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How to train a Border Collie to come when called

collie running back to owner on walk in the woods

Do you wish your Border Collie would come running the first time you call? 

Are you tired of apologising every time your dog runs over to steal balls or chase joggers? 

Are squirrels, birds and wildlife the absolute bane of your dog walks? 

If you feel like your collie is stubborn and won’t listen, you are not alone. Border Collie recall problems are one of the most common things people reach out to me for help with. 

So, I’ve put all my best collie recall tips in this blog for you. Read on to learn why Border Collie’s can find recall hard and discover some easy training games that’ll get your dog’s recall skill moving in the right direction! 

Border Collie recall problems 

I’m sure one or more of these will feel familiar to you. These are the most common recall problems that Border Collie owners share with me when they come desperately looking for help. 

The embarrassment, frustration and deep desire to change things often arise when you have a collie who: 

  • Chases joggers/cyclists
  • Obsessively runs towards people with ball launchers
  • Steals other people’s balls
  • Fixates on squirrels in trees and won’t walk on
  • Charges towards traffic (even over long distances)
  • Chases birds and won’t come back
  • Won’t give up when wildlife or livestock is around

Dogs, like us, get better when they practise things. And if your Border Collie has practised ignoring a recall cue and chasing anything that moves, then they might well be pretty good at it by now!

So the first step is preventing them practising what we don’t like anymore – use a longline to help with this while you work on teaching your collie an impressive recall.  

Why do Border Collie’s struggle with recall?

Border Collie’s were bred to live on farms in quiet areas with acres of open space to mill about in. There wouldn’t be much traffic, bar a couple of tractors or trailers … generally speaking, their environment would be pretty sedate with only one thing to focus on. 

Border Collies were bred to notice livestock – primarily sheep – even if they weren’t obviously visible – hidden up on a hillside for example, concealed by bushes. 

They’d use their nose, their sight and their keen observation skills to find the animals and then move them to where they were supposed to be. 

All of this made the Border Collie a brilliant working dog. But a Border Collie who doesn’t work or who lives in a busy urban environment can struggle. Their environment is likely to be a lot busier than what they were bred for – with lots more going on to catch their highly observant attention. They can end up feeling overwhelmed and that brings out their controlling tendencies. . 

They meet a lot of dogs who are a lot more sociable than they are. They are exposed to a lot more people than they were bred for. And they are surrounded by a lot more movement than they would like. 

When a Border Collie doesn’t have an outlet for the skills they were bred for, they can struggle. 

People understand that collie’s need a lot of physical exercise, but often they miss out on the brain exercise that their intelligent minds desperately crave. 

Border Collies were bred to be persistent and to drive towards the thing that isn’t doing what they want…. And they’re very good at it! They were not designed to back away from difficult sheep!

Often owners can turn to tennis balls because Border Collie’s love them! Your Border Collie loves a ball because it’s an item they can move and control. It  mimics some of the working skills they’d use on sheep.

But this is also why it’s hard to recall your Border Collie.

They’re captivated by people or children playing ball games. Runners, cyclists and sudden appearances of scooters can get them in a total spin. A walk through fields where livestock appear or urban environments full of birds and squirrels can drive your Border Collie into meltdown….

But why? 

Well, birds can fly up and get away, squirrels can run super fast and climb a tree, joggers and cyclists speed away. All these things are really frustrating for a Border Collie, because they were bred not to give up! They desperately want to control the movement of whatever thing has caught their attention and they become fixated. 

Image of a black and white collie running with text 'from fixated to focused collie recall challenge'

This is also why we sometimes see Border Collies developing obsessive behaviour. The frustration at not being able to control movement of something can tip them into an uncontrollable state. They have an innate urge to succeed at controlling ‘the thing’ – much like they would have done when herding sheep. 

Your Border Collie doesn’t want to be a failed sheep herder – and so we have to find ways to give them the opportunity to be AWESOME at controlling appropriate things – which then takes away their  need to control other things which cause problems! 

Border Collie Rebellious stage

A lot of people talk about adolescence being a rebellious stage in a Border Collie’s life. But why does it happen?  

As a puppy, a Border Collie often has to tolerate things that they have no control over. 

For example, as a young pup, your collie may have been physically moved about and didn’t have a huge amount of choice about things – because they were small enough to be physically manipulated. 

They might have been picked up and removed from something, or grabbed at the end of a walk to have their lead put on. 

Border Collie’s are very sensitive, and although I’m not for a moment suggesting that you intentionally forced your young Border Collie to do things against their will… it may have felt that way to your dog. 

The rebellious stage then comes when they enter adolescence because as they get bigger, stronger and more confident, they are able to express their feelings better. 

Your collie’s legs are a bit longer, so they can run away when you call them. They’re more aware of their environment so they spot you reaching for their collar before it happens and run out of reach so you can’t catch them. 

It looks like rebellion but in reality, it’s often a young dog exerting some choice and agency once their body matures enough to allow them to do so. 

The solution is teaching our Border Collie’s what we want in a way they understand, and pairing it with a reward they value so they want to do as they’re asked. 

