October 13, 2014

I Love My Border Jack...And I Would Never Recommend One

Border Jack

Ruby is not a purebred Border Jack, if you can even call a hybrid creation 'purebred.' Her DNA test results indicate that her parents were most likely a Jack Russell terrier mix and a Border Collie mix. Or, perhaps one parent was a 50/50 Border Jack and the other was a mutt...whatever the case, and however much skepticism and humor there are surrounding dog DNA tests, I don't have one shred of doubt that Ruby's results are accurate. "That explains it," I thought when I opened the eagerly-anticipated email from Wisdom Panel. She embodies so many of the physical and character traits of both main breeds as well as looking similar to Border Jacks I've seen. I belong to a Border Jack group on Facebook and follow every Border Jack I come across on Instagram. I delight in looking up pictures of them (mainly on flyball team pages) as well as reading everything I can about the terrier and herding group members. Ruby is scarily smart, relentlessly energetic, endlessly determined and more than a little bit crazy. I love her with a ferocity I didn't know was possible and yet I would never recommend a Border Jack to anyone. 

Prior to adopting Ruby, I distinctly recall discouraging more than one person that casually mentioned they might like a Jack Russell terrier. Jack Russells are not casually anything.  According to her book Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, after seeing the work Dr. Sophia Yin put in to her impeccably trained dog, Jonesy, many of her colleagues determined they would never get a Jack Russell terrier. The feisty fox-hunting dogs are well-known for being nippers of ankles, chasers of cats and instigators of dog fights. The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America has a lengthy list of caveats called The Bad Dog Talk on their website. They are definitely not for the faint of heart, and I never would have considered one for my moderately-active suburban town-home life. 

Nor would I have considered a Border Collie. Known as the workaholics of the dog world and widely accepted as the most intelligent breed, there is a reason they are a favorite of professional dog trainers. You know...the people who love to train dogs in every waking moment. It's hard to ignore the disproportionate number of Border Collies guardians who commiserate in many of the reactive dog groups I belong to. They were bred to herd sheep, anticipating the flock's movement with an unparalleled intensity - nothing gets past them and they aren't the sort of dog content to lay about the house. They very often end up in rescue, and one Border Collie rescue group implores potential adopters to carefully consider the breed.

Combine the two and you have, as one critic of the cross calls them, "world's most effective ankle biter." Ruby's personality leans heavily toward the terrier side of her family tree, which is not surprising if Wisdom Panel's suggestions for her mixed heritage are true: three of five are other types of terrier. She would have been a nightmare for a family with children - before her bite inhibition improved I came away from games of tug with a bloodied finger on more than one occasion. She likes to goad me along at my heel like a collie with the extra encouragement of her terrier teeth if I'm not moving fast enough toward the morning walk. My blessedly bold senior cat is not a big fan. Ruby passionately loves to dig, she is hypersensitive to motion, and she is perpetually distracted by sounds, sights and smells outside. For all the challenges she presents, though, I still wouldn't trade her for an easier model. She constantly dares me to be a better dog person, and her intelligence is beyond measure. Trick-training is one of our favorite activities and she has learned an impressive number of cues already. Those amber-grey-green Border Collie eyes of hers have depths that can be disarming and there is nothing better than her sweet, finally-tired body snuggled up close after she's burrowed under the covers at bedtime.

Border Jacks, thankfully, are not among the popular crosses in the designer dog rage like the doodles, the puggles and the inexplicable cavachons. Their reputation as the ultimate flyball dog seems to so far reserve them for the dog sport enthusiast niche, and these are usually the sorts of people with full-time dedication to training that can handle a rocket-fueled canine. I hope for the sake of their safety and everyone's sanity, that Border Jacks remain a lesser-known hybrid and don't end up in pet stores and thereby shelters. Ruby's high-pitched barking has been heard far and wide, her thirst for rabbit blood has been witnessed by anyone residing near my townhouse common lawn and her maniacal spinning and lunging has caused alarm for quite a few cyclists and joggers. Vet techs and store owners nod with informed sympathy when they find out what she is. My Border Jack, bless her crazy little heart, is the very best anti-ambassador for the cross. 

