Whether you’re considering getting a collie or you already have one, knowing if they can be aggressive is an important question to ask. Perhaps you have kids, maybe your collie is already showing early signs of aggression, or you’re just not sure about how she will react around new dogs and strangers. Whatever the case, this article has everything you need to know.
Can Border Collies Be Aggressive?
Any breed, including border collies, can be aggressive when feeling threatened, scared, or provoked in the wrong way. Border collies aren’t usually aggressive but they do have a tendency to nip, which could be confused for aggression.
So yes, they can be aggressive when the perfect storm brews in front of them. A better way to look at this question is whether or not collies are naturally aggressive… So let’s cover that now.
Are Border Collies Naturally Aggressive?
When it comes to the border collie’s natural temperament and personality, they are nearly always described as loyal, energetic, responsive, alert, and intelligent. But “Aggressive” rarely makes an appearance.
But that doesn’t mean all collies are angels.
I’ve personally come across some collies who had acted aggressively when it wasn’t called for. And on the flip side, I’ve also come across collies who were extremely friendly and had a lot of love to give to anyone and anything.
Honestly, it mostly comes down to how the collie has been raised and how often they have exposure to new people, new dogs, kids, and all the potential people that they might otherwise be aggressive with. I’m basically talking about “socialization” here.
So while border collies are not considered naturally aggressive, they certainly can be hostile and aggressive to strangers and new dogs if they haven’t been raised appropriately or received adequate socialization.
There are multiple forms of aggression which I will explain further below, but I will first cover how socialization has a significant impact on most cases of aggression…
How Socialization Effects Aggression & Aloofness In Collies
As I mentioned above, socialization plays a crucial role in whether a collie will turn out to be overly friendly with strangers, or aggressive with them.
So what is socialization?
Socialization can be much broader than what most people think. Of course, the basic form of socialization that you likely already have in mind is exposing your collie to new people and new dogs on a frequent basis from a young age. Which is totally right.
But for collies and many other breeds, simply being exposed to new situations, environments, and experiences on a frequent basis can have similar positive effects.
But how does socialization help avoid aggression?
Well, dogs that have spent time constantly meeting and mingling with new dogs and new people quickly learn how to handle themselves in social interactions. Due to having experience, when a new dog or person approaches the collie, they won’t feel scared, fearful, or apprehensive, and instead, it’ll be just another dog or person… no big deal, no need to be aggressive, all is well!
However, collies that haven’t been socialized will not know how to deal with new encounters (person or dog), and so a natural response is to be apprehensive and fearful. And fearfulness is one of the main drivers of canine aggression.
Socialization can really be all the difference
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the level of socialization a dog receives (ideally from as young as possible) can be the ultimate deciding factor between whether they grow up to become super friendly with everyone, or aloof and aggressive.
Not only will it ensure your collie is friendly with others, but due to the enhanced ability to just “interact” your collie will also be friendly with you.
How do you start socializing your collie if they are already aggressive?
If you already have a collie that’s aggressive with new people or dogs, how can you start safely socializing them?
The best approach would be to start very slow and don’t force any interactions upon her, but at least go to the dog park more often where she will frequently see other dogs in close proximity. Simply being around more dogs and people (at a distance) is the first step.
And from the moment she starts seeing more dogs, it’s crucial to reward her whenever she handles something well. Even if a dog walks past her 10 meters away, if she doesn’t mind or take any notice, reward her heavily with praise and treats for that good behavior. For us, this might not seem like a big deal, but for your collie, it will slowly build positive associations towards other dogs and people… With time you’ll be able to bring your collie closer and closer.
If your collie already has a known canine buddy that can be a great start to speed up the process. Try socializing your collie more with people and dogs that you already know she likes, and with time, it will become easier to expand this to meeting strangers and new dogs.
I know, it’s very easy to read this from a blog post, and doing it in real life will be so much harder. But trust the process, start slow, and build upon the little improvement she might make on a daily or weekly basis.
Signs of Aggressive Behavior
Before thinking about corrective training and redirection to prevent aggression, it’s first necessary to be able to identify early signs of aggression.
Signs of aggression
- Growling at other dogs or people
- Growling when you try to take a toy from her or tell her “no” for something
- Biting or even light nipping
- Chasing and jumping
- Showing teeth/snarling for any reason
- Aggressive barking
In most cases, a border collie will always show these early signs for a long time before actually becoming aggressive with everyone and every dog.
This is why it’s absolutely crucial to correct these behaviors when you see them in order to prevent full-blown aggression from becoming part of her natural temperament. I will cover this further below.
The Different Kinds of Aggression
For collies that are exhibiting these early signs, it’s important to identify the cause. What’s triggering your collie to growl, bite, bark or show her teeth?
Possessive aggression (food and toys)
If your collie growls or snarls when someone gets close to her while she’s eating, this is considered food aggression. This a possessive issue that your collie is dealing with, and it’s also partly to do with natural instinct. Dogs in the wild would have had to protect their food from others trying to take it from them. It’s said that almost 20% of dogs show food aggression to some extent. This can also happen when being possessive over toys.
Fearful aggression is by far the most common type of aggression and can encompass most situations. Usually, social interactions involving strangers or new dogs can lead to fearful aggression. Fearful aggression can also happen with familiar family members too. The reason this is the most common type of aggression is that most aggression is driven by being scared and fearful.
All dogs are territorial animals, so naturally, this is a very common issue (which can also be prevented with socialization). From the postman to your friends, any stranger trying to enter your property could trigger your collie to protect “their” territory.
