Border collies have the reputation of being one of the most intelligent dog breeds because of their ability to follow direction and to communicate with us and other animals with their eyes.
Why does my border collie stare at me? Your border collie is staring at you because he is trying to force you to do something that he wants you to do, just like when they are controlling sheep and cattle when working.
Why do Border collies stare?
Staring is an innate behaviour present in most Border Collies.
The border collie was bred to herd sheep, and they are experts at it. They use the intimidating, crouching pose with a piercing stare to control large flocks of sheep. They were also bred to be super focused with an unquenchable desire to work.
Many of us now (myself included) have border collies as pets. These herding traits that have been passed down through generations of Border Collies over many generations still exist today, even though many now spend their days lounging around or asleep on the sofa.
What does it mean when a Border Collie is ‘giving eye’?
Many dog breeds were originally bred for a specific purpose. Border Collies, as we know, originate from the borders of Scotland and England, and over time have been bred to help with the herding of sheep.
In order to control the sheep, they have developed a unique way of mimicking wolves that are stalking their prey. Through their stare and ‘ready to pounce’ posture, they send a primitive message to the sheep that they are ready to attack.
Of course, they are not going to attack, but the sheep don’t necessarily know that. If you’ve ever seen a Border Collie in action, you could also be mistaken for believing that he’s going to attack the sheep. A combination of barking, staring and running around the sheep causes them to run in the direction they need to go.
This ‘giving eye’ is only present when the dog anticipates movement. In other words, he will stare at whatever he is waiting on and will only react when it moves.
I see this behaviour all of the time when I am playing fetch with my Border Collie, Millie. She will position herself between me and where she thinks I am going to throw the tennis ball. Crouching down and waiting (almost stalking) until the last second before I throw it before she starts running. She has even learned to anticipate my fake throws, where I pretend to throw the ball in one direction and then throw it the opposite way.
This behaviour is actually the same as the first stages of an attack by a pack of wolves, known as the predatory sequence. Giving eye and stalking are followed by catching and killing in the wild.
Are there other reasons why a border collie will stare?
All dog breeds use staring as a form of communication, among themselves and with us. Every dog owner recognises ‘the stare’ their beloved dog gives them when he wants the leftovers on your dinner plate, or a treat when he’s hungry. Border Collies are experts at using the stare to get food and other things from you.
Border Collies love to play, and many need it as a source of stimulation as they can get bored easily. My Border Collie, Millie is an expert at ‘bullying’ me into giving her what she wants.
Her favourite trick is to drop her tennis ball at my feet, and then to sit staring at me until I throw it. She can sit there for hours if necessary, giving the ball a nudge in my direction, or reminding me she is there by hitting my leg with her paw.
Border Collies will also stare to try and read us. They are watching for the slightest gesture or movement of our feet, trying to figure out what it is we are going to do next. Borders were bred to take direction from us when herding, and they have the ability to learn many commands. Staring can often mean that they are giving us their full attention, listening intently, waiting on the next command from us.
Nowadays, Border Collies that live as pets are more interested in figuring out if you are planning on making their dinner or are planning on bringing them for a walk.
Can the border collie stare be a bad thing?
Some Border Collies can be much more daring and obsessive than others, and excessive manipulation through staring can become a problem that needs to be addressed.
When a Border Collie uses its stare on other dogs it can mean that it is being aggressive or dominant. In wolves, staring is seen as threatening behaviour among pack members. It is not unusual for dominant Border Collies to use the same tactic with other dogs in a household. This type of behaviour should not be tolerated if it’s a regular occurrence. It is often caused by lack of training or just plain boredom.
Sometimes it can be harmless, and can be a signal that the Border is ready to indulge in some horse play with one of his siblings. Usually this type of stare is accompanied by bowing down or playful pawing.
Some out of control Border Collies can also use their stare accompanied by barking or jumping to try and get the attention of people. This type of ‘bullying’ can be common among younger Border Collies that have a stronger desire to control everyone around them.
Most of the time, a Border Collie staring at you is not a bad thing and usually means he is trying to tell you something or is just happy to see you.
How to stop a border collie from staring
If your Border Collie is exhibiting symptoms of dominant behaviour with other pets, children or with you then some positive reinforcement training will usually fix it. Teaching simple commands like sit, stay and roll over will help you to build a bond with him while forcing him to use up some mental energy. A big misconception when it comes to Border Collies is that they need hours of physical activities every day to wear them out.
In fact Border Collies were bred to be patient and to work intelligently in short bursts to move sheep to where they need to be. In my experience, mental stimulation is much more effective at calming down my own Border Collie and preventing ‘the stare’ from becoming obsessive.
Just remember, every dog uses their eyes to try and communicate with us and other dogs, so staring is not necessarily wrong. It should only be seen as a problem when it becomes a dominant behaviour. Dogs are not as paranoid as us when it comes to staring, it’s actually part of their natural behaviour and one of the subtle ways they communicate.
In my experience the best way to control the stare is to pick up a tennis ball! Border Collies love playing fetch, and will forgo their dinner for a chance to play ball. Throwing a tennis ball in the garden is a great way to mimic the herding process. Even the waiting in between throws is a game, where you can get them to figure out what direction you are going to throw it next and they can use they stare to try and get you to throw it sooner.
What are the different types of border Collie ‘eye’ or stare?
When it comes to ‘working’ Border Collies it’s very important to play close attention to the type of ‘eye’ a young dog is displaying. Many breeders believe that Border Collies are born with a particular type of stare or ‘eye’, inherited from the genetics of the parents.
There are a few common types of stare:
Strong eye – This is a continuing, unrelenting stare in the direction of whatever the dog is herding. It is usually accompanied by a crouching, ready to pounce position. It’s the classic Border Collie stare that is used to intimidate sheep into doing what they want.
Sticky eye – This is when the dog gets ‘stuck’ in a strong eye stare and stops listening to commands from his handler. It can be difficult to break the stare and can become a real problem if it’s left untreated. A solution to this problem can be to keep the dog moving and not allow it to stop when herding.
Loose eye – A loose eyed herder does not keep up a continuous stare, but is more likely to make eye contact for short intervals while using his body language to control a herd. These dogs are more likely to run around while herding, using their position and speed to move sheep in a particular direction.
No eye – A no eyed border collie has no instinctive herding stare. This type of Border makes a great family pet, but is usually not used for herding.
Some dog trainers believe that a Border Collie can be trained to favour a particular type of stare. This can be useful if a dog displays a ‘sticky eye’ or too much ‘loose eye’.
summary – Why do border collies stare?
The border collie was bred to herd sheep and they often use a crouching pose with a piercing stare to control sheep and cattle. Now that many border collies are family pets, they continue to use this innate behavior to control their owners and to get what they want.