Why Does My Border Collie Nip



If you own a Border Collie, you know that there is no other breed quite like them. Tremendously intelligent, easy to train, and spirited workers, they possess all the traits a fun dog should have. But the Border Collie is more than just a dog who excels at herding sheep or participating in dog performance sports. They are uniquely suited to family life because of their affectionate, loyal nature. But Border Collies are high drive dogs. Because of this, they require daily physical and mental stimulation to exercise their bodies and brains. Without it, they are prone to creating their own fun. Unfortunately, their idea of fun and yours rarely coincide. 

The only "fun" element to your Border Collie creating his own things to do is trying to guess which room will bear the brunt of his destruction this time. However, sometimes a bored Border Collie will include you and your family in his plans for a good time. If you have ever experienced your Border Collie rapidly circling you and your children while nipping at your heels to keep you in position, you understand that it's not a great idea to leave your dog to his own devices.

The Root of the Behavior

While many love the dashing good looks of the Border Collie, few families are up to the task of owning such a driven breed. Bred to herd sheep and other livestock, the Border Collie possesses intense stamina and boundless energy reserves. They are purposefully bred dogs intended for a specific job. Though Border Collies have assumed a position as a family favorite breed, their desire to work has remained unchanged. Because of this, a Border Collie needs to have a job to do. Since most homes don't come equipped with livestock for herding, savvy owners must provide means for their Border Collie to expend their physical and mental energies positively. Border Collies are not a breed that are suited to sedentary living. People who think they will bring a Border Collie into their family and train the dog to fit their lifestyle are in for a rude awakening. You adjust your life to fit the Border Collie, not vice versa. In such high drive dogs, their needs must be met otherwise disaster can ensue. For Border Collies, one of the prime nuisance behaviors you may encounter is nipping. Why do Border Collies nip? During the Border Collie's early years in Great Britain under Roman rule, breeders sought to produce a dog that would provide the perfect blend of desirable traits in a herding dog.

Among the most highly prized characteristics include vocalizations, strategic body positioning, and heel nipping. All of these activities were designed to move the livestock into the correct location then maintain it. Border Collies of today do this instinctively. It is hardwired into them. If you find your Border Collie using any of these methods on you or your family, your dog is simply doing what comes naturally to him. Author Kevin Winslet explains the Border Collie's penchant for nipping in this manner, “When a Border Collie is moving a herd, he or she will commonly nip [at] the heels and hindquarters of animals to get things going. This habit can still be present in a Border Collie even if he or she has never been anywhere near a farm.” Yet herding instincts are not the sole reason for nipping behaviors in Border Collies. Some dogs nip because they are seeking attention. Puppies learn early on to use their mouths to explore their world. When playing with their littermates, they begin to learn bite inhibition. Rough play is discouraged by sharp rebukes and a refusal to re-engage in play. As a result, a puppy quickly learns that if he wants to play, he needs to temper the strength of his bite. 

Encouraging the Behavior

But if you carefully watch puppies interacting, you will notice that they often nip each other in a gentle fashion to initiate a play session. This behavior can sometimes translate to their relationships with their humans. A dog who is feeling ignored may nip a person to gain their attention. Sadly, because dogs often don't realize their own strength, this can result in what is considered a bite when in essence there was no malicious intent behind it at all. Border Collies will occasionally nip to let you know they are feeling neglected and want some one on one time with you. Some Border Collies will nip out of boredom. If your dog's physical and mental exercise needs are not met on a daily basis, he will take matters into his own paws, and you won't like what he comes up with, guaranteed. If your Border Collie is trying to engage you in what he has decided to do, he may nip your hands or your feet to communicate to you that your participation is required. When a dog is over exuberant, their nips can be carry more weight than they normally would, and it can be painful. To alleviate this problem, it is important to decide ahead of time how you will channel your Border Collie's energies to reduce nuisance behaviors such as nipping. 

Under socialized Border Collies may not understand appropriate uses for their mouths. Because of this, they may tend to nip as a response to all sorts of stimuli including fear. A dog that is exhibiting fearful tendencies may attempt a nip to keep the object he is afraid of at bay. For dogs who did not experience the proper amount of socialization during the critical first 12 weeks of life, it will be important to gently introduce them to the world around them to show them that things aren't the threat that they think them to be. To do this effectively, it is important to progress extremely slowly, allowing your dog to set the pace for what he is ready for. Since desensitization and counterconditioning are sophisticated training techniques, it is best to consult a professional behavior modification specialist who can assist you with formulating a strategy to help your fearful Border Collie learn that the world is not such a scary place after all. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

It is important to bear in mind that nipping is an instinctual behavior for the Border Collie. Nipping at the heels of sheep was an effective means to gather them in the same area. This was never meant to harm the livestock; in fact, quite the opposite. The sheep were best protected when herded together in one location. In the absence of sheep to herd, your Border Collie will attempt to fulfill his natural instincts other ways. This can include nipping at all kinds of different things including other animals, humans, and even moving objects such as bicycles and vehicles. If it moves, your Border Collie may attempt to herd it. This is very normal behavior for the breed. Though you will never completely remove an instinctual behavior from a breed that is predisposed to it, there are things that you can do to curb the behavior. Appropriate daily physical activity will go a long way to helping your Border Collie experience satisfaction. 

As a dog with a job to do and vast energy resources to expand, your Border Collie needs to be active to be happy. If you are unable to fulfill this requirement yourself, you would be wise to consider sending your Border Collie to a reputable doggy daycare or hiring a dog walker to give your dog the opportunity to stretch his legs and experience a new environment if only for a little while. A tired Border Collie is far less likely to be a nipping Border Collie. Equally important is mental engagement. To keep your Border Collie's brain and body engaged, consider purchasing some puzzle toys. By nature, puzzle toys create a lengthier diversion for highly intelligent dogs to solve. This appeals greatly to the Border Collie. In addition to puzzle toys, add a large variety of toys, chews, bones, and Kongs to your toy box to provide the utmost in selection. To maintain interest level, rotate toys out on a daily basis to give your Border Collie something fun to look forward to.


Does your Border Collie nip? If so, yours is not the only one. Nipping is an instinctual behavior for Border Collies. Unfortunately, it is also one that is not socially acceptable, and it can cause us unnecessary grief. To help prevent nipping, ensure your Border Collie receives regular physical and mental stimulation on a daily basis. Your Border Collie will thank you for it!