ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

The Border Collie

Border Collie
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Border collie is the hardiest of dogs that you can ever find. Raised to herd sheep and cattle, this dog is the ultimate in fitness, agility, and stamina. On top of this he is super intelligent, often doing what he sees to be done. The Border collie is not your usual homely, house oriented dog. This is a breed that loves the outdoors and excels in chasing, catching and jumping. This is one of the reasons that the breed is an excellent choice for sporting activities. The collie is a dog that is always looking for work to do and will look to you to fulfill his exercise demands.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Working Dogs
Height:1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet tall at the shoulders
Weight:Generally 30 – 40 pounds
Life Span:12 to 15 years

With the powerful and determined stare that is distinct in a border collie, and an amazing skill at maneuvering sheep to move in the direction he wants them to go, the dog is the consummate companion of the sheep farmer in managing and securing his herd. At every command of the shepherd, he knows what to do and does it well. If there is ever a dog that you would want as an arduous worker and obedient one too, you will find it in a Border collie.

The Border collie is quite a unique dog, a stand out for its super ability to keep working. It has an energy and stamina that is unmatched in any other dog, because such is the collie’s make up. This is a working dog whose trait was developed to run the hills of the Scottish border country helping sheep farmers in herding their sheep. The collie has turned out not only to be the most agile of breeds, but also one with the greatest strength and endurance, covering an average of 50 miles per day.

The Border collie is not a large dog, carrying 30 – 40 pounds of body weight, a pretty normal size you would consider for a dog for the family. However, you will find that the collie is not one of those regular companion dogs that make a household pet easily.

It is not part of its nature to be a cuddly pet. You will discover his natural working dog instinct if you should bring him into your home. In fact, if you are not able to keep up in providing the amount of exercise that he requires, both you and dog will be deeply unhappy. The collie will want work to do and if he does not get it from you, he will find jobs which you may not be pleased with.

His natural instinct is to herd and he will find some task where he can prove his skills. So if not sheep, the Border collie will try to herd children, strangers, other animals, or any moving object. It is normal for this dog to shove, nip and bark at anything, something that he cannot resist because that’s just the way he is. He is best involved in sporting games and competitions where he is always on the move. Games of sport such as fly ball, Frisbees, are up his street. It is not enough therefore to play a game of fetch or to take him on a brisk walk; the collie needs much more. You will need to engage the working dog instinct in him.

Aside from this, the Border collie is a highly intelligent dog making him one of the best to train for sporting activities. You cannot hold back his competitiveness when it comes to games such as sheepdog trials, agility, flyball, flying discs, advanced obedience, freestyle obedience or tracking. He will obey your every asking and will happily do so because he loves being given tasks to do. The collie will make you a great companion if you have the same energy and interest as he does.

Main Highlights
  • The Border collie is perhaps the smartest dog in the world, and is sensitive to the slightest of commands. He anticipates your actions and responds even without you telling him what to do.
  • The dog was originally bred to herd sheep and a Border collie in the home will demonstrate the same working characteristics. He will want something to do at all times and if not given, he may exhibit unhealthy behaviors such as barking, running around and chewing on items.
  • Although the collie demands a great deal of exercise and time, they do make great household companions if you can engage him in activities at all times.
  • Because of its agility and long endurance, the collie excels in sporting activities more than any other dog breed.
  • The Border collie is the best working dog and sheep farmers use them to herd their cattle and protect them from preys. Because the collie was developed for this purpose, the dog will naturally try to herd children, strangers, other animals and even cars and bikes.
  • The double coat of the collie makes them resistant to extreme climatic conditions. You will however need to brush the coat more frequently to prevent matting because the dog’s hair tends to grow a lot more during these times.
  • To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
Breed History

The Border collie dates back to the 1800s as a breed of dogs that was used in the herding and protection of sheep stocks. Owning sheep and other livestock was associated with wealth and so animal owners had to find a dog that would protect their property. The sheepdog of the day ran tirelessly the hilly terrains of the border regions between Scotland and England gathering and moving sheep wherever their shepherds want them to go. These sheepdogs were the hardiest of dogs, difficult to control and aggressive with the stocks, and at the same time highly intelligent.

The dogs were quite useful to the farmers as their great sense of control and obedience were assets that they could keep.  Adam Telfer, a Northumbrian farmer looked for a milder-natured form of the dog and developed the “Hemp” from that sheepdog.

It was an impressive breed, a quiet, strong and agile dog yet quite intelligent in its outlook. The Hemp was first called Border collie by the Secretary of the International Sheepdog Society, James Reid when he was registering the breed. He needed to distinguish the working collie from the show collie that would demonstrate their showmanship at various sheepdog trials held in different areas. The name Border collie was fitting since it reflected a breed from the border regions of Scotland and England. The word “collie” also came from the Scottish dialect that means sheepdog.

Size

The Border collie is not a large dog, but rather medium in size. Generally the male stands at a height of 19 inches to 2 feet and the female 18 to 21 inches at the shoulder. In addition, male dogs generally weigh 30 – 45 pounds (14 – 20 kg) and females 27 – 42 pounds (12 – 19kg).

