There’s a reason why the Border Collie is the Einstein of the dog world. It’s not that it can explain to you in detail what E=MC2 means, but rather this little shepherd dog can master a trick, a command, or any other task you give it in a snap of a finger. It has this uncanny proficiency in imposing its will on its master’s flock, particularly sheep. And if you think training this dog is going to be a walk in the park, you’ll be shell-shocked to learn that even seasoned trainers can find the Border Collie very challenging to train. Mind you, this is not because it is stubborn like other smart dogs, but rather because it is so intelligent it can decipher even the slightest change in one’s gestures to mean a different command. Energetic, keen, alert, responsive, tenacious, and very witty, the Border Collie could even try to impose its will on anyone with a Babe-like personality (pun intended, of course).
History of the Border Collie
Even before Rex the Border Collie fascinated the movie-going public with his remarkable sheepherding skills, a skill inspired Babe, its brethren had already been helping the small livestock owners of the Anglo-Scottish border perhaps as early as the 17th to 18th century. No one really knows because people rarely document the existence of their dogs and other animals prior to the 19th century. Not that we blame them, but would you also document every animal that you encounter?
Collies are a type of sheepherding dogs that have their origins in Scotland. It is believed that they originated from the herding dogs brought by the Romans when they expanded westwards. They brought with them their own herd of sheep and with them are the sheepdogs.
There are many theories as to where the word “collie” originated. Some say it means ‘coal’ or ‘black’. Others say the collie word was derived from the ‘Coaley’, a type of sheep that is largely believed to be the livestock which these dogs were bred to herd. It is also possible that the word ‘collie’ may have Gaelic origins, tracing its roots to ‘coilean’ and ‘cailean’ to mean young pup or dog. Some also say that it is derived from a Celtic word that means ‘useful’.
A tricolor dog, Old Hemp is well-regarded as the father of modern Border Collies. Born in September 1893 in Northumberland, to the northeast of England and bordering Scotland, Old Hemp was bred by Adam Telfer by mating a black-and-tan sheepherding hound named Roy and a strong-eyed, black-coated herding canine named Meg. Old Hemp was a quiet dog, but with the wit and intellect that surprised not only its owner but also the other sheep owners in the area.
It is for this reason that shepherds in the region used Old Hemp as a stud, mating it with their own sheepherding dogs to produce what is now regarded as the gene pool that will make the modern Border Collie. It is also around this time that people began calling this sheepherding dog as the Border Collie (remember, Northumberland borders England and Scotland). Loyal followers of the breed say that pure Border Collies can trace their ancestral roots to Old Hemp, having ‘fathered’ more than 200 pups over the course of its short yet productive 8-year life (Old Hemp died in May 1901).
Local shepherds loved the dog that came from Old Hemp. They depended on their dogs for herding their flock of sheep. What is truly remarkable for the breed is that it has the stamina to go with its independent-minded thinking. For most folks, this independence might be a red flag as it often connotes stubbornness. But shepherds of the early 20th century highly valued such trait especially when it came to herding sheep over hilly terrain.
Imagine owning 100 heads of sheep that you have to bring to the hills so they can roam and feed luscious grass. You’ve got to bring them there, guard them, and then bring them back again to your property. If some of these sheep will go astray, you’d have to be quick to herd them back to the group; lest, you allow wild beasts to have a feast. It takes skill, patience, perseverance, and devotion to keep up with your flock.
Border Collies can do such tasks even without its owner telling it what to do. It can run 50 miles every day over hills and valleys, herding, guarding, and protecting the sheep of its owners. Shepherds tend to stay at home or simply watch from a distance as Border Collies execute their job. They never complain. And this is where the dog’s natural intelligence and independent-thinking comes in. Since Border Collies essentially work the field by themselves, they’ve got to have quick decision-making and problem-solving skills. They need to know what they have to do in case one of the sheep goes astray or missing without endangering the rest of the herd. They don’t run back to their owners to ask them what they should do. They think on their feet. That’s how intelligent and effective decision-makers and problem-solvers Border Collies are.
As intelligent and highly dependable as Border Collies may be, they still couldn’t be registered as such. This changed in 1915 when the International Sheep Dog Society’s then-secretary James Reid proposed naming the breed as ‘Border Collie’. This is in an effort to distinguish it from the Scotch Collies, especially the Smooth and Rough Collie variants.
Aside from Old Hemp, there’s another Border Collie that has epitomized what the breed should look today. Winston Cap was born in September 28, 1963 and is regarded as the epitome of the classic herding pose of the breed, as recognized by the ISDS. It is one of the most popular bloodlines in modern-day Border Collies. Bred by W. S. Hetherington, Winston Cap was a good-natured, highly-biddable dog.