Is there anything about your breed that isn't for everyone? 

37 comments:

  1. Ha! Love this. I feel the same. I swear, Stella and Ruby are sisters from another Mister. Both crazy terriers, except down the road Stellas mama mixed with a solid strong muscular bully! ;) Friends tell me all the time. I want a bull terrier like Stella! I say ... DONT!!

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    1. Admittedly, they've always been a favorite of mine, really the only bully breed I'd consider, but I know how stubborn they are and are not known for sociability, either. Stella is pretty irresistible, even knowing what a handful she is :)

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  2. "I love my dog, but you don't want one." Yep. Whatever mix Silas is is actually not bad. (In the running: terrier, sighthound, possibly some pit bull and/or border collie. I should do the genetic test, but I suspect he's 100% mutt.) He's smart and fun, but he's not relentlessly energetic. He doesn't herd or nip. He's the perfect size. Unfortunately somebody down the line passed on some very fearful genes and kind of ruined the rest.

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    1. It does get muddy trying to separate breed tendencies from other genetic hand-me-downs (like fearfulness) but there are enough cautions from both sides of Border Jack to make it a huge gamble.

      I'd love to see you do the DNA test for Silas! I keep considering it for Boca - she is so simply "dog" it's hard for me to even pick out any guesses.

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    2. Additionally, I know we've both said before about dog-twins, it would be an entirely different scenario for them if we had securely-fenced acreage and never had to interact with society. And didn't mind the occasional...casualty...

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    3. When I was first looking for a service dog, I looked at a borderjack in foster. The foster was trying to push the dog on me quite hard, but I could see many problem behaviors (in additon to the dog being a bit older than ideal--3): uncontrolled nipping and lunging, endless running, and also evidence the dog was blind in one eye, as the dog ran over a cocker spaniel. And still the foster was pressuring me to take the dog, probably because the dog needed training to be livable. I later heard from the foster the dog terrified her cat and quickly caught a rodent while on a walk-- very high drive.

      It was a pretty dog, a bit of a border collie coat, small frame, tricolor merle, too. I still went off wondering why anybody would crossbreed a border collie to a Jack Russell. There is just not much call for nonstop energy and prey drive anymore. I suppose if you had a large warehouse which needed ratting...

      May you long enjoy your Borderjack and be thankful she won't be so easily replaced :).

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    4. Ruby has very high prey drive, too, which is not at all fun around my townhome complex where the rabbit population has gotten out of control. Sometimes we will see between 20 and 30 on one walk. Ruby notices every. single. one. I think she would enjoy Barn Hunt but it's too hard for her to be around other dogs.

      It would be one thing if they all stayed went and stayed in sport homes, but that isn't how it works.

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    5. I have a rescue pup. Georgina, trying to figure out her breed and we have narrowed it down to, border collie, JRT and basset hound. I love her and she's a handful. Will she ever stop chasing her siblings (4 cats) and nipping? Any advice?

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    6. I have a rescue pup. Georgina, trying to figure out her breed and we have narrowed it down to, border collie, JRT and basset hound. I love her and she's a handful. Will she ever stop chasing her siblings (4 cats) and nipping? Any advice?

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    7. Hi there - puppies and adolescents can definitely be handfuls, especially if they are part JRT! Here is a great article about using clicker training to curb cat-chasing:

      http://www.clickertraining.com/node/1403

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  3. I love it when someone can be honest like that. I tell people sometimes that a Dottie mix isn't for everyone either!

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    1. I suppose I could qualify that with "I would never recommend one to someone who doesn't compete in flyball, isn't an experienced dog owner and doesn't devote their entire life to their dogs," but I don't think that would fit in the title bar...

      As someone who isn't comfortable with the whole hybrid trend, I struggle with really promoting Ruby's "breed" in pictures and on social media, so I felt this post was an important part of balancing that out. Kind of like, "yeah, she's the most adorable dog you've ever seen, BUT..."

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  4. Ruby is lucky to have you. And it seems that you feel lucky to have her.

