation and that’s where you start to treat your dog behaviour and form a training plan.

I hope this article will help more people making choices. Some dogs will not fit your situations. Some dogs will fit your situations but you need to be aware of potential problems as even being a “failed sheepdog” doesn’t mean your dog is lacking what makes this breed so special.

They will still have stamina and will to work and run all day. They will have needs to fulfil and traits of a very highly selective working breed!

Of course some failed sheepdogs are genuinely soft and laid back dogs that don’t want to work and can fit into an active family or pet home, so they are not impossible to find and they are lucky to be given a second chance and live their life as someone’s loved pet without ever creating any issues to their new family.

If you have re-homed a failed sheepdog and struggling with their behaviours please get in touch! info@thatlldoacademy.com

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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