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Can a Border Collie Be a Guard Dog?

Border Collie lying in straw

Border Collies are known as one of the smartest dog breeds, but can they be a guard dog in addition to being an excellent obedience dog and agility dog? I found many breed ranking lists where Border Collies were number one for intelligence, but only one that listed them among the best guard dog breeds. We are going to take a look at why that is.

A watchdog’s job is to be vigilant and sound an alarm for anything out of the ordinary in their environment; something Border Collies are very capable of doing. However, a guard dog takes it one step further by attacking or restraining the intruder; Border Collies usually do not do that. While they might be good watchdogs, typically, they do not make good guard dogs.

Let’s see how a Border Collie’s natural instincts align with the requirements of a guard dog versus a watchdog.

Border collie herding sheep

The Border Collie originated in Northumberland, which is located on the border of England and Scotland. Although these dogs had been used for herding sheep in that area for hundreds of years prior, it was not until 1915 that the term “Border Collie” was used to refer to them. The name came about naturally because of their location on the border of England and Scotland. They are a medium-sized dog, usually ranging between 30 and 50 pounds, and they are extremely intelligent, agile, and active. Early Border Collie breeders focused on developing their strong instinct to work closely with the shepherds to gather large flocks of sheep and return them to the shepherd. To do that job, they must have incredible stamina and vigilance and be able to control the sheep without harming them. Vigilance is a crucial trait in both a watchdog and a guard dog, as the dog must quickly notice the rising threat in order to ward it off.

However, the instinct of not harming the stock is strong in a Border Collie, so although they will typically bark at intruders, they will rarely attack them if not trained to do so.

Will A Border Collie Protect You?

Border Collies tend to bond very closely with the people in their family, but even with proper socialization, they are often reserved with strangers. They are a breed that generally uses their voice freely – they will bark when they are excited, bored, stressed, fearful, or playful. So, if a stranger approaches your yard, it is likely that your Border Collie will bark to alert you. However, it will then be your job to take over. They are not a breed that is quick to escalate from alarm barking to attacking.

When working sheep, the Border Collie controls the flock mostly by circling them and staring intently at the sheep (known as “giving eye”). If the sheep do not do as the dog wishes, he will escalate his technique by stalking them or chasing them. If there is a particularly stubborn sheep that still does not comply with the dog’s wishes, they may even bite (known as “gripping” stock) the sheep. However, that bite is not meant to harm the sheep; it is merely a more forceful way for the dog to get his point across to the sheep. You can see that this style of escalating force would not be useful in the case of an intruder, as an intruder would have plenty of time to harm the dog before the dog resorted to biting.

Barking Border Collie

So, to answer the question of whether a Border Collie will protect you or not, that depends on the level of protection you need. In many cases, a barking and growling dog is enough deterrent that a would-be thief or assailant may very well move on to an easier target that does not have a dog. Should your crouched down, staring, barking Border Collie not be enough to send them away, your dog may bite them if they continue to approach. However, that bite would most likely not cause as much damage as a bite from a Rottweiler or Doberman. Remember, a Border Collie’s instinct is to simply make their wishes known, not cause severe damage to the sheep – and therefore, that instinct is likely to transfer to this situation as well. They want to make the intruder go away, not injure them. But we do know Border Collies are extremely intelligent and can be trained to do almost anything. So, with extensive training, one might be able to be trained to attack a human. However, some liabilities come with that type of training.

Should You Train Your Border Collie to Be A Guard Dog?

Before we answer this question, we need to clarify the term “Guard Dog.” Wikipedia states, “A guard dog or watchdog (not to be confused with an attack dog) is a dog used to guard property against, and watch for, unwanted or unexpected human or animal intruders.” Still, there are different terms used for the various “guarding” jobs of dogs.

  • WatchDog: This is a dog that alerts to unusual people or activity in their environment – that alert is usually barking or growling.
  • Guard Dog: This is a dog that will bark or growl at unusual people in his environment, but he is also capable of attacking or restraining people or animals quickly if they do not retreat.
  • Sentry Dog: A sentry dog is similar to a guard dog, but they generally guard a particular area and therefore tend to work with less human direction.
  • Personal Protection Dog: This is another type of guard dog, but his job is to protect a moving target (his person) and, therefore, must have a strong bond with the person he is guarding. These dogs require extra training to ensure they can distinguish between friend and foe.
  • Attack Dog: These dogs are generally only used in law enforcement situations. Not only are they trained in all of the above jobs, but they are also taught to disarm an intruder should that intruder have a weapon.

Asking your Border Collie (or any breed of dog) to be anything more than a watchdog carries a lot of liability with it. A dog owner may be held liable for any injury their dog causes, especially if the owner knew the dog might act aggressively. And the risks of this type of training are way too high to attempt training your dog on your own without a professional’s assistance, not to mention the fact that an armed intruder is no match for your dog. You are much better off appreciating the natural watchdog that your Border Collie is and relying on things such as locks, alarm systems, and law enforcement to deal with anyone that is not deterred by your barking dog.

Do Border Collies Make Good Watch Dogs?

Border Collies have several breed traits that make them naturally good watchdogs. They are intelligent, loyal, and affectionate. They are also a highly observant breed. While vigilance is essential for watchdogs, you do not want your dog to be hypervigilant and bark at everything it sees. For a Border Collie to be a good watchdog, it should be well-rounded with a balanced temperament and be able to discern between a threat and something that is just new in their environment.

Border collie lying behind a person keeping watch.

Since Border Collies are often one-person dogs, it is essential to socialize them at a young age. You want them comfortable with strangers and not fear them. Most dogs do not begin territorial barking until they are nine months to 3 years old, and Border Collies tend to mature a little slower than some other breeds – they can easily take 2-3 years to reach full maturity. Most barking that puppies do before reaching maturity is out of fear and should be discouraged. Teach your pup that strangers are kind or, at the very least, neutral. You want to spend the first year or so building up his confidence so that when he is an adult, he will be able to recognize an actual threat. A dog lacking in confidence will assume everything is a threat, and that is not something you want from a watchdog or any dog for that matter. If you socialize your dog correctly and build up his confidence, you have a better chance of your Border Collie naturally becoming a watchdog.

The answer to the question, can a Border Collie be a guard dog is not a simple yes or no. It is likely that with a lot of training, you could train your Border Collie to be a guard dog, but it is not instinctual to them. It is also essential to think about the liability that comes with having a dog you know will bite someone – and is it fair to put the responsibility of protecting you on your dog? You will likely have a much happier dog, and possibly save yourself from a lawsuit, if you instead enjoy your Border Collie as a companion and allow him to be a natural watchdog for you.

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