When it comes to bringing an animal into your home, it's often the case that our hearts rule our head. Sometimes that lack of knowledge and experience of caring for a particular species/breed can be a rude awakening and the romanticised picture of how things will be in our head diminishes. I have mentioned my Border Collies Meg and Bella in previous posts and spoken of some of the issues we have faced, today i want to give a bit more detail of the hardships we encountered with our oldest Meg who is 8. We were so adamant on having this particular breed that we didn't stop to think if it was the right thing to do, don't get me wrong, we absolutely adore her but we had to learn a lot of things over the years, things we maybe should have considered from the start.
Firstly its worth noting that Meg left her mother too early, she was born on a farm to working dogs and was living out in the barn. Her conditions were not ideal and the breeder was not particularly interested in keeping her any longer. We feared for her health and so my partner and his family decided to bring her home, as you can see here she is absolutely tiny, around 6-7 weeks.
It has been said that bringing a pup away from their mother too soon can result in lasting behavioural issues. A study in Italy and reported in "Veterinary Record" source took 140 puppies, half were taken away from their families at 30-40 days and the other half stayed with their families for 60 days, the study showed that the half taken away before 60 days were significantly more likely to develop behavioural problems and while genetics of course play a part in this, experience and environment are also large contributors. For example, bite Inhibition is something that puppies tend to learn from mothers and siblings when they play too rough or bite to hard, taking the puppies away too early can prevent this being taught and with Meg, this would be something she would often inflict on us when she was young as she had never been told what was too much and so we had to teach her ourselves, ignoring the behaviour or making a high pitch squeal are things we tried as she learned that playtime stopped when the biting happened.
Separation anxiety and high stress levels are also a common occurrence, Meg is an extremely clingy dog to us and often shows signs of sadness if she is away from us for too long (this is not very often). A lot of times she will not eat her food properly until we arrive home and that can just be on a regular day when one of us is out for a few hours.
When we first brought her home, i was not living with my partner and his family but i was there most days, back then we worked shifts so there was always someone in the house to keep Meg stimulated and @amavi spent most of the time teaching her tricks and obedience, something which she has always excelled in due to the intelligent nature of the breed. This was one of the reasons that we wanted a Collie.
The first 1-2 years were very difficult, while she would pick up tricks and commands easily, she often chose not to follow them. She learnt our change in movement on walks when we would want her to come back to be leaded and she would run in the opposite direction to the far end of the field or just to another person with a dog, luckily she never ran away or into a busy area as she was usually taken to the fields or the beach, but this was one particular period that caused no end of stress. She wasn't a really chewy dog, but there were instances where she would destroy items (if i remember rightly, shoes were a popular chew toy). Combined with the biting and the selective disobedience, we began to ask ourselves if we had made a huge mistake, we wondered if we were naive to think that we could provide a suitable home for a dog that required so much stimulation both physically and mentally. After she had been spayed however, her behaviour changed dramatically towards us, and she became much more obedient and wanted positive reinforcement for her actions.
When you think of intelligent dogs you would be forgiven in thinking that it will be easy to train them and therefore they will be the best dogs, that was definitely a deciding factor with the breed we chose, but the biggest thing we overlooked was that Border Collies are bred as working dogs, they can go for miles and miles and not even be remotely tired. These are not the type of dogs you can go to work all day every day and leave at home and then come back and walk them round the block. While there are a couple of days a week where she may be alone a little longer than we would like, fortunately my partner can work from home most of the time. As well as taking her out for a good run, just being there is a huge comfort.
We learned that visual stimulation was also crucial, while she is anxious by nature, Meg is quite the explorer, she loves to see and smell new things, her favourite place is the beach or the lake where she can play in the water, this is also good for her joints which she has suffered with over recent years.
Even though we may not have been fully prepared for how challenging bringing up a puppy from such a young age would be, we learnt how to cope, picked up on our mistakes and today Meg is a beautiful and loving dog. We may have made an extra fuss over her which has made her quite the princess but I believe some of her traits are indeed down to being removed from her mother too early, especially the fact that she has never fully interacted with other dogs or shown a great deal of interest, i think this is because she was one of the last pups left of the litter so most of her siblings were gone even earlier than her. Other traits are just genetics, Meg has never done a days work in her life but the behaviour is embedded , she stalks and circles without even knowing why. Her own personal experiences with vets combined with the separation anxiety have resulted in her being wary of new people, however if they are seen by her regularly she lets her guard down slightly. Over the past few months we have seen her being much more placid with people and other dogs out on walks, whereas before she would growl if they got too close. She is now impassive which is the best we can ask for.
I know this may all sound like i am painting my experience in a negative light and that is not my intention, we would be utterly lost without Meg, she is more intelligent than we could of ever imagined and the love we have for each other is unconditional. I wanted to give a personal and honest account of the things we encountered, and why i think it is so important that if it can be helped, puppies are kept with their mother and siblings for at least the first 8 weeks of their lives and that research into the breed including common medical conditions are considered. After getting our second Collie, Bella who was a rescue at 4 months old i will now always adopt before i shop, even if the dog is not a puppy and has already learned its own ways, research/experience in the breed is still a huge advantage, Bella in personality is totally different than Meg but we were much more prepared from having seen some of the common behaviours of the breed before.
Thanks for reading, comments and upvotes are much appreciated.