Stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!
I really miss having a “fetch” dog. Growing up, the family dog (for 16+ years!) was a small Border Collie mix named Pebbles. She was great, and always up for a game of fetch. The simple routine of the game can clear your mind; the rhythm of it distracting you away from the stresses of the day. After all, how can one be stressed when you see how exuberant a small tennis ball can make a dog.
Pebbles was a polite fetch dog: she never played coy with the ball, making you chase her down for it. Nor was she so unladylike as to defile the ball with copious amounts of saliva (bleh!). She would gently place it in your hand, an patiently wait for you to throw it again. Meaning she stared you down. Border Collie style.
Now, if you haven’t been introduced to the Border Collie stare, let me break it down for you. Imagine you meet someone who hasn’t eaten in about 3 days. Now, secure them to a chair and bring out a nice, juicy steak. Or a cheesecake. Anything, really. Proceed to eat it in front of them. The look they give you? Yeah, that’s a Border Collie stare. It’s incredible…provided you aren’t in the receiving end of it. Then it’s a little unnerving.
Border Collies are well-known players of fetch. Or frisbees. Or dock diving, sheep herding, bomb-sniffing, agility running….come to think of it, there isn’t much these dogs can’t do. Except be bored.
Border Collies aren’t for everyone; although I guess the same can be said for about every breed. BC’s have a distinct distaste for inactivity. These animals were bred to run. And herd. And chase. And most importantly….to think.
Pebbles knew 5 commands that we specifically taught her: sit, stay, come, no, and down. Everything else she picked up through osmosis. Seriously. The dog knew at least 75-100 words. Bowl, eat, walk. She knew everybody’s names, including family and friends. She knew at Christmas that she got her own stocking, and would patiently wait until we asked her what Santa brought her, whereupon she’d bring us her present.
The most impressive (to me, at least), was when we introduced cats into her life. She was about 12 already when we got the first cat. The cat would frequently try sneaking out of the house, and would sometimes manage to do so. So we would send Pebbles outside to herd the cat back into the house (which she would do with amazing grace, speed and joy). We didn’t teach her how to do it. It was like every other word/command/action she did: it seemed she came pre-programmed with this knowledge.
As I said, Pebbles was a great dog, but looking back, I realize how much effort that took for her. As a border collie, she needed massive amounts of Activity and Work. You can’t just breed a dog for athleticism and intelligence and then leave it bored and lazy. That’s a recipe for disaster. My brothers and I would play fetch with her. When friends came over to play baseball in the field behind our house, Pebbles was permanent outfielder (we used a tennis ball). She caught one of my hits once on a fly, causing me to be the third out, and making me lose the game. It took me days to forgive her.
Border Collies are difficult if you’re not all in, or if you don’t understand how all-consuming their need for Activity and Work can be. Quite a few BC’s are in shelters because too many parents saw Babe, and decided they needed a dog like Rex and Fly, completely forgetting that these dogs were working dogs…not pampered pets who are content to chill on couches watching Lassie re-runs all day. Dogs like that become destructive when left to deal with excess amounts of energy.
Fortunately, there are breed-specific rescues who specialize in dogs like these. I recently found Great Lakes Border Collie Rescue. I loved looking at the pics of the beautiful dogs awaiting their forever homes, reminiscing about Pebbles, and what a great companion she was. I do have some extra tennis balls in the house…unused and unloved. Perhaps I can come up with a fetching solution.
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio