If you are reading this you have clearly decided that a Border Collie or an Australian Shepherd is the dog for you. Congratulations on an excellent choice, these are both outstanding dog breeds! The only downside is that you now have to cope with the Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie dilemma. Luckily, we can help with that by comparing the key features of the two breeds.
Whilst there is little physical difference between the Border Collie and the Australian Shepherd breed they are very different dogs. You will find black red and sable white Border Collies (and a wide variety of color combinations) but the colors of Australian Shepherds is more limited.
Historically, they have been used for similar purposes but they come from different breeding lines – although they may have a common very distant ancestor.
Both the Border Collie and the Australian Shepherd have traditionally been used as herding dogs and are adept at herding livestock so expect a pup with plenty of energy and a lovely personality. If you still cannot settle the Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd debate, you can now get a crossbreed of the two – they are a popular new designer breed.
Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie Comparison Chart
Check out our handy Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd comparison chart for the vital facts and figures about these two outstanding breeds.
Breed Origins – Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd
There is a misconception that the Australian Shepherd descended from the Border Collie. That simply is not true. It is possible that the two breeds have a common ancestor from the Basque region of Spain but that was a very long time ago. Let’s look a little closer at the origin of both breeds as it explains some of the differences.
Border collies were bred from larger herding dogs used by the Romans. The Romans brought these dogs to the United Kingdom when they invaded. Shortly afterward, there was another invasion, this time by the Vikings. These invaders brought with them their own working dogs – Icelandic Sheepdogs. Border collies are the results of cross breeding these two types of working dog so it is not surprising that they have such a strong work ethic and that their herding ability is so amazing.
The origin of the Australian Shepherds is not quite as clear. The most popular opinion is that they are descended from dogs from the Spanish Pyrenees and the Highlands of Scotland in the UK. The crossbreeding took place in Australia where they traveled with their owners who were looking for a better life. However, it seems that this plan did not work out so they moved on to North America, taking their farm dogs with them. It is thought that it was in North America that the breed was perfected to create the ultimate herding dog. However, because the early settlers assumed that this working dog breed had originated in Australia, it was named the Australian Shepherd dog.
Difference Between Australian Shepherd and Border Collie – Appearance
These dogs look very similar but there are some differences in their appearance. They are both a medium-sized dog breed and have medium to long hair. Their coats are both smooth but the possible color variations are different. Firstly, here are the colors that can appear in Border Collies, there is plenty more information on this breed here:
- Black and white
- Blue merle
- Red merle
- Sable white
- Blue White
- Red white
- Chocolate white
You can also get sable, sable merle and saddleback sable Collies so the coats can be very variable. In comparison, Australian Shepherds can be red, merle, black, blue merle, red tricolor or black so the choice is a lot more limited. Border Collies have seven possible marking patterns but Australian Shepherds have only three.
It is very unlikely that you will be able to tell if you are looking at an Aussie or Border Collie from the differences in their coat color alone. A black blue merle red dog could belong to either breed. The texture of coat could be more useful. Whether they are blue merle red or white, Border Collies have a dense and rough coat and they have a long, plumed tail. The Australian Shepherd’s coat is softer and longer and they have an undercoat. Their tail is usually long but it can be bobbed.
Both breeds can display heterochromia – where one eye is a different color to the other. This is seen more often in red merle and other merle Border Collies and is often thought of as a Collie eye anomaly. However, it is actually common in Australian Shepherds.
Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd – Size Comparison
These lithe dogs have a similar size – both dogs would both be regarded as medium-sized breeds. Although there are some subtle differences. The Australian Shepherd breed tends to have a larger stature and is a heavier dog.
You could expect a fully grown Border Collie dog to weigh around 50 pounds and they would stand between 18 and 22 inches high. Whereas an Australian Shepherd would weigh around 55 to 66 pounds and are between 20 to 23 inches tall.
Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie – Character and Temperament
These breeds have been bred for slightly different purposes and that is why they have a slightly different temperament even though they are both traditionally herding breeds. They both have a very high energy temperament and they both love to work. This is a lot of fun for energetic owners but it also means that they get bored easily and need plenty to keep their mind as well as their body occupied.
The Border Collie is mainly used for working with sheep and at a distance. However, Australian Shepherds work closer to their owners and were traditionally used with cattle. Now that these breeds are just as likely to be a family dog as a working dog, they will need a lot of games to keep them occupied. They love to play with a frisbee or a football and love to play fetch. They would find life in an apartment difficult – their high energy temperament is more suited to a household that can provide them with a lot of outdoor exercise every day.
