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.