The Border Collie is widely reputed to be amongst the smartest of all dog breeds. In breed popularity lists, Border Collies feature in the top ten in many countries. You might think you can’t go wrong choosing a breed with these credentials, but the Border Collie is not for everyone. As a working breed, they need time, training and commitment from their owners to direct their energy and challenge their intellect.

Border Collie Characteristics

Border Collies are smart, eager to learn and loyal. While affectionate with their owners, males often more so than females, they can be very discerning when it comes to strangers as farm dogs were bred to work, not to socialise with other dogs or strangers that might be a threat to livestock. Border Collies are often referred to as biddable, meaning that they are eager to please, control, and train, in effect… to do their owners bidding. Being biddable also means that they will look to their owners for direction and are not necessarily independent thinkers. In a farming situation where a dog is being used to control livestock, this is a very desirable trait. They need to look to the farmer for direction when working, but they also need to be able to problem solve and be adaptable to achieve the farmer’s goal as livestock can often be unpredictable. Border Collies can be driven and stoic, always willing to work even when injured.

Working line Border Collie

The traits that make the Border Collie so appealing as a working breed can lead to difficulties for pet owners, particularly if they are inexperienced and unfamiliar with good training techniques. Their intelligence, combined with a good memory and the ability to problem solve, can easily result in Border Collies turning the tables on inexperienced owners. The trainer can easily become the trainee before they realise what has happened!

The drive to work can also be a problem. Regardless of how many generations they have been bred as pets, they still retain the intrinsic instincts that the breed was developed for. Without stimulation, Borders can become bored, anxious and develop behavioural disorders such as obsessive ball catching, chasing flies, car chasing and herding children and other pets. Exercise alone is not the solution to keeping a Border Collie stimulated, in fact excessive exercise, play, and a busy urban environment can be detrimental to Borders. They can become overwhelmed and over stimulated resulting in mental fatigue and anxiety.

Borders need to be rewarded for calm behaviour and training needs to include activities that challenge their intellect. Problem solving and using their brain will wear them out more rapidly than physical exercise. Border Collies enjoy nothing more than being part of the family and being involved in daily family activities is far better for a Border Collie than being locked outside all day with nothing to keep them occupied. Twenty minutes of intense ball catching at the end of the day is no substitute, can result in obsessive behaviour, and can be damaging to the joints of growing puppies. By involving them in daily activities and household chores they are far more likely to relax when you do at the end of the day.

Border Collies are still widely used throughout the world to control livestock. The breed is thought to originate from the area along the Anglo-Scottish border. Being a cool climate, the classic, well recognised black and white dog with a longer coat was suitable for working but as the breed became popular in warmer climates, farmers developed working lines of Border Collies that have shorter, lighter coats. Working line Border Collies also come in a multitude of colour and marking variations and tend to be taller, leaner dogs, bred primarily for their ability to work rather than their appearance. Although the type and temperament of these lines can vary a great deal, these dogs tend to have very high working drives. While well suited to farm life, they may not be ideal in a family situation unless the owner is very dedicated and provides some form of substitution for work on a regular, preferably daily basis such as participating in dog sports.

Working Border Collie cooling down after work.

Border Collies bred for the show ring and as family companions are commonly the more traditional black and white dog with a moderate double coat. Anyone considering a Border Collie needs to accept that regular grooming and hair shedding is part of living with a Border. While Borders from working lines may have much easier coats to deal with, grooming of any dog is a necessity. You need to either budget for someone to do this or make it a part of your weekly routine.

Temperament

The temperament of individual Border Collies can be variable, regardless of whether they originate from show or working lines. It is not uncommon to find dogs that can be fearful, exacerbated by lack of early socialisation. Others can have outgoing solid temperaments even from the same litter. Fear aggression can be a problem in more timid dogs, but many will get on well with dogs that they have become acquainted with through proper socialisation. The most important thing is to locate a good breeder that knows the temperament of their lines and trust them to guide you in choosing a puppy that is well suited to your home and family situation. Avoid breeders that allocate you a puppy from a week old without knowing anything about your situation or allowing the puppy to develop enough to assess its temperament. Safe socialisation from eight weeks, calm positive training, enrichment and activities that don’t involve excessive exercise will have a positive impact on the temperament of your puppy.

Border Collies playing at the beach.

