All About Border Collies...

Blue Hill Fair, Herding Trials 2006; Blue Hill, Maine
 What is a Border Collie?

A Border Collie is a breed of dog that is in the Herding group of dogs. Border Collies can be trained to herd sheep, cattle, geese, children and adult humans as well! If it moves, a Border Collie will try to herd it! It is so strongly imprinted in their genes that even young pups can be found stalking objects, siblings etc. Many believe that a border collie is the Ultimate herding dog. If you have ever watched them work the sheep, you would agree... they are herding machines that work with ease and grace, usually never a bark is made. It is believed that a dog that doesn't use the eye like the border collie will bark more.

Three young border collies demonstrate their individual herding style . The woman kneeling was doing a talk on training herding dogs.  She explains the pros & cons of each herding style, and discusses how to work with that dog's individual style.

Border Collies demonstrate sheep herding at the 2005 Sheep and Wool Festival in New Hampshire.
Border Collies have a unique way of herding. It is not a mere chase. They use their eyes and stare down the stock. Anyone who owns a Border Collie can tell you the power of the stare... the "Eye". My Border Collie will position herself right in the middle of the floor, lay down and stare at me when she thinks I should get up and take her out. It is a big motivator! I hate being stared down! Sometimes if it gets a bit much I will make her change her position so I can't see her staring at me. In the herding world, The Eye has two different styles, the "locked eye" and the "loose eye".
"You want to take me out... you want to take me out..."  The stare given by a border collie is to try  to make their humans do what they want, and also to convince sheep that they want to move in a certain direction.

A locked eye is the famous border collie stare that they use to control the sheep, or in my case their humans. The ultimate stance of the stereotypical border collie shows a dog with head lowered either level with line of the body or lower than the line of the body so the neck is curved down lowering the head low. They stare their stock down, sometimes a long fixed stare that never waivers. They look like predator stalking prey, but these animals have learned how to do that without involving the kill part of it. The tail hangs low (usually straight down) and sometimes has a hook at the end of the tail making it hang like a letter "J". The tail is kept low as to not scare and distract the livestock. The white tip often associated with the border collie has been called the "Shepherd's Lantern". The image of an old shepherd coming back from the hills with his flock of sheep, light fading into night, and in front of him is the white tip of the collie's tail to help guide him home.

J. Richardson with Wiston Cap, 1965 Int. Sup. Ch. and a famous foundation dog for the border collie breed.
Wiston Cap can be found in many border collie pedigrees. He was such a winning herding dog that he was in strong demand (for fathering puppies that is.) Wiston Cap is in both Blizzard's and Rowena's pedigree.

Int. Sup. Ch. Spot... note his head is level with his topline. 
Gilchrist's Spot... note his head lower than the topline of his body, and his tail down with the tip hooked up like a "J"
The loose eye is the collie with a stare that is not so solid. The dog is stalking the animals, but the eye is not fixated. If I had a dog that had a really fixated stare, I would just HAVE to do what my dog told me! She doesn't though. I can win staring competitions with her easily. She will look around her a little more and not just stare at her livestock. Sometimes a dog can have to strong of an eye, or too loose of an eye and this can effect their ability to herd.

Notice Whip's lowered head, a fixed stare and tail. These cattle could stomp all over this dog, but they are scared of him. The power of the stare! (Rockin G's Whip, Blizzard's Gandpa)
Border collies are smart, intuitive, strong and athletic, agile, highly motivated, alert and eager to please, loving dogs who bond strongly to his people (or "flock" of people). At the same time, they can be stubborn and Strong willed, Independent, inventive, territorial and manipulative. You must be able to think a few steps ahead of your border collie or they will manipulate to get what they want.

