Dog Breeds Articles

One of the top stars in any agility or flyball competition, the Border is full of energy and loves to compete and please.


The Border Collie originated in the border country between Scotland and England. It is a very old breed, with references in literature going back to at least 1570 in writings by Dr. Caius. Caius mentions him as “not huge, vaste and bigge but of indifferent stature and growth”. The breed has been known as the Working Collie, Old-Fashioned Collie, Farm Collie, and English Collie. It was in 1915 that James Reid, Secretary of the International Sheepdog Society in Great Britain, first called the dog a Border Collie.

The first sheepdog trials were held on October 9, 1873 in Bala, Wales. In the United States, the trials started in 1880.

Famous Border Collies

Two Border Collies that have had a great deal of influence on the modern Border Collie are Old Hemp and Wiston Cap.

Old Hemp, a tri-color dog, was born September 1893 and died May 1901. He was bred by Adam Telfer from Roy, a black and tan dog, and Meg, a black-coated, strong-eyed dog. Hemp was a quiet, powerful dog that sheep responded to easily. Many shepherds used him for stud on their bitches, and Hemp’s working style became the Border Collie style. It is believed that Old Hemp’s blood runs in the veins of almost all Border Collies today.

Wiston Cap is the dog that the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS) badge portrays in the characteristic Border Collie herding pose. He was the most popular and used stud dog in the history of the breed, and appears in a huge percentage of pedigrees today. Bred by W. S. Hetherington and trained and handled by John Richardson, Cap was a biddable and good-natured dog. His blood lines all trace back to the early registered dogs of the stud book, and to J. M. Wilson’s Cap, who occurs sixteen times within seven generations in his pedigree. Wiston Cap sired three Supreme Champions and is grand-sire of three others, one of which is E. W. Edwards’ Bill, who won the championship twice.

The Border Collie Controversy

The Border Collie brings out a great deal of passion in the people who love it, especially in regard to what is best for the breed. Unfortunately, there is much disagreement on that subject, and the disagreement has created some hard feelings among people who are all intensely concerned about the Border Collie’s future. Following is a very simplified summary of the three main factions.

Many people, particularly Border Collie owners from the herding community, feel that American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition in the United States, and Canadian Kennel Club recognition (CKC) in Canada, will irreparably harm the Border Collie. These people believe that breeding the dogs to a conformation standard (that is, for beauty or a certain look) will, at best, split the breed in North America by creating a set of Border Collies that are pretty but can’t work. They take the dogs’ herding instinct very seriously, and believe it would be a serious injustice to the breed if this were to happen. These people refuse to have anything to do with the AKC, and do not register their dogs with the AKC.

Many other people, especially those involved in showing their dogs in AKC obedience trials and other performance events, hope that, with enough people committed to keeping the dog a working dog, and with an AKC parent club committed to the same thing, they will be able to keep a major split from happening by placing the emphasis on herding and performance, especially when it comes to breeding dogs.

There is also a group of Border Collie owners who are primarily interested in showing in conformation. Many of these people have imported conformation-bred Border Collies from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, where the breed has been recognized by the Kennel Clubs for a number of years.

In 1994, breed clubs for all breeds that had been in the Miscellaneous group for many years without seeking full recognition were notified by the AKC that they had to either seek recognition or be dropped from the AKC entirely. The AKC had made the decision that the Miscellaneous group should be used as it was intended: as a temporary holding place for breeds actively seeking recognition.

In December 1994, the AKC voted to officially recognize the Border Collie after decades of its being in the Miscellaneous group (no one seems to be sure exactly how long it’s been, but it’s apparently at least since 1955). Registration began in February, 1995, with stud books to be kept open for three years (in October 1997, the AKC decided to allow an additional three years; as of this writing, stud books are now due to close in January 2001). As a Miscellaneous breed, the Border Collie was allowed to show only in AKC obedience and tracking trials; on February 1, 1995, the breed also became eligible to show in herding and agility trials. In October 1995, Border Collies were seen for the first time in AKC conformation as part of the herding group. And finally, in the summer of 1996, the AKC selected the Border Collie Society of America (BCSA) as the AKC parent club for the breed.

