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Welcome back, it’s Ash. If you’ve noticed that the Breed of the Week posts haven’t been coming lately, you’re right! We’ve changed just a hair, and will now be doing occasional Breed Spotlights instead. Believe it or not, guys, there are only so many dog breeds out there, and we’ve talked about quite a lot of them. Today, we’ll be talking about the Border Collie.
The Border Collie is a workaholic dog that loves having a job to do. If you live on a working farm and need help with herding, this is one of the best breeds you can get. Border Collies aren’t only for breeding – give them a job, any job, that stimulates them mentally and physically, and they’ll be happy campers. They are hands-down one of the smartest breeds out there, which makes them both great and not so great. To understand what I mean, let’s dive into all the details about this amazing breed.
The Border Collie comes from the area between England and Scotland, bred by farmers who needed help herding sheep in hilly grazing areas. These dogs were bred to be alone during the work day, and they were typically expected to run for at least 50 miles per day as they moved the sheep all over the land. While we don’t have an exact date for when the Border Collie appeared, we do know that the breed was well established before the 1850s. By the time the 1870s rolled around, this breed was in sheepdog trial events all over England.
However, today’s Border Collie isn’t exactly the same dog. The breed underwent some changes during World War I, and it wasn’t until about the 1940s that the dog we know today as the Border Collie was fully established. Today’s Border Collie shares a lot of the traits of the historic breed, but the primary distinction was between the working dog and the show dog. What we think of as a Border Collie today is the show model. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still fantastic working dogs – it’s just that today’s Collie is descended from show dogs primarily.
Border Collies are one of the most popular dogs all over the world for farmers, ranchers, sheep herders. The breed was entered into the AKC registry in 1995, and is the 38th most popular dog breed in the registry at the time of this article.
Border Collies are medium-sized dogs with lean, athletic bodies. They aren’t quite as lean as Greyhounds, but they aren’t “athletic” in the sense of the muscular Bulldog, for instance. The Border Collie is very agile and even graceful, more like a gymnast than a bodybuilder. They have very alert expressions, with triangular ears that tend to fold over when relaxed. Border Collies have wo different types of coats – they will either have a very straight top coat that hangs down (think Lassie), or a very wavy coat that makes them look like they’ve been permed.
With either coat, they have a very dense undercoat that is weather resistant. Both of the top coat styles will shed all over the place, so be prepared to invest in a good de-shedding brush. The tail is long and is usually carried down when relaxed. Border Collies tend to be about 21 inches tall, and weigh anywhere from 27 to 40 pounds as adults.
Most people have only seen black and white Border Collies, which is the most popular coloring. But Border Collies can actually come in almost 20 different color combinations, ranging from red merle, gold, lilac, and white ticked, to brindle, all black, and more. If it’s a color that dogs come in, you can pretty much find a Border Collie in it.
Border Collies are extremely intelligent dogs, which can be both a blessing and a curse. They are easy to train in the sense that they learn very fast. However, they are hard to train in the sense that they often have an independent streak, and will look for loopholes in the rules if they are bored. Remember that Border Collies were bred to think and act on their own, so they don’t take well to harsh or demanding training.
That being said, if you are a patient owner who is willing to give the Border Collie a lot of attention and exercise, you’ll find an extremely affectionate, loyal companion. Border Collies have sweet temperaments when they aren’t being too smart for their own good.
One quirk of Border Collies is that they will herd everything. They’ll try to herd your kids around the yard, they’ll try to herd your cats or other pets, they’ll try to round up a bag of marbles that got dropped on the floor. This is important if you live where there is a lot of traffic – Border Collies are known for trying to herd cars. Be sure you invest in a good fence and keep an eye on your dog when they go outside. A high-quality leash is essential for walking your Border Collie in places where there may be crowds, cars, or bicycles riding by.
Another thing to know about the Border Collie personality is that they tend to be somewhat obsessive compulsive, for a dog. They can get very, very fixated on things, like chasing a beam of sunlight from the window, and so on. The best way to keep your Border Collie healthy and avoid these meaningless behaviors (which just makes dogs frustrated because there’s nothing for them to catch or herd with a light beam) is to ensure that they have a job. They need mental stimulation, and preferably something that really challenges them.
