Stuck On You
The Collie has long been lodged in America’s psyche as a heroine, a loyal guardian and a steadfast friend. Of course, the character of Lassie had a lot to do with that. While Timmy was eating deadly berries, getting stuck on a cliff, sinking in quicksand, getting trapped in a badger hole and being threatened by a bear, Lassie was always there to help (ironically, Timmy never did fall down a well, though how the mischievous boy avoided that, we’ll never know). However, as Collie owners will tell you, their dogs can be roguish, fearful and quite sensitive. Not every Collie is Lassie. Here’s what some rough- and smooth-coated Collie owners had to say about the breed they love.
The Collie is a bundle of instincts, the most powerful of which is herding. This drives Collies to control just about anything they perceive as theirs. But the herding drive does come in handy sometimes. Richard and Rebecca Eikenburg of Georgetown, Texas, have two rescued Collies who one day took it upon themselves to rescue the family cats, which had escaped the house.
“Somehow, the cats had managed to derail the screen door and about six of them were out on the back porch, trying madly to get away from the relentless Collies that were herding them around in a circle, preventing them from escaping,” Rebecca Eikenburg says. “I have heard of herding cats, but this was hilarious. The cats were furious and wet with dog slobber, but there was nothing they could do.”
Though herding can definitely be a positive aspect of living with a Collie, it does come with the annoying — and sometimes frightening — herding nip.
“Collies may nip when trying to get your attention,” says Lynn M. Dunlap of Memphis, Tennessee, owner of three Collies. “It’s part of the herding instinct in this breed. I have heard people say that they were bitten, but in actuality it was just a herding nip. If young Collies are taught bite inhibition, this nip will not leave a mark. But if you don’t teach bite inhibition correctly, it can leave a bruise,” Dunlap says.
“Herding can be the last straw for some families, because a Collie will nip at someone’s heel as a last resort to get them to stay [wherever the Collie wants them to be],” says Shannon Wersal of Minneapolis, Minnesota. “All families should be aware of this trait before getting a Collie, because it’s much better not to get one than to have to give one up,” Wersal says.
“I don’t think the nipping is as big a deal with Collies than, say, Border Collies. My Collie, Jacques, has only done it once that I am aware of, and that was when my sister was doing Sweatin’ to the Oldies with Richard Simmons. He nipped her in the butt, but she deserved it,” Wersal jokes.
Herding and nipping aside, Collies are affectionate, trusting, highly loyal, headstrong and adaptable. Even a badly abused rescued Collie will bounce back in a new loving home. This breed loves people, and sees them as partners. They languish when neglected.
“You cannot put a Collie in the backyard and expect it to flourish,” Dunlap says. “People seem to think that because Collies were farm dogs, they do well out in a backyard. But you have to remember that when Collies were used as farm dogs, the people were outside most of the time and had a lot of interaction with their dogs.”
Mary Depman-Beuchat of Winchester, Indiana, president of Tri State Collie Rescue, says Collies are Velcro dogs that want to be with their humans at all times. “I personally like this, but some people may not,” Depman-Beuchat says. “I call walking in my house ‘Wading through the Doglantic Ocean.'”
Collies are so sensitive and attuned to their humans, that they may actually become quite distraught when their family is troubled. “Because the Collie has such a sensitive personality, it does not thrive in stressful environments,” says Cathy Schmidt of Woodland Hills, California, owner of Gina, who is the daughter of Lassie VIII.
“Collies feed off their people’s emotions,” Schmidt adds. “If you are angry or acting unpredictably, the Collie’s immediate health can suffer. It’s not unusual to see a Collie exhibit signs of an upset digestive system if it’s stressed due to uncomfortable circumstances with its owner.”
Catherine Lewis of Wichita, Kansas, owner of two Collies, experienced this extreme sensitivity firsthand with her male, Laddie. “Once, I got mad at him for barking, and for the next few days I wondered if he was sick. He was sick — at heart — and I had to coax him back to his fun-loving, carefree self. His sensitivity is evident with his love of everything. He even likes and protects our cats,” Lewis says.
Because they are so attuned to humans, they seem to almost read minds, or at least body language. Deandra Pitzer of Tucson, Arizona, believes Collies watch the way their owners greet people. “If you welcome someone into your home, the Collie will keep a watchful eye out, but is easy going. When you begin to act defensively, it does, too. Collies are good judges of character,” Pitzer says.