The Canadian Kennel Club, due to its inability to recognize the breed at this time, removed the Border Collie from its Miscellaneous group. (The process of breed recognition is regulated by the Canadian government through the Animal Pedigree Act.) As a result, any Border Collies not CKC miscellaneous certified by the end of 1993 are not allowed to participate in CKC- sanctioned events. The Border Collie Club of Canada (BCCC) is continuing to work with the CKC to regain their showing privileges.

General Appearance

The Border Collie is a medium sized bundle of energy, looking rather like a lightly built Australian Shepherd without a bob-tail. The body is slightly longer than the height at the withers. The skull is fairly wide with a distinct stop. The muzzle tapers to the black nose. The ears are usually half-perked. The oval eyes are generally dark brown, except in merles where one or more eyes may be blue. The teeth should meet in a scissors bite. The tail reaches at least to the hock and is sometimes raised when the dog is excited, but is never carried over the back. There are two varieties of Border Collie: one with coarse hair (thick, straight, about 3 inches (7.6 cm.) long), and one with sleek hair (about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) long). The coat colors come in black and white, tri-color, red & white, black & gray, and all black. White should never be the main color. The longer haired variety should have a mane and tail brush. The hair on the face, ears and front legs is always short and sleek. Since Border Collies are bred for working ability and intelligence rather than for physical beauty, conformation varies widely.

Proportion and Size

The height at the withers varies from 19” to 22” for males, 18” to 21” for females. The body, from point of shoulder to buttocks, is slightly longer than the height at the shoulders. bone must be strong, not excessive, always in proportion to size. Overall balance between height, length, weight and bone is crucial and is more important than any absolute measurement. Excess body weight is not to be mistaken for muscle or substance. Any single feature of size appearing out of proportion should be considered a fault.


The Border Collie appears in many colors, with various combinations of patterns and markings. The most common color is black with or without the traditional white blaze, collar, stockings and tail tip, with or without tan points. However, a variety of primary body colors is permissible. The sole exception being all white. Solid color, bi-color, tri-color, merle and sable dogs are judged equally with dogs having traditional markings. Color and markings are always secondary to physical evaluation and gait.


The Border Collie is a very intelligent and responsive dog. It excels at obedience, agility and Frisbee (TM). They thrive on praise, are sensitive and very trainable. The Border Collies are commonly used in the agility competitions, as sports like agility are right the this intelligent dogs alley. The Border Collie is highly energetic with great stamina. Provided it gets sufficient activity to keep it occupied and ample exercise, the Border Collie will get along quite happily with other dogs, and children, however the Border Collie may be aggressive with other dogs of the same sex. They should not be trusted with small non-canine pets, however there are plenty of Border Collies that live and get along with family cats. This breed should be very well socialized as a puppy to prevent shyness. To be truly happy, it needs a lot of: ongoing attention, extensive daily exercise, and a job to do. For those who wish to reach high levels in dog sports, the Border Collie is a gift from heaven. Farmers (for whom the dogs perform work for which they were bred) are also happy with them. It is not surprising that at competitive levels in various sports such as: agility skills, obedience, and sheepdog trials, the Border Collie is represented among the leaders in the sport. They are perfectionist with a permanent will to please. This breed lives for serving you day in and day out. They are not ideal pets for people who have no plans to spend a lot of time with them. These dogs are too intelligent to lie around the house all day with nothing to do. Prospective owners who are looking for just a family pet should consider other similar but calmer breeds, like show line Australian Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs. If there is insufficient activity then it will find its own work to do, and that may not be what YOU had in mind when we say the word WORK. They can become destructive if they get bored or if they are ignored. They can become neurotic if they are left alone for long periods, leading to many behavior problems. This breed is known as an escape artist. Because of his strong herding instincts, the Border Collie may be snappish with children and strangers. They do best with an experienced owner that has lots of time to spend with the dog. The adolescent Border Collie often goes through a phase where he challenges his master’s authority. Some are highly reactive and sound sensitive, making them a poor choice for families with young children. Dominance level is highly variable in Border Collies.