After potty training, my dog learned that if she rings the bell on the door, she will be taken outside to pee or poo. She then began to plot... wheels turning... "if I ring the bell, I will be taken outside. If I can go outside I can play! Why don't I ring the bell to go out and play instead of ringing it just to go potty?" And the game began. I had learned her potty break pattern and knew that she did not have to go out every 10 minutes or so. However, when visiting "Grandma", (my mother) Grandma WOULD take her out every 10 minutes to half hour. I said to my mother that she doesn't have to go potty. "But she went pee every time I took her out." "Yes mom, she knows that she must at least pretend to go potty, so she either fakes it or just marks. She basically has you wrapped around your little finger Ma." I love it when Rosie tries to "fake poo". Of course if she spins around, squats and there is nothing to show for it, I scold her for faking a poo and make her try again with more realistic results.

Basically I own a dog that has very similar characteristics to myself... both the positive and negative characteristics. We are both very stubborn so sometime in training, it is like the battle of the wills. I just have to be more stubborn than her. Rosie tends to be a poor loser.

Border collies are very biddable. They want to please- often to a fault.    Rosie at work as a service dog... Here she is learning to press a handicap button to open doors.
What is the trainability of a Border Collie

Border Collies are sponges for knowledge as far as dogs go. They are very intelligent and trainable. They have a stong desire to make their handlers happy and will go out of their way, above and beyond reason to make their people happy. My Rowena has shown many examples of this desire to please no matter what. Sometimes I ask her to do something and she misunderstands what I am asking of her. once I wanted her to "paws up" on a very large boulder (way larger than the two of us and taller too). She misunderstood, and being used to be the model of many a photos, she thought I was asking her to leap up onto the rock. I would have never asked that of her as she is my service dog and I would not want to put her in risk. She already has a bad hip. However, she did what I thought I had asked, and would have posed for a picture had I not blocked her as she scrambled after her jump. Very biddable.

Rowena does better in Rally than I do! We tried this Rally demo at a Rescue Shelter fund raising event. Notice how she intentively looks at my face for responses and commands... searching for approval. (She also searches my face for disproval as well... maybe to see if I'm serious?)
The best way to train a border collie is first, start out as young as possible. This is not possible for every dog, but you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! The first four months of a pups life is ideal for socializing to other dogs, animals, adults, children, and different situations. This can set the foundation for a well adjusted, well rounded dog. When you train a border collie, your approach must be firm but kind. Border Collies are soft dogs and force should not be used with them. If you are firm and consistent, and use positive training approaches, you can train a border collie to do almost anything. Each dog learns differently, and the history of each dog can affect the ease of learning, and can cause behavioral problems and habits that may interfere, but not cease the learning process.

It is not uncommon for the border collie to be the smartest one in obedience class. Everyone will look on with envy as you reach success with teaching a new command in only 5- 15 minutes. It takes between 1 and 5 repititions for a Border collie to learn a command. However, I have found that she needs to understand the concept. If I cannot figure out a way to explain a trick so she understands what I am trying to teach, she will not learn the process. Explore different approaches to teaching tricks etc. Usually the basics are simple, but the more complex tricks etc. may take some trial and error.  You may also find that some of the ways people train their dogs with won't work for your border collie.

I have found it very disconcerting when people ask me how I taught my dog to do something and I find I cannot help them because they do not have a border collie. Other dogs just don't respond the same way in training. I find that some people have a very hard time teaching their non-border collie how to do a simple skill, and my simplistic technnique just doesn't help at all. My friend that has a Golden Retriever service dog has asked me advise on training a skill, and Goldens are one of the top 5 smartest dogs (trainability wise). This Golden is a very brilliant service dog, heels next to a horse like he was right by his handler's leg. Yet I failed to be able to tell my friend how to train boundaries. (Where I have trained my dog that if her ball goes out into the road, she lays down and waits for me to go get it and bring it back.) By the way, the first trick is to have your dog trained well enough that you can trust he will follow all your commands, such as stop and down in case he gets too close to the road or tries to chase a toy out into the road. Then, I simply command my dog to DOWN! Which she does promptly. Eventually it clicked that if the ball strayed out even onto the sidewalk that she is to stop and lay down and wait till I get the toy and bring it back to her. I can trust her with this 100% on a busy intown neighborhood road.

What kind of person will do well with a Border Collie?