Personality and Character

High endurance – The Border collie is characteristically a working dog.  This is his general disposition and will demonstrate to you that this is the only way he knows to behave. The dog has boundless energies and is able to keep running all day. So he will be chasing after and herding everything moving, from animals to children to cars. This dog is not your usual pet in the lap or couch animal that will have a quiet time when you need one.

It is in him to be active and so having something to do at all time. His very playful nature will have you engaged at all times also and if you are up to it, you will find a great friend in him. His enduring characteristics make him suitable for canine sports.

Highly intelligent – This dog is considered the most intelligent of dogs. He is highly trainable as he learns very quickly, and there can be a problem to keep him challenged all the time. His sensitive nature keeps him alert and responsive to every signal that is given. Therefore, at the sound of a whistle, a signal of the hand or the raising of the brow, the dog is all yours in obedience.

Anticipating – Because of his highly intelligent nature, the collie is always one step ahead of you in anticipation of what next you will ask him to do. Therefore they easily learn cues such as dinner time, strangers coming over or going out for exercise. When working in the capacity as sheepdog, they always think ahead and anticipate what the sheep will do and how to manage them effectively. This makes them the excellent workers they are as they have the capacity to work independently.

Obsessively demanding – The collie’s high intelligence coupled with a strong drive to work cause him to be demanding especially when he is not getting his way. You will observe that if he is not engaged he will constantly be running around in circles as if he is herding, or he may be chasing after an object, or aggressively chewing or tearing at something. This he does in frustration of not having work to do. When he wants to work, he often does not take no for an answer and therefore can be aggravatingly annoying.

A hoarder – The Border collie is known for his propensity to hoard. He may have a favorite toy that he plays with and when he invites you to share playing with it you should consider it an honor. He may collect other toys also and stash them away in his bed or in other concealed area. You know you have work to do to teach him to share when this problem develops.

At the same time he can be shy especially around strangers and other dogs and so must be socialized for better interaction. He is also a dog that likes to be in company and therefore tends to have separation anxiety when left alone.

Health and Potential Problems

Border collies generally experience good health. For such active lifestyle, it is difficult to see a collie with health issues. However, like most other dog breeds they are prone to certain health problems that are handed down through generations. For this cause, a dog owner who intends to acquire a Border collie should check reputable dog breeding agencies to get health clearances for their dog.

Hip dysplasia: This is a common genetic disease for the Border collie, the problem occurring in the hip joint and in lesser incidences, the elbow joint. The problem occurs because the head of the thigh bone does not fit properly in the socket of the hip joint.

A dog can have hip dysplasia and you may not notice it. However, because of the constant wear on the bones in that area, degeneration of the bone tissues (degenerative joint disease) occurs and inflammation sets in to produce pain. In this instance the dog may begin to walk with a limp. Hip dysplasia becomes noticeable by the dog is two years old. It is recommended that dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. As such you should check with the breeder to ensure that the dog’s parents are cleared of the problem.

Epilepsy: Here is another common health issue that is found among collies. This disease is also thought to be genetically caused. Luckily, it is not a problem that will interfere significantly with quality of life and can be managed effectively by medication. The disease manifests itself by seizures, unconsciousness and disorientation. The dog can also display behaviors that can be frightening – running around in circles as if being chased, staggering, falling down, and limbs becoming rigid.

Collie eye anomaly: This is the third most common disease affecting the Border collie. Collie eye anomaly is a group of eye disorders that appear in the dog by he is two years old. The problem can be detected in dogs from 5 – 6 weeks. The eye condition is inherited and features abnormal developments of different areas of the eye – the choroid, the optical disc, the sclera and the retina.

You will understand that the collie’s eyes are one of his greatest assets, using them in an almost hypnotic manner to control his subjects when herding. It is recommended that dogs with collie eye anomaly should not be bred and would-be dog owners should seek clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) before they acquire a dog from that breed. The breed also suffers other eye conditions such as glaucoma and cataract but these are not very common in the dog.

Loss of hearing – The Border collie also has a genetic defect that causes it to lose its hearing early in life or during adulthood. Early life deafness is usually associated with dogs that carry a gene associated with coat color pigmentation. Adult dog hearing loss is progressive and this can start occurring from as early as one year up to eight years.

Other conditions: The Border collie is also affected by several other disorders that are genetically responsible and some of which are specific to the breed. Neuronal ceroid lipofusicinosis for example is a neurological impairment found specifically in show collies and not in the working breed. Affected dogs do not usually live beyond two years. Fortunately, DNA tests can be done to track the disease carrying gene and prevent any breeding of these dogs.

Trapped neutrophil syndrome is also hereditary and a condition where white blood cells from the marrow of the bone is prevented from entering the blood stream. This causes the dog’s immune system to weaken, making him more prone to other infections. Undoubtedly this is a fatal condition but DNA testing can stop the furthering of this disease.

Some collies carry a genetic makeup that produces what resembles freckles in the dogs and also one eye having an odd color usually blue. The merle gene in Collies is not a serious condition but when bred together can lead to potential vision problems.

