With an abundance of intelligence and energy, the border collie and the Australian cattle dog are two phenomenal herding dogs. In the right hands, they can also make wonderful family pets. However, both breeds also need plenty of exercises and mental stimulation to keep them on the right track.
If you are trying to decide between a collie or an Aussie, then it is important to know more about each breed. Both breeds fall into the American Kennel Club’s herding group, and while there are many similarities between these two working dogs, there are also some distinct differences. We make the Australian cattle dog vs. border collie comparison so you can decide which is best for you, your family, and your lifestyle.
A Short History of the Two Breeds
The border collie breed dates back to the end of the 19th century in the UK, with the name appearing around 1915. Before this, a smaller sheepdog version of the collie was known to have been in Britain dating back to the Roman Empire and was bred for herding sheep.
The name ‘border collie’ represents the breed’s importance in the borders between Scotland and England and the key role this sheepdog played in managing large flocks across wide spaces across the border.
Bred to be a versatile and robust working farm dog, the border collie is hardy and agile, with high energy levels and sharp, focused intelligence, which means the breed desires to work and learn. This means they also make excellent companion dogs.
Australian Cattle Dog
Also known as the blue heeler, the Australian cattle dog was originally bred as resilient farm dogs that could herd over large distances and withstand the harsh Australian climate. The original Aussie was the result of interbreeding dalmatians, dingoes, and sheepdogs from England during the 19th century and was used to herd cattle.
The breed became sought after due to its stamina, intelligence, and work ethic and was named heeler thanks to the way it would nip the heels of livestock to keep them in line. The Australian cattle dog was recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1980.
A Quick Comparison of the Two Breeds
Border collie Australian cattle dog
- Size 18-22 inches 17-20 inches
- Weight 25-45lbs 30-50lbs
- Life expectancy 12-15 years 13-16 years
- Temperament Intelligent, loyal, curious Intelligent, independent, protective
- Trainability Very Very
- Energy level Very high High
- Coat type Thick double coat, either Short double coat smooth or rough
- Coat colors Brown, red, black, white, blue Blue, grey, red, mottled, speckled bi and tri-colored
Border Collie vs. Australian Cattle Dog
Their work ethic, high intelligence, and off-the-scale energy can easily confuse the two breeds. But while there are many similarities between the border collie and the Aussie, there are also distinct differences that can make a difference if you are choosing between the two. We compare the two breeds regarding the key features and characteristics.
Both these working dog breeds are roughly the same medium size, although the border collie tends to weigh less than the Australian cattle dog. Australian cattle dogs have a stockier build, a broad head, and are generally more compact, whereas the border collie is lither and more athletic.
Coat and color
There are also some key differences in their coat. The border collie breed has longer and thicker fur to protect against cold weather and can be either smooth, rough, or occasionally curled. The fur of the border collie is fluffy with a shorter undercoat. The typical border collie will have black and white markings, although there are other color variations. These include brown and white, lilac, and the stunning blue or red merle. Eye colors are brown, although blue eyes can also be a breed feature. And some border collies are heterochromatic, which means they have eyes of different colors.
The coat of the Aussie is rougher and has short hair in two acceptable colors – blue or red. This has led to the breed’s alternative blue heeler and red heeler names. Requiring minimal grooming, the blue coat color is blacker, the red is browner, and the mottled appearance creates the blue speckled or red shade. Australian cattle dog puppies are born white and develop their blue or red coat as they grow. Another characteristic of the heeler which sets them apart from the border collie is the black coloration on their face which gives the appearance of a mask.
As they are herding dogs, the one definite characteristic the border collie and Australian cattle dog share is their high energy levels! These on-the-go dogs are born and bred to work and thrive on activity – running in the hills, playing with the kids, or working on a farm. And this boundless energy means they need an active lifestyle with above-average exercise and stimulation to prevent them from getting bored. And as they are both super-smart, an understimulated collie or Aussie can lead to unwanted, destructive behavior.
Moving on to other temperament characteristics, you see some differences between the breeds. While the Australian cattle dog can be independent, the border collies tend to be the more affectionate and friendly of the two. And the downside of this is that the collie is more prone to separation anxiety than the more self-sufficient heeler. However, the border collie can be more adaptable to change, less aloof than Australian cattle dogs, and friendlier around strangers.
On the other hand, the Australian cattle dog is known to be fiercely loyal and so can be protective of their humans, especially in the company of strangers. Early socialization of your heeler pup can make a real difference to their confidence in different social situations.
As herding dog breeds, the border collie and the Australian cattle dog are extremely intelligent and fast learners. And, as they have been bred to carry out commands, their instinct thrives on being occupied and with a stimulating job to do. This all makes both border collies and blue heelers highly trainable. And positive reinforcement training is the method that works best. However, due to the differences in their personalities, how each breed responds in a training session can also be slightly different.
