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Border Collie Dog Breed Information: Facts, Traits, Pictures & More

Thinking of adopting a Border Collie, but not quite sure if it's the perfect dog breed to fit your family's lifestyle? Find out everything you need to know about this little herding canine companion!

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: December 11, 2020 | 13 min read

Border Collie on Dirt Road

The Border Collie is the most intelligent dog breed on the planet. Time after time, he herds the largest herds with ease and wins awards in agility, obedience, and service competitions. But does this mean he is the right dog for you and your lifestyle? In this breed guide, we are going to find all of the answers to your questions and much more. We’ve got more Border facts than you can shake a stick at!

Maybe you could do with an extra pair of paws on the ranch, or you are after an obedient family pet to join the ranks. May no mistake about it, it takes a highly active and involved owner to successfully keep and train one of these energetic pups as a family pet.

Whatever your reason for being here, know that Border Collies have plenty of love and affection for their family in addition to their intelligence. This sweet, hardworking breed is popular with families worldwide. There’s a good reason for that. Let’s find out all about the breed, including the type of family they are perfectly suited for.

Breed Overview
    • weight iconWeight30-55 pounds
    • height iconHeight18-22 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan12-15 years
    • color iconColorsBlack, Blue, Merle, Brindle, Gold, Red, Sable, White
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

History

Three Herding Dogs
The Border has a long history of being a champion herding breed.

Herding dogs have been around since sheep have been, and the Border Collie is an ancient dog breed. His journey started when the Vikings invaded the Romans in Great Britain thousands of years ago. The Vikings and their flocks landed with their herding dogs in tow. Their herding dogs were bred with the larger Roman herding dogs, and their ancestors were born. The Icelandic Sheepdog is believed to have played a big part in the Border’s mix.

The word ‘Collie’ is the Scottish word for sheepdog. Many sheepdogs are named after the area that they come from. And the Border Collie was typically found on the borders of Scotland, hence his name. He is much more popular in Great Britain than he is in America. Still, he is slowly making his way to the top of the American Kennel Club’s popularity ranks.

The breed is considered one of the best herding dogs in the world, with many saying that he is the best. They have explosive energy, swooping on large flocks and staring them into submission. Not only is he a naturally fantastic herding dog, but he is also very intelligent and trainable. This is also the reason why he tops agility and obedience competitions. A Border named Bee has also been appointed Goose Master, keeping the geese away from a university campus in Florida.

His trainability is also why he has starred in many films, with one of the most popular being Babe and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. He is also a popular choice amongst celebrities, such as James Dean, Tiger Woods, and Bon Jovi, to name just a few.

Temperament

Black and White Dog in Leaves
The breed is well known as a ranch hand, but also as loving family companions.

The standout trait of the breed is that he is the most intelligent dog breed on the planet. Back in the 1990s, a canine psychologist called Stanley Coren conducted mass testing of dog IQs. Time and time again, this breed continued to come out on top as the most intelligent. But you will also find that he is intense, and requires a lot of hard work. The Border isn’t a sit on your lap all day kind of dog.

If you can work him on a ranch herding sheep all day, that would be perfect. But if you can’t, that’s not a problem, but you must keep him stimulated throughout the day. Many Border owners make this mistake and assume that he just needs the average hourly walk a day. This can lead to anxiety, destruction, and behavioral problems. This breed absolutely must have proper physical stimulation to be a more laid back pup.

But this also means if it’s non-stop doggy entertainment and playtime you are seeking, the Border is the best. He will happily play for hours on end, without tiring or becoming bored. If you have an interest in doggy sports, such as tracking, obedience, agility training, or flyball, look no further.

If sufficiently exercised, Borders can become couch potatoes at night. They are affectionate pups with the ones they love dearly. Some Borders are known to focus their love on the one they see as their main caregiver, picking their “person.” Borders hate being left alone, and he is a very sensitive dog. They crave human company and become very anxious without it. He is also aloof with strangers. He’ll likely stand by your side when there are strangers about, warming up to them once accepted.

Size & Appearance

Medium Sized Black and White Dog
The Border is a medium-sized dog breed.

These are medium-sized dogs that weigh between 30 to 55 pounds. He measures between 18 and 22 inches tall, from paw to shoulder. Female Borders are usually smaller than their male counterparts. He has a choice of coat types, but he has an athletic and powerful body under that hair of his. His tail is long and usually reaches his hocks, which are basically dog ankles.

The Border Collie breed standard lays out what his appearance should be like. He is a well-balanced dog that projects agility and grace in equal measure. He has a keen and alert expression, and his eyes are oval-shaped. His eyes are usually dark in color, but blue is commonly found in merle-colored Borders. His ears are triangular and either sit erect or semi-erect, adding to his vigilant appearance.

Coat & Colors

Several Dogs in Field
These pups have double coats which come in a variety of different colors.

The breed has two coat choices, which are the smooth or the rough coat. The smooth coat is short across his entire body. He usually has soft feathering fur around his forelegs, chest, and ruff. Surprisingly it is coarser in texture than the rough coat type. The rough variety can be any length, but it is usually short to medium.