Border Collies can get along with young children and even cats! Start early! 
The kind of person who can own a border collie is definitely NOT one who spends a lot of time working on the computer and blogging. The ultimate person for a border collie is one that is active and wants to be very interactive with his dog. This person wants to train and play, work with, or do sports with the dog and spend more time with the dog than without. A bored border collie is not something you want to have left home alone. A border collie who is not stimulated enough (either physically or mentally or both), he can be destructive and develop obsessive behaviors. Obsessive behaviors are NOT normal for a Border Collie. A hyper border collie is NOT normal for the breed. A border collie is not for the home that only wants a passive pet dog that is content to just cuddle on the couch after you get out of work. It is also not a dog to be tied up outside or crated all day long. A border collie wants to spend time with their human and need that kind of interaction daily. The kind of person who owns a border collie is a person who wants more out of a dog than just a passive pet. He wants a friend and partner. He wants a loyal co-worker and a loving hard working service dog. Can a border collie be a family pet? Definitely! You might want to pay close attention to where you get your border collie from if you want a family dog. A good breeder can pick out the puppy best suited for the job of family pet. The breeder would know what level of prey drive the pup has and can place you with the one with the lowest, or that meets whatever need you are seeking.

Border collies can do well with children. Early socialization can really help border collies restrain the urge to "herd" children. Some have such a strong drive that they probably won't be the best family dog, but would make a great working dog.
What are not normal behaviors for Border Collies?

Here is a list:


running circles in the yard (sometimes leaving paths)

Chasing reflections of light (this often can be trained out and worked on. Using a lazer light for play can encourage this type of behavior as well. I can turn that off with Rosie, but not every dog will be like that)

(Habitual) Running away

Destructive behaviors such as peeling siding from the outside (or inside)of the house, eating holes in the drywall, flipping up floor tiles, chewing,

Chasing his tail or just plain circling

Barking a lot unprovoked

Biting that is not a part of the herding drive. Border Collies nip with no intention of doing harm. Border collies can be trained to hold back the herding instinct. Socialization with playing children, bikes,balls etc. can help with this.

Develop weird phobias and fears. A neurotic border collie is not a healthy border collie.

Competitive Free Style Frisbee is a great activity for border collies to show off their acrobatic skills and frisbee obsession! Here is Lawrence of Disc-Connected K9s of Jacksonville, Florida. They rescue their dogs and teach them free style. They also adopt some of the dogs out to loving, active forever homes! Locked eyes is not necessarily a bad thing in this sport. It does often help dogs to focus and not get as distracted by his surroundings (like the large audience watching the free style frisbee event).

Are balls and frisbees obsessions? They can be if the dog fixates on it whenever one appears (like locks his eyes and gets underfoot if you or another person is holding the object of desire and won't take his eyes off of it.)  A border collie can be taught commands that basically tells the dog to knock it off.  Our command may be "Back off" or "leave it" for example.

Rosie goes to Fly Ball practice put on by the local Flyball team and Pet Quarters. 
My dog is a total border collie fiend at flyball practice! A ball obsession is a good thing for this sport. A dog must have a healthy ball obsession to excel in Flyball, one of the only team sports for dogs.

Anyone have any to add, just let me know and I will add it.

Where can I purchase a Border Collie?

There are three places to get your border collie. First, you need to decide what kind of border collie would suit you best. Do you care about the age of the dog? Do you want a puppy with a clean slate? An older dog that is already potty trained? A show worthy dog? A sports dog? A family dog? Would a border collie rescue suit your needs? How much money do I want to spend on my border collie?

The Responsible AKC standard breeder: Remember that it is more expensive to purchase a dog with the registration papers, and even more expensive to purchase one with breeding rights to the dog. On average, females cost slightly more than the males to. The size and looks of the AKC or show border is going to be more standardized than the farm dogs or rescue dogs will be. Not just anyone is allowed to purchase to breed, and not every dog is being sold to whoever. Some will be raised specifically for show or performance (like dog sports). Some must be on a spay/neuter contract. Some may be destine to become service dogs!