The Ideal Border Collie Owner

It is difficult to understand why anyone would want a pet dog but not want the dog to share their home and become part of the family. With Border Collies this type of pet ownership can only lead to behavioural issues as Border Collies need to be part of the family and, as a working dog, they need a role or a ‘job’ in that family. The ideal Border Collie owner is someone who understands that this intelligent breed needs mental stimulation, not just exercise and who wants to spend time with their dog. Planned family activities should include the dog. If the dog must be outside during the day while their owner is working, they require enrichment in the form of activity toys or they can become quite creative in how they entertain themselves. Having a job in the family can be as simple as riding in the car, supervising the family while they go about their daily activities like gardening, house cleaning, taking out the garbage, or involve more structured activities like learning tricks or some other form of training.

Border Collies are an agile, athletic and versatile breed regardless of whether they originate from pedigree show lines or working lines. They excel in dog sports such as agility, herding, obedience, doggy dancing and dock dog competition with the right training. They are also good scent dogs doing well in tracking competition. Hiding objects for them to find around the house is also a good enrichment activity. Training and socialisation for Border Collies must be consistent, begin early, and all members of the family need to understand the principles. Training is also for the owner to avoid making mistakes that can result in long term behavioural problems. It is important to be observant of your Border Collie’s behaviour and learn to listen to what your dog is trying to tell you.

Border Collie doing agilty competition weaving

If you have never owned a dog before, a Border Collie may be too much of a challenge. If you have done your research and you feel that the breed is right for you, make sure you select a good breeder that will guide you while you learn what it means to have a Border Collie in your life. The breed may not be ideal for older people unless they have owned a Border Collie before and understand commitment required. They are not recommended by many responsible breeders for couples with young children as they are inclined to chase and nip children that are running and screaming, triggering their intrinsic herding instincts.  Parents of young children and workaholics are also often too time poor to provide their dog with the attention it deserves and requires. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules, so it is best to discuss your home situation with the breeder and be guided by them.

Border Collie Health

Like many purebred dogs, Border Collies are prone to several hereditary health issues, one very important factor to consider when locating a puppy. Responsible Border Collie breeders are working to reduce the prevalence of these conditions through genetic and other forms of health screening in their breeding dogs and puppies. These tests are expensive, and it is unlikely that someone with a couple of Border Collies of unknown pedigree and background will have gone to the trouble of testing their dogs prior to breeding a litter of puppies. Buying a puppy under these circumstances leaves the buyer at risk of obtaining a puppy that may end up with a health condition. Getting a Border cross does not eliminate the risk either as different breeds are still dogs. The genes for hip dysplasia are the same genes in all dogs so getting a cross does not eliminate the risk of the disorder. There is also the possibility that your puppy may inherit the genetic problems of other breeds in its background. It is unlikely that the breeders of a Border Collie cross will have done any health testing and if the puppies come from a pet store, they may have been bred in a puppy mill. There are many breeders of Border Collies that do extensive testing so with some research you should be able to locate a good breeder that participates in health screening.

Healthy Border Collie playing

Recognised health conditions worldwide in Border Collies include Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS) and Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (CL). All breeding stock should be DNA tested for these three conditions but there are several other tests that are becoming available that can be done. Eye screening for cataracts, glaucoma and persistent pupillary membranes (PPMs) may also be carried out by breeders and in the USA Baer testing for hearing is common. The testing has identified that many Border Collies are unilaterally deaf (deaf in one ear). These should not be bred from but can still make good pets. The breed can also suffer from Lupus, an autoimmune condition. There are two forms of Lupus, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE). Systemic Lupus is less common and can be devastating but dogs that suffer from the more common Discoid Lupus, affecting primarily the skin on the dog’s nose, can live normal happy lives with medication and skin protection from UV.

Screening for hip and elbow dysplasia is extremely important for Border Collies. Viewing the hip and elbow scores of the parents is a must but if a breeder can show you good hip and elbow scores for several generations, even better. Of course, there are other factors that influence the likelihood of a dog developing hip or elbow dysplasia. Allowing puppies to gain weight too quickly and letting adult dogs get too fat combined with excessive exercise can result in hip and elbow problems regardless of the scores of the parents.

Another mistake is to choose or request a puppy based on colour. The merle colour combinations are becoming increasingly popular with pet buyers, but the merle gene is associated with genes for eyesight and hearing. A merle to merle mating produces a 25% chance of puppies being deaf and/ or blind.

Cancer is on the increase in all dogs and is one of the biggest killers of the breed. Lymphoma appears to be the most common form in the breed and can be diagnosed when the dogs are quite young. There is no testing that can help you avoid getting a dog that will develop cancer. The only thing you can do is keep your dog healthy with a good diet and regular exercise.

