The Border Collie was born in the British Isles and
grew to maturity in the border country of England
and Scotland. There are several theories surrounding
the derivation of the "Collie" portion of his name, but no
doubt as to his purpose in life. Some historians claim that
"colley" derives from a Gaelic word meaning something
useful, some say it comes from "coalie," a word meaning
black, and a third source trace the meaning from the
name of a breed of Scottish sheep. But few would
disagree that the Border Collie is the finest sheepherding
dog, a marvelous competition dog, and a suitable if
somewhat hyperactive pet for lively households.
The British Isles are home to about three dozen breeds of
sheep. These animals had to be brought in from the fields
periodically for shearing or driving to market or moved
from one field to another as the seasons changed.
Several breeds -- Smooth and Rough-coated Collies,
Bearded Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Pembroke and
Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Shetland Sheepdogs --
developed to do these tasks, but none is as fanatically
dedicated as the Border.
Donald McCaig, farmer, Border Collie owner,
and author, describes succinctly and
colorfully the Border Collie style in Eminent
Dogs, Dangerous Men:
"A Border Collie moves livestock by controlled
intimidation. He pushes them along with a
threatening glare. This glare is called 'eye' and is
probably related to the wolves' tactic of selecting a
victim in the herd by catching its eye and asserting
dominance before starting the attack run."
Today the Border Collie is one of the few breeds
that is still used for his traditional purpose in his
homeland and in the US. The US Border Collie
Club is dedicated to maintaining the breed's skill
as a shepherd's dog; many club members depend
on their dogs to tend the flocks and many train
their dogs to compete in herding tests and trials to
prove their prowess.
BORDER COLLIES – GOTTA LOVE ‘EM,
QUIRKS AND ALL
written by Janet Legg of Border Collie Rescue
in Washington and Oregon
What is a Border Collie, you ask? Well, here are
my personal observations:
BORDER COLLIES are incredibly wonderful -- The
Best dog on the planet. They are very wise souls
who can look at your face and get into your head.
They are extremely affectionate, and are known to
stand up on hind legs to wrap their front legs
around your neck and lie their head on your
shoulders against your cheek... no question, it’s a
They read your body language and know way
ahead of time if you are "thinking" of walking to the
park or taking a drive, or simply gonna take a "nap".
They love their toys and will gather them all up into a
pile for play or checking over carefully. I have heard of
Borders who "Clean Up" putting all their toys back into
the toy box in the evening.
They will watch television, especially Animal Planet
when there is whistling and barking going on, or owners
issuing commands to their dogs. All the Border Collies
stop what they are doing and watch the television when
I show the "Breed All About It - Border Collie" video,
obviously recognizing the command-whistles and the
sheep moving across the fields... as well as the excited
dog barking during Flyball and Agility.
They usually either totally ignore other dogs or
get along famously well, but their main focus is
usually their people... not other dogs. They listen
intently and respond quickly to human demands. They
want a job to do and look back to Dad to tell them to "go
left" "go right" or "go faster... “go slower". They love
They are incredibly versatile, more so than any
other breed I know. They can be extraordinary
sheepherders, or an Agility or Flyball competitor like
no other; and a terrific Frisbee catcher. They can
also be a water retriever ("get the duck") or a Pointer
("show me, where is it?"). They can be a boatman, a
tracker (Search and Rescue), a hiking, jogging or
camping companion. I mean VERSATILE. They do not
ever say "NO THANKS" or "I CAN'T" but usually tell
you "Let's do it, show me what you want". They are
forever eager to learn and do new things.
They are the best athletes available. No other dog
can beat them at sheep herding or at Agility or
Flyball. Coordination? Oh yes, very coordinated!
They can turn on a dime, leap high in the air
then land on their feet like a cat. They are fast -
Although they can and will nag owners to "throw the
ball, Daddy, throw the ball" until heck freezes over,
the dogs can learn a simple command such as "enough is
enough already". "Quit now". "Lie down" and be peaceful
and quiet. And the good news is you don't have to nag, but
simply say it one time (say what you mean and mean what
you say). The Borders can lie for hours at your feet while
you compute or watch television, but are forever watching
and waiting for you to “go”.
