Border Collies

by PetBond Veterinary Surgeon

Border Collie Breed Traits

Most intelligent breed on the planet
In the right hands, Border Collies are extremely easy to train
Good with children although can herd them

Points to Consider

High maintenance on all fronts
Require a tremendous amount of exercise and mental stimulation
Not the best choice for first time dog owners
Strong herding drive

Background of Border Collie

The Border Collie is one of the most intelligent dogs on the planet, ranking number one out of seventy-nine other breeds. For generations, the Border Collie has worked alongside shepherds both here in Ireland and elsewhere in the world and have always been highly prized for being supreme working and companion dogs more especially suited to people who lead active outdoor lives. Border Collies are tenacious while at the same time being one of the most versatile breeds in the world.

Known to be the finest herding dog on the planet, Border collies are athletic and energetic characters that like nothing better than being given things to do, even in a home environment. Interestingly, all modern day Border Collies are direct descendants of one tri-colour dog called Old Hemp, a Border Collie bred by Adam Telfer that gained himself the reputation of being supremely good at the job he was bred to do.

Where did the Border Collie Originate?

As their name suggests, the Border Collie originates in the county of Northumberland on the Scottish Borders. They were bred to be herding dogs and more especially, to work with shepherds and flocks of sheep. Their name was first used during the 1900s when James Reid, the Secretary of the International Sheep Dog Society registered these dogs as Border Collies so they could be differentiated from other collie breeds already registered on his list.

These hardworking dogs have always been highly regarded for not only their intelligence, but also for their innate ability to herd flocks. The breed was first mentioned and recorded in dog trials held in North Wales in 1873, but it took another 30 or so years until a Border Collie registry was established, namely the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS).

A dog called Old Hemp won top prize at the North Wales show thanks to his intelligence and the way he worked sheep. He went on to win many top competitions around the country and to sire many of the best Border Collies around at the time. As previously mentioned, all modern Border Collies are descendants of Old Hemp.

Border Collies were first recognised by the Kennel Club as being a pedigree breed in 1977 when the first breed standard was established. This was then amended a year later in 1978 and has remained in place pretty much as it was first written right up until today. There are in fact two independent registries for Border Collies with the International Sheep Dog Society being the one that promotes the working Border Collie and the Kennel Club which promotes good breeding practices to standardise a dog’s appearance.

Today, Border Collies can be found working in many other countries of the world and they are also a popular choice as companion dogs and family pets thanks to their lovely, honest and energetic natures. The Border Collie is renowned for their willingness to work alongside people which is another reason why the breed is considered being one of the most popular working dogs on the planet.

The breed breaks the norm when it comes to the saying “Jack of all trades, but master of none” because the Border Collie is so versatile and so successful in many disciplines. This includes working as PAT dogs, in rescue and as sniffer dogs all of which are tasks that the Border Collie excels at.

Did you know….

Are Border Collies a vulnerable breed? No, they are one of the most popular dogs throughout the world
Border Collies are one of the most intelligent breeds on the planet
All Border Collies today can trace their ancestry back to a highly intelligent dog called Old Hemp
Border Collies are one of the most versatile dogs in the world
They are considered the best herding dogs in the world
Border Collies make excellent PAT dogs
Robert Burns owned a Border Collie called Luath and he wrote a poem about him on his death
The American Kennel Club only recognised the breed in 1995

What should a Border Collie Look Like?

Height at the withers: Males 48 – 56 cm, Females 46 – 53 cm

Average weight: Males 14 – 20 kg, Females 12 – 19 kg

Border Collies are very graceful dogs, always on the alert and ready to obey commands they are given whether as a working dog or in a home environment. Providing they are given the correct amount of exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis, Border Collies make wonderful family pets. They are medium in size and boast double coats with some dogs have luxurious wavy coats and others having slicker, finer ones. Border Collies come in an array of colours, but the most recognised dogs the world over are those that boast black and white coats with a white blaze, a white collar and white on their legs.

Border Collies boast broad heads with a very distinct stop and tapering muzzle. They have black noses except if they have brown or chocolate coats when their noses are brown in colour. Dogs with blue coats have slate coloured noses but all dogs have well developed nostrils. Their oval eyes are set wide apart on a dog’s head and are brown with the exception of Merles when one or both of their eyes can be blue. Sometimes just part of a merle’s eyes is blue, but all Border Collies boast a very keen, intelligent and mild look in their eyes whether they are working or at when they are at rest.

Their ears are medium in size and set well apart on a dog’s head which they carry either erect or semi-erect. Their mouths are strong and dogs boast a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. A Border Collie has a strong, muscular neck that they hold slightly arched and which is wider at the shoulder than the nape.

