Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and author of the column "Conversations with Champions" for the BCSA magazine, Borderlines.
History of the Modern Border Collie
The border collie originated on the border between Scotland and England, and because of differences in topography, different builds or structures emerged for working on various terrains. Today, we refer to four different types of border collies based on the region they hail from or the progenitor of each type.
- The progenitor of the modern border collie is Old Hemp. All modern border collies go back to him, with extended pedigrees having him appear as many as 40 times over many generations. Hemp himself sired over 200 puppies. Old Hemp falls into the "Northumbrian" Type, with moderate bone and a rough coat. Early Australian and New Zealand imports were from the Northumbrian region, including a Hemp daughter. As a result, the modern show dogs with Australian lines most resemble a cross between this type and the Wiston Cap Type.
- Herdsman's Tommy was a descendant of Hemp and progenitor of Whitehope Nap, Wiston Cap and many great herding champions. Tommy himself, however, tended to be willful and was not a great trial dog, preferring to work for himself rather than in partnership with his handler. However, he did give his descendants self-confidence and physical strength. Tommy's type is a rough coat with medium bone, shorter, broader muzzle and a broad skull.
- The smooth-coated, lighter boned "Nap" style (named from Wilson's Whitehope Nap) border collies have long legs, immense power and lightning-fast speed. These dogs were imported to America, often to work cattle in the West and Southwest over large ranges.
- Wiston Cap, a great grandson of Whitehope Nap and son of Wartime Cap, was an outstanding trial dog in the 1960s. Used at stud extensively, he produced over 40 litters; as such, he has had a powerful impact on the modern border collie. The Wiston Cap type is a large, powerfully built dog with a rough coat and blocky head.
While these "types" are in a line of descent, they stand out as separate types due to their unique mental and physical characteristics and the fact that each of them was used extensively at stud. As such, they have had a profound influence on the breed, its physical traits and its personality traits.
Selecting a Border Collie Puppy: AKC vs. ABCA Lines
If you are considering purchasing a border collie, you should be aware that there are now essentially two types of border collies in the United States, and you should understand the differences between them.
There are two main registries in the US for Border Collies, the American Border Collie Association (ABCA) and American Kennel Club (AKC), and they are producing two different types of dogs.
- The ABCA border collies are breed from ISDS (International Sheep Dog Society) working lines. These dogs tend to be lighter framed and lighter coated. They are bred purely on their biddability (desire to please) and instinctual ability to work stock. These lines are descended from English imports, often of the nap type, mixed occasionally with recent imports of current herding stars in the EU.
- The AKC lines include the "show dogs." The conformation lines have been developed mainly on Australian and English imports mixed in with the occasional American working dog. The conformation dogs have been bred to produce an appealing head, luxurious coat and the correct physical structure or conformation, in order to be able to do the work the breed was intended to perform.
The AKC show lines tend to have heavier bone, shorter legs, thicker coat, broader skulls and shorter broader muzzles than their ABCA brothers. The overall impression of an AKC conformation dog is that of a cobbier dog.
They also have temperament differences. Speaking in general terms, the conformation dogs tend to have a lower drive and more of an "off switch." These dogs were bred to be more social and tolerant of kennel living and the crowded environments of the show grounds.
AKC border collies being bred for performance such as herding, obedience and agility are likely to be a mix of ABCA and AKC border collies.
The ABCA registry fought long and hard to prevent the border collie from becoming an AKC-recognized breed. They were concerned that breeding merely for looks would destroy the border collie as the preeminent stock dog. As an ongoing dispute between the stewards of these two registries, if an ABCA dog titles in AKC conformation competitions, he or she will be removed from the ABCA registry.
As it stands now the two different registries are breeding for different purposes. Generally speaking, the ABCA border collie has a more powerful work ethic, and makes an excellent stock dog for either herding trailing or farm management purposes. The AKC border collie can make an excellent performance, but frequently the strong herding drive is not there to make for a top trial dog. Both can make excellent companion dogs.
The difference between the two for the puppy buyer is the desired level of intensity of the companion. Both styles are intelligent and loving, however if you are seeking a slightly more sedentary companion, the AKC conformation and performance lines will make the better choice. If you need a companion to help manage stock, the ABCA dog is likely to best suit your needs.
As a rule of thumb, the heavier boned the dog, the more laid back it and its descendants will be.
Conformation-Style Border Collie
Working-Style Border Collie
Is a Border Collie Right for My Family?
As someone who lives with anywhere from 10 to 17 border collies at any given time, I can say they do get a bad rap. They do need exercise, but not on the scale some would imagine.
Having said that, the more exercise you give a border collie, the more he will require. They will easily ramp up to meet the higher energy drive.
Border Collies and Children: Border collies do not do well with small screaming children running about helter skelter. Their innate need to control the situation will manifest in misplaced herding behavior.