They love to go -- anywhere and everywhere. They love
to be with you, even if it isn't anywhere exciting or great.
They just have to be near you. They will even lie down in
the bathroom while you shower and shave, wagging their
tails whenever you make eye contact.
If a person wants a dog that they can put in the
back yard for TEN hours a day, to leave alone 24-7
-- or only allowing them indoors at night, a dog
that never gets out of its own backyard, never
played with or talked to, is never made to think
and do, is never trained, a dog they can pet only
occasionally and toss down food for...
the Border Collie is DEFINITELY NOT THE DOG
FOR THEM. They should get some other breed
rather than a Border Collie. Or Better Yet? Get a
dog statue to put in the yard to look at occasionally.
Or get a furry-fuzzy stuffed toy. Don't get ANY LIVING
They learn extremely quickly. Just show them once,
they will remember. Sometimes one single mild correction
is enough to never see that behavior ever occur again.
They are sensitive and get their feelings hurt often
when corrected even just verbally. They may pout,
hang their head, and lie flat on the ground, sad and
dejected, appearing inconsolable. And they
remember! (They do accept apologies eventually.) But
don’t give in to their sad-sack look and allow them to test
They stay home. They are not big wanderers, but prefer
to be home bodies (at least if they like their home and are
getting good care and adequate exercise).
They can be protective of their home and family--
Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. They can
and will bite, and anyone who states “my dog would
never bite" is completely wrong. ANY dog will bite
under the right circumstances. The Borders tend to give a
quick nip and often not cause a rip-and-tear wound. But
biting should be promptly and always corrected, never
allowed to occur. Never encourage the dog to protect
aggressively, unless trained using Schutzhund or other
valid controlled protective training program. An
announcing bark is adequate for most family dogs,
followed by encouragement to “make friends”.
Ah ha. Barking. My favorite thing about Border Collies --
They tend to be silent. Barking is not all that common in
the breed (unless bored, frustrated, ignored, kenneled,
neglected). They were bred to move sheep through the
fields without uttering a sound - silent at all times. They
give "the eye" instead... which says everything the
sheep need to "hear". "Move you dang woolies! Move to
Any dog will mess up your house. The bigger the
dog, the bigger the damage. The only difference with
Border Collies is the speed that they create the horrible
mess (the speed of light). Ripped up carpeting,
linoleum, torn drapes and blinds, chewed cabinets,
chewed door moldings, drywall destroyed creating a
walk thru to other rooms or the outdoors, even broken
windows or sliding glass doors. Although this is a worst-
case scenario and not every dog will make a mess
every time you leave – but these things do happen.
Better safe than sorry - confine the dog securely and
safely when you leave – followed by reward for being
good when you return
.Border Collies are extremely sight and sound
sensitive. They see things that move even slightly
(you may not see). They hear things barely audible
(you may not hear or notice). Many other breeds ignore
sights and sounds that Border Collies simply cannot
Things that can cause a Border Collie to act fearful,
aggressive or simply obsessive are: shadows (moving
lights), flying or crawling bugs, air movement, vacuum
cleaner, hair dryer, toaster (it dinged and popped!!!),
rustling paper or tin foil, a human cough or a sneeze,
crying or laughing, let alone thunder & lightning, gunshots
and the 4th of July fireworks.
Most Border Collies display SOME but not all of such
quirks in their personality. But Border Collie owners
learn to live with them and even find them humorous.
Owners learn to accept these quirks as part of the BC
charm and personality, even if they are not preferred.
They simply learn to love these dogs so deeply that “so
what if the toaster ding sends the poor dog running to the
back of the house in a panic?”
Commitment: Only very seriously committed dog
owners should consider getting a Border Collie.