Border Collies are often “soft” dogs; that is, they are sensitive to rough treatment and corrections. You must be firm and consistent because these dogs will try to get away with as much as they can, but you must also be fair in your corrections and training. Typical reactions from a Border Collie that has been stressed by rough or unfair treatment are that it may shut down, possibly rolling onto its back in submission, or acting very engrossed in something else and paying no attention to you; or it may become more anxious and wound up, trying to do everything in triple time, which causes it to make even more mistakes. Motivational-type training, with plenty of treats and/or play, works best with soft dogs for obedience training. It brings out the best in them, helping to turn them into excellent, happy workers that love their training sessions.

Attention-training is important for Border Collies that will be shown in obedience competition. These dogs are very sight-oriented, and are easily distracted by anything moving around them. A dog that is closely watching his handler cannot pay attention to other things that are happening around him.

Border Collies make wonderful trick dogs. They love to learn new things and can be taught many behaviors, such as sitting up, playing dead, and rolling over, and they usually love to show off. They can be very undignified and clownish if they think it will get them attention or make people laugh. This is why these dogs are so popular in movies and television.

Border Collies can be very sound-sensitive. This sensitivity manifests itself in a couple of ways: some dogs become very frightened at loud or unusual noises (i.e., fireworks, the sound of a smoke alarm, even something as simple as hand-clapping); other dogs might just be extremely distracted be different noises.

Exercise Needs

Border collies need exercise and whilst it is not true that they need a 20 mile walk every day they do need an opportunity for a good run each and every day in all weathers.

These are not dogs for the idle or passive owner unless they are sufficiently ingenious to devise activities to satisfy their border collie’s thirst for activity without exerting themselves. We make this point because we certainly know of border collie owners with disabilities, that prohibit them from engaging in physical activities but whose dogs lead a very satisfying and fulfilled life.

Provided with a ball, propelled a great distance by a tennis racket, to be retrieved many times over the period of an hour, two or three times a day the border collie will usually be physically satisfied but it is the mental stimulation provided by an ingenious owner which keeps the border collie sane. Agility practised for fun exercises the body, mind and excellent co-ordination skills of the border collie even when the handler is unfit or has limiting disabilities.

Playing “search” in the house, garden or on walks is excellent stimulation, just leaving the dog in a stay and hiding a favourite toy in an obscure place and then sending the dog to seek and retrieve uses the border collies brain, scent organs and, if the hiding place is well considered, physical dexterity. Teaching tricks such as “giving a paw”, “roll over”, “play dead” or “weaving” on a regular basis exercise the border collie’ agile mind, develop your relationship with your dog – and impress friends too!

Remember the border collie is an all round dog who needs mental, physical and emotional stimulation to remain healthy, happy and well adjusted, depravation in any of these areas are unfair to the dog and likely to cause problems for the owner.

Grooming Needs

The Border Collie needs regular combing and brushing to keep the coat gleaming. Extra care is needed when the soft, dense undercoat is shedding. Bathe or dry shampoo only when necessary. Check the ears and coat regularly for ticks. This breed is an average shedder.

Fun FAQs

I heard that Border Collies are the most intelligent dog there is. Is this true?

Defining “most intelligent” is a highly subjective thing, and depends on what traits (such as trainability, reasoning ability, independent thinking, fitness for a particular task, etc.) you consider to be signs of intelligence. Still, by most standards Border Collies are very intelligent dogs. They are highly trainable and have good reasoning abilities. It’s not unusual for them to learn a new command in just a few minutes with only a few repetitions. But their intelligence can also be a problem: many times they quickly learn things that the owner didn’t intend for them to learn, and would prefer they didn’t know! Their intelligence is one of the reasons that they tend to get bored (and into trouble) easily. But then, it’s also one of the reasons they can excel in obedience training and competition. However, Border Collies do not train themselves. All dogs need owners who are willing to commit the time to obedience training if the dogs are to become good companions, and the Border Collie is by no means an exception.