The extent to which good breeders test may vary depending on the country they reside in as some health conditions may be less prevalent in the breed lines of that country. A breeder that does not discuss potential health issues is either ignorant of the problems or avoiding the discussion. Both are reasons to avoid the breeder and continue looking. Puppies are hard to resist so it is better to ask these questions before being presented with a litter of adorable Border Collie puppies.

Border Collie Puppies

How to Recognise a Good Border Collie Breeder

So how do you recognise a good breeder? Talk to breeders before looking at puppies and meet their adult dogs if possible. You should not be surprised if they have more questions for you than you have for them! Good breeders may have a waiting list for their puppies, a positive sign though some may not take your details until they have a litter planned. The best breeders tend to breed rarely. For them it is more about improving the breed and finding good homes for their pups than breeding large numbers of puppies.

If they have determined that you understand your responsibilities, most will want you to be involved in the progress of the litter in the form of photos and regular updates. Social media is being used by some breeders to connect with puppy buyers, allowing them to share their thoughts on the breed, training and ongoing care of your puppy. It also helps them keep track of their puppies and owners are encouraged to share birthday photos and other milestones. It makes it easier for them to assist you with any puppy problems that you may encounter. You may be invited to meet the puppies before collection but disease transmission is always a concern so that may vary if, for instance, there is an outbreak of Parvovirus in your area. It helps the breeder assess your personality and choose or recommend a puppy that is a good fit for your family. As puppies require a midday meal for several weeks, they will also have questions for you on how you will manage the first few weeks of your new responsibilities.

On collection you should receive a puppy pack that includes helpful information on the ongoing care of your puppy including diet, training and enrichment, vaccination and worming records, and future schedules for both. The puppy pack will usually include some food to make sure that the puppy doesn’t experience diarrhea from a sudden change in diet and may include suitable toys, and a blanket that has been with their mother to give the puppy a sense of security and reduce stress.

You should also receive microchip certificates, registration papers, details of health testing performed on the parents, and your puppy contract. Many breeders require owners to sign a contract that includes a non-breeding agreement and requires the puppy to be returned to them rather than being sold to anyone else. Most good breeders would prefer to refund a buyer and take the puppy back than see the puppy go on to another potentially unsuitable home. It may include a sterilisation clause though for puppies, particularly males, there is increasing evidence that for health and developmental reasons, sterilisation is best left until 12 to 18 months.

Reputable Border Collie breeders want the best for their puppies and the lifetime support you receive from a good breeder is invaluable. It can make the difference between having to re-home a dog that has become part of the family or experiencing devastating health or behavioural problems that cause you to regret your decision to bring this wonderful, intelligent and beautiful breed into your home.

Border Collie Puppy

For those that want the statistics…

Colours

Colour genetics in Border Collies can be complex and only the very basics will be covered here.  Black and white is the dominant colour with the white being restricted to a blaze up the centre of the face, on the chest and forelegs, a white collar around the neck, white hind feet and a white tip on the tail.

Other colours include red, blue, lilac, chocolate, sable, liver, merle, and combinations such as chocolate sable, red merle and blue merle. These colours can also be solid, bi-colour or tri-colour.

Weight: Female: 12–19 kg (26–42 lb), Male: 14–20 kg (31–44 lb)

Height: Female: 46–53 cm (18–21 in), Male: 48–56 cm (19–22 in)

Life Expectancy: 10-17years (Average 12years)

Training Resources for Border Collie Owners

Poitive Reinforcement Training - What is it? Cindy Ludwig, Canine Connection LLC

Clicker Training - Getting Started - Cindy Ludwig, Canine Connection LLC

Dog Training - Articles on positive reinforcement training.

Further Reading from the Author

Getting to Know Dogs - by Diana Andersen Animalinfo Publications

Getting to Know Dogs by Diana Andersen, Animalinfo PublicationsLearn more about dog ownership and choosing a dog that is right for you with this comprehensive, easy to use guide covers topics including the history and origin of the domestic dog, popular breeds, locating and choosing a healthy dog or puppy, the first days at home, diet, basic training and an extensive section on maintaining the health and wellbeing of your canine companion.

Illustrated throughout with over 200 images from award winning animal photographer Diana Andersen. Helpful health diagrams and useful links for further information.

Available in Hardcover or eBook.

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