When it comes to dog breed personality traits, Borders have bagfuls of them. Like most dogs, the Border Terrier breed is loving, loyal and gives that very unconditional love without chatting back – exactly what a mother of a teenage kid needs, now that her human baby is no longer such. But Borders are equally good family dogs (though I would never recommend having a dog with younger children than age 10, as unwillingly children might have a reaction to evoke over-excitement or sudden shock or fear, to which a dog may react boisterously and not acceptably) and enjoy exercise and plenty of energetic activities. Likewise, Borders adapt very easily to lower energies of older families, and can adjust to shorter walks or to more cuddles time over play time.
Who is the pack leader?
Where Borders however excel is in exercising their right to independence. When we adopted Indy, he was fully house trained, nevertheless I read that Borders are easily trainable. And I myself have found Indy very quick in picking up new habits, like using the dog flap to access the garden, or getting used to a new travel / sleeping cage, even a new house – all with the help of a few treats. This to me denotes how highly intelligent Borders are. But I equally believe Borders show their high level of cleverness in expressing their independence. If their nose wants to go right towards a green patch where a neighbouring dog may have had a wee, but you want to turn left to the local post box, rest assured you are not going to post your letters today! Nor do I agree that Borders should be pulled by their collar, or harness, as this may damage their neck or back – exactly what happened to Indy only a couple of months ago, and thankfully he has just about recovered (see my recount under Health Issues). I have watched so many programmes by the inspiring Cesar Milan, or the beautiful but strict Victoria Stilwell – I admire both their approach to training and obedience, but I was grateful that I didn’t have to train Indy, as I would have been a total failure. When it come to leadership, I’m told Indy is the pack leader of the Giulia-Indy pack, he has me wrapped round his little paw, as I know I could never bring myself to tell him off in a meaningful way – to me Indy maybe 12, but he has reached his full development of a clever toddler, where he will always need me.
Naturally, as I mentioned, the driving force of Borders in whichever activity is their sense of smell, more so being terriers. I think I can safely consider my Indy as the prototype when it comes to what gets Borders going:
Border Terriers and Food
Food was not much fun for Indy initially and not until the vet discovered that his teeth were not in very good shape. Indy had some 9 teeth removed shortly after he came to us, and shortly after then he was neutered – we thought he was a little too advanced in age for pups, and so were we (and inexperienced), and the vet recommended the ‘snip’ also as preventative measure against prostate cancer. However, the combination of the 2 surgeries re-awakened the feeling of right and proper hunger in Indy, or starvation, as he would tell you if he could talk! Since that day, Indy has been eating anything and everything, including half a box of chocolate, unbeknown to us, a few Christmas Eves ago – very dangerous, as chocolate causes liver poisoning in dogs, but luckily it was only milk one and the vet advised playing a waiting time game, during which Indy kept throwing it all up till he was cleared!!
Indy the scavenger
Indy is still a scavenger, especially after his second dental surgery last summer, during which he had another 8 teeth removed. In spite of been rather toothless, Indy still has enough teeth to have dry kibble at breakfast and a mixture of dry and wet food in the evening, with a dental stick and another savoury stick at lunch time. He also has his two regular Marquee biscuits for ‘pudding’ or dessert whilst watching a bit of evening telly with us. At one point some few years ago we had to put Indy on a diet, as he had reached an almighty 9kg (big belly!!!), which in turn aggravated on his skinny legs and on his back. In order to loose weight, I had to reduce portions dramatically, and since then Indy has been on a healthy 7.5-8kg. If portions at mealtime are reduced, Indy becomes rather resourceful when picking up absolutely any edible thing during walks, from his ever favourite horse manure (yes, the horse poo, which he loves to roll into as well if he’s fast enough to do so before we realise!!), to stale bread, to biscuit and bacon crumbs, to chewing gums, you name it.
