Are They Good With Kids?
written by Lee and Tonya Levy
Tonalee Border Collies

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As breeders who take phone calls from people interested in the breed as well as in our puppies specifically, one of the most often asked questions is "Are they good with kids?"

We like to answer that question with another…"Are your kids good with Border Collies?"

On a more serious note, this is a tough question, because the answer is yes and no.

There are of course many other things we could talk about but if we take just those two into consideration, it comes down to this: Are you as a parent and a dog owner, willing to put the necessary time into both the dog and the kids, to teach them to get along?
ANY DOG CAN BITE. Most dog bite cases are from dogs that are either owned by or known to the person being bitten. And many of those cases involve children. Why is that? Because parents run out and buy a puppy without any education before hand, don't teach the dog anything, don't supervise the dog and the children and then are amazed when the dog bites the kids.
Tonalee's Liberty Belle playing with Charlie Tebell
Of course there are just plain 'ole aggressive dogs, but most bites come from a nice family dog that was just fed up. Further, in our opinion, the dog was probably provoked, maybe without the child even realizing they were doing so. It is the parent's responsibility to ensure that the child behaves appropriately towards the dog.

Let us speak generally about dogs for a minute, not just the Border Collie. Dogs are pack animals, they respect the other members of the pack that are higher up in rank than they are, and they do not respect members of the pack that are lower. They also can't say, "Hey, I don't want you to poke me right now" or "Would you mind petting me in the direction that my hair runs, not the other way around, because that feels strange." Their only way of communicating their feelings is to get up and leave, or growl and/or bite.

Nick Bailey with Tonalee's Liberty Belle

Nick Bailey with Tonalee's Liberty Belle
For you to have a happy family including a dog, it will be up to you to teach your children how to interact with the puppy. Including how to pet him, how to talk to him and that HUGE list of don'ts (like tug of war, tail-yanking, etc). It will also be up to you to teach the puppy how to interact with your children explaining to him that chewing on fingers is not okay, jumping is out, and that the children ARE higher in the pack than he is. It can be tough to convince a dog that children are higher in the pack, but it can be done. The most important thing to remember in having a dog and children is that "Dogs will be dogs and children will be children." It is our firm belief, and many training books will agree, that dogs should NEVER, ever, ever, ever, be left alone with a small child. No matter how good you think your dog is, or how great you think your child is, dogs will be dogs and children will be children. Don't let your self be lulled into a false sense of security than might result in a tragic ending.
So now we get to the Border Collie question. And if you ask 100 different breeders, you will probably get 100 different answers.

And, so what is our opinion? Yes, we do sell to homes with children. But special circumstances must be factored into the equation. Are you a stay at home parent as Tonya is? If so, that is the best way to ensure a happy child/dog relationship. Someone who has small children and is going to leave the dog alone all day, probably is a bad candidate for a Border Collie. There simply isn't enough time in the evening to give quality time to both young children and a puppy. Puppies take a lot of work! Let me say that again in case you didn't get it the first time: Puppies take a lot of work! If you are willing to put a lot of work into them for the first six months, you will get a huge reward for the next 12-15 years-a well-behaved companion. Some other questions that must to be asked include:
Diane Gilmore doing canine education with her two Border Collies
  • Have you and your spouse had dogs before?
  • Have you trained dogs before?
  • Are you willing to read a few books on the subject?
  • Are you willing to put in a lot of extra effort those first six months and for the long run?
  • Are you willing to take the dog to some basic obedience classes so the dog will learn some manners as well as getting used to other dogs?
  • And the last one I would ask you to ask yourself, but you must be brutally honest with yourself when answering: Are your children relatively well behaved and ready for the responsibility of being a dog owner?
  • We have two children, 14 and 13, and they have been around dogs their whole life. They are excellent with the dogs, but it is because we taught them to be so.

    Border Collies can make great family dogs, in the right family. They can be a little bit more challenging than other breeds, because they are quite active and intelligent. Many people think because Border Collies are so smart, they must be easy to train. HA. It is exactly the opposite. These are highly intelligent working dogs that have been bred over hundreds of years to work with large flocks of sheep in the rugged English Countryside, often without humans around for hours on end. They are independent thinkers and problem solvers. Sure, you can teach them to sit on command in a day or two, but they also can teach themselves things. Things that you may not like. With kids, it is important that YOU are watching and making sure the kids aren't teaching them something "bad". For instance, in an 8 week old puppy, it is cute if he growls and barks and plays "come and get me" with your nine year old. But now, the puppy has learned that this is an acceptable game. When he is 45 pounds that game doesn't seem so much fun to the nine year old who got nipped or scratched. Was the dog vicious? No, he was just playing in the manner that he was taught and that is perfectly acceptable to descendants of wolves.

    You must also be careful of "herding instinct" in a Border Collie. Children normally don't find it funny when the family dog is trying to "round them up" in the backyard. Border Collies herd with their "eye" first and foremost, but there is always that one sheep that is stubborn and doesn't want to do what the Border Collie says. Now in a herding trial, a dog that puts his mouth on a sheep is a disqualified, but in a real working experience, the Border Collie has to do something to make that sheep move, so he does what is called "gripping". This is not a nip at the heels, like what Shelties do, but it is a "grip" on the shoulder of the sheep. So when the Border Collie is trying to herd the children, and they aren't paying any attention, he may grip. Which really makes children unhappy! However, it is normally not a strong bite, obviously breaking skin on a sheep would ruin the wool, but children don't have wool so therefore it can break the skin. Is the dog vicious? No, it is simply responding to the way he has been genetically programmed for hundreds of years: there is a sheep that won't respond, so I have to make it do what I want. So when you consider buying a Border Collie for a family pet, you want to make sure that you don't get the puppy in the litter with the strongest herding instinct. You, as the parent, must understand this inbred Border Collie behavior so the FIRST time you see any sort of possibility that herding the children is what the dog is doing, you stop it immediately. Again, the puppy must be taught that children are not sheep.
    This should go with out saying, but sometimes the cuteness of a puppy overrules good judgment. Whether you get a Border Collie or any other breed, is critical you make sure your breeder is a responsible one. Check to ensure that they do the necessary health testing, that they show you copies of the documentation, and that they stand behind their dogs. For example, all of our puppies are sold on a contract and in it we require that you return the puppy to us if you decide you don't want it or can't keep it, which any responsible breeder will do. As breeders, we spend hours with our puppies evaluating their temperaments and personalities so we can match the right puppy to the right home.
    Charlie Tebel with his dog Jefferson
    So it is a two-part equation. You must get a well temperamented dog to begin with, and then put a lot of work into him! If you are willing to spend the time to find the right breeder, and then spend the time working with both your new puppy and your children, you can end up with a wonderful family pet. However, bringing a new Border Collie puppy home on the spur of the moment and then throwing the puppy and the kids into the back yard with no supervision can result in very unhappy children and a Border Collie that ends up in rescue. Please take the time to think about your lifestyle, your children, and the commitment you must make before you bring that puppy home.
    Cameron Barnette taking a nap with NZ and AM CH Clan-Abby Hiland-Thunder     Socializing the puppies with Cameron Barnette

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