To date, the International Sheep Dog Society puts Border Collies to either of two types of tests to determine whether they are for sheepdog trials or in the show ring. Sheepdog trials require the herding of sheep over a course without distressing the sheep. Show ring Border Collies should conform to the standards set by the governing kennel organization upon which the conformation show is held.
You won’t see working dogs competing in conformation shows, and vice versa. As a matter of fact, Border Collie enthusiasts never made any attempts to hide their disdain of conformation-bred dogs and their breeders. They say that breeding dogs merely to conform to what it should LOOK like and not what it should be able to PERFORM is tantamount to seeing the decline of the dog’s working dog characteristics.
Regardless, whether a Border Collie is deemed for show only or for sheepdog trials, it can still compete in other events such as obedience, tracking, agility, and flyball as well as other dog events that can showcase the dog’s remarkable performance. Take a look at our review of dog agility tunnels for more info.
Quick Facts about the Border Collie
Currently the American Kennel Club’s number 38 in terms of popularity, the Border Collie has quite a number of really interesting facts that you should know by heart.
- Everyone knows Border Collies are intelligent. But how intelligent? How about accurately identifying 1,022 different toys? One particular Border Collie, Chaser, achieved the feat in 2012. While 1,022 nouns is a piece of cake for us humans, we’re talking about a dog here.
- Not only does Chaser fully capable of accurately identifying nouns – he listens to its master for the word and picks up the object that represents the word – he is also able to sort them according to shape and function. This is a skill that 3-year old toddlers are only beginning to develop.
- Chaser is not the only Border Collie that has shown such remarkable feat. He actually follows in the legacy of Rico, another Border Collie who worked with the researchers of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the early 2000s.
- There is another Border Collie that may not show proficiency in language, but has the remarkable talent for rolling down the manually-operated windows of a car. Striker, a Hungarian Border Collie, holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest car window to be opened by a hound at 11.34 seconds. Mind you, this car window is not your modern-day electronically-controlled window. Now top that.
- Other Border Collie record-holders include Jumpy for skateboarding a distance of 100 meters in under 20 seconds and Sweet Pea for walking a distance of 100 meters for a record 2 minutes, 55 seconds while balancing a tin can on its head.
- Rex is not the only Border Collie that has appeared in films. There are others like him that were also cast in other movies such as Snow Dogs and Animal Farm as well as the hit TV series of the 90s, Mad About You.
- Border Collies are famous for ‘the eye’. Call it hypnosis or mere intimidation, but this intense stare is what these dogs use to herd and control sheep. They don’t need to bark or nip the limbs of these animals. Border Collies only need to ‘stare’ them down into submission.
- If you think ‘the eye’ is cool, you’d better look at the Border Collie’s crouching stance. Much like a cat, this is one dog that can slither its way towards a flock, staying really close to the ground, before springing to action like a cat. This is made possible by the unusual amount of space between its shoulder blades allowing it to crouch so low that the tops of the dog’s shoulder blades seem to pop out of their attachment.
- Its drive to work is of the highest order. It needs an owner who can give it even the most demanding of jobs.
- Being a herding dog, Border Collies love keeping their respective ‘families’ together, even to the point of rounding up the little ones.
- It excels in sheepherding, agility, Frisbee, flyball, tracking, obedience, and just about any other activity that requires extreme performance.
- It’s an excellent watchdog, a trait that it gets from its being a sheep herder.
- People-oriented, Border Collies make for excellent family dogs, but only to the right family.
- There’s no better description for the Border Collie than 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns when he described the breed as faithful and honest.
- BCs are medium-sized dogs that can reach heights between 18 and 22 inches and can weigh between 27 and 45 pounds. Female BCs, as always, are smaller by about an inch and lighter by about 3 pounds. The American Kennel Club requires the Border Collie to be 30 to 55 pounds.
- The life expectancy of a Border Collie is 12 to 15 years. This is basically due to improved veterinary and pet parenting practices, considering Old Hemp only lived 8 years.
- Border Collies have a well-balanced, beautifully-proportioned, athletic appearance.
- It has a muscular body, but with the grace and effortless movement of a ballerina and the endurance and stamina of a triathlete.
- Although Border Collies are famous for their white blaze and neck on a sea of black, they can also come in other colors except solid white. They can be blue, brindle, blue merle, red, red merle, gold, lilac, sable, sable merle, black and white, blue and white, saddleback sable, blue merle and white, red and white, white ticked, and red merle and white.
- They can have different markings, too, such as tan points, brindle points, and ticked white markings, just to name a few.
Things You Should Know
Becoming the pet parent of the world’s most intelligent dog breed seems too good to be true. And it is. Just because it is a wizard doesn’t necessarily mean it is already very easy to care for. Mind you, smart dogs thrive only with similarly-smart folks and most especially those who truly understand what the Border Collie brings to one’s life.