How to train a Border Collie not to run away

When our Border Collies are running away from us, it’s usually because they’re running towards something. Something has grabbed their attention and peaked their interest – and they’re going to run and run!

The easiest way to teach your collie not to run away, is to teach them what you’d like them to do instead. 

We want to teach your dog to check in with you when something interesting catches their attention – then YOU decide whether they can engage with it or not. 

collie running back to owner on walk in the woods

You need to be the observer, which means you need to spot the things that are likely to grab your collie’s attention so you can then ask them to focus on you when something interesting is on the horizon. You call their name and reward them with something highly rewarding for responding…. But we have to train this response in lower distraction environments first – more on that below! 

What works at home when training in your living room, may not work out and about. So be prepared to up the ante and use either super high value treats, a toy or a ball.  

PLEASE NOTE: This isn’t a case of distracting your collie by waving a ball in the air – it’s about your dog checking in with you when they see something of interest. You then decide whether they’re allowed to run towards the thing or whether they have to stay with you. 

Border Collie Recall Games

Here are three training games Border Collie’s love that can help you teach a solid recall. 

1. The name response game 

We want your dog to respond when you call their name and look at you. 

Grab ten treats and a clicker

Step 1: Grab a treat and throw it away from you so your dog is not sat looking at you expectantly

Step 2: Just as they finish eating the treat, call your dog’s name – when they look at you, simply click and throw a treat away from you again

Step 3: Rinse and repeat – then start playing the game in different environments to build your dog’s name response

Watch the video below to learn how to teach the name response clicker training game. 

2. Use your ‘Where’s the Fire’ voice!

When you desperately don’t want your collie to run towards something (and away from you!), you have ONE opportunity to call them back. This calls for your ‘where’s the fire’ voice!

Imagine your dog is entering a burning building and you’ve got one chance to get them to return to you. I want you to practice projecting your voice in an urgent, exciting tone. Practise this around the house and use highly valuable rewards when your dog responds. 

Your collie will likely love my homemade training treats, check out the liver cake recipe here. 

3. Distraction action recall

We want to introduce distractions in a controlled environment so that we can get your collie used to responding and coming back to you even when there are exciting things in the vicinity. 

You will need a helper for this one – so recruit a friend or family member to join you for the fun! 

Step 1: Load your helper up with treats (daily kibble or something low value like a biscuit)

Step 2: Ask your helper to feed your dog the treats, one by one

Step 3: Ask your helper to stop feeding them when you call your dog using your where’s the fire voice whilst walking away

Step 4: If your dog stays sat by your helper awaiting more treats, don’t make a fuss but go and take hold of your dog’s collar and walk them away. Then ask for a simple behaviour like a ‘Sit’ and give them permission to return to the helper and start again 

Step 5: If your dog races back towards you when you call CELEBRATE with some high quality rewards, and be GENEROUS! Let them know that you think coming back when called is one of the best things they can do!

Join me for a free collie training challenge and learn other fabulous recall games like the collar game, toy switch and hup-hup!

Image of a black and white collie running with text 'from fixated to focused collie recall challenge'

How to discipline a Border Collie

As a reward based dog trainer, I don’t subscribe to discipline in the traditional sense. I don’t use force or physical punishment with my dogs, I don’t want that kind of relationship with my Border Collies. 

If I call my collie and they ignore me, I won’t beat them with a heavy stick! But what I will do is pop them on the lead for a little bit – because they’ve shown me that they can’t cope in that moment and they can’t listen to me. 

What usually happens in this situation, is that my dog has got themselves a bit too worked up and they’ve been so flooded with adrenaline that they’ve found listening hard. A short period on lead allows them to calm down and reset – then they can go off the lead again and enjoy themselves. 

We want a safe, loving, trusting relationship – because it’s more enjoyable for everyone. But also because it breeds cooperation and good behaviour. 

What do you do about a stubborn Border Collie?

Perspective is everything! If you look up stubborn in the dictionary, you’ll find the meaning described as dogged determination, persistence, and not giving up! 

Now, this is what we spoke about right at the beginning of this blog. A Border Collie is bred to be persistent. Take a look at this video of a Border Collie persistently herding a stubborn(!) ewe and her lambs into a trailer. 

He is determined to get the sheep to do what he wants and doesn’t give up until they do.

But then take a non-working Border Collie who doesn’t want to come in from the garden, or who is determined to play keep away rather than go back on the lead…we call them stubborn! 

But in reality, they are showing the traits they were bred for. They are simply a Border Collie demonstrating the very things humans really valued in them when they were working dogs. It’s just those traits can be annoying when they’re employed in what we perceive to be the wrong direction!

To wrap up 

It’s important to note that recall training isn’t just about the actual act of calling your dog – relationship building is a huge part of improving it. 

Understanding what motivates your collie’s sometimes frustrating behaviour, can go a long way in easing the frustration that you both might be feeling. This then allows you to practically address any issues you’re facing in a fun and enjoyable way – so you both keep doing it. 

My Fixated to Focused Collie Recall Challenge is starting on 22nd January – and it’s completely free. Join me to unpick why your Border Collie struggles with focus & attention and together, you’ll both learn new skills that’ll improve your recall (and so much more)!

Click here to register for your free live training with me. 

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