The Collie is a highly trainable and versatile breed, and the many Lassies are a testament to that. Monika L. Hole of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, has successfully performed in obedience, agility, tracking, herding, many areas of draft work, scenting (search and rescue [SAR]) and lurecoursing with her Collies. Two of her Collies even hunt, and all of them are highly accomplished.
Koi has learned to let us know when raccoons are in the henhouse. Then he trails them and trees them for us, Hole says. Our foster dog, Rusty, points turkeys, and I will be working on quail hunting with him at some time in the future. Cooper was taught to recognize gas smells while training for SAR work. When I developed a gas leak at the connection to my dryer, he was able to show me the problem and probably saved us from a disaster, Hole says.
Michelle Tennis of Bit O Heaven Collies in Brandon, Wisconsin, owner of 10 rough and smooth Collies, obedience trains all her dogs. One day, they were all running in the yard when two of her females got into a tiff. I grabbed them both and told each tosit, then said stay to one and stay to the other, Tennis says.
I stood in front of them with my arms crossed, Tennis adds. It suddenly seemed very quiet. I looked around the yard and all of my obedience-trained dogs were in a sit-stay and the pups were just standing still. I wish someone had been there to take a video. I then said okay, which is their key word to go back to whatever they were doing, and all at once they just started playing again, Tennis says.
Though training a Collie is easy if you know what you’re doing, they are not like some dogs that will follow commands without thinking. Collies are too brainy and creative to just follow the leader, especially if they think the leader is condescending to them. Collies will often work for no more than a, That’s my good girl! or a hug, Schmidt says. They enjoy consistency but not constant repetitions. They can become bored easily if not challenged. Consistency with training doesn’t mean that you have to do the same routine in the same order each time. Mix it up!
Darlene Kerr of Kerhaven Collies in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, says Collies are logical and smart enough to understand when they’ve done their assigned tasks well. Constant repetition will lead to improvising on behalf of the Collie, Kerr says.
Collies are not servile by nature. They do not workforyou butwithyou in partnership, Kerr adds. The hardest part about training a Collie is not the initial training, but maintaining interest once the dog has learned its lessons. If you want a dog that will fetch an object 20 times in a row with the same enthusiasm it displayed the first time you threw it, get a retriever!
Because Collies pick up tasks easily, housetraining is generally a breeze. Wyatt came home when he was 16 weeks old and never had an accident in the house. It was as if he just knew, says Melissa Susko of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He picks up new commands immediately and does best with short, frequent training sessions. He likes training to be fun and positive and rewarding. I hardly ever use treats when training him because he likes to do it just for the verbal and physical praise, Susko says.
Quite the Character
Theres no denying that, above all, Collies have personality. They wouldn’t be one of Americas most beloved breeds if they didn’t. Big personality can lead to some pretty funny moments. I once bought some Garfield slippers, and Spiffin decided they were his, Dunlap says. If I put them on he would follow me around trying to pull them off my feet. When I took them off, he would carry them around in his mouth. I finally gave them to him. I could tell him to go find Garfie and he would bring me one of the slippers.
Caren Salisbury, an obedience instructor from Warner Robins, Georgia, also has a Collie with a penchant for human objects. Ticket has a habit of moving things, Salisbury says. He had been with us about two weeks when I bought a new vacuum. After spending 20 minutes putting it together, I plugged it in and went back to try it out. I pushed the button and it wouldn’t start. I grumbled a bit and tried to figure out what the problem was, until it occurred to me that Ticket may have had something to do with it. Sure enough, he had unplugged the cord and dropped it in the kitchen, Salisbury says.
Collies aren’t generally hunters, but heaven help the animal that gets on the bad side of a Collie. Debbie Jones of Fort Worth, Texas, says that her Collie, Tuffy, got in a tussle with a raccoon one night when he was sleeping beneath the house. Tuffy was yelping, we were yelling, and the raccoon ran away. Tuffy wasn’t badly hurt, but he never forgot that raccoon, Jones says. He was gentle with all other animals, but he was death on raccoons. Local hunters would stop by our house to ask if Tuffy could go with them and their pack of Redbone Coonhounds. He had quite a reputation as a coon hunter, she says.