Both breeds make an excellent companion animal and will be devoted to their human family. Both breeds are very sociable but Border Collies can be a little nervous with people that they have not met before. The Australian Shepherd dog tends to be more confident and will get on with everyone from the moment they meet.
Of the two breeds, the Border Collie has the superior herding ability but this can be a problem if you live in a household with small children. They are likely to try to round up the children and any other pets that you have! You can overcome this with appropriate obedience training and you could always call in a professional dog trainer if it becomes a serious issue.
Some experts feel that the Australian Shepherd is more difficult to control and recommend that a Border Collie dog would be more suitable for novice owners. Collies also win when it comes to intelligence and have been described by experts as the most intelligent dog breed in the world.
When it comes to devotion to your family, however, Australian Shepherds are the winners. They are more dependent on their human family and this is something that you need to keep in mind if you are out all day. They have a tendency to suffer from separation anxiety and you may need to take steps to alleviate this. You could get a friend or neighbor to pop in during the day. You could also try plenty of interactive dog toys and soothing music.
Aussies and Border Collies – The Training Debate
Both of these highly intelligent breeds will be easy to train. However, the Border Collie has the edge and needs very few repetitions to learn commands during training. Believe it or not, there is a downside to having an intelligent dog. Novice owners have to be careful or they will end up being outsmarted by their dog! The high intelligence combined with high energy levels can be a handful!
Socialization training is very important for Border Collies as they can develop a highly protective streak. This can make them wary of strangers and a little too protective of their family which can be a problem. Start this training from a young age to get a well mannered pup. Australian Shepherds can also become a little too full of themselves if they are not socialized properly.
Both breeds are easy to train using reward based and consistent training. Keep your commands simple and practice every day for the best results.
Australian Shepherds and Border Collies – Exercise
As working dogs, you can expect the energy level of both breeds to be high. If you are not a household that enjoys a lot of exercise in the fresh air, neither of these breeds will be the right dog for you. They need a lot of high intensity exercise on a regular basis outside. This means that you will have to check them regularly for ticks and other parasites that they can pick up from long grass.
A Border Collie may need a little more exercise than the Australian Shepherd. On average, these breeds will need 60 minutes of high intensity exercise every day – this means running fast off the leash in a safe area. On top of this, they will need interactive games to exercise their brains as well as their bodies. Some top ideas are tug-of-war, frisbee and agility activities. Beware of leaving your pup alone with nothing to do – it could result in your house getting damaged.
Border Collie Australian Shepherd – Health Issues
Both Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are generally healthy breeds. Border Collies do tend to live longer than Australian Shepherds. A Border Collie will have a life expectancy of 10 to 17 years but the life expectancy of the Australian Shepherds is between 13 and 15 years.
Here are some of the Border Collie health issues that you need to look out for:
- Hip dysplasia: This is an inherited disease and is one of the bone-related health problems that can affect many breeds. It may help if you feed your young Border Collie a balanced diet when they are young to prevent them from growing too quickly – a slow growth rate is preferable. The problem will not always bother your dog – it may be mild. However, in other collies it causes severe arthritis and the dogs are in a lot of pain as they get older. People should not breed from dogs who have signs of this condition. X-rays can be carried out to evaluate hip scores before breeding is starting.
- Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): This is another joint-related health issue. It can affect all dogs Border Collies get it most often in their shoulders. It causes arthritis and dogs can become lame before they are one year old. It can help if you feed your dog a balanced diet and do not exercise them on hard surfaces. Also, don’t let your pup jump off furniture or climb stairs until their bones have matured.
- Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA): This is an unpleasant eye disorder that affects both eyes. It is common in many herding dogs as well as the Border Collie. The blood vessels around the retina do not develop correctly and can cause anything from mild eye sight issues to a total loss of sight. Potential breeding dogs should be screened for the condition so that they cannot pass it on. It starts in the first year of life and cannot be reversed.
- Raine syndrome: This is one of the more serious health issues that can affect the teeth of the Border Collie. The teeth wear down and the affected dog will need dental treatment and possibly extraction. This rare condition now has a genetic test so breeders can screen for it before starting a breeding program.
Some health problems experienced by the Australian Shepherd include:
- Autoimmune thyroiditis: This is the most common autoimmune disease reported in Australian Shepherds. It can be treated with expensive medication so it is a long-term financial burden for owners. A dog with this condition will tend to gain weight and have skin problems and will want to seek out warm places more than a dog usually does. The condition needs to be diagnosed by a vet.
- Hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma: These are both dog cancers. Hemangiosarcoma is a particularly aggressive cancer that is common in this breed of dog. Because it begins in blood vessels, it can start anywhere in the body and can spread very quickly to the lungs or liver. Sadly, most dogs will die within a few months. Lymphoma affects white blood cells. Dogs that have this condition may present with a swollen lymph node just below their jaw line or behind the knee. The dogs will also seem lethargic and they may lose weight. They may find it difficult to breathe and can have dark, foul-smelling diarrhea. Some cases can be treated with chemotherapy but sadly most will die of the disease.
- Cataracts: These are usually inherited in dogs and affect both eyes. To begin with, a small area of the eye is opaque but it soon spreads until the whole of the eye is cloudy. It usually occurs in mature and senior dogs.
- Epilepsy: This can occur for a number of reasons but in some dog breeds it is mostly inherited. The Aussie has a much higher incidence than many other breeds. It is caused by selective breeding to obtain desired genes in the breed. Sadly, the gene that causes epilepsy is also accidentally selected. It causes seizures which can lead to brain damage but can be successfully treated in some dogs.
Aussie vs Border Collie – Maintenance Demands
Every dog breed will require a certain amount of maintenance grooming to keep their coat, nails and teeth in the best condition.
Both Australian Shepherds and Border Collies will require regular grooming. The Australian Shepherd tends to have a longer coat but because it is smooth, it only needs a good brush around once a week. Border Collies have a coarser coat and therefore need to be brushed at least every other day. Overall, both of these breeds would need to have a medium to high level of coat maintenance.
Whether you choose a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd dog, they are going to get in a mess thanks to their outdoor lifestyle! This means that they may need a bath more than some other breeds. Most owners find that these dog breeds need a bath once a month. Always use a special dog shampoo to protect their skin and do not let it go anywhere near their eyes or in their ears. Make sure that you rinse all of the shampoo off and dry your dog thoroughly. Make sure there is no water in their ears. In between baths, you can use special dog wipes to keep your pooch smelling fresh.
Both of these dog breeds will need their nails clipped regularly to keep them healthy and comfortable. You could learn how to do this yourself but start when your pup is young so they get used to it. You could also pay a professional groomer to do it. Dogs that walk on hard surfaces (such as sidewalks and roads) tend to wear down their nails. However, both of these dog breeds spend a lot of time running on grass and that does not wear down the nails. This means that you may need to trim them more often.
Tooth brushing is another important task. There are no differences here between the Australian Shepherds and the Border Collies. Both dogs should have their teeth brushed once a week using a special dog toothbrush and toothpaste.
Summary of the Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie Debate
There is no single winner in the Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie debate. Breeders of the Border Collie will argue for their breed and breeders of the Australian Shepherd will prefer theirs!
Overall, the American Kennel Club class Australian Shepherds as the more popular dog. They have a ranking of 17 in the American Kennel Club list of popular dogs. The Australian Shepherd has been in the top 20 most popular dogs in the US for the last five years. The Border Collies are ranked at 38 and they have been in the top 50 for all of the past five years.
So, why is this? It may be because Australian Shepherds are easier to look after than Border Collies. Or, it may be because Border Collies are better at doing their job! This means that most of them are still used by farmers to carry out herding work rather than simply being a popular pet.
The costs for both Border Collies and Australian Shepherds can vary but overall you can expect to pay about the same. In general, you can expect this to be at least $600 to $850 USD but this can vary significantly.
You will need to pay more for some particular variations and costs are higher in some parts of the country than others. You will also have to pay a higher price for a more impressive pedigree and to buy from a breeder who has a very good reputation.
On the whole, the differences between these dogs are subtle. Border Collies tend to shed more (some shed a lot) and will require more grooming. The Australian Shepherd is slightly heavier and more robust but both are high energy dogs who require a lot of exercise. The Australian Shepherd tends to be more outgoing and can get a bit bossy but the Border Collie is a little more timid – at least to begin with. Both breeds are very clever and quick when it comes to training but the Border Collie has the edge when it comes to intelligence and is considered the most intelligent dog on the planet right now. However, the Border Collie also has the strongest herding instinct which can be problematic if you have other animals or small children.
If you are still undecided, you could always go for an Australian Shepherd Border Collie mix (the Border Aussie) and get the best of all the Border Collie Australian Shepherd genes – although you may get the worst too!