Their forequarters are strong and well boned with well laid back shoulders and nice straight front legs. They boast athletic looking bodies with well sprung ribs and a deep chest over deep, muscular loins. The hindquarters are muscular with well-developed thighs and back legs. Their feet are oval in shape with deep pads, tight arched toes and short nails.

Border Collies have quite long tales that are set low and which are well covered in hair and which have a slight curve in them right to the tip, all of which adds to the perfect balance and proportions of these dogs. When excited, a Border Collie will raise their tail, but they never carry them over their backs.

When it comes to their coats, Border Collies can either have quite long hair or their coats are short and smooth. Both types have a very dense topcoat and softer undercoat which offers dogs a lot of protection against the elements. Long-coated dogs have longer hair around their necks and upper shoulders which forms a mane and they have feathers on their legs and under their tails.

Border Collies, as previously mentioned come in a variety of colours and combinations of colours with the most recognisable being the black and white dog. However, other colours include the following:

Black & White
Black Tricolour
Black White & Tan
Blue & White
Blue Merle
Blue Merle & Tan
Blue Merle & White
Blue Sable
Blue Sable & White
Blue Tricolour
Blue Tricolour Merle
Blue White & Tan
Brown & White
Brown Merle
Brown Merle & White
Brown Sable
Brown Sable & White
Brown Tricolour
Brown Tricolour Merle
Brown White & Tan
Chocolate & White
Cream
Gold
Gold & White
Gold Merle & White
Gold Sable
Gold Sable & White
Lilac
Lilac & White
Lilac Merle
Lilac Merle & White
Lilac Tricolour
Lilac Tricolour Merle
Red & White
Red Merle & White
Red Tricolour
Red Tricolour Merle
Red White & Tan
Sable
Sable & White
Sable Blue Merle
Sable Merle
Sable Merle & White
Seal
Seal & White
Slate
Slate & White
Slate Merle
Slate Merle & White
Slate Tricolour Merle

It is worth noting that any white in a Border Collies coat must never be the predominant colour in a dog’s coat under the Kennel Club Breed Standard.

Border Collies come in other colours too, but these are not recognised by the Kennel Club and as such they are thought of as being “undesirable” as it would mean a dog has been out-crossed to another breed which could have an adverse effect on their health. Any Border Collie with an undesirable colour would be refused registration.

How Should a Border Collie Move?

Border Collies are tireless and move freely and smoothly with the minimum of effort which gives them the appearance of both speed and stealth.

What Does Kennel Club Look For?

Under the Kennel Club Breed Standard, any departures from the standard would be considered as faults with the seriousness of a fault being judged on how much it affects the well-being and health of a dog and their ability to work.

Male Border Collies must have two normal testicles fully descended and if they are not, this would be deemed a fault.

It is also worth noting that the size given in a Border Collies KC breed standard is to be used as a guide only. As such, a Border Collie may be slightly larger or smaller and weigh a little less or more than stated in their breed standard.

Does a Border collie Have a Good Temperament?

Border Collies are considered the most intelligent dogs on the planet boasting an extremely strong instinct to work alongside man, they are always ready and alert to any commands they are given. This makes the breed highly trainable and Border Collies have proved themselves not only in the working environment herding flocks of sheep, but as search and rescue dogs, tracker and sniffer dogs too. They are always a firm favourite in the show ring and boast an impressive track record for winning at many canine sporting activities which includes agility.

They need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation to be truly happy, well-rounded and well-behaved dogs. They are never happier than when they are working or being given something to do. They are not a good choice for people who lead a more sedentary, indoor life because Border Collies are high maintenance in the exercise department. With this said, they are the perfect choice for people and families who lead busy outdoor lives where a canine companion would fit in perfectly with their lifestyle.

A Border Collie’s training needs to start as early as possible and they need to be well socialised from a young age too. Trainers love these dogs because they are so responsive to commands and because they learn new things exceptionally quickly. There is of course, a downside to their intelligence which is they are just as quick to pick up bad habits as they are the good. Providing they are given the right sort of direction and guidance from the word go, Border Collies are a pleasure to live with, but if they get the better of an owner, they can make life in the home very difficult indeed.

Border Collies like to know their place in the pack and who is the Alpha Dog in a household or they might start displaying a more dominant side to their character which is something to be avoided at all costs. The result is an unruly, hard to manage and unhappy dog that’s hard to handle. They also tend to form a very strong bond with one person in a household although always friendly and affectionate to the rest of the household.

