Teaching Your Beardie Manners

by Nona Horsley

I see you, but you can't see me!

“What I have learned about Beardies” should probably be the name of this overview of the Bearded Collie. I am by no means an expert on the breed, but I have been owned by two of them, three if I count my daughter’s, and I do have what some people think is an oxymoron: a Beardie with a Utility title. My purpose is to acquaint you with the very special Beardie temperament and some of its needs. Bearded Collies are very bright, but, since they are herding dogs, they are also independent thinkers. After all, their job is to get those sheep where they were supposed to go without a human standing next to them. They may think their way of doing something is better than yours. They might also think they do not have to do what you tell them.

Training can bore them if it is not fun and if different methods are not utilized. Friendly and outgoing dogs, they can be easily distracted and would, perhaps, rather visit with the dog or person across the room than focus on you. They seem to know that they are cute and may try to manipulate you. Sometimes their desire to please isn’t as great as their desire to play. Translation: they can be stubborn. When they know they are the center of attention, they can put on quite a show. As anyone who owns a Beardie knows, “Ham” is their middle name. Beardies tend to be fun-loving, cheerful, happy dogs who like nearly everyone. But they are unique. I would never find my Briard sleeping in the bathtub, but I might find my Beardie there.

In order to have a well-adjusted outgoing dog, I can’t emphasize enough how important early socialization and play are. Whether you want to show your dog in conformation, obedience, agility, or whether you simply want a well-adjusted and loving companion, your pup should be exposed to all kinds of situations, noises, people, and other dogs. This socialization should begin as soon as you get your puppy and should continue for its entire adult life.

Taking your Beardie everywhere with you both in the car and by foot and visiting all dog friends who will allow your pup in the house will ensure that you won’t have a shy or fearful dog who jumps or runs away whenever there is a loud noise or unusual situation. Getting your dog used to being around other dogs in a variety of situations is also important. Meeting another dog on a walk should be a pleasure not an ordeal. This early socialization will also prepare your pup for other dogs in the ring at a dog show. Taking a puppy obedience class is especially helpful in this early socialization, for part of the class always includes time for puppies to play with one another and to learn acceptable behavior with other dogs.

Your dog also must learn to cope with a variety of distractions and noises such as grocery carts (think about handlers dragging crates by when you are in the ring or the remodeling next door), crowds of people (think about spectators right outside the ring when you are trying to get your dog to focus on you or you and your dog at a soccer game). A well socialized dog will consider the sound of a lawn mower or vacuum as a normal part of life not as something frightening. The sound of a car backfiring won’t send it into the next county. Deliberately and calmly get your dog used to as many everyday sounds as you can think of. The back yard or kennel is, of course, not the place for this to happen. Your Beardie will thrive on new people and places, for they are naturally curious. Your Beardie will love the family reunion picnic or the soccer game if it has been conditioned to noises and crowds when it was a pup.

Take your dog to malls, grocery parking lots, PETsMART, school playgrounds, soccer games, friends’ homes. Be creative and take your pup to different places at least three times a week. The trip doesn’t have to be something special. It might simply be to the library, but the dog is with you. Letting it out of the car and getting it used to a different environment takes just a few minutes. Encourage interaction with people that you meet along the way. (It is a rare human who can resist a Beardie!) I carry a fanny pack filled with treats and encourage petting and allow people to offer my dog a treat. At the same time I can begin to teach puppy manners such as not jumping on the person. I also begin here to teach sitting for the treat. The more experiences the dog has the more stable it will be.

Because the Beardie is such an intelligent dog, it should be easy to train, right? Not necessarily. Remember, the Beardie is also an independent thinker. And, like so many of the students I teach, it just wants to have fun. Most Beardies do not like to be wrong and may shut down if they can’t get an exercise right and don’t know what you want them to do. This may appear as stubbornness, but it may be either that they don’t quite understand the exercise or that they are insufficiently motivated. Standard motivators are food and/or toy, praise, and play. You must decide how much and which combination of methods work best for your dog. Just as we get tired of the same old food night after night, a Beardie may perk up if offered a variety of treats (not all at once of course) such as chicken, liver, cheese, or rollover. Just as important as food in motivation is play. Get your dog used to a little rough housing. Play with its feet, tickle its tummy, blow in its nose, play tug of war with a rope toy. Run with it, play hide and seek. Use your imagination. Your Beardie will develop a gleam in its eye that you will find irresistible. It is your responsibility to make training fun and exciting. You must practice, no matter how dull you feel you are, on being the most fun and exciting and important thing in its life.

Beardies are very sensitive dogs and quickly pick up their owners’ moods. If your Beardie knows you are getting angry or even mildly irritated during training, it may shut down. Body language, as well as the voice, tells your dog what you are thinking. Be patient and positive. If you are getting angry, stop the exercise. On the other hand, a Beardie may push you as far as you will push. Firmness and fairness are the two “f” words I believe in. Instead of nagging your dog with either a voice or a series of little corrections, one firm (not harsh or hard) correction given with authority may be all you need to let her know who is boss. However, because Beardies have excellent memories and a keenly developed sense of fair play, I would err on the side of positive methods rather than negative ones if possible. If reserved for those times when you know your Beardie is taking advantage of you, the negative ones will then be more effective.

Playing fetching games with your pup using a Frisbee, ball, soft toy–anything to get your pup to chase the object and bring it back to you– is great exercise and teaches your dog to come to you. This can make your job that much easier if you do formal obedience training and do get to Open work. Then you won’t have to force the dog to retrieve the dumb bell. It will be just another toy and a form of play. Even if you are not considering formal obedience training, teaching your dog to fetch is a great way to give your dog exercise when you are too tired to take her for that walk or run.

Socialization and play are just the beginnings of the relationship you will be building with that furry piece of heaven. The key is to start early when it is a puppy. If you wait until the dog has earned that championship, you have lost some of those best months when your puppy is so impressionable.

Because Beardies are such energetic and curious dogs, obedience training may be just the job for them. It gives them an outlet for their energy and helps to develop that strong bond between owner and dog. Dogs that have something to do are healthier and are better balanced mentally and physically than the bored dog left to her own devices.