The Border Collie: A Guide for Owners

Updated on April 21, 2020
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.

The Border Collie: A Guide for Owners.
The Border Collie: A Guide for Owners.

Throughout history, few dogs have been capable of matching the level of intelligence, playfulness, and general pleasantness exhibited by the Border Collie. Well-known for their remarkable degree of intelligence and capacity for learning, the Border Collie is an extraordinary dog breed worthy of praise and respect in the canine world. This work examines the Border Collie, and provides an in-depth analysis of the dog’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general characteristics. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this fascinating animal will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

Scientific Classification

  • Common Name: Border Collie
  • Binomial Name: Canis lupus familiaris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: lupus familiaris

Long-haired Border Collie.
Long-haired Border Collie.

History of the Border Collie

The Border Collie was first bred in Great Britain as a sheep-dog trained to work closely with its owner and to herd a variety of livestock. Believed to have descended from reindeer herding dogs first brought to Scotland by the Vikings, breeders were able to successfully create the Border Collie by crossing this breed with Valee Sheepdogs.

Although the breed was generally referred to as “Sheepdogs” for several decades, the dog was officially recognized as the “Border Collie” around 1915 (petmd.com). It is widely believed that the term “Border” was selected since the breed was developed on the Anglo-Scottish border around Northumberland.

“Everything I know I learned from dogs.”

— Nora Roberts

Characteristics of the Border Collie

Body

  • Height: 18 to 22 inches
  • Weight: 30 to 50 pounds

The Border Collie is a medium-sized, muscular dog with a relatively short (but long) stature. Known for its relatively broad head and tapered muzzle, the Border Collie also possesses semi-erect ears and a smooth double coat of fur that often takes on a white and black coloration.

Head

Overall skull of the Border Collie is flat with a moderate width. Skull and muzzle should be proportionate in length, with both running parallel to one another. Sitting atop the head is a series of medium-sized ears that are usually semi-erect. Ears are relatively mobile with the tips generally falling forward. Completing the head is a series of oval-shaped eyes, along with a strong muzzle that possesses a well-developed jawline, pigmented nose, and wide nostrils.

Forequarters

Within this region of the Border Collie, typical forelegs run parallel with one another (when viewed from the front), with the shoulder blades and legs being relatively long. Shoulder blades are known to meet the upper arms at a right angle, whereas the elbows are generally straight. Finishing the forequarters is a pair of compact, oval-shaped feet with deep pads and arched toes.

Hindquarters

Similar to the forequarters, the hindquarters are both broad and muscular in appearance (akc.org). With the rear legs running parallel to one another (as with the front), it is generally acceptable for the rear feet to face slightly outward in appearance. Finishing the hindquarters is a compact, oval-shaped pair of feet with deep pads, arched toes, and a series of strong nails.

Coloration and Coat

The Border Collie typically sports a double coat that is weather resistant. Top coats are usually straight (or slightly wavy), with the undercoat taking on a short and soft texture. Generally speaking, the forelegs, chest, and underside are known to take on a “feathered” appearance with this breed, whereas the face, ears, feet, and front legs possess a short (but smooth) coating of fur.

Despite being renowned for their black and white coloration, Border Collies appear in a wide array of colors, including: chocolate, lilac, sable, red, and “blue” (a diluted black coloration). Tri-colors are also common with this breed, allowing for a wide spectrum of color patterns to exist.

Tail

Tails on this breed are set relatively low on the body, with a medium-sized length. When happy or excited, the tail typically has a slight upward curl at the end while wagging. Tails, however, should never curl above the back.

An adorable Border Collie puppy.
An adorable Border Collie puppy.

Are Border Collies Right for Your Household?

The Border Collie is well-known for its high energy levels and need for exercise. Considered highly intelligent and attentive, this breed is extremely easy to train and showcases a steady willingness to obey their master. It should be noted, however, that Border Collies are extremely sensitive breeds, and thrive on praise from their owners (Schuler, 29). For this reason, Border Collies are not for the faint-hearted, as they require owners that can devote a substantial amount of time and energy into their well-being and development.