Committed to providing adequate daily exercise, as
well as training, fun activities and regular
communication. They love time spent with their
[Do I Really Want a Border Collie?]
Before you make the decision to get a Border Collie, you
should consider all of the following points carefully. After
reading through this admonition and educating yourself on
the breed from other sources, if you still feel like you can
handle this breed and enjoy living the "Border Collie"
lifestyle, we encourage you to seek out a rescue dog. The
following are some very important questions that you
should ask yourself before you decide to get a Border
Collie, along with their corresponding answers. Though
these are wonderful dogs, they certainly are not for
What is a Border Collie?
Border Collies are the fanatical black and white dogs that
have been bred to herd sheep. They come in an
assortment of sizes and colors, though they generally
range from about 30 to 60 pounds and their "typical"
markings are black with a white collar, chest, head stripe
(blaze), paws, and tail tip.
These markings are only the perceived "typical" markings,
as Border Collies also come in red/white, black/red/white
("tri"s), blue merle, red merle, mostly white, tan and black,
brindle, sable, and mostly black varieties. They are quite
commonly seen in television ads and Hollywood films (the
dogs in the movie "Babe", for example, were Border
Collies). They are known for their incredible herding
instinct and their keen intelligence.
What exactly is "herding instinct"?
The herding instinct in Border Collies is a behavioral trait
that has been bred "into them" over the past two hundred
years or so. What many people fail to realize, even
long-standing Border Collie owners, is that the herding
instinct is simply a modified version of the killing instinct of
wolves. The instinct has been toned down somewhat
through selective breeding. In fact, the instinct has not
been bred "into them" but rather, "out of them". Border
Collies retain the circling and gathering instinct so vital in
hunting wolf packs but refrain from actually going in and
making the final "kill".
Rogue dogs however, are not uncommon, and in many
European countries, Australia and New Zealand, where
the dogs are often allowed to roam free, sheep and
calf-killing Border Collies can pose occassional threats to
livestock. Many people say that once a Border Collie has
tasted blood, they can never be trusted again and
normally, the dogs are summarily exterminated.
The instinct to herd in Border Collies evidences itself
differently than in most other herding dogs. Whereas most
breeds of herding dogs drive the livestock away from the
handler, Border Collies circle the livestock at the far end
and bring them back to the handler (known as "gathering"
or "fetching"). Additionally, Border Collies tend not to use
force (initially) to drive the livestock where they want to but
rather, use what is known as "eye", a sort of threatening
stare-down that intimidates the stock into moving in the
desired direction. If the non-physical means of moving
stock do not work, a Border Collie's natural instinct is to
slowly escalate the encounter into an ever-increasing use
of force. Barking, nipping, and eventually gripping (biting)
are used to get the point across to the more stubborn
What are the two most common reasons people get
1) I heard they were really smart dogs and I wanted a
smart dog so it would be easy to train.
2) I heard they were great with kids and make wonderful
Though these thoughts may have some validity to them
under certain circumstances, for most Border Collies and
owners, these ideas are fallacies.
Why do so many Border Collies end up in rescue?
There are generally three reasons that Border Collies end
up in rescue and they are all related to herding instinct. In
order to understand these reasons, you must be familiar
with the instinctive qualities of herding present in these
1) Roughly a quarter of Border Collies entering rescue
(though this varies with the region) are those that have not
displayed strong enough herding instincts to make
themselves efficient herding dogs on working farms.
Rather than trying to work against the natural abilities (or
inabilities) of the dog, the working family gives the dog
over to rescue so that it can be placed in a more
appropriate, pet home.
2) A larger proportion of the dogs are given up because
they have bitten someone, almost inevitably a child. The
herding instinct, if strong, is overwhelmingly incompatible
with a household containing children - particularly when
the child and adult owners have not been trained or
educated in how to deal with the peculiarities of the
herding instinct. Border Collies can make good family pets,
but only for those dogs that do not have the intense
herding instincts and for the families prepared to deal with
the ramifications of this behavior.