Since they’re good herding dogs, I can let my Border Collie run loose around my livestock when I’m not there, and he won’t hurt them, right?

This is not the case at all. Herding instinct is a modified prey drive. An unsupervised Border Collie will chase, injure, and kill livestock just like any other dog, especially (but not only) if he’s untrained .

How are they with children?

When properly socialized and well-supervised with children, some Border Collies can be fine. Those individuals often seem to know how boisterous or how gentle they need to be with different children. But Border Collies must be supervised around children to make sure neither hurts the other inadvertently. As previously mentioned, they often nip at fast-moving children. Border Collies that aren’t well-socialized with them can be fearful and untrusting of children, and a nervous dog will snap at a child.

How are they with cats and other small animals?

It depends on the dog. Typically, a Border Collie will get along with cats and small animals that belong to the family, but chase those that don’t. However, you often need a good-natured cat to deal with one of these dogs. Remember, if a dog’s instinct is strong enough that it chases and nips at humans when they move, it’s also going to be strong enough to constantly harrass the cat. It’s usually a good idea to separate a Border Collie from all small animals when you’re not there to supervise.

Are Border Collies hyperactive? Do they need a lot of exercise?

Border Collies should be very intense, high-energy, busy dogs, both indoors and out. If bored, they will chew anything (books, shoes, carpet, furniture, walls…). They also love to dig holes. Good forms of exercise for a Border Collie include playing fetch (they usually love to chase balls and Frisbees), swimming, jogging, running with a bicycle (be careful they don’t try to cross in front of the bike to herd it!), and hiking.

Border Collies won’t usually exercise on their own, and merely putting a Border Collie into a fenced area as a form of exercise is not enough for them. They tend to either lie around waiting for you to join them, or they spend their time digging up the yard and chewing things they shouldn’t.

When exercising a Border Collie, especially in warm weather, you must watch very carefully for signs of heat exhaustion. Because they are so intense in their work and play, they often don’t stop when they get too tired or too hot. They can easily work themselves to death, even on cool days. Another problem is that they can physically injure themselves because they are so quick and concentrate so completely on their task that they don’t always pay attention to where they are going and can run into obstacles if they happen to be in the way. It’s also very common for Border Collies running on gravel, concrete, and asphalt to wear the pads of their feet down to the point where they bleed, especially when they’re not used to hard, rough surfaces. Most Border Collies won’t even limp until the fun is over, so be sure to keep an eye on your dog’s feet!

How much exercise is enough for a Border Collie?

The answer to this question is as individual as the dogs themselves. Plan on two 45-minute walks per day, snow, rain, or shine – your dog won’t care what the weather is like! At least 20 minutes of each of those walks should be off leash in a safe area, and should include a game of fetch or something equally vigorous. In addition, a 15- to 30- minute daily training session (obedience, tricks, etc.) helps to keep your dog mentally stimulated and well-behaved. If you think your dog still needs more, you may be better off increasing the amount of training and/or mental exercise as opposed to increasing the physical exercise. For a dog with the Border Collie’s physical stamina, working his mind is much more likely to tire him out than taking him for another run. Don’t expect all this work to keep that soggy tennis ball out of your lap when you’re watching television, though. Your Border Collie will still have plenty of energy to spare!

What active sports and activities can I participate in with a Border Collie?

Because of their agility, energy, trainability, love of work, and good scenting ability, Border Collies are extremely versatile dogs that excel at many things: competitive dog sports such as obedience, agility, Schutzhund, Flyball, Scent Hurdles, Frisbee, and tracking; they make good search and rescue dogs; some well-trained, well-socialized Border Collies are wonderful pet-therapy dogs, and some organizations train them as signal (hearing) and assistance dogs; police departments in several states are using them as drug detection dogs. And, last but definitely not least, Border Collies are among the best herding dogs in the world. Be very careful, though, if you get a Border Collie and decide to try herding, because it can be addictive. Many people who got a Border Collie as a companion dog wind up buying property and sheep just to work the dog!

