Remarkably bright, affectionate and full of energy, Border Collies are great dogs for owners with plenty of time and energy to keep them occupied. These classic working dogs can be traced back to the border of England and Scotland, derived from a mixture of early droving breeds and Spaniels. Some experts believe they’ve been working hard tending herds of sheep since the Romans were in Britain, and today they are a top choice for active families, law enforcement and service organizations.
Recognizing a Border Collie
These medium-sized dogs have an athletic appearance and well-balanced bodies. Although they are commonly associated with black and white markings, Border Collies actually come in a range of colors from blue to red and brown. Their long and dense double coats may be rough or smooth, but both varieties feature feathering on the tail and legs.
The average female Border Collie weights between 26 and 42 pounds, and males weigh an average of 31 to 44 pounds. Females tend to be 18 to 21 inches tall, and the average height for males is 19 to 22 inches.
Understanding the Herding Instinct
For the past two centuries, Border Collies have been bred for their herding instincts. The original instinct is believed to have developed from the disposition of wolves who must kill in the wild in order to survive. In Border Collies, selective breeding has toned down that instinct, compelling the dogs to circle and gather herds without actually making the final kill.
While most other herding dogs drive livestock away from handlers, this breed circles the livestock and actually delivers them back to the handler. This tactic is called “fetching” or “gathering”.
Border Collies also don’t rely on initial force to fetch herds. Instead, they intimidate stock into moving by staring them down. If that doesn’t work, a Border Collie may escalate the effort by using a small amount of force, like nipping, barking or biting to move stubborn herds.
Intelligent, Energetic and Hardworking Temperament
Border Collies are beloved for many of their traits:
- High energy
- Eagerness to please
- Dedication to work
Border Collies are dynamos with smart, hardworking, alert and energetic personalities. Highly intelligent, the breed needs to be busy to be happy. They thrive on activity because of their history of working hard and herding sheep, and they may have too much energy for certain owners. They love to run and need plenty of space to do it, and you won’t find them lounging around on the couch often. These characteristics make them ideal companions for people who live on farms or work outdoors.
Predisposed to forging strong bonds with their owners, Border Collies may become highly sensitive to your every cue. If you perform a hand signal, whistle or even raise an eyebrow, be prepared for your Border Collie to respond.
Their famed herding instinct doesn’t go away in the absence of a herd. Without a job to perform, Border Collies will easily become restless and may attempt to chase and gather other pets or even cars and children.
Training a Border Collie
Border Collies are so smart that training them can be frustrating. For example, they can quickly learn to sit, but if you raised your left hand the first time you gave the command, they may not understand when you say “Sit” but keep your hand down the next time. Their minds are always active, and they are incredibly perceptive. They will notice the difference and think you’re giving an entirely different command.
When training your Border Collie, be consistent and intentional. If you can be precise in your commands and actions, you’ll be rewarded with an extremely obedient, attentive dog.
The Importance of Exercise
To be happy and healthy, Border Collies need at least a couple of hours of activity or exercise every day. If you are at work all day, be prepared to put in time with your dog as soon as you come home. This may mean going for a long walk or run, playing a few rounds of fetch or letting your dog chase you in the backyard.
Mental stimulation is just as important to Border Collies as physical exercise, and if you don’t find ways to burn up their excess energy, they will find an outlet themselves. The result can be dangerous, so it is best to devote time every day to your dog’s needs.
Who is the Ideal Companion for a Border Collie?
Shepherds are the natural choice of companion for Border Collies, but you don’t need a herd to keep them happy. If you are a dedicated owner capable of giving the dog plenty of attention, exercise and room to roam, a Border Collie may be the ideal pet.
The ideal owner will be friendly but firm. A strong will is needed to properly train the dog, and Border Collies can easily dominate people with weak wills.
Due to their instinct to gather and herd, Border Collies do best in families without small children or other pets. They also tend to bond very strongly with their companions, so they are a great option for single people looking for a true best friend.
All breeds are prone to certain health concerns, and Border Collies are no different. While your dog may never develop any of these conditions, it is important to understand them before bringing one into your family.
- Hip Dysplasia: This inherited condition develops when the thighbone doesn’t fit properly into the hip joint. If your dog has hip dysplasia, you may notice lameness in the rear legs, but some dogs don’t show any signs of discomfort. An x-ray can diagnose the issue. If you are getting your dog from a breeder, ask to see proof that the pup’s parents have been tested for this condition.
- Epilepsy: Often inherited, epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes seizures. If your Border Collie has epilepsy, you may notice unusual behaviors like staggering, hiding or running as if he’s being chased followed by a typical seizure. During the seizure, your dog may fall down, lose consciousness and tremble either mildly or severely. Although witnessing a seizure can be scary, most dogs with epilepsy can live long, otherwise healthy lives when it is treated.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: If your dog becomes night-blind and eventually loses vision during the day, he may have this family of eye diseases. If your Border Collie’s environment remains the same, he will likely adapt well to his surroundings even if he loses vision.
- Allergies: Dogs can develop three main types of allergies. Food allergies may develop, and some dogs may experience contact allergies after being exposed to a topical substance like shampoos or bedding. The third type is an inhalant allergy, which a Border Collie may experience after exposure to airborne allergens like mildew, dust or pollen.
- Osteochondrosis Dissecans: Border Collies are more susceptible to this condition than other breeds, and it affects the cartilage in the joints. Most commonly, it develops in the elbows or shoulders, and it causes painful stiffening. You can reduce the risk of your pup developing this disease by avoiding high-protein foods and growth formulas for the first year of his life.
Grooming Your Border Collie
Border Collies are working dogs, and they don’t need excessive grooming to keep them looking their best. Their double coats should be brushed weekly to prevent matting and keep oils well distributed. During shedding season, you may brush more often to prevent hair falling around the house.
If your dog is working hard on the farm and noticeably dirty or smelly, wash him with a dog shampoo. Otherwise, you may wait about four months between baths.
For optimal oral health, brush your Border Collie’s teeth twice weekly to reduce bacteria and prevent tartar. Brushing regularly will prevent bad breath and gum disease.
Trim your dog’s nails once a month or as needed, and frequently check his ears for odors, dirt and redness. If you notice any of these signs, wipe down the ear with a cotton ball dampened with an ear cleaner to prevent any more serious issues.
While Border Collies may require more attention and exercise than other breeds, owners who are committed to caring for them will be rewarded with loyal, intelligent and obedient companions.