The other Border Collie look

After owning several great dogs over the years I had never had a Border Collie until I got married. The wife wanted one and, if you’re married you know this, the wife pretty much gets what she wants. I knew enough about the breed to know that we were in for a challenge but there was something I was not so ready for or aware of. After being the happy owner of a Border Collie for over two years now I am simply amazed at how involved in our lives he has become. I don’t mean this is a sappy way and, in writing this, I’ve had a tough time trying to explain it. What it boils down to is this; when this breed looks at you they really are looking right at you. As in, right in the eye. Not in an aggressive manner but in a questioning way like he’s asking, “So, what next?” The Border Collie look is really something to behold.

This look started when he was very young. As a puppy I’d be working with him on training and he’d look me directly in the eye. Now, I’ve always been told and read that this is an aggressive move used by dogs to establish dominance. I know that look in a dog however this is something totally different. You may also have heard of people talking about the Border Collie Stare which is something different as well. The “stare” is that look they get when their herding instinct kicks in and is unmistakable. We see it all the time whenever someone picks up tennis ball.

What I’m talking about it an indepth intelligent look with an attentive “I’m listening” or a slightly impatient, “What are we doing next?” sort of look that I have not seen before in other dogs. Other Border Collie owners I’ve spoken with know “that” look. This is not the semi-blank stare you get while they wait for a treat or that look you’ll get when you scratch behind the ears of most dogs. This is an inquisitive and interactive look that means something. Either he wants to go out or, most often, he simply is bored and wants you to give him something to do. These are, after all, pure working dogs and while we don’t own a farm or have sheep Ned the dog still needs a job!

In order to have a good relationship with this breed lots and lots of training, patience and time is required to make it happen, far more than any other dog I’ve had before. Through this time I’ve learned that a special relationship is formed with your Border Collie. When he looks at me I get the unshakable feeling that he really is looking, listening and thinking about what is going on at the moment. It has been a real challenge trying to figure out the best way to have a good relationship with our dog and I’ve done more reading and studying on this topic than I ever would have imagined. In the end it has been a great experience and we now have a loyal and well behaved pet and a happy family because of it.

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  1. Lara says

    I just found your blog. I like reading your short stories – I am actually planning on getting a Border Collie puppy in a week. Reading about your experience is getting me really excited and slightly worried (naturally, who doesn’t have worries about adding a new family member?) I would love to talk to you. The only Border Collie owner I’ve spoken to is the breeder…who is a dairy farmer. =)

    my email is #############


  2. Bill says


    Glad you like the site! I’d be more than happy to chat with you and offer whatever advice I can. I’ll shoot you an email this afternoon. Thanks! Bill

  3. Jenny H says

    Hi. I know all about the “look”. We got our Tristan 4 months ago. Once you pick up his toy to throw–eyes alert, ears up, tail down and if you hesitate to throw, he’ll look back as if to say “what’s the hold up? I’m ready!”

    Love the blog!

  4. Christy says

    Our has the look too but Zooey seems to have two looks. She’ll give us a happy look, like yay we’re going to do stuff together, so what is it??? And another one like “ugh, human why are you insisting I do tricks or hug you when I absolutely need to herd your other dog away from every dog toy in the house?” but she sits and waits and once you release her she takes off to do exactly what she conveys in that look, which is give my other dog the border collie stare. But it’s amazing how intelligent she is. I swear even when I’m having a bad day, even if she feels she has more important things to do, she’ll look at me then sit still and let me hug her until I feel better, the second I do she’s off to handle her domain. My other dog is intelligent, a rascal, and a handful but he can’t sense what I want the way she does. She’s unbelievably socially intelligent. It’s like living with a mind reader sometimes.

  5. says


    It’s uncanny…totally agree. The mind reader thing has been nothing short of freaky at times. Like they are looking right into your head.

  6. kismoore says

    I love your stories. They are a fresh breath of air after spending a day looking for the right trainer for our PO. You see, she is showing some signs of jealousy and over-protectivness. A few issues with our cats are cropping up as well, over the past few weeks. It started when I saw one of cats watching a training session with PO. I thought to myself, maybe I can train the cat easier if she’s watching the dog. Big mistake! After the third or fourth time of the cat getting a treat for a correct sit, PO attacked the cat. Very jealous response. There have been a few “attacks” involving the cats since and one cat likes to hiss and scratch, adding to the drama that unfolds. After all, PO knows she is bigger and “more important” so she is deciding not to take any grief from “that stupid cat”. The jealous behavior is beginning to extend to humans that try to talk to me or hand me things, etc. Not family, only people that are strangers to PO. However she does NOT warm up to new people easy so this could be a potential issue if we don’t get help now.
    Something I’ve learned about this breed I find really interesting.. in the training process, I work to find the words that work for PO. Not the other way, forcing traditional training words to specific and common tricks and expectations. I look at her and we work out the word or phrase that she responds to. Example: it took me a month to realize she hates the words “bring it” especially if barked like an order. She prefers the traditional come but with a twist.. “come here and put it down” then she places it perfectly right at my feet. I love working with her, every session is a learning experience for both of us.

  7. says

    Agree on addressing that jealousy thing up front…better to get a handle on it now. Love that she has words she does not like…you have a strong willed on there!

  8. Miss Cellany says

    Yes I know the look.

    I get that look whenever I’m involved in something that the dog can’t do with me – using the computer, watching the TV, eating something he can’t eat etc. I’ll look around and I’ll be pinned by his gaze – its intense even though it isn’t “the eye” (which I only see in him directed at 4 legged animals or squeaky toys).

    This look is slightly softer and seems to go right down into your soul. Like the dog is reading all your emotions and secret thoughts with that gaze… And whenever I get that stare I can’t help feeling guilty that I’m not giving him enough attention. So I usually pick up a ball or a bag of treats and do some play or training with him…

    Yes I’ve been trained very well by my dog!

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