Do they play “Fetch”?

One of a Border Collie’s favorite games is “Fetch,” and it’s great exercise for them. They love chasing balls, Frisbees, and anything else that moves, and their gathering instinct makes them natural retrievers. In fact, the fetching can become obsessive and, to some people, annoying. Not everyone enjoys having tennis balls frequently dropped in their laps as they’re trying to relax, and an insistent dog staring at them or scolding them until the ball is thrown – only to have the process repeated again (and again and again…) a few seconds later.

A word of warning about playing Frisbee with a Border Collie (or any other dog): according to M. Christine Zink, DVM, Ph.D., author of the book Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete: “Frisbees can be very dangerous for dogs, particularly when they are thrown so that the dog must catch them with all four feet off the ground. The problem lies not in the dog jumping and catching the Frisbee, but in the fact that the trajectory of a Frisbee can change unpredictably, causing the dog to twist to catch it and then land in whatever position it can. The most common injuries as a consequence of Frisbee-catching are herniation of the disks of the spinal cord and tearing or rupture of the anterior cruciate ligaments. Both of these injuries can be severe enough to end a dog’s performance career.”

Do Border Collies like to swim?

Border Collies love to swim if encouraged to do so when they are young. Swimming is an excellent way to exercise these high-energy dogs during the hot summer months. It’s also a good way of exercising a dog that has hip dysplasia because it strengthens the muscles that support the hips without putting any weight on the joint..

What other things do they like to do that will help me exercise my dog and keep it mentally stimulated?

Remember: if it moves, it will probably interest a Border Collie. Many love to chase and bite at bubbles blown from a children’s bubble set. They also often love to chase water coming out of a hose (or spray bottle) – a great activity for hot days. Border Collies that understand the stay command (or that have someone who can hold onto them for a minute while another person hides) love to play hide and seek, and they get very good at locating hiding people (be sure to give them “hints” at first by calling them when they have trouble finding you so they don’t get frustrated and give up). You can also hide their toys, and teach them to look for them. Teach them the names of their toys, and then to retrieve a specific toy. They love a good, fast game of “Tag” (and they love to be “It” – but don’t let them nip your legs!). Many Border Collies enjoy using their herding instinct to push basketball-sized balls around the yard, and it’s not unusual to find Border Collies that will play tetherball by jumping at, biting, nosing, and pawing a tetherball around the pole. You can teach your dog some informal agility by making use of the slides, tunnels, bridges, and teeter-totters available in your backyard or some parks’ playgrounds. Teach them tricks – the more complicated, the better (and most Border Collies just love showing off to an appreciative audience).

Do Border Collie jump fences? Are they escape artists?

Border Collies are extremely agile dogs and can easily jump/climb a 6-foot or taller fence if they decide there’s something more interesting on the other side. They are also good diggers and chewers, so if they can’t jump a fence, they might try to dig under it or chew through it if they want to get out. Some Border Collies can even learn to open doors and latches!

How big do Border Collies get?

Border Collies average between 30 to 50 pounds. However, if size is important to you, be aware that some Border Collies are as small as 25 pounds, and some are as large as 65 pounds. You can usually tell how big a dog will get by looking at his parents, but if you plan to get a puppy and you need or want a dog whose size you can count on, you might want to consider a breed with less variation in size.

Do they make good guard dogs?

Because Border Collies are bred to herd rather that protect livestock, they are not reliable guard dogs. They can be protective of their families and generally bark if they hear or see something they don’t like. (There are, however, some Border Collies that have been trained to advanced Schutzhund degrees.)

Do they shed?

They are moderate shedders. Like most dogs, they shed most in early spring and late fall.

