Border Collies are sensitive dogs

I’ve always maintained that hitting or yelling at a dog in anger does very little good to correct behaviors. When it comes to training or correcting a bad behavior positive reinforcement and an even keel are the way to go. When dealing with a Border Collie I would say this is doubly true. Border Collies are sensitive dogs…far more so than any other breed I’ve had before. This breed is so darn smart, strong willed and alert they respond much better to redirection. You’ve got to take that energy in them and redirect it to something else. On top of that, and I really do not know if this is a breed trait or just our dog, Border Collies seem to be amazingly sensitive to their owners. They aim to please so much that when they feel they have done something wrong or disappointed you it can literally be seen in their face and body language. Of course I have had other dogs in the past that have been in tune with human emotions (happy, sad, sick, etc) but nothing anywhere close to our Border Collie.

I think the first time that this really showed itself was when Ned the Border Collie was around 8 months old. I was in the middle of a kitchen remodel at our home and I was using one of those battery operated finish nailers. These are amazing handy tools to have around! So it was a Saturday morning, the wife was out at the store and Ned was supervising my work. While putting up a piece of trim I managed to shoot a finish nail right through my thumb. I shot the nail through the trim and into the wall where it struck the head of another nail in the framing. The tip of the finish nail bent around and came out the side of the trim, entered the tip of my thumb and stuck out through the thumbnail. This was, to say the least, shockingly painful.

I roared, yanked my thumb off the nail, dropped the finish nailer onto the stove (which made a hell of a racket) and went to the sink to clean the wound. If you have even done something this dumb you may know how amazingly painful it can be. My thumb felt like it was the size of a soda can and was throbbing to beat the band. Of course the wife comes home right about this time, sees the blood all over the place and sort of freaks out a little bit. Long story short we cleaned it out and bandaged it up (and yes, I lost the thumbnail) and figured it was time for a break from the remodeling project.

We found our Border Collie upstairs, in a corner of a room as far away from the kitchen as he could get. We had never really seen him in such a state. I figure it was because of the noise from the tool hitting the stove that scared him however not so. As time went on we realized that he was so intone with our moods and emotions that we could correct his behavior simply using our tone of voice. For example on the rare occasion we caught him chewing on something, after he got out of the puppy phase, he was not supposed to we would say, not yell, “Awww…Ned.” in a sarcastically disappointed voice. His ears would drop, and he would slink off to a corner. He knew he was doing something incorrect and responded to our tone of voice. This trend has continued to the point where the dog knows and responds to happy, sad, approving, disappointed and excited tones of voice.

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  1. Jo Skabara says

    Help! My Border Collie is so sensitive to my family’s emotions she has started running away (she even tried to jump out of the car window last week) whenever the children argue. It’s become so bad we can’t even use particular tones of voice with each other without her disappearing upstairs. She’s such a good dog, she never gets shouted at – she’s now 2 and a half years old and has never been shouted at. She was trained through a reward system and any unwanted behaviour (house-training accidents for example) were ignored. Most of the time she’s a happy, life-loving dog but I am worried about her sensitivity, particularly if the door is open or she’s out in the garden and she hears any disagreement she just disappears.
    Any advice gratefully received.

  2. Bill says


    It is a weird thing to see this happen…they are so sensitive. We went through a minor phase of what you’re talking about. As for advice I’d have a chat with your vet for a few options. We had some decent results by doing this: Whenever the dog would get sensitive over something that was not directed at him we’d make a big point to call him over, reassure him, pet him…that sort of thing. I know this is really not an answer to the problem but it seemed to help. Now when he gets a little weird about something instead of thinking it’s directed against him he sort of waits for a second to see if we reassure him that it’s no big deal. Even a “It’s okay buddy!” seems to let him know he’s not in “trouble.”