People often wonder if dogs understand what they’re really doing at a dog show, why they’re there in front of the crowd. Well, Carol P. Minden of Jenks, Oklahoma, knows that her Collies are well aware of why they’re on display. Pepper gets jealous because he thinks showing should be about him, Minden says.
At one show, I took another dog and spent time with her on the grooming table, making a general fuss. The next morning Pepper had an obedience trial. I guess he was still mad at me for ignoring him the day before, because when it came time for the heel off lead exercise he stayed put when I gave the command. He was going to let me do the entire pattern by myself while he sat at the beginning with a big smirk on his face. That day I fussed over him while I was grooming him, and later, at the final obedience trial he did just great, Minden says.
Most people think of Collies as upstanding canine citizens and even heroes, but Elisabeth Natasha Roeysland of Ramnes, Norway, has three rough Collies that are a little on the shady side. My three are big thieves, Roeysland says. When I take them with me into dog shops, I can guarantee that they have stolen something by the time we leave.
Pass the Kleenex, Please
No article about Collie temperament would be complete without a few tearjerker stories. Break out the tissues.
Schmidt and her Collie, Gina, performed in a play in their community calledDreams DO Come True, the story of a little girl with a big dream and how Lassie helps her dream come true. By the time the presentation is through, there are usually some wet eyes in the audience, Schmidt says. As we walked off the stage to go down into the audience for our meet and greet, Gina pulled on her leash. This was unusual since she’s trained to stay by my side. I corrected her with a gentle tug on the leash but she was persistent, Schmidt says.
Realizing that she was on a mission, I allowed her to press on and I followed quickly behind, Schmidt adds. Suddenly, Gina stopped and sat. I looked down to see her sitting directly in front of an older woman in a wheelchair. The woman was quietly crying. Gina placed her head on the womans lap, Schmidt says. As the elderly woman stroked the top of Ginas head, she smiled and said, Oh Gina, I heard you were going to be here today and I came all the way across town just to meet you. The woman continued to carry on a whole conversation with Gina, and it was almost as though there was no one else in the room except the two of them. Gina looked up and kissed the tears from the womans cheeks, then allowed her to give a big Collie hug. I learned later that the woman had once owned a Collie and that was why she came to see Gina, Schmidt adds.
But Collies aren’t just nurturing and empathic–they can be ferociously protective too. One day, Marla Belzowski of LegendHold Collies in Rootstown, Ohio, was alone at a rest area in the mountains with her Collie, Wolfie, and his mother, a tricolored rough named Mauii Nikki Belzowski, CDX, VC, CGC, TDI. Suddenly, five extremely drunken men appeared.
My two Collies stood between me and the men, who would not let me get back to my car, Belzowski says. Wolfie was never trained to do this. He just charged out at the end of his lead when these guys started to circle me yelling vulgar and lewd comments. He had his ruff coat up making him look huge, and he showed all his teeth and growled very deep in his chest to let them know he meant business. I knew I was in a bad situation, and had he not been there to push the men back, I may have been another statistic.
Collies are indeed well-known for protecting their humans, but what about creatures they don’t even know? One day, Kerrs female Collie, Copper, was playing with one of her male Collies, Cheyenne, in the yard. Copper began to behave strangely, driving Cheyenne furiously away from a particular spot in the yard.
Copper immediately returned to this area and began to sniff at something hidden in the grass. When Cheyenne attempted to approach, she faced him with bared teeth and a warning growl. She then began to pace up and down a few feet from this point of interest in the grass. I walked over to see what it was and she quickly fell in beside me while tossing Cheyenne another stay back look. She seemed eager to show me her treasure, Kerr says.
There I discovered a baby robin, Kerr explains. I quickly picked the tiny bird up and replaced it in the nest with its other siblings. A moment later she was again inviting the slightly baffled young male to romp with her.
Are you done dabbing your eyes yet? As you can see, the Collie earns its reputation as a protector, hero and loyal helpmate. It even goes above and beyond all of those roles as a defender of helpless creatures and a comfort to those who are suffering. This remarkable breed definitely deserves its mythic status, but to those living with Collies, they are less myth than they are much-loved companions.