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, manageable as their size might be, 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.
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. They 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, 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 common. Border collies always look alert, with their ears perched high atop their heads and often partially folded over at the tip. Unlike some working breeds, their tails are left long and bushy—and never stop wagging.
One of this breed'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 alert and focused. This intense gaze is more than just good looks—their keen vision 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.
A border collie is an intelligent dog full of energy and a strong desire to herd anything around her. She'll 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 Bethlehem, Conn. "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 undesirable behaviors. 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 kids and other animals alike. It's important to teach children how to properly interact with dogs and always supervise them when playing with any pup.
A border collie will be friendly and playful with those in her circle, but can be hesitant with strangers. As with any breed, it's important to properly socialize and train your border collie from a young age so she is comfortable around new people and in new situations.
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 might protest by removing the stuffing from your pillows.
“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—like all dogs—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," Kilcommons says. "They need attention and they need something to do. 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.
The border collie's double coat was meant to withstand long working hours in all weather conditions, and because of that it's fairly low maintenance. The top coat comes in two lengths and textures, but both are fairly good at self-cleaning (which means fewer full baths). A typical border collie simply requires weekly brushing—possibly more if she has longer fur—with a slicker brush to control shedding and matting, clear out any debris, and promote healthy skin. These dogs shed heavily twice a year, which is when you'll want to increase your brushing routine to at least once a day to keep up.
Regular brushing sessions are the perfect time to check for things like coat sheen (dull hair can mean a lack of nutrients in her diet), nail length, and ear and dental health. Nails should be trimmed if you can hear them tapping against the floor. Clean her ears so the canals are 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.
The border collie is considered a generally healthy breed with a lifespan of 12–15 years. But 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 and know what signs to look out for.
It's also important to purchase all dogs from reputable breeders who will introduce you to the dog's parents and siblings. If you're adopting, ask the rescue for all available health history.
Though recognized today as an English/Scottish dog, the border collie's history, according to Pennsylvania State University, 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.
- 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.