The Border Collie dog breed was developed to gather and control sheep in the hilly border country between Scotland and England. He is known for his intense stare, or “eye,” with which he controls his flock. He’s a dog with unlimited energy, stamina, and working drive, all of which make him a premier herding dog; he’s still used today to herd sheep on farms and ranches around the world. The highly trainable and intelligent Border Collie also excels in various canine sports, including obedience, flyball, agility, tracking, and flying disc competitions.
If you've ever had the pleasure of watching a Border Collie herd sheep, you know you're watching a master craftsman at work, with his intense stare as he approaches the sheep, his almost intuitive response to the shepherd's command, and the skillful manner in which he maneuvers the sheep exactly where the shepherd wants them to go. It is awe-inspiring.
The Border Collie, a medium-sized dog at 30 to 45 pounds, possesses a seemingly supernatural amount of energy and stamina — a hardiness that was developed when he was required to work all day in the hills and valleys of the rugged Scottish border country, sometimes running 50 miles or more a day. When it comes to the ideal working dog, it doesn't get much better than the Border Collie.
If there is a dark side to the Border Collie's energy and workaholic attitude, it comes out when he's brought into a family that doesn't understand him. He is not a cuddly, couch-potato dog. He doesn't want to be coddled. He wants — and needs — a job. Keeping up with the Border Collie's intense mental and physical stamina is exhausting, even exasperating, to an owner or family that wants a laid-back family pet.
While the Border Collie is a highly adaptable dog, he's best suited to an environment that gives him some elbow room: a city home with a securely fenced yard, or a country farm or ranch. Because he has a propensity to herd and chase, he must be protected from his not-so-bright instinct to chase cars.
Regardless of the environment, he requires a great deal of mental and physical stimulation every day, and he needs an owner who is willing and able to provide that. This can be a great burden to owners who don't know what they're getting into. If you're considering a Border Collie, make sure you can provide him with a proper outlet for his natural energy and bright mind. If you don't have a farm with sheep, dog sports are a good alternative.
The Border Collie is a herding dog, which means he has an overwhelming urge to gather a flock. That flock could be sheep, children, cats, squirrels, or anything that moves, including cars. This instinct to nip, nudge, and bark, along with his energy, cannot be trained out of him. Rather, it must be directed. He must have a task, whether it's actually herding sheep or competing in dog sports. A brisk walk or a game of fetch every day isn't enough activity for the Border Collie.
That said, for the right owner, a Border Collie is a wonderful dog to live with. His intelligence and tractable nature make him easy to train. He's sensitive and, according to those who know him well, he has an uncanny ability to know what you're going to ask of him before you ask it. If he is well socialized and trained from puppyhood, he can adapt to almost any living situation that provides the mental and physical exercise he requires.
The Border Collie is a good match for an owner who is as active as he is, especially one who's eager to get involved in dog sports. With the right training, this breed excels in any activity he tries, including sheepdog trials, agility, flyball, flying disc, advanced obedience, freestyle obedience, or tracking.
The owner or family that's willing to properly socialize and train the Border Collie will find a soul mate in this intelligent, sensitive breed.
Quite simply, the Border Collie is a dynamo. His personality is characteristically alert, energetic, hardworking, and smart. He learns quickly — so quickly that it's sometimes difficult to keep him challenged.
This breed likes to be busy. In fact, he must be busy or he becomes bored, which leads to annoying behavior, such as barking, digging, or chasing cars. He's not a dog to lie quietly on the front porch while you sip a glass of lemonade; he thrives on activity. Remember, he was bred to run and work all day herding sheep.
The Border Collie is also renowned for being highly sensitive to his handler's every cue, from a whistle to a hand signal to a raised eyebrow.
Of course, the Border Collie isn't perfect. He can be strong-minded and independent, and his compulsion to herd can become misdirected. In the absence of sheep, or some kind of job, he is apt to gather and chase children, cars, or pets.
He can also become fearful or shy if he isn't properly socialized as a puppy. Puppy classes and plenty of exposure to a variety of people, places, and things help the sensitive Border Collie gain confidence.
Border Collies are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Border Collies will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.
In Border Collies, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
Hip Dysplasia: This is an inherited condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but others don't display outward signs of discomfort. (X-ray screening is the most certain way to diagnose the problem.) Either way, arthritis can develop as the dog ages. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred — so if you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a family of eye diseases that involves the gradual deterioration of the retina. Early in the disease, affected dogs become night-blind; they lose sight during the day as the disease progresses. Many affected dogs adapt well to their limited or lost vision, as long as their surroundings remain the same.
Epilepsy: This is a neurological condition that's often, but not always, inherited. Epilepsy can cause mild or severe seizures that may show themselves as unusual behavior (such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding) or even by falling down, limbs rigid, and losing consciousness. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. It's important to take your dog to the vet for proper diagnosis (especially since seizures can have other causes) and treatment.
Collie Eye Anomaly: This is an inherited condition that causes changes and abnormalities in the eye, which can sometimes lead to blindness. These changes can include choroidal hypoplasia (an abnormal development of the choroids), coloboma (a defect in the optic disc), staphyloma (a thinning of the sclera), and retinal detachment. Collie eye anomaly usually occurs by the time the dog is two years old. There is no treatment for the condition.
Allergies: There are three main types of allergies in dogs: food allergies, which are treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog's diet; contact allergies, which are caused by a reaction to a topical substance such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, and other chemicals; and inhalant allergies, which are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and mildew. Treatment varies according to the cause and may include dietary restrictions, medications, and environmental changes.
Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD): This orthopedic condition, caused by improper growth of cartilage in the joints, usually occurs in the elbows, but it has been seen in the shoulders as well. It causes a painful stiffening of the joint, to the point that the dog is unable to bend his elbow. It can be detected in dogs as early as four to nine months of age. Overfeeding of "growth formula" puppy foods or high-protein foods may contribute to its development.