The intelligent and demanding Border Collie with its rough or smooth coat is a herding dog through and through, making it a suitable family dog only to a limited extent.
Herding runs in the blood of Border Collies. With their unbelievable work ethic and remarkably high intelligence, they can effortlessly keep in check a herd of many animals. Their speciality is herding sheep. They can easily drive them in any direction, lead them through a gate or isolate individual sheep from the herd. Although they are very independent, they work closely and willingly with the shepherd. Under competent and appropriate leadership that values and encourages the Border Collie's aptitudes, they prove easy to handle and willing to follow orders. They are very sensitive and want to please their people at all costs.
In combination with their immense work ethic, this will to please can lead to Border Collies working until they literally collapse if their master doesn't “order” them to take some rest. Along with the physical and (even more important) mental stimulation absolutely required by this temperamental pedigree dog with stamina, they should also learn from a skilled and experienced handler when they can relax and in which situations their herding instinct isn't needed. It's not uncommon for poorly trained and under-challenged Border Collies to herd children, cars or other objects as an alternative – at times with fatal consequences.
No dog for beginners
Early socialisation and consistent training are just as important for these fascinating herding dogs as appropriate living conditions with sufficient physical and mental stimulation. On one hand, they are actually very easy to train thanks to their quick comprehension, love of learning and loyalty to the leader of their pack, but on the other hand are quick to acquire bad habits. These intelligent dogs immediately detect errors and weaknesses in training and know how to make the most of them. Border Collie owners should possess appropriate experience in order to quickly iron out dog training errors or ideally avoid them entirely.
The Border Collie's attentive but loyal gaze that can change all of a sudden when at work reveals a great deal about the nature of these people-focused but overzealous dogs. When it is necessary to get animals under control, their gaze becomes fixed and severe. This ability to “look deep into the eyes” lends them an authority that even owners shouldn't underestimate. A further peculiarity closely linked to their herding dog background is their typically ducked posture when at work that reflects their intense concentration. The head is lowered and the tail is often drawn underneath the stomach.
Athletic long-distance runners
However, even when we disregard both these characteristics, the Border Collie can't deny its vocation as a herding and working dog. Its muscular, athletic and well-proportioned body and supple flowing movements are indicative of speed, mobility and endurance. It only lifts its paws very slightly from the ground and moves subtly and at great speed. The harmonious body is longer than it is tall and reaches a maximum height of 55cm for males, whilst females are generally somewhat smaller, starting from 45cm in height. The weight must be suitably proportioned to the body and ranges between 13 to 22kg.
Two fur types, many possible colours
According to the standard, the Border Collie's fur comes in two different lengths: one with moderately long, smooth fur and another with rough shorter fur. For Collies with moderately long fur, the crest and longer fur on the back of the thighs and ears are easily visible. In contrast, the hair on the ears, front of the forelegs and rear legs from the ankle to the ground is also short and flat with long-haired dogs. Both fur types have a very thick coat with a heavy undercoat that offers reliable protection in all weather conditions. Although the black-and-white Border Collie is most famous, its fur colouration offers a great wealth of variety. Almost all colours are allowed, though white should never be the principal colour. Along with black-and-white, for instance, the following colours are possible: red, blue, blue merle, red merle, sable, lilac. Tan-coloured markings can feature with all varieties.
Depending on the fur colour, the Border Collie's nose is either black, brown or slate. The wide head with a pronounced stop has a moderately short snout and a powerful, complete scissor bite. The oval-shaped, medium-sized eyes are generally brown – only blue merle dogs are allowed to have partly or entirely blue eyes. The medium-sized ears can either stand upright or tilt forward. The moderately long, tail that hangs down is positioned low and never curves over the back.
The very name makes reference to the geographical origin of these pedigree dogs. In this case, the word “border” refers to the border region between England and Scotland. For centuries, the farmers residing there had kept herding dogs that reliably and obediently herded their sheep and coped extremely well with the harsh climate in this area. The first mention of these extraordinarily robust and work-loving herding dogs that could control herds of sheep like no other breed is found in John Caius' book “Of Englishe Dogges” from 1576. Although they were still not known as “Border Collies” at this time, Caius' description of the famous pedigree breed of the present day came very close.
Founding father Old Hemp
However, targeted breeding of Border Collies as herding dogs only commenced towards the end of the 19th century. Born in 1893, the male Old Hemp is considered the founding father of the breed and made a striking impression at the age of just 12 months with his incredible herding qualities. In so-called “sheepdog trails” or organised herding competitions in which the best herding dogs competed against each other, Old Hemp proved his particular aptitude again and again and soon became one of the most in-demand males for breeding. Old Hemp produced more than 200 offspring, which then further passed on their forefather's excellent herding qualities to their puppies. Many present-day Border Collies can be traced back to Old Hemp's lineage.
The breed name “Border Collie” used nowadays for the dogs to differentiate them from other types of Collie was first deployed by James Reid in 1915. Reid was the first director of the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS), which has organised sheepdog trails since 1906. Performance in the sheepdog trails is still an important criterium by which to determine the herding quality of a Border Collie. Also, the herding quality alone is what decides the suitability of a dog for breeding according to the ISDS. The FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale), which officially recognised the Border Collie breed in 1976, was the first to include the appearance in the breed standard.
