Why Do Border Collies Nip or Bite?

Border collies nip or bite simply because they have a mouth adorned with pearly white teeth. That's the obvious answer to this question, but of course this answer won't satiate the curiosity of those folks trying to understand why dogs do all the curious things they do. Border collies actually nip or bite for a variety of reasons. Let's take a look at some along with some tips on how to deal with border collie biting.

Border collies nip or bite, that's a fact, especially when they are puppies eager to play. Adult or older border collies may end up biting too if their nipping isn't addressed correctly during puppy hood. Alternatively, they may do so because they are guarding resources, dislike being touched in certain places or are acting defensively. The nipping or biting may be directed towards people, children or other dogs or animals. 

If your border collie is nipping or biting hard or is doing so aggressively, you want to have the issue addressed by a professional sooner than later. Seek guidance by an experienced force-free dog trainer or behavior consultant to help you out. 

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Border collies nip for attention and to engage you in play. 

Why Do Border Collie Puppies Bite Ankles, Legs, Arms?

Border collie puppies, just as puppies of other breeds, are prone to biting when they are welcomed into their new homes. Why do they do that? The answer is very simple: if you watch a litter of puppies interact, you'll notice how to a great extent they'll engage in play biting with their moms and siblings. 

Play biting is a totally normal behavior in puppies. Unlike children who mostly play with their hands manipulating playdough or moving around paper airplanes and dolls, puppies use their mouths to explore the world around them and play.

In particular, puppies are strongly attracted by movement. This is reminiscent of their past as hunters. While children rehearse games that prepare them for when they are adults (playing doctor, teacher, vendor etc.) puppies instead rehearse hunting moves. 

Anything that moves prompts them to chase and bite. You'll notice that during play, puppies may latch on to the legs of other puppies or they may grab their necks. They may also be attracted to the ears and tails. In as similar fashion, border collie puppies find the ankles, legs and arms of most people irresistible to chase and bite. 

Once welcomed into their new homes, it is therefore, totally normal for puppies to want to engage with and play bite their new owners. The play biting may even be accompanied by playful growls. These puppies are not trying to dominate and take over the reigns of the house, they just want to play. 

Of course, if rough play with arms and legs is encouraged, puppies will learn to play in this manner and won't learn more constructive ways to interact. It's important to teach puppies about boundaries and that human skin lacks fur and is therefore particularly delicate compared to the skin of their littermates. Puppies must also be taught to play with toys rather than relying on human body parts.

Did you know? On top of nipping out of play, puppies also nip when they are teething. Expect your border collie puppy to be teething up until he is around 6 to 8 months old.

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Border collies were selectively bred as herding dogs. 

A History as Herding Dogs

New owners of border collie puppies often report that their border collie puppies tend to nip more than any other puppies they have owned in the past, why is that? A possible explanation for this is the fact that border collies are herding dogs. 

As herding dogs, border collies are deeply attracted to movement, and when they see objects, they are more attracted to moving objects rather than static ones (Maren Lambrich, 2007). Border collies are certainly drawn to movement to a greater extent compared to dogs primarily bred for being lap dogs and for providing companionship.

On top of being attracted to movement, border collies were selectively bred to have a lot of energy and stamina. Herding all day was quite a physically demanding activity after all. And let's not forget about mindset: in order to control a flock of sheep, a strong personality with a natural predisposition for controlling movement was necessary. 

While herding dogs may be propense to engage in some specific behaviors, caution is needed though to not engage in excessive stereotyping. "It is a mistake to think that knowing a breed guarantees that it behaves as advertised, only that it has certain tendencies," cautions Alexandra Horowitz in the book "Inside of a Dog, What Dogs See, Smell, and Know."

While not all border collies are created equally, it's not unusual for border collie owners to struggle with excessive energy, barking and nipping behaviors, especially if they failed to tackle the nipping/biting stage by the time their puppies have put in their adult teeth. 

While border collie puppies tend to nip in play most of the time (they can nip too to guard items or due to a dislike of being handled), border collies who aren't playing may nip or bite for several other reasons. Their biting should therefore be taken seriously and addressed with the help of a professional. 

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A muzzle can be a good management tool for border collies who bite. 

Why Do Border Collies Bite People? 

Border collies may bite people just as any other dogs. In many cases, their biting is out of defense and a way to request distance or as a way to make an interaction to stop. To better understand the underlying reason, it helps to look at the context in which the biting occurs. 

For instance, is the border collie guarding some object, location or a particular person? Resource guarding is a common cause of aggression in dogs. Dogs may guard a bone, toy, food bowl (even if empty), sleeping place (mat, bed, couch) or even a specific person. 

Is the border collie biting when he is touched? Some dogs dislike being touched in certain areas of their bodies or in certain ways. For instance, may dogs hate having their paws touched. At times, biting when touched may be due to medical conditions and painful disorders.

Is the border collie biting guests who are entering their homes or approaching their property? Territorial aggression takes place when dogs defend areas of their homes, but there is likely an element of fear involved too. Border collies may be standoffish by nature and their shyness may evolve into fear-based aggression.