To a Border Collie, a child is basically a sheep without
much wool - a sheep in wolf's (kids) clothing if you will. A
child running across the backyard or out the front door is,
to the dog, a sheep that has decided to break from the
fold. Seeing the child "making a break for it", the Border
Collie's natural instinct kicks in and it streaks out in front of
the child to cut off its escape. If the child is unprepared for
this, the experience of a dog cutting him off and staring or
barking at him with seemingly evil intentions, is quite a
traumatic event. A normal child's reaction to this is to
become frightened, possibly let out a scream, and run
further and faster to escape the dog.
Since this child (sheep) is being uncooperative, the dog
must escalate his attempts to round up the errant stock by
barking and nipping at the heels of the child. A child's
normal reaction to this is to become even more frightened,
run faster, and scream louder. This cycle escalates until
the dog must resort to its last means of control - gripping
(biting), normally used to grab an excessively
stubborn/brave sheep or cow. The two natural instincts of
the child and the dog are entirely incompatible. The child
is doing what comes natural to him - reacting in fear to a
threat and attempting to flee. And the dog is doing what
comes naturally to him - trying to round up an escaping
animal by ever-increasing uses of force.
3) By far the largest percentage of dogs are turned in
because they are "hyper" and far too difficult to handle.
Most people are either not willing, prepared, or able to put
in the large time commitment it takes to adequately
exercise a Border Collie. Border Collies have been bred to
herd sheep and that requires a lot of physical stamina and
endurance. Herding sheep is an all-day activity and often
entails miles of endless running and sprinting across
uneven patches of farmland. Obviously, not everyone has
the luxury (or burden) of owning sheep, so another outlet
must be found for this energy.
Can't I train the dog not to herd the children?
No. The instinct, if present, is exactly that - an instinct. It is
neither trained nor learned. The behavior can be modified
or channeled into other activities (which is why Border
Collies make such wonderful Frisbee dogs) or can be
redirected somewhat through training, but the instinct will
always be there. No amount of training, no matter how
skilled the trainer is, can get rid of a Border Collie's instinct
to herd. A Border Collie in the herding "mode" is a dog
that misses, forgets, or simply ignores all commands and
no amount of pleading from the owner will work. Countless
Border Collies are killed by cars every year because the
dogs, when the instinct kicks in, are oblivious to almost all
other external stimuli.
Can't I teach my children not to run from the dog?
Older children can be taught to stop dead in their tracks
and avoid this confrontation altogether. Since the dog
does not perceive a continued threat of the animal
escaping, the dog relaxes and shifts into a more "normal"
Younger children may be taught to handle this experience
with some degree of calm but to expect a child that is
younger than 5 to be able to confront a running, snapping,
growling, or barking dog with its teeth bared, may be
asking too much of even the most mature youngster.
Parents can regulate and supervise encounters with the
family dog but for younger children, this means never
letting your dog alone with the child.
But even more problematic is the fact that children tend to
hang around other children. Unless you are prepared to
teach each and every child in the neighborhood and every
child that enters your home how to cope with the dog's
instinct, the dog must be locked away in the presence of
non-family members. Border Collies tend not to be the
kind of dog that you can let loose to run with your kids
around the neighborhood.
It is often the "perfect" dog that everyone felt they could
trust that ends up biting a child - generally because they
are trusted and thereby exposed to many more of the
potentially dangerous situations.
How much exercise does a Border Collie require?
Actually this is an unanswereable question. It is similar to
posing the question "How much exercise does a hyper
child need?" or "How far does a thoroughbred horse have
to run each day?" Obviously you could keep the child
locked in her room or the horse confined to his stall all
day, but this, for most of us, is an unacceptable response.