Since their ability to focus can border on obsession, the border collie requires a consistent training routine that enables them to channel their energy and intelligence positively and productively. Agility training is an excellent ongoing activity for border collies.
Meanwhile, the more independent personality of Australian cattle dogs means that a regular training routine with plenty of vigorous activity is more often needed to keep this breed engaged in the task. Australian cattle dog puppies can also be a handful, although they calm down as they age.
Both dog breeds also require socialization from an early age and proper training so that their herding instincts, such as nipping, can be managed successfully, especially around children and smaller animals.
Both dog breeds have high energy levels and require regular exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. A daily exercise, training, and play routine will also prevent excess energy from creating boredom or destructive behaviors. The border collie and the Australian cattle dog are not suited to apartment living as they need access to plenty of outside space. It is in the outdoor environment that both breeds come into their own. This means they can make excellent pets for the active owner or family. Although both breeds do have wanderlust potential.
The adult Australian cattle dog will require slightly more exercise out of the two breeds, with around two hours a day the ideal. Border collies work well with at least 90 minutes of exercise per day. Mixing this time up with walks, aerobic activities, play, training, and agility can benefit both breeds and give them the variety of mental stimulation they need.
Both border collies and Australian cattle dogs are generally considered healthy breeds, and their working heritage makes them more resilient than many other breeds. But as with any pure breed, they can be susceptible to certain health issues. Here are the main health issues to be aware of for each breed.
Border Collie – Potential Health Concerns
The average lifespan for a border collie is between 12 and 15 years. The main health problems the breed can be prone to include:
- Collie eye anomaly: Also known as CEA, this condition is seen in young collies up to the age of two. Collie eye anomaly is an inherited disorder that affects the eye tissue called the choroid, which supplies oxygen to the retina. As the choroid thins, it can lead to blindness. There is currently no cure for CEA, but surgery is an option for severe cases.
- Epilepsy: Another inherited disorder, epilepsy, is quite common in border collies and typically present in the first six months of a puppy’s life. The seizures caused by the condition can be treated with medication.
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA): PRA is a degenerative condition that gradually impacts a dog’s vision and eventually leads to blindness. PRA usually starts around the age of three, but there is a screening test that can be done at an earlier age.
- Hip dysplasia/elbow dysplasia: A common orthopedic disease in canines, hip and elbow dysplasia, can be seen in the border collie breed. With dysplasia, the joints don’t develop properly and wear down over time, causing pain and stiffness and often progressing to arthritis.
- Deafness: Border collies with a merle coat pattern and blue eyes can be susceptible to deafness linked to the merle pigmentation gene.
Australian Cattle Dog – Potential Health Concerns
The Aussie has a slightly longer life expectancy than the collie, living on average between 13 and 16 years. The main genetic conditions that can affect the breed include:
- Orthopedic problems: Australian cattle dogs can be prone to conditions affecting their joints, including hip and elbow dysplasia and patellar luxation, where their kneecap slips out of place. Surgery may be needed in more severe cases of patellar luxation to prevent the dislocation from recurring.
- Eye health: Several eye conditions can affect heelers. Like border collies, Aussies can also be prone to progressive retinal atrophy. Cataracts – which cause the eye lens to ‘cloud up’ – are another common cause of blindness in the breed, especially in older dogs. Depending on the level of sight loss caused by the condition, surgery can be used to remove cataracts completely. Australian cattle dogs can also be prone to glaucoma, which can be extremely painful and lead to blindness if left untreated. Glaucoma can also become a medical emergency, so vets recommend annual screening for the condition.
- Deafness: Deafness can be an inherited condition in the breed, which is why it is essential the breeders have screened your new pup. Congenital deafness cannot be cured, but with support and training, deaf Australian cattle dogs can still live full and rewarding life.
Border Collie vs. Australian Cattle Dog – Which One is Right for you?
High energy, exceptional work ethic, smart brain, easy maintenance, and loyal – there are many similarities between border collies and Australian cattle dogs which can make choosing a little difficult. But before you decide, it’s also important to take all these similarities, as well as differences, into account.
Regarding Australian cattle dog vs. border collie, both will thrive in a household with outside space, loves the outdoor life, and has the time and energy to train, exercise, play with, and generally keep up with these full-on, life-loving breeds. However, the collie can be a little more maintenance due to its desire to please and potentially obsessive behavior. And Australian cattle dogs also have their ‘issues’, being independent-minded with a tendency to be protective.
With all this in mind, it is purely a personal choice if you think you have what it takes to welcome a working breed into your home. And provided you can match their energy levels and high exercise needs, the Australian cattle dog and the border collie can make loving, entertaining, and loyal pets.