This is very important since we don’t want you to go buying from a breeder or adopting from an animal welfare center a Border Collie thinking that you’ve got the best companion for your family only to find out later on that you’re not really qualified to be its pet parent. It is a great family companion, no doubt. But if you’re not ready to harness its intelligence, temper its herding instincts, and meet its special needs, then you will most likely give it up for adoption.
We’ve seen this cycle numerous times. A very enthusiastic, wannabe dog owner gets a Border Collie and brings it home, expecting that it will stay lying at the person’s feet the whole day, only to realize that it is becoming more destructive and unpredictable each day. The individual attempts to control the dog, but its behavior only gets worse. Out of desperation, he either sells the dog or brings it to the animal welfare center or some other organization for adoption.
Eight to 9 of 10 Border Collies eventually end up in animal shelters simply because their previous owners were not really up to the task of being a true pet parent of the breed. Again, the Border Collie is sweet and affectionate, but its intelligence, independence, and a very strong work ethic make it a very special dog that is best reserved for very special individuals.
Don’t believe us? Check out the following requirements if you can measure up.
Chaser, Rico, Jumpy, Striker, Sweet Pea, and the other Border Collies that have distinguished themselves as highly intelligent dogs excelled in their fields not because they were naturally gifted to perform such tasks, but rather because they were judiciously trained by highly-motivated individuals who understood the implications of the dog’s intelligence. For example, Chaser and Rico did not train with ordinary dog owners, but rather scientists who are dedicated to understanding the uniqueness of this breed. The same is true with Jumpy, Striker, and Sweet Pea. Those who trained them were no ordinary dog owners. They studied and understood the uniqueness of the Border Collie so they can teach them the tricks that these dogs are now famous for.
So what are we saying? That you cannot train the Border Collie?
We’re not saying that you can’t. What we are emphasizing is that this dog requires a very special person to harness its intelligence.
The reason why only a really good trainer can handle the Border Collie is that it has this very uncanny ability to easily pick up almost anything that you dish at it. For example, if you are teaching it to follow a particular command using specific hand gestures, it can easily pick up what you mean and what you expect it to do. Unfortunately, if you somehow change the way you perform the hand gesture, it will automatically pick it up as a new command. That’s how tricky training the BC is that even seasoned dog trainers have to be very cautious about the use of hand signals and other behavioral cues.
For obvious reasons, consistency is the key to training a Border Collie. You need to be very precise in what you are teaching it because any variation will be interpreted by this dog as something totally different, even though you are indeed teaching it the same thing.
Border Collies rely on very structured, very orderly training sessions. They need consistency in the training methodologies. More importantly, they need someone who is firm not aggressive, motivating not punishing. They need someone who truly understands how their complex mind can solve problems thrown its way. If this is not you, then the Border Collie is not yours to keep.
There are many reasons why Border Collies need to be trained as puppies. First, their herding instincts are very strong. If you do not train them to temper these, they will be rounding up little children in your family as well as small pets or even objects in motion. This is inherent in Border Collies. That is why it is imperative that they be trained how to use their herding instincts – the ‘eye’, creeping movement, and even crouching behaviors – in a more constructive manner.
One way you can train a Border Collie is to hire someone who has an extensive experience training such dogs. We’re not talking about just any other dog trainer. It should be a Border Collie trainer.
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They may be of medium-sized built, but do these dogs need all the calories they can get. While it is easy to give them carbohydrates as the principal source of their energy, don’t do it. We beg you not to do this because what Border Collies need is a high-quality dog food that is rich in proteins. We’re not talking about just any other protein. We’re talking about animal-based proteins, preferably novel ones like bison, lamb, buffalo, and other very uncommon animal proteins. These are easily digestible and can help the Border Collie avoid any potential hypersensitivity reactions.
Equally important are omega-3 essential fatty acids that will help enhance the brain development of this dog. You’d want to nurture its intelligence by feeding its brain with the right stuff. Carbohydrates are also needed, but please stay away from wheat, corn, and soy; although, the BC doesn’t really have any issues with gluten allergies. It is better to be safe. Fruits and vegetables provide the BC with the antioxidant vitamins and the physiologically-important minerals like calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium, among others. You’d also need to support and strengthen their joints. These are famed herders so they need the agility to do their thing.
Since this is a very active herding working dog, a 40-lb Border Collie will need anything from 1,200 to 1,800 calories each day. This is typically divided into three to four meals. You can go for dog kibbles, but make sure it has a protein content of at least 30% based on its dry matter composition. If you decide to go for wet dog food, then go for something higher with at least 50% of dry matter protein composition. Better yet, give your BC raw food.