Both coats have a soft and dense undercoat that helps to keep his body warm. The topcoat can be straight and slightly wavy in appearance. Whether he has a smooth or rough coat type, the topcoat is still soft to the touch but coarse in texture. This helps to make it weather resistant, keeping him protected from the elements.

The breed standard also allows for a wide variety of coat colors. These are black, blue, blue merle, brindle, gold, lilac, red, red merle, sable, sable merle, saddleback sable. Many of these colors can be mixed with white, and the most common color is black and white. In a show ring, the color of his ears should match the main color of his body. It’s not uncommon to have some uniquely spotted coat color combinations, making them very visually appealing dogs.

Exercise Requirements

Black and White Dog Exercising
Stay clear of this breed unless you have at least 90 minutes to spend exercising your pup each day.

This breed cannot just live with anyone. He needs a particular type of family that can meet his intense needs. The first and possibly most important factor is his exercise requirements. This breed needs at least 60 to 90 minutes of intense exercise every day. And he isn’t going to be satisfied with a long stroll around the block. They need explosive activity to burn their energy off. If he cannot be worked, we’d suggest taking him to a park and playing fetch for an hour. You’re gonna need a ball launcher!

This breed is used to working the harsh lands of Scotland, so don’t think a little bit of rain will put him off either. He’s always got his furry raincoat on, and he’ll herd you out of the door if he has to. And it doesn’t just stop there. This highly intelligent pup needs hours of mental stimulation in between outdoor adventures. You will need to play with him in the yard and supply him with a variety of dog toys. The best will be puzzle-solving toys that will keep him entertained for hours on end.

Living Conditions

Dog playing catch in yard
A large yard is usually preferable for this particular dog breed.

While they can survive apartment living, it’s not considered ideal for their activity levels. Instead, he needs a large home with access to a large private yard. He’ll get cabin fever being locked inside for hours at a time. And you’ll find that he’ll enjoy sitting on the porch and watching the world go by. He might chase birds and other yard-visiting animals, but that’s only to herd them rather than catch them. The herding instinct is so strong that many of them chase cars too. So, please make sure that he cannot escape!

He is a fantastic canine sibling for younger children, older children, or multi-pet households. This is reliant on the fact that he is raised and trained well as a pup. He is playful and sturdy enough to play, but not overbearingly strong. Despite being a sweet pup, you should always monitor kids and dogs together. The only issue you might have is his herding behavior, but we’ll discuss that in the training section.

Training

Black and White Dog in Training
When it comes to training, this breed picks up on basic commands quickly.

As mentioned, this breed has a high IQ. And combining that with his hard-working ethic and eagerness to please his master makes him a doggy training dream. But you’ll want to start obedience training early because like any dog, he can become problematic and unruly if left to his own devices.

Socialization is a crucial part of the training process. By mixing him with other dogs, animals, humans, and brand new environments, you will teach him how to face new situations. It will teach him how to be polite, play nicely, and feel confident. If you plan to work him on a ranch, getting him used to the sights and sounds of his soon-to-be working environment is crucial.

Verbal praise and objects such as balls and toys are likely to be their motivation. Use these to train him, and the success is to start him as soon as you get him home. Positive reinforcement training is the best training method for the Border. He is sensitive to shouting, and he’ll probably go into hiding under the table if you do.

Because they don’t like to be left alone, we advise crating from an early age. Although he cannot be left in there for too long, the right crate can reduce anxiety. It will also prevent him from running around your home and chomping on your favorite shoes or bedding.

Another crucial training aspect that you will probably need to learn about is preventing herding behavior in the home. If he is herding your children or other household pets, the likelihood is that he is bored. You need to redirect his attention and either play with him or exercise him. It can be frustrating for both children and other animals to be at the receiving end of his staring and rounding.

Health

Healthy Dogs in Pasture
Provided they are properly cared for, it’s not uncommon to see these pups live past 12 years of age.

The Border Collie is a generally healthy dog who has an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. As a dog mom or dad, you have a responsibility to keep him as healthy and fit as possible. Plenty of exercise, top-quality nutrition, and keeping up to date with vet visits (no matter how much he’ll hate you for it) are all key to his health.

Like all purebreds, the breed is prone to certain health conditions. Although every dog is different, it is wise to start with the below list and learn how to recognize them in your Border. So, in no particular order, here are the most common health concerns to affect the Border.

Hip dysplasia: This is where the affected joint, in this case, his hip, doesn’t grow evenly, causing abnormal formation. This abnormality causes increased wear and tear of the joint, which eventually causes mobility issues and arthritic pain. Symptoms include stiffness, difficulty in standing or climbing, and exercise intolerance.

Eye conditions: This breed is prone to a variety of eye concerns. The three most common eye conditions are progressive retinal atrophy, an inherited disease that causes the retina’s deterioration. Pannus is a condition that only affects certain breeds. This is like him having sunburn on his eyes, so reducing sun exposure is important for affected pups. And Collie eye is found in many sheepdogs, and it causes abnormal eye development. Additionally, cataracts is another common condition seen in older dogs.