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  5. I feel much the same way about my dog Laika. I haven't gotten her results back (which I don't know how accurate they are) but we're almost positive she's mostly German Shepherd. While they're probably nothing like Jack Russels or BCs she's providing me with more challenges that I ever imagine I'd face as a dog owner - but I wouldn't change a thing. Like you say it's making me a better dog person; it forces me to think outside my normal comfort zone and be more spontaneous. I love her to death but would never suggest a Shepherd to an inexperienced owner. Ruby is really lucky to have a great owner like you that wants to understand and work on her behaviors. It really is quite a learning experience. I'm always reminded of this video that I'd watch when Laika was a puppy and I was so frustrated ... it's always good for a laugh :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXqNl5bTCMU

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    1. If Laika doesn't come back as predominantly GSD I will be very skeptical! We had a 3/4 GSD who was as easy and sweet as they come, and my first dog Lasya was Chow/GSD, both notorious for being challenging and absolutely perfect. Do you follow Abby/Doggerel? She has one fearful/reactive GSD and one more adjusted.

      Dogs seem to be, in the words of Forrest Gump, like a box of chocolates. I can't even imagine what Ruby was like as a young puppy - I got her around 9 months old. As a previous commenter said, it isn't any big mystery how she ended up in a shelter. That video is too much!

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    2. I don't follow Abby/Doggerel - thank you very much for the suggestion I'm going to check that out. I remember the huge popularity of JRTs when Frasier came out - and of course I don't think many people realized how much of a commitment it is to keep them mentally and physically well adjusted. I see so many of them in shelters and it's so frustrating/

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  6. In other words, Ruby is a package full of energy
    Snorts
    Lily & Edward

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    1. Ruby has two speeds; go-go-go and asleep.

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  7. Our family used to own a Border Collie mix, he used to try to herd a few people around. So much energy! I wish I was where I'm at right now, I would have been able to do a lot of fun tricks and activities with him.

    I have had a handful of people who believe owning a Dogo would be a breeze, I've had to tell them that they are A LOT of work. I could only imagine a Border Jack!

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    1. I feel like I could handle just about anything after Ruby, and truth be told, I might be bored with a lazy, normal dog!

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  8. I have similar feelings about Dachshunds. Maybe had I known that their #1 trait is tenacity, that they are notoriously hard to potty train, that they are excessive barkers, and that they dont listen, I may have chosen differently. Chester fell into my lap though and I fell in love with the Dachshund breed. People are immediately drawn to these funny looking dogs. I get asked all the time if they are nice or easy dogs. My answer is absolutely not. I cite a list of common complaints/negative personality traits and say that they are not for everyone. There are enough Doxies in shelters. They can steal your heart but people need to know what they are getting into.

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    1. I was pretty set on a Doxie or Corgi for a while, but when I lost *both* my other dogs to neurological disease/decline, I became hesitant to get a long dog. Still love them.

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  9. It think this goes for a lot of high energy or terrier breeds and mixes. When walking our four, we get a lot of people asking what they are, first question is typically are they wolves?

    No, the big one, Putt-Putt is a Malamute/Australian Shepherd mix... talk about stubborn and smart match with experience brought on with age, then there is Chloe, the GSD mix, a working dog through and through once she's focused on something other than you (frisbee or ball) good luck, Hankster our Shetland Sheepdog (I really tire of the ohh a Lassie dog comments) who is the NOISIEST dog I've EVER had and has horrific manners due to being a highly timid/sensitive breed (I've seen a lot of Shelties like this which is bizarre for a herding breed), and Willow, a Husky/Border mix, the next 'biggest problem child' she's extremely confident, highly intelligent, with a stubborn streak only rivaled by her stamina...

    NO, I do not EVER recommend these dog breeds or mixes, sure they behave on our walks, they are sociable, fluffy, and great with kids... but it takes the two of us to make sure they are properly exercised and mentally stimulated, which is only achieved because I don't have to leave for work and stay home with them to keep them out of trouble and work with them constantly. Plus we usually take them on rigorous outdoor adventures involving swimming or hiking.