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Border Collies, especially those that are bred as working dogs, have very high energy levels. They are bred specifically to work. If you cannot give them something to do, your life will be turned into a living nightmare. These dogs need something to keep them busy, not only physically but also mentally.
We’ve heard of stories about how clever Border Collies are at unlocking doors (remember Striker?). They do this not because they are escape artists, but rather they like the challenge. They love solving problems. Whatever interests them, they will try it. Sadly, there isn’t a thing in this world that will never capture their curiosity.
They are definitely not for couch potatoes or those who run or jog about an hour a day. They need continuous physical and mental activities to keep them preoccupied. If not, you will never get a well-behaved, loyal, and calm four-legged companion. Instead, you will get a destructive, bored, and very vocal hound that will keep you awake all night long.
We mentioned the Border Collie having strong herding instincts. Part of this is its inborn protective streak. You should keep in mind that its herding instincts mean it also needs to protect its ‘herd’. And its herd is YOU. That means if the BC sees other persons in your home, it will be very wary. It is not aggressive, though, but you will know it is not at all pleased. On the other hand, if the BC is not socialized properly there is also a tendency that it will be so shy around other folks. That’s why it’s critical to introduce a Border Collie puppy to as many different people as possible.
When it comes to kids, it can play with them without any problem. But then again, its herding instincts may not be that welcoming for young and small children. It will always try to round them up as if they are its herd. Socializing them may have little effect in this regard so it is best to either supervise playtime with young kids or to never get a Border Collie at all. The same is true with small pets or small animals. It will always look at them as herd. At least, it will not view them as prey.
For all the tenacity of the Border Collie as a herder, it is one very sensitive dog, especially to sound. Many BCs have been known to develop noises phobias such as the sound of thunder, gunshots, or even firecrackers. Socialization should help acclimatize this dog to such noises.
This is one aspect of the care of Border Collies that is fairly easy. It sheds only seasonally, so you’ll only be bringing out your vacuum cleaner during these times of the year. However, it is still important that you brush its coat at least twice a week to make sure that the natural oils are equally distributed.
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Nail care should be observed once every 3 weeks while caring for its ears can be done on a weekly basis. As for the care of its teeth, this is something that you have to do more frequently; as often as every day, but should never be less than twice a week.
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In addition to hip dysplasia, Border Collies are quite notorious for progressive renal atrophy, trapped neutrophil syndrome, Collie eye anomaly, deafness, neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, and epilepsy. It’s imperative to check with the breeder for the health of the Border Collie’s parents.
It should be very obvious at this point that Border Collies are best reserved for those who…
- Have extensive experience working with, living with, socializing, and training dogs that have almost similar traits like the Border Collie
- May be new to dog ownership, but are prepared to assume the complicated role of a Border Collie pet parents
- Have the resources to hire a professional Border Collie trainer and handler and who will also vow to learn the techniques of properly training this kind of dog
- Have access to a spacious lot
- Have livestock or who can rent livestock for the BC to herd
- Can provide round-the-clock exercises, socialization, training, and mental activities for as long as the Border Collie is alive
This also means the Border Collie is not the dog you’re looking for if you…
- Are an absolute beginner to this concept of pet parenting
- Don’t have the time to properly socialize and train the BC
- Have small children and even small pets at home
- Lead a life of a certified couch potato
Very intelligent and keen, the Border Collie is the Einstein of its world. No other dog breed can come close to the intellect, tenacity, and energy of the Border Collie. Even highly prized Poodles and German Shepherds are no match for the BC’s exceptional intelligence. For many, this dog may seem a bit weird, almost bordering on being crazy. It has this compulsion for even the most mundane things. It will wait for your kitty to wake up, case bugs in the garden, wait for the cycle in your dishwasher to end, or even chase shadows and laser lights. But don’t fault the Border Collie as it is its instinct to stalk and herd anything that moves or has the potential to move. As such, from adults to kids, small pets to livestock, and even inanimate objects that move are never completely free from the Border Collie’s herding instincts.
Alert and very responsive, the Border Collie is an excellent watchdog. It may not be as aggressive as bear- and bull- baiters, but it sure can alert you to the presence of an intruder, a stranger, or anything that it senses as something fishy or off.
The Border Collie may not be the affectionate dog breed that families want. You may not see it enjoying the company of its family sitting all day long in front of the TV. For this dog, doing so is an utter waste of its God-given talents. This hound is bred for work; plain and simple. Sure, it will cherish moments of peaceful silence, just cuddling up with you. But, the Border Collie is surely happiest when it is doing something.
Border Collies are smart and very dedicated in what they do. But this doesn’t mean you can easily bring it home. Only a committed, dedicated, passionate, and an equally-smart pet parent can provide the kind of mental and physical stimulation that this dog needs.