For a long time, the Border Collie was exclusively bred as a herding dog. Work ethic, endurance and obedience in relation to its herding aptitude were paramount in breeding endeavours. Only in recent years have Border Collies been increasingly passed on from their breeders as family dogs. With the growing popularity of agility sports in Britain and, not least, films such as “Babe”, interest in the breed increased away from the shepherd profile. However, even the attempt of some breeders to breed a calmer type of Border Collie more suitable as a family and companion dog can't simply cancel out centuries of high-performance breeding. The elimination of herding sheep, the most fundamental task, has left many of these highly specialised pedigree dogs psychologically scarred.
For whom is a Border Collie suitable?
Out of consideration for its mental well-being, you should absolutely ask yourself before taking on a Border Collie if you really can meet the needs of this breed. Even walks lasting hours, cycling tours or high-performance sports like agility aren't enough to fulfil its innate work ethic. It's not uncommon for dogs that aren't sufficiently mentally stimulated to develop problematic replacement behaviour, such as herding children or objects or even acting in an aggressive manner, which actually goes against the Border Collie's people-loving nature. Consequently, Border Collies should in fact only be handled by a shepherd or expert who is familiar with the typical characteristics and modes of behaviour of the breed and can thus steer it in the right direction. People who are experienced with dogs and are able to devote most of their day to offering their dog mental stimulation, as well as safety, calm, stability and physical activity will certainly find a highly loyal and reliable partner in the Border Collie. In these circumstances, it could also be kept as a family dog.
Whilst maintaining psychological wellbeing presents a great challenge for many owners, the general state of health of the breed is very good. Border Collies are robust dogs with little susceptibility to diseases. Nevertheless, there are some illnesses that are typical of the breed. As with other Collies, the MDR1 defect can crop up amongst Border Collies, leading to intolerance towards different medical substances. Further hereditary diseases that can affect Border Collies are ocular diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) or Collie eye anomaly (CEA), the metabolic disease canine ceroid lipofuscinosis (CL) or the bone marrow diseases TNS (trapped neutrophil syndrome). In addition, Border Collies can develop joint problems such as HD (hip dysplasia) or epilepsy, just as with many other pedigree breeds.
In comparison to the physical and mental requirements that keeping a Border Collie entails, grooming takes up little time. All the same, they do still need to get used to a certain grooming routine. In order to keep the fur shiny and attractive, it's important to brush it regularly. If not, unpleasant felting can occur, especially for Border Collies with moderately long fur. In addition, owners should keep checking their dog's ears, eyes and teeth and clean them if necessary. This doesn't just allow possible infections to be identified and treated at an earlier stage, but ideally avoids them entirely.
Diet has a crucial influence on a dog's health, but as with all other breeds, there's no perfect food for Border Collies either. In the end, what's good for the dog depends less on the breed than on many individual factors. Age, sex, weight and state of health play just as important a role as living conditions and activity level. Both puppies and seniors need a different diet to adult dogs. Dogs that are overweight or that suffer from allergies need to be fed differently to dogs in overall good health. It goes without saying that Border Collies that still carry out herding work have different energy requirements to fellow Collies that live a much more tranquil life as family dogs.
Carnivorous Border Collies
Fundamentally though, meat should be at the top of the ingredients list for both working and family Collies. Dogs are carnivores and their entire digestive system and dentition are adapted to meat consumption. The proteins contained in meat act as the dog's most important source of energy. However, if raw food is offered, as with the now-fashionable BARF method, pork should be avoided as there is the possibility – albeit unlikely – of parasites, bacteria or worms being transmitted. All other types of meat can be offered raw without hesitation. Nevertheless, if you prefer to play it safe, you can freeze the meat for a week beforehand in order to kill off potential viruses.
Along with meat, vegetables and fruit should also be on the menu for Border Collies. In addition, oils containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon oil, are recommended in order to provide optimal care. Raw egg also helps to keep the Collie's fur healthy and shiny. Bones can also be given occasionally to encourage the dog's dental health. However, only whole bones are permitted – hollow bones that split can cause life-threatening injuries to the oesophagus or gastrointestinal tract.
Housing: What does a Border Collie need?
A healthy, balanced diet, regular and adequate grooming and species-appropriate housing are the cornerstone of a healthy canine life. Providing living conditions that comply with the typical nature of the Border Collie breed is probably the greatest challenge. Cramped housing and an owner who dedicates too little time to the dog and neglects its physical and mental development can lead to problems. The Border Collie isn't a dog you can just do a bit of sport with and that adapts to all circumstances. These herding dogs like to work – even when they are kept as family dogs.
If you wish to take on a Border Collie, you should definitely make sure that you can meet the high requirements posed by this fascinating pedigree breed. If you're ready and willing and also have enough time to work with the dog, sufficient creativity to always present new challenges and sufficient experience and knowledge of dog training, you will certainly be both in good shape and extremely happy with this loyal, lovable bundle of energy at your side.