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    1. Your really have your hands full! Husky/Border Collie sounds like a very challenging mix. I previously had two wolfish looking dogs (Norwegian elkhound and Chow/GSD) and people always gave us a wide berth.

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    2. She can be, but once that trust is established they are more than willing to please, but it has to be on their terms, lol

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  10. Ruby is so adorable!
    I have never had a dog who was very "athletic" all very mellow and low key. Especially Rolo. Only time he gets excited is when its treat time!
    I would love a challenging breed one day!

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  11. This is very interesting to know! The more I learn the more I realize how much research you should do before choosing a pet for your family. Sometimes cuteness won't translate to happiness.
    - Purrs from your friends at www.PlayfulKitty.net

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  12. I must be part JR terrier cos I love biting ankles. I got TW good last night.

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  13. I so appreciate the honesty and transparency of this post. So many people wouldn't be so open about the challenges they face with their dog, but as the mom of a reactive dog (of a much aligned breed), I totally get what you're saying. I adore my dog, but I know she's not everyone's cup of tea.

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  14. Oh, dear God. Knowing herding dogs as I do and having spent some time with a Jack Russell, I am just in amazement that people try to cross them. For all the reasons you mention. You are a saint for doing what you do for little Ruby. And you are so right in laying it out there for those who aren't as well versed as you are.

    When people ask me about corgis, I am sure to tell them that they are not lap dogs, but farm dogs who are seriously smart, loud, non-tiring and need LOTS of obediance training. Cardis are rare, but the Pembrokes - just as you mentioned about Jacks and Brder Collies, end up in shelters all too often because the former owner didn't do their research. So sad.

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  15. Whew, that wore me out just reading about her! And I thought my Ziva was a handful. :-) What bothers me about bully lovers is that many of them try saying everyone should have one, and really it's not true. Every breed has certain tendencies that need to be researched and taken into account before a family adopts a dog, and even when you settle on a breed their are varying personalities to choose from. I am a huge supporter of researching breeds and having an understanding of what you are getting before you adopt or purchase a dog.
    People who love my dogs i'm very honest with and tell them how much work I've put into helping them become such good dogs, they didn't start out this way! :-) Lots of patience and training.

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    1. She is something else! At least they are not a common cross and most people that want one are sport enthusiasts who have a good idea what they are getting into. You're right about the bully breeds - any breed really. No single breed or dog is a fit across the board. Funnily enough, even now that I know how much work the breeds can be, I still might be crazy enough to have another one day, probably more likely a JRT than a BC. One upside to Ruby's reactivity is her size - if she was a big, powerful dog I would be in real trouble, but I can always pick her up and high tail it out of dodge in a pinch.

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  16. I feel exactly this way about Shibas. Yes, I tell the parade of people who stop to talk when I'm walking Kaiya, they're cute. But no, they're not for a first-time or even modestly experienced dog owner. I think they're around 65 in the AKC breed popularity list, and I hope they never rise higher. In fact, I'd be thrilled if they dropped.

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  17. So true that you really have to research before you find the perfect breed for you. I love my dutchie and would trade him for the world. However, dutchies are not for everyone, they are a high performance dog and require a handler who is knowledgeable of the breed and willing to devote a lot of time with them.

    Great article, kudos!

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  18. This is a great post! It is very informative and I'm sure it will help a lot of people looking for a dog of a breed like yours or any dog for that matter. It'll make them think a little harder. Something about my breed (Mini Schnauzer) that may not be for everyone is that they require a lot of grooming! Also they can be little busy bodies at times.

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  19. I have a purebred JRT, a Border Jack mixed with Shih Tzu, and a Flat Coat cross. The border Jack is 17 months old and quite a handful. I love him. I got him just about 6 months ago from the SPCA and he had horrible manners. He had no obedience on him. He has breezed through basic obedience and is now in Rally Obedience. He is learning agility. They need a job. So does my Jack Russell. She does agility as well. And she plays at Rally Obedience at home. Don't get a breed like this if you don't know what you are doing. They need dedication and constant training. I am not a dog trainer, just an enthusiastic lover of terriers. He is more terrier than Border Collie, but he is so quick to learn things. It is amazing!

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