Border Collie

Ana Oliveira
Dr Ana Oliveira (DVM, University of Lisbon)
Photo of adult Border Collie

Border Collies are medium-sized dogs known for their intelligence, agility, and endless energy. They are considered the smartest and most energetic dog breed and are traditionally linked to sheep herding, as the breed developed around their working abilities as herding dogs. They may have different coat colours and lengths, although the black and white medium-length double-coat is the most iconic and popular among Border Collies.

Extremely affectionate and people-oriented, Border Collies are true loyal companions when given the large amount of exercise opportunities they need, along with mental stimulation to balance out their high stamina and energy. They are good family dogs, highly trainable and obedient, but are not well suited for being alone and they may have a destructive behaviour, when left unattended and unstimulated. They excel in canine sports and competitions, activities that allow for Border Collies to express their full potential and work as an outlet for their outbursting energy. Besides herding dogs, Border Collies make excellent watchdogs, as well as search and rescue working dogs.

About & History

The exact origins of the Border Collie are unknown, but they go back to the 1800’s in the hilly region of the border between Scotland and England, from which the name was created. The breed descends from landrace collies and it is believed that the word collie comes from an old Celtic word meaning “useful”.

During the times of the Roman Empire, Romans brought sheepdogs to Great Britain, but because it was hard for them to cope with the cold weather, Celtics began breeding their own dogs. The tradition moved on across times and farmers and shepherds kept breeding their own herding dogs, selecting those with the most obvious tendencies for circling livestock, gathering them back toward the shepherd, as well as some “fetching” characteristics. However, it was not until the 19th century that a clear distinction between Border Collies and other types of Collies became apparent. It is said that Queen Victoria became an enthusiast of the breed after falling in love with a Border Collie, and that marked the beginning of the Border Collie as an individual breed.

After that, sheepdog trials began to take place, distinguishing a dog named Hemp, to whom sheep seemed to respond quite easily. Old Hemp was used for stud and to this day all pure Border Collies can be traced back to Hemp’s ancestral lineage, being the result of decades of breeding for function.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the name Border Collie came into use and the differentiation between working and show dogs started to develop. In the UK, there are two different registries for Border Collies, the International Sheep Dog Society that focuses on the Border Collies’ herding ability, and the Kennel Club, focusing on the breed’s standardised appearance.


Border Collie Large Photo

Border Collies are medium-sized and have short to medium-length coat that can be smooth to rough (sometimes wavy). They may have up to 17 different coat colours, combinations of colours and markings. They can have a solid, bi-colour, tri-colour, merle, or sable coating.

  • Black and White
  • Black Tricolour
  • Blue Merle
  • Blue Tricolour Merle
  • Chocolate and White
  • Chocolate Tricolour
  • Chocolate Merle
  • Chocolate Tricolour Merle
  • Blue and White
  • Blue Tricolour
  • Slate Merle
  • Slate Tricolour Merle
  • Lilac and White
  • Lilac Tricolour
  • Lilac Merle
  • Lilac Tricolour Merle
  • Red and White
  • Sable and White
  • Seal and White

Working dogs are usually less homogeneous in terms of appearance than Border Collies that are bred for shows, since these need to conform to the Kennel Club standards and are intentionally selected to have a more standardised appearance.

Border Collies are usually 46 to 56 cm (18–22 inches) in height and weight 12 to 20 kg (26–44 lb), with males being the largest and the heaviest. They have oval eyes and may have different eye colours – blue or brown – with merles sometimes having eyes of differing colours. Ears may be dropped, erect, or semi-erect, depending on the animal.

Character & Temperament

The Border Collie is a dog of exceptional character and disposition. It is considered the most intelligent dog breed, highly trainable, and able to learn words, recognise objects by the groups they belong to, and even to do calculations by barking the number of times correspondent to the correct answer. They are a very active breed, both physically and mentally, needing constant activity and stimulation. They need a “job”, whatever it is, as a way of channelling all their energy and keeping healthy. They are very athletic and agile, they can run for hours without getting tired, and they are also obedient, extremely affectionate, and loyal.

They make good family pets, as they have a strong connection with human beings, including children, being perfect teammates. They get along well with other pets, although their herding instincts may get in the way of their relationships, as they may chase other animals (especially cats), trying to herd them by pushing them, poking, and even nipping if the animal being chased does not cooperate. Depending on the tolerance of the other animals, the relationship may or may not work. They are passionate about gathering moving objects, being these moving objects sheep, cars, bicycles, joggers, or running children. They may also be wary of strangers, which makes them good watchdogs. An early and correct socialization along with providing the right amount of daily physical exercise they need will prevent the bad habits related to the herding instincts, as well as potential shyness or even aggressiveness towards strangers.

In spite of being a working dog, the Border Collie partners with people and should be an indoor pet. However, they should not be left alone for a long period of time and they are better suited in a family where a family member is at home during the day or if the owner can take the dog to work, as they become easily bored. A result of their boredom is a destructive behaviour, as they will actively look for an occupation to pass the time – chewing on furniture, walls, carpets, shoes, or whatever object they will find interesting.

