The Border Collies, with their natural intelligence, sense of competition and desire to work with their owner or handler are ideal competition dogs. Any event that challenges a dog physically or mentally to chase, find, move through, problem solve or work as a team with the owner or handler is a good match. Generally the only types of competitions that Border Collies may not adjust well to are hunting or scent type hunting trials, or work such as schutzhund training that requires a guard dog or protective component to the competition. Surprisingly many police departments are now training Border Collie as drug, bomb and contraband detection dogs where they can combine their natural intelligence and problem solving abilities with their athletic traits. Border Collie can also be trained as guide dogs and assistance dog and are highly adaptable to these types of placements.
Of course the most obvious type of competitive event for the Border Collie are herding trials and competitions. In these events the dogs are trained and scored on how they move sheep through a specific pattern or into and out of specific pens within an arena or in an open field. The shepherd or handler and the dog work together, with the handler providing directions to the dog via voice, whistle and hand signal commands. In trials the handler or shepherd is really just the director; the dog is the competitor and the star of the show.
Getting started in herding trials and competitions should start with first learning about the sport and talking to those already involved. While there are options for training in most locations, obviously you will need access to a small flock of sheep, room to work with the sheep and some type of expert advice when you run into difficulties or aren't sure how to communicate to your dog about what you want done. While most people that work dogs are more than happy to help, not everyone trains the same way and too many trainers can be as much of an issue as too few. Keep in mind that a Border Collie is very smart and if too many changes are constantly involved in training it is like he or she is having to relearn everything every time.
Working your dog with experienced dogs may be an option. It really depends on what the club members encourage or how the club interacts. Joining a Border Collie club does cost, but it does also have its benefits. Being in a club may also allow you the opportunity to volunteer or work at some trials to understand judging, the event itself and how to best train your dog.
Another great event for Border Collies that is a bit less costly to get involved in is agility. In these types of competitions dogs have to complete an obstacle course that includes tests of their ability to respond to directions, as well as to use their own natural athletic ability and intelligence to get through the course in a pre-set pattern.
Generally agility events include a number of different types of obstacles. These will typically involve plastic or fabric tunnels the dogs must run through, tire jumps, seesaws they have to traverse, poles to weave through a pause table where the dog has to jump up on the table and wait for a specific amount of time before proceeding to the next obstacle.
In some ways the dog agility course is similar to a cross between a dressage and horse jumping event. The handler cannot physically touch the dog or assist the dog but they can call, prompt and coax using their voice, whistles, hand signals or any other type of non-physical communication. The goal of the trial is both speed and accuracy with points for completing the course within specific time as well as without any faults or penalties.
Dogs compete in agility classes against each other based on their size. Jumps and obstacles are adjusted to suit the size of the dogs within that specific group or class. Agility is a great event to watch and fun to participate in. Classes for seniors and children are popular, as are the championship level classes where dogs complete amazingly complex routines.
Flyball and Frisbee competitions are more competitive and typically done in teams. These tend to be very entertaining for the crowd and are often seen as half time shows at various sporting events. Flyball includes a relay style race where dogs tear down to a springboard, jump on the board which releases a ball, catch the ball then run back to the starting line for the next dog to go. Dogs of all ages and sizes compete in these events for a fun and prizes. Typically Border Collie and Border Collie crosses are predominant at these types of competitions.
Obedience is another event in which the Border Collie can excel. They need to be very comfortable working around crowds and need to be desensitized to noises and sounds prior to competing. Their intense concentration is evident in these events and makes them outstanding competition dogs.
A relatively new event in which Border Collie are quickly rising to the surface is dog dancing, sometime known as canine freestyle or heelwork to music. In freestyle the dog and owner compete in costume to music of their choice, with the dog working both with and away from the handler. Dogs and owners weave, jump and step their way through a choreographed routine that is truly up to the competitors to design. In heelwork to music routines the dogs stay in the heel position with the owner and work through a set pattern.
Both types of competitions require dogs that can remember routines, follow subtle body and hand signals provided by the owner and also focus even with music and crowds. The naturally intelligent and gifted Border Collie is just a perfect match for these types of events.
Competitions with a Border Collie are a great way to combine the mental stimulation and the physical activity necessary to keep these dogs content and happy. Most owners find the competitions fun and entertaining, plus you can just enter the fun classes and not actually compete if you don't want the additional pressure. Kids often love getting involved in these events, trials and competitions and it is a terrific way to increase their understanding of the Border Collie breed and dogs in general.