Indy the beggar
But where Indy becomes an absolute beggar is at meal times, that is the human family meals. Now, I know that human food is a definite no-go for canine friends – too many sugars, too much salt, and such likes, a bit like the good old tabus to retain human good health. But as I mentioned above, I can never resist my Indy’s cutie face and imploring big dark brown eyes, and I do give in. In saying so, all he gets is literally a few tit-bits of meat and the odd lick of the plate. He is most polite in doing so, as he does not demand to jump on chairs but gently tap on our legs for some, or for more. We give in – and most handlers would horrify at this confession – but we find it quite acceptable. The reality of it all is that we believe our Indy thinks of himself more as a human than as a canine, and as such he doesn’t see why he should be excluded from the inviting smells and succulent degustation of human food, as well as being granted access to dog food and treats. I’m sure Indy feels rather more privileged in this position than most!
Border Terriers and Walks
Walks are for Indy, and for Borders in general, the next big source of entertainment, and sometimes it can go alongside food in rank of importance. Terriers are naturally built for exploring their surroundings, driven by the powerful force of their olfactory.
Indy’s nose: his natural tour guide
Indy’s favourite walks have always been in woods and ‘sticks’, i.e. forests, but he equally enjoys walking streets in town (which he more so likes, as he attracts the attention of passers-by who want to stroke him or give him a fuss). When we first adopted Indy, he was some 6 years younger and had energy aplenty. We then gave him 1 hour walk in the morning, 1 hour in the evening and a brisk 10 minutes at lunchtime. But don’t let that deter you if you are considering getting a Border, as our Indy gradually adapted, and gladly too, to our growing older as well. Six years down the line, my morning walk has reduced to 20-30 minutes, and my husband’s evening walks have gone down to 30-40 minutes, pending bad weather where Indy may decide that it’s too cold or hot or rainy – in which case he’ll give it a miss altogether. Where Indy will always be ready for the next adventure no matter the weather is if we plan a trip afield, a day out or, even better, holidays (!!). He loves the excitement of what new discoveries his nose can make, and he literally will revert to his young pup temperament, albeit retaining the good manner he has been trained to. It was only a couple of day ago that I took him on the train for the first time, and he was excited, but never once did he bark or get agitated to cause disruption to other passengers or making them uneasy.
Best on the lead
Walks are a great way for socialising as well. This is where your Border, like all other breeds, will put the socialising skills learnt as a pup to the test. These skills will be tested both on runs in the local parks, or when encountering other dogs walking on the same narrow pavement on the way to the market. And this is where Indy is not the best and friendliest of examples. When we first came across Indy, we were quite happy to leave him off the lead in parks when he was approached by other dogs, as he would wild friendly runs with them, and it was most fun to watch him have fun. However things changed after we left him with relatives to babysit him, and he came across a not-spayed bitch in heat – and we were not pre-warned about this encounter. Somehow I believe he became very protective of her and developed his sense of defence particularly against male not-neutered dogs. As a result, we now never leave Indy off the lead. He is mostly a very good boy with other dogs, and allows them to sniff him, but being an older dog he has not much interest in sniffing back. As his handler, we can now read the signals of when there is a dog he dislikes, and I personally have found that, if I pick him up, this will reassure him and will calm him down.
This is my manor
However what is to be remembered, aside of Indy’s personal bad experience, is that as terriers, Borders can be territorial. Having them neutered will also help cool down their defence/attack mechanism, which in turn will improve their friendliness levels. But they will also need to be trained to the fact that their neighbourhood is not ‘their’ in ownership, but other dogs are also allowed to live there! Having adopted Indy when he was already adult, that instinct was already ingrained in him, but if you can, and your Border is still young enough, I would strongly recommend that you invest in training and socialising classes, as this will be definitely beneficial to your Border and to you as his/her handler.