General Characteristics

  • Energy Level: 5/5
  • Exercise Needs: 5/5
  • Playfulness: 4/5
  • Affection Towards Owners: 3/5
  • Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 2/5
  • Training Difficulty: 1/5
  • Grooming Level: 3/5

Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1 = Lowest, 5 = Highest)

Temperament

The Border Collie possesses an abundance of physical and mental energy due to their natural herding instincts and high-degree of intelligence. Classified by breeders as hard-working and adaptable, potential owners should be aware that the Border Collie requires intensive exercise on a daily basis to be happy. Due to their sensitive nature, owners should also be aware that Border Collies are prone to shyness and fearfulness if not properly socialized during their puppy stages of development. Despite these issues, owners can generally expect their Border Collie to be quite affectionate.

Are Border Collies Good with Children?

Yes! Border Collies are well-suited for family life due to their intelligence and high-levels of energy. However, due to their natural instinct to herd, the Border Collie is usually not recommended for households with smaller children (i.e. toddlers). While it may seem humorous (at first) to see your Border Collie herding your kids around the house, their tendency to bite (nip) at the ankles can be problematic for younger children.

Due to their sensitive nature, the Border Collie is also known to become fearful (untrusting) of younger children if not properly socialized. This is a problematic trait, as nervousness can lead to potential biting. Prospective owners should, therefore, spend a substantial amount of time teaching both their new Border Collie and children, alike, how to properly play with one another in order to avoid potential injuries and mishaps.

How Smart is the Border Collie?

The Border Collie is a highly intelligent animal, and is largely considered by experts to be the most intelligent breed of dog in the world. In fact, it has been observed that this breed is capable of learning new commands within just a few minutes (with only a few repetitions of the task/action). For this reason, the Border Collie often makes for an excellent competitive breed (for dog shows and events). They are also well-suited for police work (due to their remarkable sense of smell), search and rescue, as well as companionship for disabled individuals.

As a result of their intelligence, the Border Collie requires extensive mental stimulation on a daily basis to prevent boredom (and the onset of destructive behaviors) from occurring as the animal attempts to “entertain” itself by chewing, climbing, digging, or chasing.

Grooming Requirements

As a relatively long-haired breed, regular brushing is required to maintain your Border Collie’s coat. Experts generally suggest brushing your Border Collie 2 to 3 times a week to prevent matting and excessive shedding. As an outside pet, regular grooming is also crucial for removing excess dirt, debris, and harmful pests such as ticks.

As with all dogs, owners should also keep a close eye on their dog’s nails; trimming them on a regular basis to prevent serious harm (or injury) to their pet and others.

Training

As with any breed of dog, early training and socialization is crucial for positive development with the Border Collie (from puppy to adulthood). Due to its tremendous capacity for learning, however, owners will not experience much difficulty with training their Border Collies as long as patience and consistency are followed. Experts recommend that all Border Collies undergo obedience training during their puppy months. This training should continue at intermittent times throughout your dog’s lifetime. Obedience is crucial for this breed as the Border Collie has a natural instinct to herd. Such instincts, in turn, can result in troublesome behaviors if not dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.

Due to their high energy levels and relatively long fur, it should be noted that training regimens during the summer months should be monitored with extreme care. This is largely due to the fact that Border Collie’s have a strong tendency to become overheated. Remedies for this include regular breaks and plenty of water to promote cooling.

Exercise Requirements

Experts generally suggest two 45-minute walks (per day) for the Border Collie, with at least 20 of these minutes devoted to “off-leash” activities. This includes playing frisbee, fetch, or general running. Mental exercise is also crucial for this particular breed due to their high-degree of intelligence. Plan to devote at least 15 to 30 minutes a day showing your dog new tricks and commands.

It should be noted that these “requirements” vary significantly between individual dogs (as every dog is unique in their own special way). For this reason, individuals should work closely with their veterinarian to establish a good exercise regimen for their pet.