Nutrition

Hungry Medium Sized Dog
A high-quality diet will go a long way in ensuring your pup maintains a long life.

As mentioned, this is a dog breed that has an intense amount of energy. As such, he needs energy-filled food made from top-quality ingredients. An average non-working dog will consume around two and a half cups of food every day. A working Collie is likely to need three and a half cups. To ensure that you don’t overfeed your pup, always follow the package instructions.

Top-quality food will use quality ingredients to provide energy, rather than be pumped full of fillers and poor-quality fats. It will also ensure that he consumes a well-balanced diet that will care for his every need. Including muscle repair, eye and cognitive development, and a shiny coat, to name just a few. The Border Collie’s nutritional needs change at each of his life stages, so be sure to find a perfect dog food to match.

Grooming

Black and White dog on Couch
If you don’t like dog fur, you should consider adopting another dog breed.

Their grooming schedule is not as difficult as most people think. Especially if he has a shorter coat. If he has the smooth coat type, he will only need brushing once every week. If he opts for the longer rough coat, he will need brushing two or three times a week, depending on how long it is. The longer his jacket, the more prone it is to matting.

The Border Collie is a relatively heavy shedder during the shedding seasons. So during these times, you will need to increase his brushing to most days to manage the amount he sheds. A regular brushing routine is the single most important thing you can do to reduce the amount you find on your outfit. If it’s during shedding season, you’ll want to invest in an undercoat rake.

He only needs bathing once every 12 weeks or so. Of course, if he becomes super dirty working the muddy fields all day, you might want to wash him a bit more frequently. But never any more than once every 8 weeks. Otherwise, you risk damaging his natural coat oils and irritating his skin. If you need to freshen his coat, you can purchase dry doggy shampoo or doggy wipes to keep him smelling his best.

His teeth will need brushing at least once a week to keep his breath fresh and reduce the buildup of plaque. Always use specially designed doggy toothpaste, and treat him after to make it as pleasant as possible. Trim nails as needed with a Dremel or clippers. Considering that eye conditions are his biggest health concern, check his eyes for any redness or changes as you groom him each week.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Black and White Puppy Running in Field
Expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for a puppy from a reputable breeder.

Because of the breed’s popularity, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a reputable breeder. And where there are lots of ranches, there are bound to be top-quality breeders not too far away. A puppy from a reputable breeder will cost around $1,000 and up.

Puppy mills and poor quality breeders are likely to offer pups for much less. But do not be fooled, because if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Puppy mills breed scores of sick dogs, crammed into dirty conditions, without medical attention or love. This means that you are likely to get a poorly pup and be sure you’ll spend much more money on vet bills in the long run. Please avoid them at all costs.

Do your research, and always meet the breeders and the puppies in person. Look for signs of healthy and happy puppies, a clean and warm environment, and the pup’s mom. If the breeder pressurizes you into buying a dog, or you see any signs of poor health or a dirty environment, walk away immediately. Working with a reputable breeder is the most important decision that you can make for a long and happy life with your pup. A great place to start your search is with the AKC’s list of reputable Border Collie breeders.

You also need to remember the ongoing costs of care, including food, insurance, and veterinary care. Making your home puppy-friendly, with beds, crates, collars, toys, etc., all cost money and must be taken into account too.

Rescues & Shelters

Blue Merle Herding Dog Outdoors
As with any purebred, we always encourage looking at local rescues before adopting a puppy.

Buying a puppy isn’t the right choice for everyone, and instead, rescuing can be the better choice. Not only can you save money on the initial puppy price, but you are also giving a homeless dog a home. Head out to your local shelters, and speak to the staff. If there aren’t any Borders at that particular shelter, the team might be able to direct you to a nearby one.

Alternatively, you can also search for breed dedicated rescue shelters. There are many across the country, and they focus their efforts entirely on the Border breed. The Border Collie Rescue website lists different rescue organizations state by state. And it is a great resource for those wanting to rescue a Border. If you are open to a mutt, Border crossbreeds can make wonderful family companions. 

As Family Pets

  • This breed is considered to be the most intelligent dog breed in the world.
  • They have lots of physical and mental energy to burn.
  • He needs at least 60 to 90 minutes of intense exercise every day.
  • A bored Border Collie can be very destructive.
  • He is loving with his family but aloof with strangers.
  • He hates to be left alone and is known to be a sensitive pup.
  • This can lead to separation anxiety if they are not properly exercised.
  • He is friendly with children other animals if he is socialized well.
  • The Border needs access to a large fenced-in outdoor space.
  • They can live in apartments, but only if sufficiently exercised each day.

Final Thoughts

The Border Collie is one of the best herding dogs in the world, and he also makes a brilliant family pet. His high energy needs and intense personality means he is not suited to everyone or every lifestyle. Hopefully, after reading this breed guide, you now know whether the Border is the perfect breed for you.

So, whether you are seeking a sheepherder, family pet, goose master, or agility champion, the Border can do it all, and more. As long as you can meet all of his needs, you will receive all of the doggy love and loyalty you could ever dream of.

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