Indy’s arch enemies: squirrels
Nor must be forgotten, during walks, that strong sense of independence typical of Borders. The recall command will be particularly tested in Borders when they come across small creatures, such as moving cats, vermin, and the beloved squirrels. This passionate interest naturally goes back to the innate instinct Borders were originally bred for: hunting and catching vermin. This does not necessarily mean if Indy sees a small breed dog, he will go for them – on the contrary, he will know from the different smells and scents that he is dealing with a canine. And likewise, Indy will not be bothered by a cat that will have frozen in his presence, or will be half asleep. What will get Indy is the scattering movement – associated with the different smell – of vermin, and small rodents. When we first took Indy home, we still had our beloved guinea pigs Max & Freddie with us, which I had bought a few years back for my son. And the guinea pigs lived with us in their cage indoors. Once Indy joined the family, we didn’t want to move the guinea pigs outside, but for the next 18 months to a couple of years of Max & Freddie’s lives, it was hard work to ensure that we never left the cage with the boys and Indy in the same room by themselves. And again at the time we felt we were pushing Indy’s natural instinct to the limit of suppression by forcing him to live with scattering creatures which however we stopped him from getting to. And yet, and again to testament of Indy’s sense of adaptability, everything eventually fell in place nicely – he sort of learnt to ignore them, and when Max first and then Freddie after went to the greener fields in the sky, I’m sure they left a void in Indy as much as in us.
Border Terriers and Play
Indy, and Borders’ love for scattering and for squeaky sound, which is normally made by small rodents, leads me to play time for Borders. Again Border, like other breeds, will balance walk, play and sleeping time during the day nicely of their own accord – when younger, their activity time will be more intense, and then they will drop asleep dead to the world equally intensely and suddenly. As Border grow older, they will still love activity and play time, but it might be shorter or less intense, and sleeping times will increase. As a rule, Indy likes his play after breakfast, after lunch and before his evening walk. In spite of his advanced age, he will still have his ‘mad’ attacks of playing if he’s waken up in the middle of the night, but that does not happen often at all.
So, this said, best toys to entertain a Border are definitely squeaky ones. I would recommend investing in most expensive but more long lasting ones. This will prove a money saver in the long term, as unlike other breeds Borders not only will like to hunt their pretend prey, but they will want to shake it and tear it – yes, Indy can still do so in spite of the not many teeth left. The likes of Kong brand toys has turned for Indy the best teeth resistant, and the squeak inside the toy again longevous enough. Another reason for not purchasing easy to break plastic toys is that your Border can easily ingest the pieces, and this can cause stomach upset.
Another source of entertainment is tennis balls. Some you’ll find on the market are squeaky too, but this is not an essential requirement when it comes to balls, as I think the fact that Borders can catch them easily, the fact that they are fluorescent colours, the actual material, all of these factors contribute to entertain your dog. Mind you, Borders are not fetchers like for example Labradors or Border Collies, so once they have caught the ball, they will run towards you to show you their catch but then vier away from you and run as fast as they can for fear that you might want to steal their catch. Again, this is not a game I would want to play in the park with Indy unless on a long training lead.
Tug of war
Tug of war game is another all time favourite for Borders as well as for other breeds. Again, Borders will associate it to catching the prey, the prey fighting their corner and Borders try to get the best. There are a lot of rope made toys on the market, readily available from your local supermarket shelves as well as from pet shops or online, but one of the reasons why I am particularly pleased that Indy enjoys these toys is for the fact that, if he eats a few threads, he will chew bits nicely and they will not affect his digestive system.
Finally, and probably the cheapest way to play with your Border, is by hiding treats or tennis balls in old socks, or under a cushion, or in nooks and crannies in your home. Borders again will replicate their instinctual hunting, but having you involved in the activity will make the hunt even more fun than ever.
I love my family
As Border Terrier owners we should never forget that above all Borders are loving dogs, and one of the most rewarding things for them will be to just spend times with their family members, should this just mean cuddling next to them on the sofa whilst watching Crufts! Without forgetting Borders are not lap dogs, nevertheless we should not neglect Borders of their daily belly rub or tumble on the floor. Because firstly and foremostly your Border will not be just a dog, but a full member of your family.