Being so intelligent means that Border Collies are quick to learn how to open cupboards and doors, something potential owners need to be aware of or they might feed their pet helps themselves to a lot of things which includes food they should not really eat. If they are left to their own devices for long periods of time, boredom quickly sets in and dogs find their own way of amusing themselves which includes chasing people, cars, bicycles and anything else that takes their fancy. Other behavioural problems that develop when dogs are left on their own for long periods of time include being destructive around the house, pacing up and down which is a sure sign of a Border Collie being unhappy and bored.

Are they a good choice for first time owners?

Border Collies are not the best choice for first time dog owners simply because their needs are so specific and they tend to be quite demanding in many ways. They are better suited to people familiar with the breed and who have the time needed to dedicate to an extremely intelligent and active canine companion.

What about prey drive?

Border Collies were bred to herd and it’s a trait that’s deeply embedded in a dog’s psyche.  They have a high prey drive and will chase an animal whether large or small not necessarily to hurt it, but because they feel the need to “control” anything they herd or chase. With this said, it would be a mistake to let a Border Collie run free anywhere near livestock unless they have been extremely well trained and respond to the “recall” command in an instant.

What about playfulness?

Border Collies have a playful streak in them and thrive on playing interactive games. They excel at many canine sports which includes activities like flyball, agility and obedience to name but three. They remain playful right into their elder years which is another reason they are so entertaining around the home and fun to live with.

Is a Border collie adaptable?

Border Collies thrive in an environment where they have plenty of space to express themselves as they should. They are not suited to apartment living unless they are in their elder years and need less in the way of daily exercise, but they would still need a lot of mental stimulation to be truly happy dogs even when they reach their senior years.

Do Border collies suffer from separation anxiety?

Some Border Collies do suffer from separation anxiety because they form such strong ties with their owners which is why they are better suited to households where at least one person remains at home when everyone else is out.

Will a Border Collie bark too much?

A bored Border Collie would develop unwanted behavioural issues, one of which is barking incessantly to get some attention. It would be fair to say that some Border Collies can be “barkers” whereas others are not. The key to curbing this type of behaviour in such an active, energetic dog is to make sure they are given lots of mental stimulation and daily exercise. A tired Border Collie is a “good” Border Collie which describes the breed perfectly.

Do Border Collies like swimming?

Some Border Collies love being in and around water whereas others don’t like to get their feet wet. Most dogs that do like water are good swimmers, but care should always be taken when any dog is being walked near any of the more dangerous water courses just in case they decide to leap in.

Are Border Collies good watchdogs?

Border Collies can be quite territorial and therefore can be quick off the mark to let an owner know when strangers are about or when something they don’t like is going on in their environment.

Is a Border Collie easy to train?

The Border Collie is at the top of the list when it comes to intelligence with an added bonus being that these active and lively dogs like to please. Rarely do Collies get it wrong once they are shown or taught what to do. They may be hyperactive characters, but this not mean they cannot focus on an owner during a training session and they thrive on the one to one contact they are given too. They are after all “eye dogs” and when they focus on an owner or handler, it is usually very hard to break a dog’s focus.

However, like all dogs, a Border Collie’s training and education must start early for them to be truly well-rounded dogs. Socialising a Collie from a young age is essential. They respond incredibly well to positive reinforcement, but their training must be consistent and always fair. Dogs need to understand their place in a pack and who is alpha dog in a household or they may become unruly and hard to handle. Border Collies are never happier than when they know who they can look to for direction and guidance.

The first commands a Border Collie should be taught as early as possible are as follows:

Sit
Stay
Here/come/recall command
Down
Leave it
Heel
Quiet

Once a Border Collie is 12 months old, they can be taught to do all sorts of things which includes “speaking” on command and “rolling over” when asked. They also respond well to visual commands as well as verbal ones.

Will a Border Collie be Safe with Children and Other Pets

Collies are not always the best choice as a family pet because of their need to round things up and this includes the children and anything else that takes their fancy. With this said, if well socialised from a young age and living with a family where most of the day is spent in the great outdoors, the Border Collie would fit in well with that sort of lifestyle and generally get on well with the kids providing they know how to behave and when to leave a dog alone.

Border Collies can be rather aloof when meeting dogs they don’t already know which could lead to them showing a little aggressive behaviour towards the dogs which is why early socialisation is so important. When it comes to small family pets and cats, if a Border Collie has grown up with them, they are generally good around them. However, the need to herd and round things up is so deeply ingrained in some Border Collies that they may well still continue to herd other pets in a household to satisfy this deeply embedded need.