To truly exercise a Border Collie, you must be willing to put
in a couple of hours each day, in some form of exercise or
activity. Border Collies can remain confined to the house
all day while you are away at work but do not expect to
come home and relax. You don't have to jog endless miles
with your dog (though you can if you'd like) - mental
exercises are often the most exhausting activities for
Border Collies - but you must do something with them
each day. Otherwise, they will find an outlet for their
excessive energy and countless Border Collie owners can
attest to this fact. I've included some of the Border Collie
"horror stories" from current owners just to show I'm not
making this stuff up.
Border Collies have been described as having the energy
output of a miniature nuclear reactor. And like all nuclear
power, it can be quite dangerous if it is not controlled.
If Border Collies are so smart, then why aren't they easy to
If you are not a precise sort of trainer (most people aren't),
then trying to train an intelligent Border Collie can be a
frustrating task. Yes, they can pick up commands on two
or three tries but they are also very perceptive and are
constantly thinking. If, in teaching your dog to sit, you raise
your right hand and say "Sit", the dog may pick that up the
first time through. However, if the next time you repeat the
command, you raise your arm at a different angle and use
a slightly lower tone of voice or a different pace, a Border
Collie will often pick up the subtle distinction and think that
you are using an entirely new command. Border Collies
have a difficult time learning to generalize, basically
because it takes a dog that is less "critical" to be able to
follow a sloppy command. Training a Border Collie can be
like trying to teach a nerdy child that likes to overanalyze
everything - it can be frustrating and an exhaustive
exercise in patience.
What are the other problems with owning a smart dog?
Intelligence in dogs is a double-edged sword. Yes, Border
Collies can learn lots of tricks and can have quite a large
vocabulary but they also can learn lots of bad things too.
Having a smart dog means waging a continual intellectual
war with your dog, trying to outsmart them as they figure
out each progressive intellectual step you take. Trying to
confine a Border Collie can be an exercise in futility. Just
when you put in a gate, they figure out how to get over
(under) it. When you put in a door, they figure out how to
push it open. You put in a latch and they figure out how to
turn doorknobs. Some owners even swear that their
Border Collies can pick combination locks - though their
paws make it hard to turn the dial. If you do not enjoy
engaging in intellectual warfare, especially with a
non-human, a less "perceptive" and somewhat "denser"
breed may be in order.
Is all this hassle necessary?
Unfortunately, many people spend far more time choosing
their next car then picking the right breed and dog for
them. The decision to get a dog should weigh far more
heavily than the decision as to what make and model car
you should get, even if the expense of a car is far greater.
The main point is that a dog is not just like a car. It is a
living, breathing being with emotional qualities and a
unique personality. A dog will be part of your family from
the moment you get it home. They need to be loved and
cared for with the utmost devotion and attention.
You must always remember that a dog is not like a car
a) It lasts longer. Cars can last several years but we
generally get rid of them as soon as they wear down or we
tire of them. A Border Collie will usually live up to fifteen
years and will need fewer replacement parts, making the
decision (to adopt) a very important one.
b) It can't be traded in for a newer model. A dog will be
part of your intimate family for years to come and should
be with you, barring any unforeseen circumstances, for its
c) It comes with a personality. Cars come in different
colors with different options but all are basically identical.
Each Border Collie is unique in and of itself.
Our concern is for the welfare of the dog in particular and
the breed in general. Nothing is worse than a "boomerang"
dog, particularly in rescue.
Poor and hasty choices, along with nondiscriminatory
matching policies are the biggest cause of returned or
abandoned dogs. Though rescuers sometimes continue to
monitor the adopted dog's early progress and hope you
keep in contact long into the future, it is their mission to
ensure that each dog is placed in a loving home and will
not need to be removed for any reason. Like adopted
children, their long-term placement in a caring family is our
And yes, it is easier and faster to buy a puppy from a pet
store. But none of the precautions will be taken to ensure
that both the dog and you will be happy with the match.
The process of picking a dog is a long and detailed one.
You must be absolutely sure of your choice. Having a dog
come into your home, like having children, is not a
decision that you can easily go back on. It will affect your
life for years to come and should not be taken lightly.