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Border Collie Prey Drive

Border CollieDear John,

We have a Border Collie. He is 7-8 yrs old and he has lived in two different residences. The first one was our home in a small town in Ontario. The back yard was outlined with bushes and trees. His vision of the neighborhood was limited. He seemed to be normally excited with passing cats or varmints that would cross past our yard. Now we live in a home (in Toronto). We have squirrels, raccoons, neighbour dogs being walked, etc. His vision is far and wide. But I noticed a change in his disposition since we have live in this house (3 yrs now). We took a walk one day and he broke his leash, ran after a squirrel and shook it to death!

I see such a change in him that I get concerned with his behavior. His bark shows aggressiveness. He takes his toys (as he is staring out the window at his opponent) and shakes it as if he is tearing a rat to pieces, He reacts to everything, and I mean ‘everything that moves’. His disposition has become nervous and aggressive. He walks around our home in circle patterns at times (around from the kitchen to the living room and entrance) This will continue for about 10 min each time. My husband says it is possible over stimulation from his surroundings, but since I stay at home with him, I see a different behaviour in the dog.

He appears to have changed so much from our first home. Can you tell me if this is just old age or is there something that is going on that I am not aware of?


Grace M.

Dear Grace,

Leaving many if not most dogs unsupervised in a yard or near a front window is just asking for trouble, particularly in the early stages of their lives. You can exponentially increase the chances that they will become an excessive barker, leash puller and most importantly aggressive. Don’t fall for the fallacy that a fenced back yard is the place for a dog to get fresh air and exercise. Sadly, in most parts of North America the air is fresher inside then it is outside, particularly in the summer and meaningful exercise is not for the average dog achieved in a yard. Exercise should be truly cardiovascular in nature. That means in constant motion for a half an hour for most breeds, more for others. I’d suggest to most dog owners that if they have to clip their dogs toe nails regularly the dog probably isn’t getting enough exercise. Not too many farms have working dogs that ever need pedicures.

If you take any dog and leave it in a yard unsupervised, or with a window view over the street, over time they get a “master of the world” complex. What ever they perceive as a threat; squirrels, pedestrians, other dogs etc. is in their own minds consistently and successfully thwarted from trespass on their owners property. For example the letter carrier is only dropping off a letter and moving on but the dog thinks he or she moved the letter carrier on. A world of difference to the letter carrier should the dog get out. The development of this behaviour is almost always more frequent with city dogs then country as the sheer volume and variation of things that stimulate their territorial and or prey drives can take them from Lassie to Lucifer by the time they are 18 months of age. It is more likely to elicit aggression in breeds more inclined toward protective behaviour but any dog regardless of breed is susceptible. Even if the end result is not aggression it sure makes it harder to walk a dog on the street that is constantly being over stimulated in the yard by the things that on a walk become tantalizing close.

I don’t think this is an age issue. I think it is an surroundings and supervision issue. You can start resolving this by keeping him away from the environments that are winding him up unless you are there to correct his perception as to what his job is. You can learn to correct his behaviour with the help of a balanced outlook trainer. Find one. It will be worth the investment.

Pawsitively Yours

John Wade

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3 thoughts on “Border Collie Prey Drive”

  1. Oh my gosh, this dog is UNDER EXERCISED. Such an obvious problem, especially considering the breed. My heeler mix gets nervous, neurotic, and aggressive if he doesn’t get enough exercise – and that does NOT mean leash walks. It means full-out running for at least an hour total daily, plus plenty of mental stimulation (puzzle toys, marrow bones etc). A TIRED DOG IS A GOOD DOG.

    1. We don’t know that the dog is under exercised but I suspect you are correct because most dogs are under exercised. I also agree that mental stimulation is missing in many dogs lives particularly highly intelligent working breeds like Border Collies. However, whether that is the main factor and therefore the solution in this case is unlikely. I have worked with far too many under exercised, under stimulated border collies that do not behave this way and feel its unlikely that that tiring the dog out will address the problem.

      I don’t agree that a tired dog is a good dog. I understand the spirit of statement but far too many people use exhaustive exercise as a replacement for real training. A tired dog is not a trained dog. You’re on the money that exercise and mental stimulation may help however I don’t believe it will impact the prey drive if they don’t also address the environment.


  2. Heather Soussana

    I just sent a question asking much of the same thing. However, the vets and trainers that I have discussed it with have said that eradicating that predatory instinct is near impossible. Well I am able to correct it if I’m in the immediate vicinity, it will never go away and some dogs cannot shake that process. I am at the point where I’m trying to use a preventative noise prior to letting him go. And yes, my border collie gets tons and tons of exercise. This is in addition to having the yard. But sometimes he needs to be out there, and that’s all there is to it

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