How much grooming do they need?

Border Collies are fairly low-maintenance dogs when it comes to grooming because their coats actually shed dirt very nicely. Generally, a good 10-minute brushing two or three times per week helps to keep their coats clean and in nice condition; more frequent brushing while they are shedding helps to control the amount of hair that ends up on your carpet. Because Border Collies should not have a strong odor, bathing should be necessary only when your dog starts feeling dirty to you, or if the dog has rolled in something noxious. If your Border Collie starts to smell bad soon after a bath, a trip to the vet for a check for skin and ear problems is probably in order.

Like all dogs, they also need to have their toenails clipped regularly unless they do a lot of running on hard surfaces. In that case they often wear their nails down on their own. However, even then it’s a good idea to check the nails once a week, just to make sure.

Do they bark much?

Any dog can become a barker if it gets bored, and Border Collies become more easily bored than most other dogs. In general, however, well-trained, well-exercised Border Collies that get plenty of attention are relatively quiet dogs.

How long do they live?

Border Collies are fairly long-lived dogs. Their average lifespan, barring accidents, is probably around 12 to 13 years, and it isn’t at all unusual to find individuals that are 14 years and older. They usually hold their age well – a 12-year-old Border Collie often still looks and acts like a young dog.

Where should I get my dog?

There are several options, some good, others not so good. If you choose to get an adult dog, you can get one from a shelter, from a Border Collie rescue organization, or from a breeder who is looking for a home for an adult Border Collie. If you decide to get a puppy, you should do some research and find a breeder with a good reputation. Do not buy a Border Collie puppy from a pet store. Although these puppies are adorable, they are generally from puppy mills and are incredibly overpriced. Most people don’t realize that they can usually buy a very well-bred, well-socialized, pet-quality puppy with exceptional guarantees from a reputable breeder for less money than they can buy a puppy from a pet store. Pet store puppies have usually been bred for profit with little consideration given to long-term health. They are often prone to many problems, such as epilepsy, hip and joint problems, and early blindness. They are also usually poorly socialized, which means they can grow up to be timid, fearful dogs. Do not even buy from pet stores advertising that their animals are not from puppy mills: no reputable breeder would ever sell puppies to a pet store! You will often encounter the same problems with health and socialization with puppies sold through ads in the newspaper. The best way to find a good breeder is by asking people who already own healthy Border Collies with good temperaments.

Don’t “rescued” Border Collies have a lot of behavior problems? Do they have trouble bonding with their new owners?

Rescue can be an excellent way of getting a Border Collie, particularly if it will be your first one. The dogs that come into rescue are often well-bred, healthy dogs screened by the rescuer for temperament, whose only “faults” were that they were in homes that could not deal with the exercise and training needs of the breed. The dogs are often housebroken, and sometimes partially trained in basic obedience. Border Collies that go from rescue into active, loving homes seem to bond very quickly and strongly to their new owners. You can even sometimes get a puppy from rescue. (See the section on Breed Rescue Organizations for contacts and further information.)

How do I choose a puppy?

If you want a healthy puppy with a good temperament, the most important thing is to not be in a hurry! First, decide what activities you want to do with the dog: herding, obedience, agility, active pet (jogging, hiking), etc. Once you know what you’re looking for, talk to breeders and discuss your concerns and ideas. Since Border Collies are prone to eye diseases such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy and juvenile cataracts, and hip problems such as hip dysplasia, look for a breeder who has all dogs’ eyes and hips checked and certified: eyes are certified by C.E.R.F., and hips are certified by O.F.A. Be sure to ask to see the certificates issued by those organizations. Make sure the puppies are well-socialized: they should be friendly and confident. When you find a someone that you like and who has a good reputation, allow the breeder to help you select your puppy. Most good breeders have a pretty good idea of what the puppies’ personalities are like and will help you to make a good choice of the best puppy for your particular lifestyle.

Additional Resources

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Breed Profile submitted by rosie