Border Collie Intelligence – Strong Association Skills

The annoying side effect of Border Collie intelligence can be troublesome. I’ve mentioned before about how our Border Collie, Ned, goes crazy when he sees light from a flashlight. This little quirk also extends to pretty much any spot of light he can see which, at times, can cause problems.  For example if the wife and I are sitting around chatting over a glass of wine with the lights dimmed and a candle lit he will sometimes focus on the light from the candle on the ceiling and go a little nuts. The same applies to light reflections. We listen to a lot of music at home and have tons of CDs that we keep in those CD folders with the little plastic sleeves inside. What is amazing is Ned the Border Collies ability to associate an object or a noise with the possibility of a light reflection. I’ll explain…

I don’t really have a lot of need for our flashlight but I keep it right by the front door just in case. Weeks or months will go by but the second Ned sees me pick it up, not even turn it on, he gets very excited, begins to whine and look frantically around. He knows the flashlight makes that ball of light that drives him so crazy. The same goes for our CD folder. He can be upstairs and asleep but the second I open the CD case he comes bounding down the stairs. He hears the noise of the plastic sleeves coming apart! We keep a lamp close to our stereo and sometimes the light will reflect off the CD’s and onto the ceiling, which Ned finds irresistible. His ability to “connect the dots” between an object or a noise and the little spots of light they produce has been pretty impressive to see.

It took us a bit to figure this stuff out. It would seem that suddenly, and randomly, our little Border Collie would become wildly excited and agitated for no reason. While this behavior can be sort of amusing at times it also causes some annoying issues. For example we were having a few friends over for dinner one evening and one of the wives brought a desert ,a fantastic apple pie, covered in tin foil. As she walked past a lamp the light reflected off the tin foil and onto the wall and our well behaved dog bolted past the lady, almost knocking her over (we almost lost the pie!), and bounded up onto the couch barking like a demon possessed and scratching at the wall. Nice. Another time I woke up in the middle of the night to hear our Border Collie whining and scratching at the wall of our bedroom which had never happened before. The power had gone out at some point during the night and my alarm clock was blinking “12:00am.” Ned saw it flashing on the wall and was going a little crazy.

At this point we’ve yet to solve this little behavior. It happens at random times and under random conditions. To say the least we do not use the flashlight around him if possible! The redirection tricks we used to get him over his shadow obsession just do not seem to work for this one. If anyone out there has any ideas on a fix for this I’d love to hear it!

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  1. Christina says

    have you tried engaging a stronger sense, such as, smell? My dog does not respond to light like yours but we had issues with water. I used to stimulate her sense of smell with food, when she would ignore the water then I would reward her with a treat and affection. But only when she shows the desired behavious for a few seconds, not before.

  2. Janice Kyriakou says

    I really enjoy your web site. I have a BC about 7 yo-picked up by the dog pound 10/07. She was wild and ignorant. Now she knows over 200 words and gestures. Okay–she knows “find” as “find ball” etc. She knows “go” as I throw the tennis ball while she stays beside me. Then, GO”. She knows “Polly”, my brother’s Bassett Hound. She knows “swim-swim”, “motorcycle” which drive her crazy. She madly barks at them when safe in the car but pretends she doesn’t see them if walking on the sidewalk. I took her swimming at a lake in Sept. I throw the ball in the water and she swims out to it This is her very favorite thing to do. Suddenly a jet ski came by. The dog was frantic, barking, spinning. I called her and calmly said, “motorcycle swim-swim.” The dog looked at me with what can only be called amazement. She looked back at the jet ski one time–no barking. She then calmly picked up her ball, brought it to me, ran to the water, put her front feet in the water, and looked back at me. No further interest at all in the jet ski. Last week my sister in law who lives right behind me called to say Polly had gotten out of the fence, had I seen her in my yard. I told her I would bring my BC over. We went to her front yard–quiet deadend street. I said, “Go, find Polly”. My dog raced across the road, went behind 1 house, then another. Within 30 seconds my dog and Polly came running back. Dogs can put words together and make sense of them in a different way from which they learned them! Don’t you just love Border Collies? Keep writing about Ned. By the way, when Ned was a puppy, the white blaze between his eyes was very broad. As an adult, it narrowed. That is something I did not know.

  3. says

    I thought it was only our dog. And I still haven’t figured out all the triggers. Sci-Fi shows must use SOMETHING strange, because one series in particular, but all of them in general, set her off in a frenzy.

  4. says


    Glad to hear there are others out there. It can be nuts…the weirdest things can set them off. One day I brought home flowers for my wife in one of those simple glass vases they give you at the flower shop. Put it down on the table and never thought about it. The next morning the sun came in the window, hit that vase and threw light reflections all over the kitchen…Ned went nuts. That vase did not last long in our house.

  5. says


    It’s pretty freaky sometimes how they seem to understand what you’re saying. They can give you that look, you get a flash of comprehension and off they go. Creepy! Good eye on that white blaze as well…not sure how that works…maybe his head grew into it..or something. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. says


    That is a good point…we have done some of that. My wife found some really good treats and it did have some impact…but same thing…we’d only get him to ignore the problem for as long s the treat was around then he was right back at it.

  7. Miss Cellany says

    Sorry, I don’t have a tip but I do have a similar story to share.

    My brother has 3 indoors only cats (they do have a small roof terrace to get fresh air on but they can’t roam the streets). Since they live inside and don’t get to roam as cats naturally should, they get a little stir crazy. My brother bought a little laser pointer to keep them occupied and give them exercise indoors (it’s also really funny to watch them chase it making that odd chittery noise cats make when hunting birds).

    Anyway, one day I was over there and I picked up the laser pointer and clicked the button to turn it on. No light – it was out of batteries. Just then, his two female cats came bounding into the room (they’d been out in the hallway) and starting searching the walls and floor for something. I asked my brother what they were doing – he saw me holding the laser pointer and groaned.
    “oh great, now they won’t stop until they’ve found it.”
    I asked him what he meant by that, and he told me that the cats knew the sound the button makes on the laser pointer (quite a loud click) and they were now hunting for the little red dot of light that was their favourite toy. They were by this point quite overexcited and were meowing and running around the back of the sofa and jumping up onto chairs searching for the dot. My brother had to hunt for new batteries to the laser pointer because they wouldn’t calm down until they’d found the dot and chased it around the room!

    I found it absolutely hilarious! I hadn’t realised cats could make these kid of associations. They also knew what the laser pointer was because if they saw you holding it they’d look around the room for the dot. It’s worth noting that only the females figured this out – the Tom cat didn’t seem to make the connection. I don’t know about dogs but in cats the females are definitely smarter.

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