  3. karen barry says

    I was searching for websites and actually put in google can a border collie get weird … what you described above is exactly what my 3 yr old border does and it seems to be getting worse as he gets older … it is driving me nuts like in what in the heck is wrong with you. I have a boxer and a lab also who don’t have any problems, etc. This BC is on a flyball team so he gets lots of exercise and also does frisbee, but even in frisbee, something will set him off and he won’t go after the frisbee instead will run in the house. Occasionally I have to raise my voice at the other two dogs and then I go, shoot as i see the BC take off to crawl in a corner. I have talked to someone in flyball who has a BC and they laughed at me, like in yah they are really temperamental … their advice was just ignore the behavior … easier said then down

  4. says

    Agree on the easier said than done part…we’ve gotten better at recognizing/understanding the behavior. I think we used to make too much of it which, of course, probably made it worse. It’s now to the point where the behavior is much less apparent but still there!

  5. Dina says

    Actually, it was this sensitivity which led me to get my Border Collie, Bishop. He is able to detect my seizures up to an hour before they happen. He will come and sit on me, lay on me, anything to make sure I don’t move. He has even resorted to laying on my cane so I can’t get up or walk anywhere.

    When he does something, I don’t yell, or raise my voice, or get angry, I simply say, “Bishop has something.” It doesn’t even have to be to anyone in particular, even him. He immediately drops it, and gets this droopy-ear head drop look like, “What? I don’t have anything…I’m innocent…oh, this? It’s just…happened to be under my foot…and…” at which point he will get up and slink off to lay by the patio door.

    Bishop responds to me better than anyone in the house, and if he is doing something he’s not supposed to, all I have to do is look at him and he comes up to me and puts his head on my lap to apologize.

    He also has this habit of hugging me. I mean literally putting his front legs, one on each shoulder, around me and laying his head on top of them on one side or the other. He does this when I’m sad, or not feeling well.

  6. says

    I have a neighbor who owns a Border Collie, and a lab mix. They’re both very sweet and friendly. A few weeks ago I offered to bring them each a large bone (we had purchased 1/2 a steer and asked for lg. bones to occasionally give my German Shepherd Dog/Bernese Mountain dog (that probably has a bit of Border Collie in there somewhere). She said she would love to have some. I took a couple down to them and they were great. Well, they apparently finished off one,and my neighbor did not get rid of the one that was left. Anyway, last week she called and said they had a huge fight. She hit them repeatedly on their heads with a sprinkler head bending the steel. I was apalled, and told her to never, ever, ever strike an animal on the head (much less anywhere else). Now she’s angry with me and has said she’d treat her animals anyway she felt necessary. So, was I out of line here?

  7. says


    That is amazing he can detect seizures before they happen…I’ve heard about this but never first hand. Even more incredible is how he works to keep you still before they happen. Talk about a sensitive dog…you’re lucky to have him around!

  8. J says

    I have a question for your border collie expert. I recently got pup siblings (M and F) from a border collie/blue heeler mix. The girl looks and acts like her mom, the BC, and the boy looks and acts more like his dad, the blue heeler. Both parents were successful working dogs on a farm. The pups are delightful, smart, and very active. The articles on their breeds say they enjoy having a “job” to do. We walk regularly, play tennis ball catch, and live in the country, so there is plenty of space for running.

    I’m asking if there is any thing wrong with training them to pull a garden wagon. I tried it today, and they successfully pulled the empty 4 foot by 3 foot metal garden wagon around the farm. I’d like them to pull it when they get bigger (they are 12 weeks now), for wildcrafting herbs in my pasture with me. Also, when we walk into the pasture,(without the wagon) at some point the border collie will walk behind me and gently nip my leg. Is she telling me we have walked too far, or is this something else? She, more than the blue heeler boy, watches the cows in the near pasture, and appears very interested in them, and gets into her “work” crouch position as she watches them. But when we walk, and mid way she gently nips my heel, is she asking me something, or has the herding instinct kicked in?

