Originally Published in
The Working Border Collie, November/December 2002. Reprinted with permission.
So you've pretty much decided you want to get a border collie, and either get in to trialing, or use it at home for work. How do you go about getting one, and what would be the best way for you to start?
Depending on what you enjoy, you can either go the puppy route, and raise and train it yourself, or send it out to be trained by a reputable trainer. If you do decide you want a puppy, there are a few things to bear in mind.
Breeding: Find a reputable breeder. Unfortunately there are allot of people out there breeding border collies without the knowledge required to insure good working dogs. If you can, try and see the parents' work, if the person is not willing to show you the parents, or at least one of them, be very wary. Any reputable breeder is quite willing, and very proud to show their dogs work.
Time: Make sure you have the time it takes to not only train, but also raise a pup. These are very intelligent animals, and get bored very easily, if you're not willing to invest the time it takes to establish a good working relationship, and bond, you might be better getting a started or trained dog. A puppy requires discipline, just the same as a child, to know the difference between right and wrong. If you don't feel you have, or want to invest that time, you might be better getting a started or trained dog.
Depending on your finances, finding a started or trained dog, shouldn't really be that difficult. Again though, I advise to do a lot of research. Don't jump into an impulsive purchase; you want this dog to be your partner, for hopefully a long time. Find a reputable person to advise you. Be wary of anyone that says, I've got just the dog for you, especially if they have no knowledge of you, or your handling ability. Be patient in your search, go and look at as many dogs as you can. If you can afford a fully trained dog, it would be the best way to go. A trained dog, can teach you a lot about the stock, show you the proper place it should be in without a lot of interference from you, if it's been trained right. If it's a mechanical dog, not been allowed to work on it's own, it'll need you to show it where to be, this can be hard on a novice.
How can you tell if it's mechanical? Ask the seller to just send it out, and let it work without commands; it should be able to bring the stock to the person in a reasonable manner. If it goes out there and just lays there, afraid to move, or if it chases the stock down the field, you maybe better keep looking.
If you've contacted a reputable person, and they tell you that they'll keep an eye out for a dog for you, and that it might take awhile, listen to them and wait. It'll be well worth it in the long run.
Make sure you know your capabilities, and don't get a dog that's going to just be too pushy for you. We all admire keenness in a dog, that's one of the things that intrigues us about the Border collie, their overwhelming desire to work. Top handlers can run dogs that are sometimes overzealous in their keenness, and because of the handler's experience and stock sense; they make these dogs look phenomenal. A novice person sees this, and thinks that's what I want, a dog just like that. They then are way in over their head, as the dog takes advantage of their inexperience. It's just like a novice rider on a high-strung green horse, not a good combination. It doesn't mean that down the road, you won't be able to handle a dog like that, but until you get some experience, you're better with a quieter, calmer dog. My first dog was very quiet and methodical in everything he did. A lot of handlers didn't care for him, because he wasn't flashy enough, but I learned a tremendous amount from him, he taught me a lot about reading stock, and staying calm. I trained him from a pup, and started in the novice, moving on up to the open. We won a few opens, but didn't have the success that my later dogs did. I must admit, I too now look for the flashy, pushy dog, but would never have been able to handle one then, In fact it may have discouraged me from trialing, if I was embarrassed every time I went out. Give yourself sometime to learn about handling, and then you might be able to handle the dogs that you admire so much.
If it's not in your budget for a fully trained dog, maybe a started dog is the best option for you. You can see what you're getting, although you'll still have to do quite a bit of training on it yourself. Pricing can vary on started dogs, potential of the dog being a key factor. Depending on how much potential the seller feels a young dog may have might make the price higher than one that maybe has more training, but not the potential. Again, do as much research as you can, and if the dog is somewhere where you can see it a few times, try to do that. If not, ask if the seller will send a videotape to give you an idea of what the dog is like, and if you think you can handle it. Remember you'll have to give this dog the experience that the finished dog already has, so consider that in what you think you can afford. Sometimes a trained dog sounds high, but ends up costing a lot less than a started one, if you have to send it out for more training, just so you can handle it.
Sometimes a seller will let you try a dog for a short period of time. Do this, but don't take advantage of the seller's good intentions. If you decide right away, that the dog just isn't for you, let the seller know right away, and get the dog back to them as soon as possible. Your keeping the dog longer than necessary just to try and make it work for you only makes that dog harder to place for the seller. It also makes people wary on giving a customer a trial basis with the dog. We've had people keep a dog three, or four months, saying they were intending to buy it, and then decide they don't want it after all. In those months, we may have had a few more people looking that we could've placed the dog with, and we also could've been putting more training on the dog. Most times when a dog comes back from a novice, there's allot of retraining to do, which makes it harder to get ready to sell again, so don't take advantage of a good thing, use it for the intention that it's offered, to make sure the dog is for you.
Finally make sure that this is something that you are totally committed to doing. It's a very rewarding partnership that you'll have with a good dog, but also remember these dogs were bred to work for hundreds of years, there's a lot of instinct going on that will amaze and probably confuse you to start with. Sometimes people say to me that they were hoping their dog would be more of a companion. I don't think you can find a better companion, but I also understand that I am their second love, and I respect that.