Friday, February 27, 2009

Why a Border Collie?

Izzy's first month with our family. She was 16 weeks old.

We are often asked, "Why did you choose a border collie as your first dog?" Although border collies are very intelligent dogs, they are not always the easiest to train because as herding dogs, they pick up on every little thing you do. They learn to read you and will predict your every move. They have lots of energy and need to be walked in any and all weather. If not given work to do, they create their own work, which is not always to your advantage. I read yesterday that a border collie's vocabulary can include as many words as that of a five year old child. When we first brought Izzy home, a neighbor told me he knew a dog trainer with a border. He asked what words he used for training and he said, "I don't use words, I use sentences." It is true. She listens to our conversations and knows what we are talking about. Very smart. We sometimes find ourselves spelling words so she won't know what we are talking about.

Izzy playing with her best friend Bella who just so happens to also be a border collie.

So, why did we get a border collie as our first dog? I believe we are drawn to that which we need. Izzy joined our family when I was in "remission". Together with Alexander and Sophia, we attended weekly obedience classes for well over a year. We often laughed that as homeschoolers, Izzy was the only one that liked going to school. However, as she matured, her herding instincts came out and she felt a need to control all the dogs in class. I spent many hours after class working one on one with trainers to meet the needs of this dog and we have spent hours training and playing at home. Izzy loves the game "Hot, cold" and her tail goes crazy with excitement when we say, "hot" and she knows she has almost found the hidden ball. When we play hide and seek, there is nothing that can distract her until she finds the hidden person.

Izzy loves cold and snowy temperatures. Here she is chewing on a bone.


The last year has been challening for me physically. Not a lot of new training has gone on and my attempt to do agility class with Izzy ended over the summer when I was too sore to guide her. I don't really think she was into it anyhow. It just didn't seem to be her thing.

Izzy hangs out with me during the day.

I find that I am drawn to something in Izzy. She encourages me to get up and walk daily even when it is the last thing I want to do. When I look out our window and see her running top speed in circles around our yard I feel this rush of energy through my body. Seeing her run, always herding style, is one of the most beautiful sights in the world to me.

A friend rcommended Jon Katz's books to me. Right now I am reading A Good Dog. In his book, Katz shares his life with Orson, a challenging border collie. He shares how Orson tries to herd buses (Izzy herds bike riders), how Orson went through their window when a UPS truck arrived (no broken windows yet but Izzy definitely gets a little crazy when anyone walks by our house or comes up our driveway). And like Orson did for Katz, Izzy has a way of making you look deep inside yourself. I find our walks together very meditative. I find that I have a patience inside myself that I admired when my kids were young that I have to also use with her. I find that by taking a deep breath when a biker rides by not only helps me, but also her. She has brought out a social side of me in the neighborhood that would never have existed without her.

Katz also shares his life with Rose, a border collie that joined him as a pup and instinctively began herding. She lives and breathes to herd. This is my goal as I feel better, to take Izzy to a herding class. I would love nothing more than to see her doing what she was bred to do.

Izzy and Alexander chasing each other in the snow.

Overall, I feel we have been very lucky with our border collie. I have read horror stories about the mischiefs a bored border collie can get into. Izzy does let us know when she needs attention. She starts taking items off the counter. Sometimes if we don't notice her, she will even tattle on herself. She runs off with the stolen item and if we don't notice, she will put down whatever it is that she stole and start barking until we come. We will find her sitting on the floor with the stolen item next to her like, "Yeah, I stole this and you didn't even notice." We do try and walk at odd times to avoid bike riders who she lunges and barks at. We have plans to start working on some training to calm her when the mail carrier arrives or people walk by our house. The funny thing is, when she meets the person, all she wants to do is jump on them and give them a lick. She is super patient as little kids pet her and she has learned to control her barking in the morning when other dogs are barking. I say, "Izzy, the kids are still sleeping." She loves the job of waking family members up. When I say, "Momma is going to take a nap," she is right behind me. Her ability to relax while still keeping watch calms me. If I ask, "Do you want to go bye-bye?" she will sit by the door and patiently wait for me and then jump in the car. When we get home, she waits until I ask her to step out. She is a good girl.

I am drawn to the energy of this border collie and the amount of attention needed to keep her happy. Maybe as a living being, there was no way I could let this go as I have done with other things during this difficult year. She has given me focus. She has given me the strength and desire to keep moving. She has given me love and reason after reason to laugh. I can't imagine having any other breed of dog in my life right now. We have a saying in our house, "Izzy was born to be our dog." I really believe it.