Border Collies bark only when necessary, so if you hear your Collie barking, be sure to investigate. They are trying to tell you something! This is good news for those who need their dog to be quiet (such as people who have close neighbors). However, I would caution apartment dwellers. Although these dogs are the right size and are relatively quiet, they need so much exercise. They won’t be happy in a small home with no yard, unless you can devote hours every day to getting them out.
Like all pure-bred dogs, Border Collies can develop certain health conditions. In addition to the obsessive behavior mentioned above (and make no mistake, that can definitely decrease their quality of life), Border Collies are prone to conditions such as:
Collie eye anomaly, which is a group of eye disorders that can range from not serious at all, to extremely serious
Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis
Trapped neutrophil syndrome
However, most of the more serious conditions can be screened for early in a puppy’s life, and treated or managed. The biggest worry for most Border Collies is hip dysplasia and arthritis later in life. You may need to give your Collie a joint supplement as they age to keep them comfortable and mobile.
Otherwise, Collies tend to be very healthy dogs. They aren’t prone to deafness or blindness, and tend to have long lives for dogs. Many Border Collies live 15 to 17 years or longer with no issues. 17 years is about the average length of a Border Collie’s lifespan.
The number one thing to know about caring for a Border Collie is that they are extremely high energy, both mentally and physically. They need tons of exercise and mental stimulation. While they are smart enough to be left alone when you go to work, they won’t necessarily be happy about it. Border Collies will need vigorous play, and some sort of job to do. If you don’t have a job for your Collie, then get them involved in canine sporting events, or devote a lot of time to teaching them tricks. They’ll turn learning tricks into their job, and that will help satisfy their need to do something.
You’ll need to have a collection of quality toys for a Border Collie. A good disc for fetch, lots of chew toys, balls, puzzle toys, and so on, will save your furniture and belongings from bored destruction.
The Border Collie does need to be brushed once or twice a week to keep the shedding to a minimum. They only need to be bathed if they get dirty, as they aren’t super smelly dogs, but you do need to check their ears once a week to be sure they are staying clean. They also need their teeth brushed and to have their nails trimmed as needed, just like all dogs.
Border Collies just need a regular high-quality dog food that has a good source of protein to keep their joints healthy. They don’t tend to have issues with obesity due to being so high energy, but be sure to watch that they aren’t overeating with lots of treats when training.
The Border Collie doesn’t require frequent vet visits the way other dogs can, but they will need basic vaccinations and an annual checkup. Be sure the vet is paying attention to their joints as they age, so that you can treat any problems before they get bad.
It’s not usually a great idea to kennel a Border Collie unless you know that the kennel owners are dedicated to exercising the dogs frequently. You may have better luck hiring a dog sitter or just bringing your Collie with you when you travel if possible.
Border Collies tend to be better with older children, only because they aren’t the most patient of dogs with being poked and prodded. While they are very affectionate, they prefer to cuddle on their own terms. That isn’t to say that a Border Collie is bad for small kids; just be sure that they are taught not to get in the dog’s way when the dog has their attention set on something.
With other dogs, Border Collies are great companions. They enjoy being part of a pack, and will form close bonds with other dogs. With other pets, it’s kind of hit or miss. Border Collies aren’t necessarily aggressive, but they do want to herd other animals instinctually. While they don’t have a high prey drive, they do have an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to other animals, so they may never exactly get along. If you have a cat or other pets that don’t like being herded, you could be looking at having some fights on your hands.
If you are a highly active person who is interested in getting into canine sports, or you want a companion for long runs or hikes, then you are likely going to get along with a Border Collie. They aren’t high maintenance in any other way, and are easy to get along with – so long as you give them all that exercise and mental stimulation. These would be great dogs for someone who likes to go camping alone, hiking on long trails, or ultra marathoning.
If you have older children who are very active and need a friend to kick a ball around with, explore the dog park with, and so on, then a Border Collie is a great choice. Just remember that once your child goes off to college or moves out of the home, you’ll have to give the dog just as much exercise yourself.
Finally, if you are on a working farm and need a hardworking companion to do simple things, there’s no reason to not get a Border Collie. They are the quintessential farm dog that can help you get your livestock in check quickly, and offer like-minded companionship along the way.
In reality, as long as you can offer the Border Collie tons of exercise and mental stimulation, plus plenty of affection, they aren’t likely to be a bad choice for anyone. They are smart, hardworking, dedicated dogs, that love to please so long as they are given plenty to do.