This can include circling the children and gripping (biting the heels) of the offending children. Border collies like for their stock to be grouped together in an orderly manner. If their stock happens to be children, things can go out of control.
A family with children no younger than eight years old is ideal for the border collie.
Does a Large Yard Equal a Happy Border Collie?: Yes, but only if you go out with him or her to play in it. Border collies are people-focused dogs, and they want you to join them. Otherwise, they will just sit at the back door and wait for you to come out or for them to be able to come back in. They want to be with you.
You don't need to own a large yard to have a happy border collie. You do need to give him or her exercise. Walking or jogging 30–60 minutes in the morning and a game of fetch or Frisbee in the evening is enough for the conformation dog.
Border Collies Need to Have a Job: Yes, but that job can be chewing on a bone or removing the squeaker from a toy. They are intelligent and need something to do. However, when properly exercised and nothing is going on, they do spend most of the day sleeping like cats, building energy for your return.
If I Have Two Puppies, They Will Bond to Each Other and Not the Family: Not true, border collies will always return whatever affection you give them. They are sensitive animals that live to please their humans.
I have found raising two puppies together to be easier than one. They wear each other down and entertain each other. If you are considering multiple puppies, I would not recommend two from the same litter. Bring home one and begin its training, then in two to three months, you can introduce another puppy.
The older puppy is likely to help the new puppy with his training lessons.
The Difference in the Head Piece
Border Collie Health Testing Considerations
Border collies are a relatively healthy breed. However, there are genetic tests as well as hereditary diseases you should be aware of and inquire about with regards to the puppy's parents with your breeder.
- Hip Dysplasia: According to the OFA, its occurrence in border collies is approximately 11%. Any scores of Excellent, Good and Fair are passing scores.
- Elbow Dysplasia: While not as frequent in occurrence as hip dysplasia, border collies can have elbow issues. These tests are performed by the OFA on a normal (pass)/abnormal (fail) basis (abnormal grades are rated according to Grade I, II, III with Grade one being minimal and Grade III severe).
DNA Testing: DNA tests for border collies are for recessive genetic disorders. Therefore dogs that are "Carriers" for these genetically inherited diseases will not produce the diseases themselves, but could produce it in offspring if bred to another carrier. There is no need to worry if your puppy is listed as a potential carrier for any of the following diseases.
A "Normal" designation means the dog is not a carrier of the genetic defect; "Affected" means the dog will manifest the disease. A designation of "Clear By Parentage" (CBP) means the parents or grandparents of the dog have been tested to be free of inheriting the defective gene.
- CL: Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis. This is a degenerative disorder of the cells of the brain and eyes of the dog. It generally manifests at around 1–2 years of age. Its occurance is approximately 3% of dogs from Australian lines.
- CEA: Collie Eye Anomaly. The border collie form of this disease is not as severe as it is in some of the other breeds affected by this genetic defect. In severely affected dogs it can cause abnormal vision or blindness.
- TNS: Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome. TNS is a genetic disorder that usually manifests prior to 8 weeks of age. Affected puppies do not metabolize food properly and have a stunted development. Of greater concern, these puppies are not able to release white blood cells from the bone marrow, making them vulnerable to every potential infection. Frequently coats are of thin or poor quality, affected puppies are 1/2 to 1/3 the size of normal litter mates, and they are afflicted with digestive issues such as constant diarrhea. Typically these puppies do not leave the breeder and do not survive beyond 10 weeks without substantial intervention.
Other Health Considerations Common to Border Collies
Epilepsy: This disorder occurs more frequently in the working lines, however it is seen in both working and conformation dogs. They are currently working to find a genetic marker for this disorder.
Deafness: Hearing disorders can occur in border collies. There is no genetic test currently available, but BAER testing can be performed to test the dog's hearing. Border collies with as little as 15% of normal hearing still perform like dogs with normal hearing. However, for training with commands at a distance, alternative hand signals must be employed.
Eye Abnormalities: Border collies can develop cataracts, which can be detected by CERF testing. Additionally, border collies can be affected with Narrow Angle Glaucoma, which appears to have a genetic component. Evidence of this disease can only be identified by gonioscopy from a certified ophthalmologist. This disease is seen more commonly in Australian and English conformation lines; its prognosis is poor, typically requiring the removal of the affected eye.
OCD: Behavioral Issues. Border collies can suffer from sound sensitivity (thunderstorms and loud noises) as well as Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (such as obsessive fascination with lights and moving objects or engaging in repetitive behaviors). OCD ranges across both AKC and ABCA lines.
AKC Border Collies in Action
Finding a Border Collie Breeder
If you are looking for an AKC-registered border collie, then the AKC parent club will provide a list of member breeders that are in good standing. The Border Collie Society of America is the AKC parent club, and they have a Breeder Referral list, by state, with contact information on their website.