Is the border collie biting when he sees dogs or people behind a window or fence or when held back by a leash on walks? If so, redirected aggression may be a possibility. These border collies get so frustrated when they cannot chase, their high arousal spills into aggression.

Is the border collie biting children as they run around and play? "Many herding dogs who end up in shelters are surrendered for biting children or other animals the same way they might bite uncontrollable livestock," points out certified dog trainer and behavior consultant Dawn Antoniak-Mitchell in the outstanding book "Teach your herding breed to be a great companion."

These are just a few examples of reasons why border collies may be biting people. For an accurate assessment and behavior modification plan, please consult with a behavior professional.

"The herding breeds are notoriously inappropriate for child-running games, as their natural herding instincts often compel them to jump and nip. It's unfair (and usually ineffective!) to punish your border collie for chasing after and nipping at running children. They are genetically programmed to respond with predictable behaviors to certain stimuli." Pat Miller, Play with Your Dog

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Border collies may sometimes assume controlling behaviors at the dog park. 

Why Do Border Collies Bite Other Dogs? 

It's not unusual for border collies to dislike other dogs. They may not want other dogs near their favorite person or they may guard their food and toys from them. If their threats (under the form of growls, barks and snarls) are unheeded, there are risks the approaching dog may receive a bite. 

Several border collie owners struggle in taking their border collies to the dog park. Things may go well when their dogs are puppies, but once they start to mature, they may become less playful and more controlling of movements.

While herding behavior is not aggression per se', it can sometimes get border collies in trouble especially when they mess with the wrong dog. Some dogs may feel intimidated by their herding behaviors or they just don't like another dog trying to control their movements.

Some border collies like to play on the fringes around other dogs turning into dog park bullies who are on a mission to constantly micromanage every move other dogs make. Assuming the "fun police" role though stir up conflict. One day, he many eventually meet a dog who won’t respond to that control, and this may cause frustration. 

"Did you know? According to a survey by Meermann in 2009, over 10 percent of herding dogs had issues with other dogs because their playful intentions weren't recognized. (Source, Canine Play Behavior, The Science Of Dogs At Play, by Mechtild Käufe)

Now That You Know...

As seen, border collies may nip or bite for various reasons. If your border collie puppy or adult dog bites hard to the point of breaking skin or does so aggressively, please consult with a dog trainer/behavior consultant using force-free training and behavior modification methods. Here are just a few general tips to address puppy nipping and manage biting. 

  • Since border collie puppies enjoy quick movements, you can use this to your advantage  to redirect your puppy from your hands, ankles and feet to toys. Make toys particularly salient by wiggling them or tossing them around.
  • Avoid encouraging rough play such as slapping your border collie puppy on the face or offering a hand or arm to grab onto. 
  • Avoid correcting puppy nipping by smacking puppies on the nose, closing their mouths with your hands, pushing them away or alpha rolling them. All these activities only teach your puppy that hands are annoying or something to fear. Your puppy may become hand shy or he may bite, but this time, no longer out of play, but defensively.
  • Redirect your puppy to an alternate activity any time you see him approaching you with the intent to bite. Carry balls in your pocket or a tug toy or a stuffed Kong to shift his focus.
  • Play tug with your border collie puppy, but implement some rules. Ask him to sit and take the toy and then ask him to drop once done, by presenting a treat. If your puppy at any time ends up nipping hands or arms during a game of tug, say "ouch! or "ops!" and stop the game abruptly. Resume playing and keep on providing feedback as needed.
  • Play fetch, but add some obedience commands into it. Ask your border collie puppy to sit or lie down or perform a trick before the ball is tossed. Avoid playing only fetch to prevent an obsession towards this game,
  • Encourage brain games and fun games such as hide-and-seek.
  • Get your border collie puppy used to handling (having his ears touched, paws touched, coat brushed) by creating positive associations with treats. Every time you touch your puppy, feed him a treat until he seems to tolerate handling better. Practice often.
  • Border collies (as other active dogs) have many needs! Provide ample opportunities for training, play, socialization, exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Puppy classes offer a good opportunity to train your puppy manners and how to properly interact with other dogs and people.
  • If all of your border collie's needs are met and he keeps nipping, consider that he may be cranky and in need of a nap. Provide him with a dark quiet area to rest with a safe chew toy. Chances are, he'll chew the toy a bit and then fall soundly asleep.
  • Avoid exposing your border collie to children running or playing unless he is capable of staying perfectly under control and you can actively supervise.
  • Avoid dog parks if you notice your border collie's behaviors stir trouble and trigger potential fights. If your border collie enjoys play with other dogs, stick to playdates with other dogs who tolerate your border collie's play style.
  • If your border collie bites people, keep him away from people to prevent him from practicing the behavior and/or use a muzzle for safety, until you can get help.
  • Play it safe and seek the aid of a professional should your border collie show aggression towards people or other dogs.
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