Border Collie Herding Shadows

As our Border Collie puppy began to grow up, and grow up quickly, we noticed an odd thing he did once in a while.At seemingly random times, for no apparent reason, he would suddenly focus intensely on a wall or the ceiling. It did not seem to matter what was going on at the time or what we were doing. At first we dismissed it as weird puppy behavior. As time went on the behavior got more acute. He would suddenly jump up and run over to a wall, sit down and stare at it. We started to get a bit worried until we realized what was going on. Our Border Collie herding shadows experience had begun.

There is a lot out there on the herding instinct in this breed. It is not a learned trait or a long dormant skill. Border Collies have been bred for hundreds of years to possess this ability. Our puppy was starting to exhibit this instinct and, honestly, we were not ready for it. We’d read books and checked around online and of course knew it was coming but simply were not prepared at first. As the weeks went by the intensity of the shadow herding got pretty bad. When a shadow moved across the wall he would jump up excitedly, run to the wall and whine. Sometimes he would jump up on the wall as well. Something had to be done.

If you are thinking about getting a Border Collie know that they can be amazingly focused. At first we simply tried the old “No.” command when he started after shadows. This has little effect on a dog like this when their instincts kick in so, after reading our training guide (again!), tried a different track. Whenever he’d start after a shadow we learned to redirect his energy in a different direction. At first we would have a bag of his favorite treats close at hand and, as soon as he started after a shadow, we’d redirect him to the treat. (Do not, at this point, simply give the dog a treat as it will just reward him for herding shadows making it worse.) We would let him get a sniff of the treat and then run him trough a few basic tricks (sit, lie down, spin, shake, stand up, etc) to get his mind off the wall. Then reward him for those tricks. After working with him we are now able to get him distracted by giving him a simply job like going to get a tennis ball.

I’ve read a good deal about this and one of the common causes that are expressed is boredom of the dog and I do not doubt this can be true. Our dog, however, is kept pretty busy throughout the day and night so I’m thinking that this is simply a manifestation of their need to herd. It is a frustrating Border Collie behavior to deal with but it can be dealt with. Our dog still keeps an eye out for shadows but the running, jumping and whining are things of the past. If you are dealing with this do not give up! It can and will subside with constant work and redirection. Good luck!

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  1. Dixie says

    Hi I just wanted to say your website helped me out so much. I just got a border collie at 6 weeks. I read your website now all the time. Thank you so much again for posting something up that really helped me. :)

  2. Bill says


    Fantastic! Glad you are finding it helpful. I’ve got a bunch more coming as well. Please feel free to share your experiences as your border collie grows up with usl! If you ever feel like writing a few posts just let me know. I’m working on putting together a system where folks can send in their pictures of their Border Collie’s and share their experiences with their dogs. Thanks so much for stopping by, more stuff on the way and have a great night! Bill

  3. Heather says

    I also wanted to say that your website is so helpful. We have a 14 week old border collie and I completely agree on the “manifestation of herding instinct” you wrote about. Our little guy is kept very busy, but he still cannot resist at times herding our cats! He loves it but the cats do NOT appreciate it. Your article was very helpful!

  4. says

    Hi- these blogs are really interesting.
    We have a new little border collie x cattle dog and are in over our head. We got her from a shelter about a month ago when she was about 11 weeks old. We already had 2 fluffy bichon friese who, in retrospect (and I still cant believe I didnt think of it, would resemble sheep to this crazy pooch, and you guessed it- even at this young age she herds them all the time!!
    tomorrow we are getting a dog trainer out to help us with figuring out what to do with this little girl- although she is not so little anymore and pretty much rules our house…. We live on an acre so we certainly have the space for her and the others. On the up side she herds the others so much that they have lost quite a bit of weight and have now returned to a healthy weight….However, I would like to get some level of control back into my home so, fingers crossed, we will be learning some good strategies tomorrow that will help us with getting the best out of this amazing dog (and also allow our other older dogs some respite from a mental puppy!!!)

  5. says


    Yikes…sounds like you have your hands full there. While I did have a laugh that the other dogs have lost some weight trying to constantly out maneuver your new Border Collie I can imagine it’s a pain. We only experienced the herding issue first hand with people…not other dogs. I’d say the redirect is the place to start but this one sounds tricky. I’d be really interested to hear what your Trainer has to say on the matter…let us know how it works out?

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