Border collies do have a noticeable prey drive in them, and when it gets out of hand it can cause predatory aggression. This is aggression directed towards other animals, and sometimes people. This is typically born from the need to hunt as dogs would have had to do to survive thousands of years ago.
If your collie is suffering from chronic pain, or any kind of pain from an underlying health concern it can certainly cause her to be aggressive. Aggression in this case is usually always to prevent you from touching the area that hurts and potentially causing her more pain.
For those collies that have offspring to nurture, maternal aggression is common. This is when the mother collie growls, snarls, or barks aggressively in order to protect her puppies (either from us or other dogs).
This kind of aggression usually happens between the collie and the owner. This kind of aggression is caused by some kind of inner conflict, a lack of understanding, trust, or a negative relationship between the owner and the collie.
To best tackle aggression that has already developed, you’ll need to properly identify which form of aggression it is.
Food aggression will need a different training approach than aggression caused by fearfulness.
I am not a professional behavioral expert so It’s difficult for me to give exact advice for every situation. And depending on how bad the aggression is, you might want to contact an expert in your area to help.
Although many training approaches will be different depending on the form of aggression, the underlying principle of re-establishing trust, safety, as well as respect are reoccurring.
Resolving aggression can take a long time of consistent training, but it can be achieved with persistence. This is a GREAT example of how a border collie that is full of fear, anxiety and is aggressive with everyone and anything can be nurtured back into a friendly well-behaved collie.
4 Crucial Tips To Prevent Aggression From Developing
If you’ve just got a border collie puppy, you essentially have a clean slate!
You’ll be able to raise your collie in a way that will prevent aggressive behavior and habits from developing. All that’s required is to practice some good training and lifestyle habits from the very start.
Establish your position as the leader
It won’t take long before your puppy will try to establish themselves as the boss. They will push your limit, be cheeky, and try to do what they want whenever they want. But this cannot happen.
You, your partner, and your kids are the bosses and your collie MUST know that. A collie that knows their place will respect you and therefore trust you, this will instantly reduce the chances of many forms of aggression.
There are many different ways to establish your position as the boss. The first and most obvious one is to start training as soon as possible. Following your command and being rewarded for their cooperation will instantly put you above your collie. You will be seen as the leader and they, the follower.
Additional ways can include keeping your pup gated off to one part of the house for a good few months, while slowly letting them into more rooms. They essentially have to “earn their place” in the home. And this instantly tells the puppy that they don’t run your house. You can also do things like eating as a family before you feed your puppy. In the wild, the alpha dogs always eat first, while the others wait for what’s left.
More situations can include when out walking with your collie on the leash. To avoid pulling issues down the line, it’s essential to reward her for sensible walking, and from the moment she pulls, you stop right there and wait 10 seconds. This tells your collie that when she pulls, you don’t go anywhere, YOU are the one to decide when you continue, and if she walks sensibly, she also gets a treat. If she pulls again, you stop. You’re the boss.
Establishing yourself as a good leader means you are clear, firm but fair and always attentive to your collie. Get this right and your collie will know her place and know what is expected of her, and that’s exactly what she is craving for anyway!
Even before your puppy has finished receiving their vaccinations, they can still safely socialize with other adult dogs that are healthy, friendly, and have been fully vaccinated themselves.
Although you can’t take your puppy out in public places until 2 weeks after their last vaccine, that doesn’t mean other dogs can’t come to your house.
The earlier you start mingling your puppy with strangers and new dogs the better. You don’t have to force them to play with each other, just simply having each other’s company is enough for your collie pup to start developing sufficient social skills.
KEEP exposing your puppy to DIFFERENT dogs as often as possible. Making one friend is great, but constantly seeing new dogs will have the biggest impact.
Put in the effort while they are young and this will pretty much guarantee your collie is friendly towards strangers and dogs in public for the rest of their life.
Border collies need A LOT of mental stimulation. After all, they are the world’s most intelligent dog breed!
If your collie receives sufficient mental stimulation on a daily basis it will reduce stress, anxiety, fearfulness all while creating a calm, relaxed, and happy collie.
Mental stimulation comes in the form of training, socialization, using puzzle toys, agility training, and general interaction with your collie. The more you engage with your collie and be a part of her stimulation, you’ll also be continuously establishing yourself as an excellent leader that she loves and trusts.
Mental stimulation is so important for collies that I have created a whole article dedicated to explaining unique ways to incorporate it into her daily routine.
Redirection and corrective training
Lastly, it’s important to understand that training never really stops for at least the first one to two years.
Even if you take initiative to train your pup and provide sufficient exercise and mental stimulation, she will still make mistakes and test you. And when she does, you must always correct her behavior and redirect her.
For example, if one day your pup starts casually chewing your fingers (as if there’s no problem with it!) instead of her toy, it’s not good to brush that off like it doesn’t matter. It’s necessary to stop her with a firm “No!” redirect her to a toy, wait for her to focus on the toy for a few seconds, and then reward her for it. This tells her that chewing your fingers was not acceptable and you showed her what she is allowed to chew instead, and she got rewarded for it too.
Every moment of bad behavior or early aggression must be appropriately stopped, addressed, and corrected.
If you let these little moments slide, they will eventually turn into bigger issues that are harder to resolve.
It’s best to view correction training as more of a way of raising your collie than actual training.
In general, border collies are not an aggressive breed, although they can be if raised with a lack of guidance or socialization. As long as you establish yourself as the leader, provide sufficient socialization and address early signs of aggression with corrective training, your collie will be friendly and playful with everyone.
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