Introduction to the Border Collie
Smart and athletic, Border Collies today often excel in sports such as agility, rally, flyball, disc dog (frisbee), dancing with dogs, obedience, and other events.
They were originally bred for herding sheep and other livestock in the border country of England and Scotland and many Border Collies are still used as working dogs.
Border Collies can make great pets but they are often intense and have a high work drive so they may not be the best dog for a first-time dog owner. They do best with an owner who is committed to doing things with their dog to keep him mentally and physically happy. A Border Collie will not be happy just relaxing at home all the time. They are definitely over-achievers.
History of the Border Collie
Collie-type dogs have been known in the British Isles for hundreds of years. There are a number of collie breeds that have originated in Scotland such as the Collie, the Shetland Sheepdog, and the Bearded Collie, along with the Border Collie. In general, “collies” are lightweight, active, medium-sized herding dogs, usually with some white over their shoulders. Toward the 19th century, the breeds became more distinguished from each other based on appearance and the work they did, as well as their locations. The Border Collie developed from very intense working stock. They were bred for their intelligence, biddability, and working drive. Most Border Collies today are descended from a dog named Old Hemp, born in 1893 in northern England. Old Hemp’s style of working sheep became the standard for all Border Collies. He was said to be a quiet, powerful dog and sheep did what he wanted them to do easily. He was widely used at stud.
Most Border Collies today also trace to a dog named Wiston Cap, born in 1963. Wiston Cap was said to be a “biddable” dog, which means that he took direction easily from his handler, and good-natured. He was also a popular stud dog.
It’s important to note that the appearance of the Border Collie has never been of primary importance. The breed’s working ability has always been its distinguishing characteristic. For this reason, breeders in the past were willing to breed to different dogs as long as they were good workers. Consequently, today’s Border Collie includes lots of colors and they don’t all look the same, especially among working dogs. There is more uniformity with the appearance of the kennel club dogs which have a breed standard for their appearance.
In many countries there are two registries for Border Collies – a registry for show and pet dogs and a registry for working dogs. People who breed, own, and work with Border Collies have been afraid that if the dogs become popular as show dogs or pets that they will lose some of their working abilities, so they continue to breed for somewhat different traits and often register their dogs in the working registries. Working Border Collies often have a very strong work drive and many times they would not be suitable as a house pet. These dogs need to work in order to be happy.
In the United States the American Kennel Club registers Border Collies and the breed is currently ranked 39th among nearly 200 breeds, and climbing. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1994. They are a popular pet, especially for people who enjoy sports such as agility and obedience work. People with dogs from working bloodlines often register their dogs with the American Border Collie Association (ABCA). AKC recognizes dogs registered with ABCA but ABCA will not register dogs that are shown in competition with AKC or other kennel clubs (in or out of the United States) since they are completely opposed to dog shows.
Border Collie Health-Related Issues
Like most breeds, Border Collies can have some health issues, though they are generally a healthy breed. Hip dysplasia can occur in the breed, as well as Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), and epilepsy. Collie Eye Anomaly occurs in a number of related collie-type breeds. It is estimated that there is a low incidence of CEA in Border Collies and the condition is usually mild in the breed when it does occur. There is a DNA test for CEA in Border Collies now so breeders can determine which dogs are affected and carry the disease.
Border Collies can also be subject to deafness – both due to pigment, which typically shows up when puppies are past 5-6 weeks; and adult onset deafness. Border Collie puppies should have their hearing tested when they are 5-7 weeks old with a painless BAER test (brainsteam auditory evoked response) by a qualified tester. With adult onset deafness, dogs lose their hearing as adults, typically between 1 and 8 years of age.
Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL) can also occur in the show lines of Border Collies. A DNA test now exists to identify dogs who have the disease and who carry it. The disease is very rare but results in neurological impairment and is fatal. Dogs who have the disease rarely live to be older than two years old.
Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS) can also occur in Border Collies, but there is also a DNA test for this disease now, too. In this disease the bone marrow creates white cells (neutrophils) but can’t effectively release them into the bloodstream. A puppy with this disease will have an impaired immune system and eventually die because they can’t fight off infections.
Other diseases that are not common in Border Collies but which can occur include glaucoma and juvenile cataracts, as well as osteochondritis and elbow dysplasia, diabetes mellitus, and hypothyrodism.
Double merle dogs – those homozygous for the merle coloring gene – are more likely to have problems with their sight and with deafness.
Remember that most dogs do not major have health problems. Breeders work diligently to test and screen their dogs so they produce healthy puppies. But no one can completely guarantee that every dog will be healthy throughout their lifetime. If you are interested in getting a puppy or dog, be sure to talk to the breeder about their dogs and their health guarantees.
Border Collie Temperament
Border Collies are widely thought to be the most intelligent breed of dog. The book The Intelligence of Dogs ranks them at number 1 in terms of how fast they learn new commands and how fast they obey commands. Various Border Collies have also been tested and shown to know hundreds of words. Several Border Collies tested have know more than a thousand words for their toys and other objects. Not only that, but they have displayed the same kind of learning ability as toddlers that are 2-3 years old, being able to figure things out.
