Border Collies top the lists of the most intelligent dogs and the best herders. They are very good at what they were bred for – herding sheep. They are easy to train, obedient, and friendly.
Adult males grow to a height of between 19 and 22 inches, and females to a height of 18 to 21 inches. Males weigh 30 to 45 pounds at maturity, and females weigh 27 to 42 pounds.
When the British Isles were part of the Roman Empire, the Romans imported large herding dogs along with their livestock. Later on, Vikings invaded Britain, and also brought dogs – but these were smaller and faster. These different types of dogs were crossed and resulted in the Border Collie.
The name is thought to come from the Border country of Scotland, near to England, where these were most likely bred. The word ‘collie’ may also come from the old Celtic word for useful. The hills of Scotland and Wales where these collies would have run around are full of sheep, rocks and other obstacles. Border Collies have been called the world’s greatest herders, as they are stealthy, and able to run quickly with bursts of energy.
Many of the sheepdogs of old were very good at what they did, but not very calm. Old Hemp on the other hand, was a much calmer sheepdog that did his work more quietly. So many people admired his way of working that it is estimated he was used for a stud in over 200 offspring. Nowadays he is thought of as the father of the Border Collie breed.
Bred to be a working animal that herds sheep, the Border Collie loves to be actively herding and to be given a job. They are intelligent and sensitive, easy to train and very loyal and obedient. They are friendly and like to be with their families, and are also protective of them.
Border Collies have either a smooth or rough coat. They are muscular and very agile, able to run and change direction swiftly. A key feature is their intelligent eyes, which are very watchful and tend to stare. This staring feature is part of what makes the Border Collie such a good herding dog – because it often holds the sheep by just keeping its eye on them.
A lot of energy and endurance is pent up inside this breed, as they would often have to run many miles a day herding sheep in the hills of England and Scotland. Their herding instinct is strong, and will often be directed towards children, small animals or anything else that moves. This also makes them excellent competitors at sheepdog trials and other competitions.
Apartment living is not a good life for the Border Collie, since they have a lot of energy and like to be active. They also don’t do well chained up for a long time. Ideally they should be in a family where there is either a lot of activity going on, or a large amount of space to roam and run. They were bred to live on farms and do the work of a sheepdog, and will be happiest with a job to do.
Border Collies are friendly dogs and love to be with their family. They do like to herd, so will tend to nip and nudge at small animals and children. They are good with children though, and are affectionate and playful with them. But they are better off with older children because of their tendency to herd. They will chase and stare at other animals, and be protective and watchful with strangers. This protectiveness can turn to aggression.
Weekly brushing is needed to reduce the amount of hair around the house when you have a Border Collie. They shed lightly all the year around, and then a bit more heavily during the shedding seasons. At this time, they will generally need daily brushing. Grooming is only necessary every few months unless they get dirty sooner.
If they have ears that drop then they can be more prone to ear infections and their ears will probably need regular cleaning. Their teeth should also be brushed regularly.
Border Collies have an inherent herding nature which leads them to nipping, nudging and barking. It can’t be trained out of them, but it can be channelled into the right activities with training, and of course activities! Visitors will usually provoke barking, as your dog will want to alert you that someone is coming.
They are good at dog sports and sheepdog trials, and will do well with training, but it is best given early on. Firm but kind training is best, as they are sensitive and will try and take control if there is no one else that looks like they’re in charge. Obedience training will also give them the mental stimulation that they need.
Physical exercise is a necessity with this energetic breed. But they also need mental stimulation and a job to do – so a game of Frisbee or involvement in dog competitions is ideal. A daily walk is not really enough for a Collie as they need a couple of hours of exercise every day. If you are not active and would like to have a laid-back dog then a Border Collie would not be a good choice for you.
Collies are very active and energetic, and as such should have a high protein, high calorie, meat-based diet.
Puppies should be fed twice a day, but don’t judge how much to give them based on how hungry they are. Border Collies tend to be hungry all the time and eat whatever they can find – so that is not a good gauge of how much to give them. If you see them chewing shoes, it is generally because they’re teething.
The food content needed by Collies will depend to some extent on whether they are actually working dogs or pets that are active.
Some people recommend that 50-60% of the energy should come from dietary fats and only about 10-15% from carbohydrates. Some owners have said that too much protein can make them go out of control. There are a lot of different opinions out there, so it is probably best to get recommendations from your breeder, and then tailor the diet to your dog. You can then watch him and make sure he is healthy and happy.
Recommended daily feeding amount: 1.5 to 2 cups of high quality dry food a day.
Be aware of course, that if they are not getting that much exercise, then they won’t need as much food. Also you should know that most dog food packages over estimate how much they need. If you notice they are putting on weight then reduce the amount you’re giving them.
Common Health Concerns
The Border Collie is generally very healthy, but there are still some health conditions which they are prone to getting. Epilepsy, Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), and Hip Dysplasia are genetic conditions that they can be prone to. CEA is an untreatable disease that affects both eyes and can cause blindness. A breeder should screen for these in the parents.
Hearing impairment can also affect these Collies – one type affects them as puppies, whereas the other type occurs as an adult dog.
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis is a rare condition that usually results in death within two years. There is no cure, but there is a DNA screening test available to check for it.
Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome is another genetic disease. In this condition the bone marrow produces white blood cells but is not able to release them. This means that the affected dog’s immune system doesn’t function as it should, and they will eventually die from an infection. Again, a DNA test is now available to screen for carriers as well as those affected.
Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) is an orthopaedic condition that can affect Border Collies. High protein foods or foods that provide growth stimulation may contribute to this disease. It affects their elbows, and shoulders, causing painful stiffness that can make them hard to bend.
Border Collies are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Border Collies in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Border Collie rescue.