Border Collie prepares to herd flock of sheep.
Border Collie prepares to herd flock of sheep.

Nutritional Needs

As with most breeds, high-quality dog food should always be the number one priority for your pet. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home following the guidance and supervision of your dog’s veterinarian. High-quality food is crucial for all stages of the Border Collie’s development, including their puppy, adult, and senior years. For this reason, experts warn that owners should avoid giving their pets table scraps, as many human foods do not provide the necessary vitamins and minerals required by your Border Collie to sustain their high-degree of energy and stamina. Moreover, a large array of human foods contain harmful substances that could potentially endanger your pet (the worst foods are listed below).

The 10 Worst Foods for Dogs:

  • Chocolate
  • Fatty Meats
  • Foods with High Levels of Sodium (Salt)
  • Dairy Products (Such as milk or ice cream)
  • Raw Meats, Eggs, or Fish
  • Candy
  • Grapes and Raisins
  • Garlic or Onions
  • Foods with High Levels of Sugar
  • Avocados

How Much Food Should a Border Collie Eat per Day?

As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. In general, it is suggested that less active (and older dogs) should consume approximately 700 calories per day. More active Border Collies, however, will require additional food in the range of 900 to 1,400 calories a day. Owners generally want to maintain a healthy and proper weight for their Border Collie in the range of 30 to 50 pounds. While 1.5 to 2 cups of high-quality dog food (twice a day) is the usual recommendation, owners can adjust this amount depending on their dog’s unique situation. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s needs.

Strict feeding routines are necessary for this breed as the Border Collie has difficulties in regulating the intake of their food. Without supervision, Border Collies will consume an entire day’s worth of food in one sitting. Likewise, owners should carefully monitor their dog’s water consumption each day as their activity level usually warrants additional hydration needs. In general, it is recommended that dogs receive 8.5 ounces of water per 10 pounds of weight. In other words, a 50-pound dog would require nearly 42 ounces of water in one day to stay fully hydrated and healthy.

Signs of Dehydration in Your Border Collie:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Lethargy (reduction in general energy levels)
  • Extreme panting
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry nose and gums
  • Thicker saliva

Border Collie playing fetch with her owner.
Border Collie playing fetch with her owner.

What Type of Home is Good for the Border Collie?

Although Border Collies are highly adaptable and can fit a variety of roles within your family (whether it be herding, competition training, or companionship), it should be noted that this breed is best suited for the outdoors. This is largely due to the fact that Border Collies possess a high-degree of energy and stamina. While the breed is capable of living a happy life in more urban-based settings, it is generally recommended that Border Collies remain in homes around the countryside as city-life will require extra accommodations from their owner.

Are Border Collies Good with Other Pets?

Yes and no. Early socialization with other pets offers the best chance for creating lasting bonds with your Border Collie and other animals in the home. Because of their inherent nature to “herd,” however, owners should be mindful that this breed possesses a tendency to chase other animals (both big and small). This can, in turn, result in problems with pets if proper obedience training is not undertaken during the puppy stages of development.

In general, it is highly recommended that smaller animals are kept away from the Border Collie whenever you cannot physically be there to supervise.

Are Border Collies Good Guard Dogs?

Not exactly. Although the Border Collie has a great protective instinct and will protect their families if they sense danger, their relatively small size hampers them from stopping potential intruders. While this breed can be trained for guard-dog duties, they are generally limited to barking when they see an intruder or stranger. For these reasons, owners seeking a guard dog are better served by a larger (more aggressive breed) such as a Doberman or German Shepherd.

Health Concerns: Recommended Testing and Evaluations

Recommended medical tests and evaluations for the Border Collie are as follows:

  • Ophthalmologist Exam
  • Hip Evaluation

As with most herding breeds, the Border Collie is known to suffer from a variety of health issues; most notably, problems with the joints due to their high activity levels. Although generally a very healthy breed, owners should work actively with a qualified veterinarian to determine the right preventive care and health screenings for your pet. Some of the biggest health issues for this breed include: hypothyroidism, progressive retinal atrophy, Collie eye anomaly (CEA), and hip dysplasia. With proper care, owners can expect their Border Collie to live nearly 10 to 14 years.

