Because their early work was to gather sheep from the hills, Border Collies are, by nature, gatherers rather than drovers or tenders. They can, nevertheless, be taught to drive stock away from the shepherd and even to keep their charges within certain boundaries. They are also sensitive to commands from their handlers and can distinguish slight variations in the many whistles they understand, responding appropriately to each tone.
Shepherds look for exceptional athletic ability, a biddable nature, and superior livestock sense. In general, a dog that is light on its feet, flowing in its movement, quick to cover its stock, and has great endurance is the most valued. The dog's temperament must be sensitive enough to bend its will when asked, tough enough to stand up to the pressures of training, eager to learn, with enough confidence and determination to carry on with its work without constant guidance. Some Border Collies are reserved rather than outgoing, but they must love to work with and for the master. While innate livestock sense is bred into all good working collies, their working style can vary. Most people admire a dog that works with its head low to the ground, with its hindquarters high and its tail tucked between its hind legs. They can run as fast as the wind, yet stop in an instant or switch directions without stopping. They don't take their eyes off their sheep. Their intense gaze is focused on the stock, willing them to obey, to go where the dog directs them, to stop if the dog blocks their path. The stock aren't rushed or afraid, but they certainly respect the dog. A good Border Collie's obsession is its livestock, and this is as it should be.
Sheepdog trials have a very practical purpose of proving the worth of the most desirable Border Collie studs and dams. Each year, there is one, and only one, Border Collie champion: the dog or bitch that wins the National Handlers Finals sheepdog trial sponsored jointly by the United States Border Collie Handlers Association and the American Border Collie Association registry.
How did Border Collies get to be such smart and useful livestock dogs? During the nineteenth century, forward-looking shepherds felt that the faithful farm collie could be made more useful with the addition of traits from other types of dog: the "eye" of a staunch setter, the speed and silent nature of a racing hound. No dog has all the herding traits in perfect proportion, and the intricate assemblage is easy to lose. Breeding a good Border Collie is not easy. It takes great experience with dogs and herding requirements, and a bit of luck in addition.
In the days when dogs that were unfit to work could not be kept, most dogs with physical problems were put down. As Border Collies became more popular with farmers around the world, hobby trials competitors, and pet and dog-sport owners, some latent problems began to surface. The International Sheep Dog Society and the American Border Collie Association have programs that are reducing the incidence of inherited eye diseases. All dogs should be tested by a canine ophthalmologist, preferably between 6 and 12 weeks of age. Dogs having or producing pups which have genetic eye abnormalities should not be bred. There is some hip dysplasia, and conscientious breeders have radiologists certify that breeding dogs are clear of hip dysplasia. The American Border Collie Association will record this information, as well as eye certification, on pedigrees. Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) occasionally causes shoulder lameness, and some researchers feel there is a genetic component. Epilepsy, which can have a genetic basis, occurs occasionally. Obviously, affected dogs should not be bred.
While a group of one hundred Border Collies will probably look as if they belong to the same breed, they will not have a uniform appearance. Since a "good" dog can be judged only by its herding performance, there is no "breed standard" of appearance to which Border Collies should conform. In general, they are of medium size (25-55 pounds), with coats that may be smooth, medium, or rough. Colors are black, black with tan, and, less common, reddish-brown, all usually with white markings. Predominantly white Border Collies and merles, though unusual, also occasionally appear.
Yes, Border Collies shed. Rough-coated dogs develop thick undercoats in winter which must be combed out at the onset of summer's heat. Teeth must be cleaned and toenails clipped. A veterinarian will recommend a program of vaccinations and medications. Be aware that heat exhaustion is a killer. Border Collies often lie in shade or cool water after a hot run or hard work. Even so, their obsessive natures do lead to unnecessary deaths from hyperthermia. Be warned, also, that allowing them to roam free inevitably leads to trouble, as the herding instinct can be activated by anything that moves. Border Collies' attraction to motion should be confined to safe outlets, as most chronic car-chasing is eventually fatal. Inappropriate herding should be stopped immediately by saying no and meaning it. The USBCC recommends spaying or neutering pet dogs for the owners' comfort and for the sake of the breed's working instincts.
Dogs are a commitment. Before you acquire a Border Collie puppy, be sure you want to spend two years training and thirteen more enjoying a highly energetic dog that anticipates your every move, shares your every joy, comforts all your sorrows, and beats you in every race.
If you need a livestock dog, it is imperative to find a puppy whose parents work to a high standard. They should have a livestock dog temperament suited to your handling skills. If your interest in a Border Collie pet has survived our warnings, be prepared to answer questions about your dog-owning experience and your plans for raising a Border Collie puppy. Responsible breeders will be very careful about where their puppies go. Visit the breeder and spend time with the adult dogs. Temperaments vary from shy to bold, calm to excitable, although all will turn serious when they work livestock. For whichever purpose you acquire a puppy, take care to establish your authority and control as a kind, benevolent master. A Border Collie's personality can be ruined by harsh treatment, neglect, or letting it assume a dominant role in the household. People who own Border Collies like their intelligence, high energy, and their desire to participate in every phase of human activity. However, they do take time, patience, and dog-handling skills to develop into either a working dog or a fine companion dog. A well-trained Border Collie is a pleasure to live with and will be reliably well behaved anywhere.