Is the Border Collie the Canine Companion for You?

Updated December 8, 2021
Beautiful portrait dog breed Border collie on the brown ground with his stick

A combination of brains, beauty, and an incredible amount of heart make the Border Collie a wonderful companion and working dog. These are high-energy dogs, so you need to carefully consider their needs before deciding on a Border Collie. If you can make the investment, however, these dogs are among the most engaging and intelligent pets you will ever have.

Origin and History

Ancestors of the Border Collie have been around since humans began using dogs to guard and herd sheep. This breed was developed along the borderlands between England and Scotland from landrace collies, giving Border Collies their simple, no-frills name.

Because Border Collies needed to earn their keep, these dogs were selectively bred to become one of the finest, if not the outright best, herding breeds of all time. They are incredibly dedicated to their flock and will go to nearly any lengths to protect them.

Originally, the American Kennel Club recognized the Border Collie in the Miscellaneous Class in 1955. The Border Collie received full recognition in October 1995.

Breed Characteristics

Border Collie characteristics

It takes a dedicated owner to provide a Border Collie with the kind of life that balances their natural talents and instincts with life as a family pet. When the balance is found, these dogs can be amazing canine companions.

General Appearance

Border Collies are highly energetic yet well-balanced dogs that should carry good muscle tone without excess fat. The breed is celebrated for their agility, a necessity for herding sheep, so being in top condition is a must.

This is a medium-sized breed and individuals should be slightly longer than they are tall. Males stand 19 to 22 inches at the shoulder, and females stand 18 to 21 inches at the shoulder. The breed has a weather-resistant double coat that may be either rough or smooth in variety. All coat colors and markings are permissible.

Temperament

Portrait of Border Collie on field

Intelligent, intense, energetic, and fun are all words used to describe the Border Collie's personality. These dogs are generally up for any activity you have in mind, but they are also quite capable of spending time lying quietly at your feet.

Perhaps the most notable feature of these remarkable animals is their eyes. Border Collies don't miss a thing going on around them and every move is marked with intense scrutiny. This produces the patented Border Collie stare, occurring when they focus their full attention on any object or task at hand. While observing them in action, you see their mind's wheels turning as they process information and decide whether any action is required.

Training

The Border Collie was bred as a working dog, thus producing a great ability to reason. This same quality easily lends the breed to training in a variety of other areas. Natural herders, Border Collies are at their best when allowed to live and work in a pastoral setting. Herding trials provide an excellent outlet for their natural instincts.

Today, these dogs are perhaps better known for their excellence in dog sports such as agility, flyball, and obedience. Wherever competitions are held, chances are a Border Collie will enjoy top honors at the end of the day.

Their keen intelligence also makes Border Collies good candidates for service companions for the disabled, and they are increasingly trained as hearing assistance dogs and therapy dogs.

Exercise Requirements

Border collie dog running with a ball in her mouth

Border collies are exceptionally high-energy dogs, which you must take into account before bringing one home. To keep them happy and healthy, this breed requires a lot of exercise and activities. At the very least, you must be able to provide a long, fast walk every day (preferably two).

Border collies are known for chasing vehicles and bicycles, so you'll need to walk on a leash. To work off some of the energy and give them a task, you can play ball or Frisbee in a safe, fenced-in area. They thrive when participating in most canine sports or on farms with herding jobs.

The breed's high energy level and demand for exercise make them unsuitable for apartment living. It's ideal for them to be in a home with a large, fenced yard or a farm or ranch with room to move around.

Health

Nearly all breeds have a few health concerns to contend with, and the Border Collie is no exception. However, conscientious breeders are working to remove affected animals from their breeding programs. Common conditions that affect the breed's health include:

Lifespan

Members of this breed typically live to be 12 to 15 years old. Some Border Collies may outlive this range, however. Dogs who are well cared and provided with ample exercise will leave happy, healthy lives.

Grooming

Border Collies have either rough or smooth coats, and both types are resilient and double-layered. The rough coat is feathered and of medium-length, while the smooth coat is relatively coarse and shorter. Because they have a double coat, Border Collies typically blow their coat twice a year, though they may shed regularly throughout the year.

If your Border Collie has a rough coat, plan to brush it out every couple of days. The smooth coat variety needs to be brushed at least once or twice a week with a pin brush to keep their coat in top shape. Take care to remove any tangles or mats as you go. Most Border Collies only need a bath every two months, or as needed. If you bathe your dog too frequently, you may remove natural oils from their coat and skin, potentially leading to various skin conditions. Typically, you do not need to trim your Border Collie's coat frequently, if at all.

Trim your Border Collie's nails regularly. Most members of the breed wear their nails down with outdoor activity, so a trim every other week should suffice. If you are not comfortable trimming your dog's nails, take them to a groomer to have this done.

Famous Members of the Breed

Chaser, a world-renowned Border Collie, has been surrounded by fame as the world's smartest dog.

Dr. John Pilley, a psychology professor at Wofford College in South Carolina, received a Border Collie puppy as a gift from his wife in 2004. Chaser became the puppy's name, and Dr. Pilley, who had just developed an interest in animal intelligence, was eager to see how smart his new puppy was. He began with teaching her words like "blue ball" and progressed with time. By the time she was 5 months old, she already knew 40 words.

Dr. Pilley worked with chaser for hours, trying to teach her the names of various soft toys. He'd hide a toy and tell her to find it once he thought she knew its name, and she'd pick it out even if it was mixed up with other toys.

Chaser was found to know more than 1,000 words. Chaser never stopped learning, and could have learned more names, if it weren't for her owner's passing.

Purchasing or Adopting a Border Collie

Close-up portrait of Border Collie puppy

If you're looking for a Border Collie puppy, a good place to start is the Border Collie Society of America. They have a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality pups. The AKC Marketplace also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $800 to $1,500, although higher-end dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $3,500.

Rescue Organizations

If you aren't set on an adult or a puppy, you can look for Border Collies and mixes on PetFinder or Save-a-Rescue. You can also search breed-specific rescue organizations:

  • All Border Collie Rescue: A non-profit rescue organization focusing solely on Border Collies and Border Collie mixes in the state of Texas.
  • Arizona Border Collie Rescue: A rescue that accepts surrenders and dogs who are at risk of euthanasia at shelters. A phone interview and home visit are required prior to adoption.
  • Border Collie Rescue of Northern California: A foster-based rescue that is available to residents of California, including those in Stockton, San Luis Obispo, North Bay, and South Bay areas.

Is This the Breed for You?

Border Collies are magnificent animals, but there are a few points to consider if you're thinking of taking one on. The extremely intelligent nature of these dogs needs to be channeled to keep them from getting into mischief, which will happen without enough guidance from you. Collies also need a good deal of exercise to burn off excess energy. So, unless you lead an active lifestyle yourself, you might not be able to provide the kind of activity these dogs need to stay in top condition.

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Is the Border Collie the Canine Companion for You?