Famous Border Collies

  • Nana (from the movie Snow Dogs)
  • Fly (from the movie Babe)
  • Betsy (famous Border Collie known to possess a vocabulary of 300+ words)
  • Chaser (largest tested memory of any animal; able to recognize 1,022 different words)

World's Greatest Pet?

In closing, the Border Collie is a remarkable breed of dog that is highly intelligent, adaptable, and suitable for a wide array of owners (and environments). Although prospective owners should plan to invest significant amounts of time and energy into their Border Collie’s physical, mental, and emotional development, the companionship and loyalty offered by this particular breed certainly outweighs the costs of this extra work. For these reasons, the Border Collie will likely remain one of the most popular breeds in the world for years to come.

Works Cited

  • American Kennel Club. The New Complete Dog Book 22nd Edition. Mount Joy, Pennsylvania: Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017.
  • Coile, Caroline. The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.
  • Dennis-Bryan, Kim. The Complete Dog Breed Book. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2014.
  • Larkin, Peter and Mike Stockman. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds, & Dog Care. London, England: Hermes House, 2006.
  • Mehus-Roe, Kristin. Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: I-5 Press, 2009.
  • O’Neill, Amanda. What Dog? A Guide to Help New Owners Select the Right Breed for their Lifestyle. Hauppauge, New York: Interpret Publishing Ltd., 2006.
  • Schuler, Elizabeth Meriwether. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Dogs. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 1980.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The 10 Best Dogs for Children.” (PetHelpful). 2019.

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.

Questions & Answers

  • My dad's 8 year old Border Collie/Aussie Shepherd mix has suddenly stopped wanting to come in the house. It's making my elderly parents very concerned. Even a high-value treat won't lure her inside. What could be causing their dog from wanting to come into the house?

    A number of things could be causing this. Border Collies (including the Australian Shepherd) require an incredible amount of exercise on a daily basis (in the vicinity of several hours for some dogs) due to their high energy levels. You had mentioned that your parents are elderly, so I'm guessing that they probably aren't able to spend a great deal of time walking or playing with their dog. As a result, their dog may be refusing to come inside since they associate the indoors with "sitting around," whereas the outdoors represent freedom and playtime. If this is the case, additional time outdoors might help to alleviate this issue. Fencing in a large area for the dog to play may also help if your parents aren't physically able to spend several hours outside each day.

    Another reason their dog is refusing to come inside may be related to an underlying health issue. If the dog has joint issues (which are common for both Australian Shepherds and Border Collies), walking back into a house could be extremely painful for them; particularly if your parent's house has steps that need to be climbed before entering. To rule out this last issue, I would recommend that they take their pet to a local veterinarian for a comprehensive exam.

© 2020 Larry Slawson

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    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      4 months ago from North Carolina

      @RoadMonkey thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed :) Yes, they are fantastic dogs, for sure.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      4 months ago

      Lovely dogs. The only dog we ever had was a border collie. We live by the sea so she got lots of walks out along the pathways. Great hub, plenty of information here.

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      4 months ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Lorna! So glad you enjoyed, my friend. I agree 100-percent! They definitely require a lot of attention haha. But certainly great dogs, no doubt.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      4 months ago

      Another excellent and informative article Larry and my Grandparents had three Border Collies for herding the sheep. Wonderful animals and even in the snow they were able to find the sheep and save their lives. They do need to be stimulated at all times and have boundless energy, however, they are loyal and loving to a fault.

    • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Slawson 

      4 months ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Pamela! So glad you enjoyed! Yes, they are really great dogs. My family had a pet Border Collie when I was really little. She was incredibly smart.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I didn't know the border collie had a double coat. They are such a beautiful dog. I also didn't know they were considered the most intelligent dog, although I knew they were smart. They seem to be a great family dog as long as the family trains the dog.

      This is a very thorough, well-written article, Larry.

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