Border Collie

Border collies are intelligent dogs full of energy and a strong desire to herd anything—and everything—around them. Learn more about living with border collies.
By Abby Gilman
August 24, 2020
Border Collie
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
All filters

Border Collie

height
  • 18 to 22 inches
weight
  • 30 to 55 pounds
life span
  • 12 to 15 years
breed size
  • medium (26-60 lbs.)
good with
  • families
  • dogs
temperament
  • friendly
  • willful
  • outgoing
  • playful
  • aloof
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • seasonal
exercise needs
  • high
energy level
  • hyper
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • herding
coat length/texture
  • short
  • medium
colors
  • brown / chocolate / liver
  • red
  • gold / yellow
  • black
  • blue
  • gray
patterns
  • bicolor
  • tricolor
  • sable
  • saddle / blanket
  • brindle
  • flecked / ticked / speckled
  • tuxedo
  • merle
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • good watch dog
  • highly territorial
  • high prey drive
  • cold weather tolerant
  • hot weather tolerant
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • good hiking companion

Border collies are smart dogs with tons of energy and a lust for hard work. This working breed packs a powerful punch in a compact body (most only reach 45 pounds max), but that doesn’t necessarily make them a good fit for city life. Because of their intelligence and extreme energy, border collies will be happiest living with a highly active owner (possibly one looking for a new daily running buddy), living on a farm or ranch, or competing on the agility course. If you’re looking for a playful, well-mannered, nonstop working dog, the border collie may be right for you.

Appearance

Border collies were bred to work, and their appearance fits the bill. This medium-sized herding dog has a strong, agile body on a lean frame, typically weighing up to 45 pounds. Border collies can have two types of coat: smooth (short and coarse) or rough (medium-length and feathered). Both types are double-coats to protect against harsh weather and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns accepted by the Border Collie Society of America. But black-and-white or a tricolor pattern of black, white, and tan are most commonly seen. Border collies can be merle—which makes them look very similar to an Australian shepherd—or even brindle in pattern, though these are less commonly seen. Border collies always look alert, with their ears perched high atop their heads and often partially fold over at the tip. Unlike some working breeds, border collies’ tails are left long and bushy.

One of the border collie’s most famous features is her eyes. Oval in shape and coming in shades of brown or light blue, the border collie’s eyes are always intense, alert, and focused. This intense gaze is more than just good looks—it helps the breed when working in the field. Border collies are known to stare intently into an animal’s eyes, seemily using mind tricks to control the flock.

Temperament

Border collies are intelligent dogs full of energy and a strong desire to herd anything around them. A border collie will be happiest on a farm or ranch, where she has plenty of room to run all day and can even be put to task. This beloved breed can also make a great family pet for the active owner willing to put daily effort into exercising their dog.

“A border collie is like living with a Mensa student on methamphetamines,” says Brian Kilcommons, founder of The Great Pets Resort, a training facility in Connecticut. “It’s often considered the smartest dog, which also means a high energy level that requires tons of exercise every day, both mentally and physically. Without proper exercise, the dog more than likely is going to become a source of discomfort.”

Today, border collies are perhaps most well-known for their agility and ability to take subtle directions in various canine sports. This eager breed is quick to learn and is one of the most trainable dogs in the world. Despite their interest in learning obedience and tricks, border collies can be strong-minded and independent. It takes a patient, dedicated owner to get the best out of a border collie. 

“With the really smart, active dogs, such as border collies, you want to start a relationship and connection as soon as you get them, where you’re starting to teach them,” Kilcommons says. “Dogs learn. We get to decide what they learn. And if we’re not teaching them, they’ll develop their own games.”

Proper exercise and mental stimulation are key to exhausting a border collie and curbing potential destructive tendencies. A well-adjusted border collie can make a fine friend for children and other pets, but it’s important to remember that border collies are herding dogs by nature and they may try to employ their abilities on children and other pets. It’s important to teach children how to properly interact with dogs and always supervise them when playing with any dog.

Border collies can make good watch dogs, but they’re a bit too small to actually fend off intruders. This breed is friendly and playful with those in her circle but can be aloof and hesitant with strangers. Though not considered aggressive, border collies are protective of their families, which may translate to nipping the heels of people they consider strangers. As with any breed, it’s important to properly socialize and begin training your border collie from a young age to mitigate these behaviors.

Living Needs

Border collies can be quite the handful and require daily strenuous exercise and mental stimulation. Though bred for the open expanses of a farm or ranch where they can run all day and herd to their heart’s content, border collies can adapt to city living with an active owner. This breed needs plenty of exercise—at least an hour of strenuous play per day—and won’t be happy cooped up inside. A border collie who is left unexercised and bored will become destructive and can lead to behavior problems.