A hallmark of the breed is the “eye” or “herding eye”, an intense and almost hypnotic gaze that Border Collies use to control and gather the flock. This feature allows them to completely dominate the animals they herd and when Border Collies are staring, it is very difficult to interrupt their focus. Border Collies also have a characteristic position of crouching, resembling the position of a feline ready to attack. This crouching position is possible due to the space they have between the tops of the shoulder blades, letting them walk while staying low and close to the ground. This catlike feature is also beneficial for herding purposes.


Photo of Border Collie puppy

Due to their smart character and sagacity, Border Collies learn very quickly, picking up on everything. It is important to train them from a young age to prevent bad habits. Barking, whining, and nipping are examples of bad habits they may develop when they do not have sufficient stimulation and get bored. Training them by keeping them focused on specific tasks will help keeping them sharp, as their attention may wander easily.

They are excellent players and athletes, being used for different sports: obedience, flyball, tracking, agility, flying disc competitions, and, of course, herding events and sheepdog trials. When they have a leader, they are calm, well-behaved, and the perfect athletes or playmates.


The life span of Border Collies is 10 to 15 years, with an average of 12 years. Despite generally thought as a healthy dog breed, Border Collies have a range of health issues to which they may be more prone to or likely to inherit from their family lineage.

Inherited Problems

When adopting or buying a Border Collie, it is important to choose a breeder that screens their dogs for genetic diseases, discussing with them the occurrence of health issues present in their dogs’ lineages. The health issues to watch out for include the following:

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

HD is considered the most prevalent genetic disease affecting Border Collies. It is a malformation of the hip socket that causes bone wearing, leading to inflammation and, later, to arthritis.

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)

This disease is hereditary and is characterized by the abnormal development of some parts of the eye, particularly the retina. It may have no consequences or it may result in blindness. Most dogs with this condition, however, have only a partially impaired vision.


Epilepsy is characterized by causing seizures. Its hereditability is not clear and the disease results from a complex process. The pattern of seizures varies from dog to dog and the disease may be controlled using medication.

Less Common Problems

Other diseases that are not considered a major problem in Border Collies but may rarely occur are the following:

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is a genetic disease of the eye, in which the retina is progressively destroyed, leading to visual impairment that may result in total blindness. It is nonetheless extremely rare.

Elbow Dysplasia

Similar to hip dysplasia, but occurring in the elbow instead, this is a degenerative disease that may lead to arthritis and pain.


A disease caused by a decreased production of thyroid hormones T4 and T3. When it occurs, this disease typically develops later in life (4 to 10 years old) and the symptoms include weight gain, weakness, hair loss, skin problems, lethargy, and overall poor condition of the coat. When correctly diagnosed, hypothyroidism can be controlled with medication and dietary restrictions.

Stress Factors

When the energetic needs of the Border Collie are not properly taken care of, compulsive and obsessive behaviours may take place. These include but are not limited to chasing without purpose (e.g. shadows), excessive barking, chasing its own tail, snapping at flies, and excessive licking or sucking between fingers.

These are inappropriate behaviours that may develop due to stress factors in the dog’s environment that most of the times are related to lack of activity and stimulation, and pure boredom. They are preventable by providing Border Collies with the right amount of exercise and attention, being alert to any stress symptoms that may arise.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Intense daily exercise along with mental stimulation is a must, as Border Collies will not be satisfied with only a couple of walks a day. They need to run off the lead and spend a fairly good amount of time playing and engaging in some kind of activity that stimulates them. It is a very demanding breed in terms of activity levels and they need owners who have the time and will to let them be what they are, as it takes lots of effort and time to keep them occupied.

This is the main aspect that should be taken into consideration before getting a Border Collie, since they will only be happy when these needs are met. They need a minimum of 30 minutes of hard aerobic exercise every day, although they should have as much exercise as possible.


Border Collies are not among the most demanding breeds in terms of grooming. Most of them have a medium-length coat, which needs to be brushed once or twice a week to remove dead hair and reduce shedding. Apart from brushing weekly, Border Collies will only need basic hygiene and health care, such as keeping their ears clean. They will most probably wear down their nails naturally, but they should be checked and trimmed as needed.

Famous Border Collies

There are many famous Border Collies, known for their achievements or brought to the spotlight by popular culture. Some of them are:

  • Fly and Rex, the Border Collies who adopted the piglet in the film Babe (1995).
  • Dog, the character of the New Zealand comic strip Footrot Flats (1986).
  • Shep, the Border Collie from the American film Hotel for Dogs (2009).
  • Devon, the dog adopted by the character performed by Jeff Bridges in the television film A Dog Year (2009).
  • Cooper from the film Angel Dog (2011).
  • Striker, the current Guinness World Record holder for the "fastest car window opened by a dog" (11.34 seconds).
  • Rico, a Border Collie who recognised up to 200 objects by name.
  • Chaser, a Border Collie with a vocabulary of 1022 words.


Border Collies cross-breeds are the following:

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