If you are seeking an ABCA-registered border collie, then your state's stockdog association will be the best place to start looking. They can refer you to registered breeders in your area.
For more information on identifying, meeting and selecting a good breeder, you can read: 8 Tips to Finding a Reputable Dog Breeder.
Invest in a Puppy Manners Class
Border collies were not bred to be pack dogs and can suffer from fear aggression if not properly socialized at an early age.
It is important to take your puppy to a training class with other young dogs in order to socialize him and teach him to listen to you when faced with many distractions.
Be prepared, your teacher will likely be ho hum about your prodigal puppies' ability to learn new tricks. Expect to hear, "Yeah, of course he learned that quickly, he's a border collie."
Border Collie Special Training Needs
Border collies are known as the smartest dogs, and they do learn quickly. Both good lessons and bad lessons. You need to be careful how you react to your border collie, especially in fearful situations.
Border collies can go through an odd fearful stage during their development. Not all border collies experience this, but it will help you to be aware of it should this stage arise with your puppy.
At approximately 9 months to 1 year of age, some dogs may suddenly become frightened of objects that they were fine with one week before. Trash cans, storm drains or balloons tied to mailboxes may suddenly terrify them. (This period will last approximately one month).
Do NOT comfort the dog when he freaks over an object. Be matter of fact; stand still near the object of terror until his fear subsides. Once he is calm again, walk on and praise him.
ABCA Border Collie in Action
Leash Training in Traffic
Frequently, the herding behavior turns its focus to cars and buses. You will know when your dog is herding a vehicle, his head will drop down low and he will stare down the car as it passes.
You need to break this behavior. Herding cars involves running out in front of the vehicle to round up the object. When you see a vehicle coming watch your dog, if the head drops, correct him with the lead and say, "No!"
You will need to repeat this until he desensitizes to vehicles. This usually takes two to three weeks to accomplish, once the herding drive kicks in.
Where It All Began: Border Collie Pup in Training in Scotland
Laser Pointers and Dog Parks Are Bad for Border Collies
As mentioned earlier, border collies are motion sensitive and control freaks. Dog parks excite their herding drive, and misplaced herding behavior can quickly turn into a fight. Be sure to have a solid recall and strong voice control of your dog before attending a dog park with him or her.
Because of their propensity for obsessive compulsive disorders, border collies can become fixated on moving lights. One of my dogs used to go to the office, and the staff thought it was funny to race her up and down the hall chasing the laser beam.
She would spend hours afterwards wondering the halls with her head darting from side to side looking for the red point of light. Laser pointers can be unhealthy for BCs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Barbara Fitzgerald
CC on October 03, 2018:
Your thoughts are the closest to what I have experienced with my BC. She is the working variety, she is not a "dog" dog, she is a "people" dog, she is finally working out of her fear aggression with almost everything but dogs that get in her space and the trash bag (she is four years old). She was actually fear aggressive from the time we brought her home, diving under the hanging dirty clothes hamper or under chairs where she could hide. As I have read different things through these educational years with my dog, I have come to believe there are "other" breeds and there is the "Border Collie" breed, and seldom the twain shall meet!
AJ from Australia on April 03, 2015:
Old Hemp - what a grand old man.
Titia Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on October 25, 2014:
Yes I do, I have about 40 sheep myself. I only use one dog at the moment, because the other has gotten arthritis in her elbow and she can't run the long distances anymore. I don't do competitions though, I only work with my own sheep. So whenever I need them in the pen, Dixie will get them for me. I wrote about them too, but haven't gotten around to update all the hubs yet.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on October 25, 2014:
Hi Titia thanks for dropping by. Do you work your dogs on stock? I went to a herding fun day today to test the interests of two of my dogs. They showed enough interest on the sheep that we will go back again!
Titia Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on October 25, 2014:
Nice to see you're a border collie breeder. I've been raising a very old and rare Dutch sheep breed for over 30 years now and I only got my first borders about 8 years ago. They're not show dogs, they're purebred working sheep dogs. Nest sisters, but totally different in looks and character.
It's true, a BC doesn't fit in every household. I've seen so many dogs gone bad, because their bosses just didn't understand what a border actually is, does and want/need to do.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on October 29, 2013:
Hi Billybuc I have a friend that is a long time border collie breeder that just added Aussies to her program. She finds that the Aussies are insane and BCs are getting a bad rap.
Probably because they keep their puppy drive until 7 years old, whereas the Aussies slow down after 2 years. Still I'd rather have two BC puppies than one Aussie lol!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 29, 2013:
I'm glad I found you. In two years we are going to buy a small farm, and then we will be getting another dog. We fluctuate between border collies and Australian Shepherds.....this information was very helpful. Thank you!