Care Features

If you have an intention to adopt a Border collie, you need to be mindful that he is not the regular dog that is suited for indoor environments such as living in an apartment. When a dog like the Border collie has so much energy, you have to plan his care along that line.

He has too much energy to be pent up in enclosed living spaces. Similarly, he is too intelligent to be lying around without his mind being engaged. This breed needs an environment that gives him room to exercise and roam free. He should therefore be given enough access to the outdoors. As the owner, if you are not up to the task of exercising him at the energy level with which he goes by, he may not be a good companion for you. This is a recipe for his frustration.

The collie carries a coat that grows a lot during the winter period and will need occasional brushing to prevent undercoat entanglement. You would also want to keep it free from tangle under the summer heat. Because the dog is highly active and is naturally on the move a great deal, he can suffer from heat exhaustion which as you know can be fatal for him. Border collies often take position in the shade and cool themselves off in water after carrying out some hard work.

The herding instinct of the collie will always play out and he needs to be protected from himself sometimes. Therefore in his quest to herd moving objects like cars, he needs to be trained against this behavior as it can lead to his demise. You should seek to stop him from inappropriate herding. Where you will keep the dog as a part of your family, it is recommended that the dog be spayed or neutered to temper his working dog behavior and give you a bit of peace of mind.

It would be useful to keep your dog’s mind and body active because he will demand it. If you do not provide this, he can be at his worse behavior and collies are known to chew their way out. Enrol for relevant dog sporting competitions and activities being held that will help to engage him. His care can never be left without his occasional visits and examination at the vet.

Feeding Schedule

Recommended daily amount: Generally, 2 – 3 cups of dry food fed twice per day is sufficient for a dog at 40 pounds.

Feeding the Border collie should be done keeping in mind that it is a dog that expends a huge amount of energy in their daily activities. Nutrition is an important aspect of their health and well-being. If at ant any time you feel unsure about how much to feed your collie, one of the best ways to know is from your vet who will weigh the dog, feel his body make up and advise on his diet.

Commercial dog food is being developed and sold with the complete dog nutrition in mind and the Border collie will get all the right nutrients if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the labels. Puppies at two months can be fed ½ to 1 cup per day. Again, observe your dog to see if he may be gaining too much weight with the amount you are feeding and cut back if this is happening. Their muscles, joints and bones are important to their agility and speed and can be seriously affected from being overweight.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Border collie carries two varieties of coats – rough and smooth. Both varieties have a double coat, a coarse outer coat and a smoother, softer undercoat. The rougher coated collie variety is of medium length hair with feathering under the belly, legs and chest; while the smoother coat is shorter and rougher to the touch. There is little feather in this variety.

The Border collie comes in a variety of canine colors. A collie can be solid, bicolor, tri-color, or merle. This dog breed however most often appears in black with a white blaze on the neck, face and tail tip. You will not find a white border collie.

Grooming needs are not extravagant for the collie because as you know he is a working dog. The collie sheds lightly but will need weekly brushing to reduce the amount of shed hair around the house. Brushing also prevents rougher coats from matting and generally spreads coat oil evenly.

Coats will matt mostly at the change of the seasons and may require more frequent brushing. Unless a collie loves to play in mud, he does not need a bath until every few months. Ensure however that teeth get weekly cleaning to remove tarter that builds up. Also dogs are prone to ear infection and therefore their ears are to be cleaned with a vet approved swab to prevent bacterial infection.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Although the Border collie is fiercely demanding of activities to do, it makes a great family dog. This you will have however if he is trained properly from the puppy stage. He gets along well with other pets and children although his natural herding instincts will arise and he will nip, chase, and bark at kids as they play about the house.

For more harmonious relationships, it is recommended that dog owners teach their kids certain responsible behaviors when dealing with any dog breed.  Children should refrain from pulling at the tail of the dog. Importantly you should teach your child how to approach and touch a dog, ensuring that they know that they should never go near when the dog is sleeping, or try to take his food when he is eating. The guiding principle is that children should never be left unsupervised in the company of a dog.

The Border collie is not the usual pet that lazes around the house. He loves the outdoors and requires space where he can be himself. This dog has the working dog instincts in him and even in a home environment will seek to demonstrate this characteristic.

If you are able to engage the dog in sporting activities and provide him with the amount of exercise that he needs, he will be a loyal companion for you. Although the collie is the most agile and long enduring dog you will ever find, he still requires the attention and care that all dogs require.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Red Smith

    I’m thinking of getting a Border Collie who can be my running buddy. I usually run for about an hour and would like to ask if the dog has the endurance for this? Would it be better to stop at half an hour?

    • Border Collies can be great running companions but don’t get one just specifically for that reason. Border Collies are working dogs, and running can be a boring pastime for them.

  • Mickey

    The border collie is a rather old breed, it dates back to 1570. Before these dogs were called: the working collie, collie traditional, English collie, farm collie. So the best variant for her is to live outside of town.

    • John Walton

      That’s true, Mickey. This amazing breed managed to retain all its impressive abilities (especially its intelligence) until now. No wonder it has been the rocket scientist of the dog world. However, they really need a firm and experienced pet parent because they have the ability to destroy your property if you don’t know how to properly train it.

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