Friday, January 29, 2016

Border Collies Aren't Apartment Pets?

Recently, I saw another list about the dog breeds you think you want but probably shouldn't get. Every time I see one of these lists or lists about the worst apartment dogs, border collies are always on the list. There are a lot of myths out there about our lives with pets and the idea that a border collie can't live in an apartment is one that really gets to me. I understand where it comes from--border collies are active dogs that need a lot of physical and mental exercise and with apartments, there is limited space and rarely a yard.

But when every single list that that circulates on the internet labels border collies as bad apartment pets, some really great dogs run the risk of missing out on life with some really great people simply because those people happen to live in apartments.

What these lists should really say is that border collies aren't pets for inactive families. I've heard of rescues and shelters denying applications for herding dogs because the applicants live in apartments. Luckily for me and Barley, when I went to our local shelter, they were so overcrowded and so understaffed that nobody called my landlord or my vet to make sure I was a fit adopter for Barley, so when I fell in love with her, I had nothing to worry about.

Border collies and other herding dogs need jobs and exercise, or they get destructive or hurt themselves, but that doesn't mean that they need a lot of space. Barley, Soth, and I live in a two-bedroom apartment, but Barley and I spend a lot of time training, hiking, walking, and playing, so I don't think Barley's missing out on anything a dog, even a herding dog, needs by living in an apartment.

In five years of sharing an apartment with a border collie mix, I've come across several reasons that border collies make great apartment pets.


Border collies are smart and love to learn. Apartments can be places with a lot of distractions. You share walls (and depending on the apartment, sometimes ceilings and floors) with other people. You hear a lot of things: televisions, voices, vacuums, dishes clanking against the edge of the sink, other dogs barking. Barley and I have done a lot of reaction to distraction training and she catches on quickly. If she seems interested in a noise coming from the other side of the wall, it's not hard to redirect her with a verbal command and a reward. While barking dogs tend to be one of Barley's triggers, when one of our neighbors got a dog and we started hearing the occasional bark, Barley caught on very quickly when I turned to our previous training. I also placed her crate against the wall farthest from any shared walls in the apartment so that when I'm gone and can't remind her to ignore noises, she's farther away from the distractions. Our previous neighbors told me that they never would have known I had a dog if they hadn't seen me out with her. Nobody wants to live next to a dog that barks all day and if a person is willing to put forth the effort to train the dog not to react to the noises that come from shared space, a border collie is an excellent candidate for that training.

A steady supply of rewards keeps Barley focused on me and not the noise next door.

Border collies like to keep an eye on their "flock." Soth and I are Barley's flock. Anyone who comes into our home becomes a temporary flock member. Barley wants to keep an eye on all of and make sure we're all safe and we're all where we're supposed to be. Barley doesn't need a huge house because that would impede her ability to keep an eye on us. Even if Barley hangs out in one of the other rooms, she positions herself where she can see out the door and keep an eye on my movements. When we visit my parents, who live in a 4-bedroom, multi-story house, Barley stays in living room or kitchen where most people congregate or she hangs out in the open space on the second floor where she can look down into the living room. An apartment makes it easy for a border collie to keep their flock safe because there's less territory to patrol.

From here, I can keep an eye on everyone.

Border collies like team activities. Border collies and other herding dogs were bred to work with humans to take care of livestock. They like activities that let them work with their people. Even though I'm on a mission to make 2016 the year Barley gets a yard, I know she won't enjoy that yard unless I'm doing something with her. When we visit my parents, Barley prefers to be inside with me rather than out in their fenced yard. If I let her out, she might wander around and sniff for a minute, but the second I head back in, she's right on my heels. She's not the type of dog that wants to explore alone or will run around on her own. If there's a squirrel on the deck, she wants out to chase it, but as soon as it escapes the yard, she wants back in. She'll play outside in the yard if I throw a ball for her or get out her tunnel or a jump, but if I'm not involved in her outdoor activities, she doesn't want to be outdoors. She's much happier going to agility class or doing noseworks or going for a hike than she is when she's just hanging out in the yard.

Yards are great, but only if we can play together.

Border collies are smart and energetic, so people should do research before adding one to their lives. I have no problem with lists pointing out border collies aren't easy dogs. But border collies aren't automatically bad apartments pets. Not every person who lives in an apartment should have a border collie, but that doesn't mean that nobody who lives in an apartment should. If you're willing to put in the time and effort to keep your border collie's mind and body working, border collies can become great apartment pets.

Sidenote: Thank you to To Dog With Love and Paw5 and everyone else who was involved in the Paw5 Twitter Launch Party where we won a Rock 'N Bowl, which just adds to the enrichment Barley gets in her apartment life!





11 comments:

  1. I think she is perfectly happy in her apartment :) Fingers crossed you guys get a yard to play in soon!

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    1. We can't wait for her cousin to be able to come hang out in our yard, so hopefully that's soon!

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  2. This is such a great point! I'm guessing that people add border collies to their non-apartment lists because some people might not be committed to making sure they get lots of daily exercise and challenges. You're right, they should change that to specify the activity level of the family and the amount of time they can devote to their dog.

    You're a great role model for border collie owners!

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    1. Thank you! I totally get how they end up on those lists, but I hate the thought of people missing out on a great dog if they have an apartment since it's so much more about the lifestyle than the type of home.

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  3. Good for you for sticking up for your Border Collie. Don't worry about those lists. Most of them are just basically copied from other sites and rewritten.

    Congrats on winning btw. We're keeping an eye out for more enrichment toys and this one is on the short list.

    p.s. - I agree with Chasing Dog Tales, you're a great role model for Border Collie owners.

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    1. Thank you! And we love the Rock 'N Bowl! It doesn't take Barley very long to empty it--but part of that is because Barley insists she hasn't eaten if she doesn't eat out of her regular bowl, so she gets half in her regular bowl and half in her Rock 'N Bowl. It definitely makes her approach eating differently, so we love that!

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  4. It seems a lot of these lists include way too many generalizations whereas each person's situation can be different. I also think that shelters/rescues may sometimes need to be a bit more flexible in their requirements so that more pets can find homes. I think you made some great points here, and that border collies definitely need active families, not necessarily families that own homes. Those are really two completely separate things!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. Yes! The generalizations kill me. I think no matter what kind of dog someone wants, they have to really think about how the dog fits with their lifestyle. I love the way French Bulldogs look (and snore), but I know their cute little smooshy faces don't make them good candidates for long walks and agility, so they don't really fit with what my life is like right now. It just makes me sad to think about how Barley might have been in the shelter even longer if anyone had paid attention to my address on the application.

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  5. We believe any dog can be an apartment dog, from a Doberman, to a Yorkie. As long as the dog gets plenty of exercise and stimulation, there is no issue. Mom had a Lab/Newf mix and a Kuvasz together in one apt. and there was never a problem.

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  6. I agree with Emma - any dog can make a great apartment pet - it's all up to the human to properly exercise and train them.

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  7. You are spot on & you're doing a fabulous job at keeping Barley entertained & engaged!

    We used to live at an apartment complex when the puppies came to live with us at 8 weeks of age, and one of our neighbors (& now friends) raised her Australian Shepherd Shade in her 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment.

    She did a fabulous job going on early morning backpack walks, weekend hikes, bike rides, rollerblading tours, and started doing agility with him once he was old enough.

    Another neighbor lived in a 2 bed, 2 bath apartment along with her 2 Border Collies, also without any problems whatsoever...she as well exercised them throughly every single day, and did competitive Disc Dog with them!

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