  9. Tammy says

    Any advise, I have a 15 week old bc, he is the light of my life, he is smart and very active, not suprised, I do have an issue with him though he is totally petrified of the leash, we put it on him had it slacked, he laid down and wouldnt move, have only had it on him twice neither experience was good, now when I even just pick it up he runs and hides, I am stumped, I want to be able to take him to the park and walks but cannot if he will not take to the leash. any suggestions?

  10. Art says

    Our border collie Sally Mae will come up to me or who ever is yelling and put her head under your chin and put her paw on your shoulder and hug you like she wants you to stop arguing

  11. Heather says


    Just read your post, again don’t know how old it is but we have exactly the same problem here. Our little boy is 5 and back in December 2013 I really shouted at him over something with no regard to our border collie, then 8 months, who up until that time hadn’t really shown any signs of being overly sensitive. We were in the kitchen and my raised voice frightened her so much she jumped the safety gate that we have on the kitchen and ran to hide in the bedroom.
    Since that time, although 5 year olds do need a stern talking to from time to time, I have been very aware of the tone and pitch of my voice but she is so nervous whenever me and my 5 year old are in the room together she hides in the furthest part of the house. Similarly, if we are all in the car she is very on edge and becomes very distraught if the tone of voice changes.
    I find this very upsetting as during school time she follows me around the house and very rarely takes to her bed during the day, except if I go out, but this week, for example, during the school holiday she spends most of her time tucked beside one of the beds. I do hope this behaviour will change as she gets older but having read one post on here it seems it may get worse! I so want her to be a part of the family and feel awful that my thoughtless actions may have created this irreversible situation!

  12. Heather says

    We have an 11 month border collie who has recently become very scared to go out for a walk, she gets excited at the sight of her lead but then becomes very reluctant to venture beyond the edge of our driveway because of the numerous bird scarer “bangs” that have been resounding around the area. She hears them when in the garden but they don’t seem to bother her then, only when she is outside the safety of her own garden. We live in quite a rural area and apparently these noises are common at this time of year and go on for some weeks/months to come. Before we had our collie I had never really noticed them.

    I decided today that I would take her in the car to a country park to break the cycle of her pre-empting the bangs but they were prevelant even there, and at one point I thought I was going to lose her when she took off after a number of bangs resounded and at first took no notice of my recall. Eventually, I’m relieved to say, she stopped running and looked around for me.

    Any advice you could offer would be greatly received as I am running out of areas I can walk her without the worry of her taking off. If I keep her leashed she pulls herself virtually along the floor in an attempt to get away and there seems to be little I can do to get her out of her frenzied state.

  13. trixie says

    i have a four year old bc female i got at eight weeks, also got a kitten at the same time, same age so they grew up together. the cat gets into any boxes or bags she can and i usually tell her to cut it out. now my dog comes and rats her out when she gets into stuff, like she wants to avoid my telling the cat to cut it out. so dog will put her head on my lap and look really worried, which tells me miss cat it up to something. i can’t tell the cat to stop because dog thinks it’s all about her. well i have learned to never raise my voice. the cat gets away with whatever she wants although dog tells on her, could be cat is on the counter, in the trash or a box, bag. after a lifetime of german shepherds i am getting used to the very similar temperment of bc dogs. actually the bc don’t seem to have the sense of humor of a gsd. both are great companions. the cat, not so much…

  14. says


    Right? Very in tune with your moods, what is going on around them and the general atmosphere of the home. Funny how the dog tells on the cat!

  15. says


    Sheesh. That’s a tough one. I’m thinking it’s sort of like thunder to a dog maybe? That’s very difficult to deal with. Also, if I’m thinking of the “bangs” the right way they may be akin to gun shots? Wonder if we have any hunters out there reading that might have some insight on acclimating a dog to loud noises?

  16. says

    Heather, Might be worth your time and money to get ahold of a skilled dog trainer to take a look. My feeling is it will pass with time (it’s worked that way with our Ned) but I hear you…it’s upsetting. May want to make a prolonged effort to include the dog in playtime with you and your little boy…establish that all it “good” with the pack.

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