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!