“You’ll see a lot of border collies on agility courses because they don't have any sheep to herd,” Kilcommons says. “Dogs are genetic packages, they’re hardwired for this stuff. Take a herding class with the dog—that’s what they were made for, and they need that fulfillment, they need that exercise, and they definitely need the psychological stimulation.”

Though independent herders in the field, border collies need affection and companionship, and should be considered part of the family. Because of this, this breed shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time. Border collies are more than eager to tag along for a run, bike ride, or long hike, and are content to curl up on the couch after a long day of exhausting exercise. Because of their intelligence and energy levels, border collies can be a handful for the average dog owner. 

“They have that eye with that intense stare and when they’re bored, they’ll stalk you. They need attention and they need something to do,” Kilcommons says. “If you think you want a border collie, do your research on the breed. Go to a breeder and hang out with some to see what they’re like.” Talking to a border collie breeder or rescue group can help determine if this is the breed for you.

Care

The border collie’s double-coat was meant to withstand long working hours in all weather conditions and because of that is fairly low maintenance. The top weather-resistant coat comes in two lengths and textures, but both are fairly good at self-cleaning (which means fewer full baths). They’ll simply require weekly brushing—possibly more for the long-hair variety—with a slicker brush to control shedding and matting, clear out any debris, and promote healthy skin. These dogs shed heavily twice a year, and you’ll want to increase your brushing routine to at least once a day to keep up in these times. And this is definitely not a breed that’s considered hypoallergenic.

Regular brushing sessions are the perfect time to check for things like coat sheen (dull hair can mean a lack of nutrients in diet), nail length, and ear and dental health. Nails should be trimmed if you can hear them tapping against the floor. Ear canals should be pale pink with very little—and fairly odorless—wax. Be sure to look for any signs of movement (it could mean mites) and foreign objects in the canal, especially if you and your dog spend a lot of time outdoors or have recently been in tall grasses.

Border collies are widely considered one of the most intelligent dog breed in the world, and keeping them mentally stimulated is extremely important to their overall health, happiness, and wellbeing. This breed is eager to learn and excels at all levels of training, starting with obedience. Border collies can be trained for all sorts of jobs, from assisting as a farmhand to search and rescue to competing in Frisbee competitions.

Health

The border collie is considered a generally healthy breed with a lifespan of 12–15 years. Like all breeds, the border collie is prone to certain diseases. The Border Collie Society of America, the official breed club, strongly recommends breeders test for hip dysplasia and complete a thorough eye exam. The club recommends additional testing for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), deafness, epilepsy, collie eye anomaly (CEA), neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, and trapped neutrophil syndrome. Of course not all border collies will encounter serious health issues, but it’s important to be aware of these common concerns when considering this breed. It’s also important to purchase all dogs from reputable breeders who will introduce you to the dog’s parents and siblings. If adopting, ask the rescue for all available health history.

History

Though recognized today as an English/Scottish dog, the border collie’s history, according to the American Kennel Club, begins with the ancient Roman Empire. In 43 AD, emperor Claudius led a successful conquest of Britain and as the Romans settled in, so did their dogs. The Roman herding dogs were widely employed for centuries to come. Then the Vikings invaded and, as it goes, so came their dogs. The Vikings’ dogs were smaller and quicker, and it didn’t take long for breeders to combine the two herding breeds. The result was a small and fast herding dog fit for the rough and rocky Scottish highlands.

It wasn’t until 1906 that border collies were recognized as a distinct breed and standards were developed. Contrary to typical breed standards, the herding dogs’ focused on working ability rather than physical traits. Today’s borders are still considered the premier herding dogs of the world. Incredibly intelligent, agile, and disciplined in their work, the border can be seen herding and protecting livestock on farms or taking home trophies at agility competitions. They’re favored by farmers, ranchers, search and rescue teams, and active families alike. As of 2018, the border collie was the AKC’s 35th most popular breed.

Fun Facts

  • A border collie was chosen to play Fly—a dog who teaches a pig to herd sheep—in the film Babe.
  • Border collies frequently top lists of the world’s smartest dog.
  • The border collie is one of the fastest breeds in the world, and can run up to 30 mph.
  • Collie is the Scottish word for sheepdog. The border collie got its name from its popularity as a sheepherding dog on the border of Scotland and England.
  • The border collie breed is popular with lots of famous folks, including Queen Victoria, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, Jon Bon Jovi, Ethan Hawke, and Tiger Woods.