The Border Collie developed centuries ago in the border country between Scotland and England as a herding dog to help manage and move the large flocks of sheep that grazed the vast hilly pastures of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. One of their most notable traits is an outstanding and pronounced gathering or fetching instinct – a natural desire to guide the direction of stock to a handler. The breed’s “eye” – an intense stare accompanied by a crouching, stalking movement – is very effective at moving stock without ever having to come too close to them.
The fact that Border Collies were and are first and foremost bred for their working ability on a variety of stock means that they have much more variability in physical appearance than most breeds, who are often nowadays bred to meet an arbitrary physical “standard” versus effectiveness of purpose. Border Collies range from under 30 to over 60 pounds, with varying builds, and can have a rough (long), medium, smooth (short), or even a curly coat. In addition to the most commonly recognized black with white blaze collar, feet, and tip of tail, Border Collies can also be red, blue, sable, brindle, or yellow with white, blue or red merle, black and tan, or even be predominantly white or black.
A large variety or markings are seen in the breed as well, including white or split (half white/half black) faces, tricoloring (black and white with brown points), and freckling or ticking. Eyes can be brown, blue, or gold, and ears can stand straight up, flop all the way down, or do anything and everything in between! For a closer look at the variety of appearances, visit the Border Collie Museum’s Color pages: Border Collie Museum
Border Collies tend to typically be attentive and desire to engage with people. They are inquisitive, sensitive, quick and eager to learn. Athletic and agile, possessing unbelievable stamina, Border Collies require vigorous exercise daily. In addition, they have a strong work ethic and unsurpassed ability to focus, especially visually. Their incredible observational skills and predisposition for learning verbal cues has resulted in their being touted as the “smartest” of all dog breeds.
The unique temperament and abilities of the Border Collie are, however, a double-edged sword. Thanks to their reputation as an intelligent breed and their demonstrated capabilities, Border Collies are increasing in popularity. This has led to the breed moving from the farm and ranch to suburbia and non-working environments, bringing with it challenges in adapting to life as a companion animal. The very qualities necessary to performing the jobs they have been bred to do are the very qualities that can make the BC a troublesome and difficult pet for many families. These dogs were built for long days of unending movement in hilly terrain, working in cooperation with a shepherd moving stock over vast distances. It should come as no surprise, then, that they are high energy dogs that need direction and activity on which to focus their keen mind and endless energy.
Border Collies tend to be more aware of personal space and more sensitive to body language and visual differences than other types of dogs, in addition to being more handling and noise sensitive than other breeds. Border Collies are particularly sensitive to sounds like thunder and fireworks. They often notice and will react to sudden changes in a quiet environment. All herding breeds have a desire to control movement, and this translates to a Border Collie’s interest and excitement with moving things – be it that of stock, cars, bicycles, running children, water coming out of sprinkler, or a vacuum cleaner. Given these innate tendencies, Border Collies are not the best choice of breed for families with small children. BCs with a lot of “eye” may exhibit bizarre-appearing behaviors such as circling, staring, stalking and freezing up. Their human-oriented nature means they don’t do very well left alone for long periods of time, and their renowned endurance means that a 1 to 2 mile run is barely a warm-up for most members of the breed. Border Collies require substantial stimulation daily, mental, emotional and physical, much more than other breeds. They need guidance and direction, and if not given any, they will find their own job: chasing cars, barking, learning how to open cabinets and doors, or redecorating your living room in not so lovely ways, to name just a few. A bored, under-exercised and under stimulated BC often exhibits neurotic, obsessive and destructive behaviors, none of which are particularly pleasant for the dog or human. The fact that Border Collies require a large amount of time, energy, and commitment from their owners who are not familiar with the breed is one of the main reasons they end up in shelters.
While many Border Collies would certainly love to run the hills herding all day long, they certainly can adjust to life well as a pet if given the right circumstances. In an active and involved home that engages extensively with their pets, BCs can make wonderful, entertaining, and delightful companions. Their long history of being bred for human-partnered work translates to excellence in canine-human partnership sports such as agility, obedience, frisbee, flyball, and freestyle, and they can sometimes make great candidates for Search and Rescue and Therapy work. Their athleticism makes them ideal active outdoor adventure companions for the runner, hiker, biker, or skier. The common misconception that the sole requirement to having a Border Collie is “room to run” – that more property, a bigger yard, or a “farm” is the answer – is simply not the case. What a Border Collie needs is YOU – not being left alone in a yard where, like many types of social dogs, they become lonely and unhappy and are unlikely to self-exercise. With a committed owner who understands and can meet the needs of the breed, BCs can and do live happily and thrive in all kinds of places, even in cities and with yardless apartment dwellers. (All that being said, of course, there ARE exceptions to the norm. Mellower BCs do exist, and many BC mixes or BCs in middle age tend to decrease in intensity and can be a little less demanding.)
While the Border Collie is generally a healthy breed compared to some, one of the most notable possible health issues is a mutation in the MDR1 gene. This mutation is present in many herding breeds and results in a multi-drug sensitivity to many commonly administered medications that can prove fatal. The only way to know if a dog has this mutated gene is to have it tested.
If the idea of a high energy, super-interactive, busy and intelligent canine companion always ready to go appeals to you, and you have the financial resources, stability, and interest in adding a dog to your family, a Border Collie may make a great choice. (And yes, we do get those mellower members of the breed in rescue as well, if a loving and bright but more relaxed partner is more your speed.) As there are many wonderful Border Collies in danger of being euthanized TODAY in overcrowded shelters, if you are interested in considering adopting, we’d love to talk to you! Info about our adoption process and adoptable dogs is available on our website. If you can’t adopt, but admire the breed – consider helping volunteer or donating to our all-volunteer, nonprofit organization, so we can help save even more lives. Don’t hesitate to contact us about what you can do to help this unique breed. We’d love to hear from you!
Western Border Collie Rescue
POB 141 Glenrock, WY 82637