What this means for a potential dog owner is that Border Collies have to have mental stimulation in their lives. A Border Collie will never be happy unless he has a job to do or things to learn. They are also very physically active dogs and need a lot of exercise each day. Failure to provide regular mental and physical stimulation leads to a dog that can be destructive, neurotic, and which can easily develop behavior problems. Border Collies are wonderful dogs for someone who is looking for a partner and who has time to devote to training their dog, preferably in an activity that the dog will enjoy. Otherwise, having a Border Collie who doesn’t get enough exercise and mental stimulation can lead to disaster for the dog and the owner. Border Collies often end up in rescue for chewing on furniture or walls, digging holes, and other destructive behaviors because they aren’t getting enough mental and physical exercise.
Border Collies also have an innate tendency to herd things. This is what they were bred to do. Even if you have a Border Collie from show or pet bloodlines, they will probably want to herd things – whether it is the cat, your children, or other dogs. If this bothers you, you should not get a Border Collie. Border Collies can get along with other pets and they can be good with children, but they often need to herd. Otherwise, they can be gentle and affectionate.
Like many herding and working dogs, Border Collies can also be sensitive to motion and inclined to chase anything that moves. This can also include cars, so if you get a Border Collie you need to make sure that you have good fences. They can get along with cats but it’s best if cats don’t run from them.
It probably sounds like there are a lot of drawbacks to owning a Border Collie but they are a little like a finely-tuned sports car. Not everyone can drive a very sensitive car without wrecking it. Not every owner needs a dog as finely-tuned as a Border Collie. If a Border Collie suits you, they are wonderful dogs.
Border Collie Grooming
Border Collies can have either a smooth or rough coat, though most people probably think of them as having the rough coat which is medium long. They have double coats (undercoat and outer layer) which is rather thick and which sheds frequently. They are most often black and white but they can appear in just about any color pattern, from solid colors to brindle to merle mixes.
Border Collies are usually easy to groom, whether they have a smooth or rough coat. Dirt and debris falls out of the coat easily. Brushing the dog a couple of times per week is usually enough to get rid of shedding hair and any loose dirt. Bathe regularly.
Otherwise, grooming a Border Collie is similar to grooming other dogs. You will need to check and clean your dog’s ears, keep his nails trimmed, and maintain his teeth in good condition.
Border Collie Fun Facts
- The Border Collie Chaser knows over 1022 words and can recognize objects according to the group they belong to. For instance, you can tell him to get an object from his group of blue footballs. Chaser is only the latest of many famous Border Collies who have astonished researchers with their capacity for learning words.
- Striker the Border Collie owns the Guinness Record for opening a car window in the fastest time by a dog – 11.34 seconds.
- The two Border Collies who appeared in the movie Babe and the sequel Babe: Pig in the City were named Rex and Fly. “Fly” is a traditional name for a Border Collie.
- Old names for the Border Collie were the working collie, the farm collie, the Scotch collie, and the old-fashioned collie.
- Border Collies are great at search and rescue, tracking, and as therapy dogs. They have even been used to herd geese and other birds off golf courses and away from airport runways.
List of Common Border Collie Mixes
Border Collies are very smart but they can be too much dog for some people. There have been a few mixed breed dogs bred from Border Collies. A popular mix seems to be the Borador which is a cross between the Border Collie and the Labrador Retriever. Border Collies have also been crossed with Australian Shepherds, Beagles, Dalmatians, and other breeds.
- Bodacion – Dalmatian and Border Collie Mix
- Borador – Labrador Retriever and Border Collie Mix
- Borcolliebrit – Border Collie and Brittany Mix
- Border Basseagle – Beagle and Border Collie and Basenji Mix
- Border Chigi – Chihuahua and Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Border Collie Mix
- Border Pyrenees – Great Pyrenees and Border Collie Mix
- Border Schnollie – Border Collie and Standard Schnauzer Mix
- Border Spaniel – Cocker Spaniel and Border Collie Mix
- Border-Aussie – Australian Shepherd and Border Collie Mix
- Bordernese – Border Collie and Bernese Mountain Dog Mix
- Bordigan – Border Collie and Cardigan Welsh Corgi Mix
- Bordoodle – Poodle and Border Collie Mix
- Borgi – Border Collie and Pembroke Welsh Corgi Mix
- English Setter Collie – English Setter and Border Collie Mix
- Ski-Border – American Eskimo Dog and Border Collie Mix
Border Collie FAQs
What is a Border Collie’s life expectancy?
According to a health survey conducted by the Kennel Club in Britain in 2004, the median lifespan of the Border Collie is 12 years and 3 months. Some dogs live more than 17 years. This median lifespan is much higher than most dogs of similar size. Leading causes of death were cancer and old age.
Are Border Collies easy to train?
Yes, Border Collies are very easy to train. Most Border Collie are probably smarter than their owners.
Do Border Collies shed a lot of hair?
Border Collies shed regularly. They also have big sheds in the spring and fall when they shed more. They need regular brushing to help remove the dead coat.
Do Border Collies make good apartment pets?
No. Border Collies are very active. They can be barkers. And they need a lot of exercise. They do best if they live in the country or at least the suburbs.
Are Border Collies good with children?
Border Collies like children but they will probably try to herd them. Teach your children how to safely interact with dogs and teach your Border Collie how to behave around kids. You should always supervise your children when they play with dogs to avoid accidents.