The farm dog breeder: You never know what you're gonna get! Of course if you meet the dam and sire, you have an idea. The color patterns and sizes of these dogs will vary greatly. These dogs may have a higher prey drive on average than the show dogs. They also may not be raised under foot which means they will not be as socialized as a pup who was whelped inside as a house pet. Some farmers do not do health checks such as hip scoring, eye health checks, DNA testing etc. Some farmers do not breed for temperment. Some farmers do not breed for soundness. You will need to research the breeder and make sure that they are responsible farm dog breeders. Usually farm pups are more affordable than fancy bred pups.

The local Border Collie Rescue: If you can handle the ins and outs of a rescue border collie, then by all means... rescue a homeless border collie! Rescues place the dogs with foster homes, so the fosters will know what the dog is like and know his issues if any. Many times, the foster will have already begun rehabbing the dogs before they are adopted, so your new dog will not be a total mystery. If your border collie needs can be met through a rescue, than be a hero and go for it!


This poor guy is a four month old, tri colored border collie that was being sold at a mall petstore. He had a cage that was way too small for him. We visited a few times to give him a little time outside the cage. He was obsessed with the dogs on the other side of the partition (could see their feet under the partition wall) and knew how to open the gate from watching the pet store worker do it only a few times. He also spent a bit of time plotting on how to jump/climb over the partition wall. He obviously was a very intelligent puppy and I am sure he was being forced to under use that brain of his. We named this pup "Hawkeye".Do not purchase from a pet store! These dogs often come from puppy farms and often have health problems.
Do not buy from an irresponsible breeder or puppy farm. If you are not allowed to go to the site, meet the breeder and parents, if the breeder can't tell you a thing about each puppy, don't get the pup there (or be wary).

Be wary of the pup whelped and raised outside, like in a barn. This puppy is likely not going to be as socialized as one raised underfoot.


Do ask questions

Do meet the pups dam and sire.

Do make sure the parents have had health checks (you may want to see the paperwork)

Do make sure you get a puppy garrantee.

Do get health records of the pup (of worming and vaccinations which they should have already had)

Do look for the pup who was whelped and raised under foot as an inside interactive pet.

Do not buy a border collie online unless you know the breeder and/or his/her reputation.

Rosie (the adult dog on the left) was a responsible AKC breeder pup. Lobo, the young pup on the right is a farm bred dog who will grow into a high drive border collie. His family has another farm bred border collie (Cinco, a half sibling to Lobo) and have had not big problems with her. Lobo has a good fixed eye, herding stance and has already given his family problems due to the fact that he is a higher drive border collie living a low drive lifestyle in the city. He has the tall lanky build and is quite handsome.

How big will my Border Collie be?

A border collie is a medium sized dog. That is the only place I can give you an easy answer. Border collies come in varying sizes and weight ranges due to the various purposes they are being bred for.

My Rosie is bred from both herding and show lines. She is 20" tall and 35 lbs.   Rosie would be great as a show dog... height and weight, good stance, tail down, even coat and tail.   
A farm bred or trial dog will not have to fit a certain standard. They just need to be able to work. Farm bred dogs tend to be taller and lankier, with a more slender build. Their coats are not always fluffy either. In fact, in the south, smooth coated border collies are used a lot. You'll never catch them in an AKC dog show though! Border collies can weigh between 30 and 60 pounds depending on it's height and build. . Males are usually taller and a bit heavier. I say usually because Blizzard has pretty much reached his full height. He is only 17" tall and about 30 lbs. He has slendered down a bit since he arrived in Maine. Rosie is slender and slight, Blizzard is solid and ruggedly built. His body is evenly porportioned where as Rosie is top heavy due to her slender athletic belly that slopes up onto her large athletic chest. Rosie's tail is full all the way from tip to base. Blizzard's tail has more hair towards the tip and less towards the base and he holds it high up which I have noticed a lot with some farm bred dogs. Both dogs were bred with show and herding lines, but Blizzard's sire is totally herding lines. Basically, if you're not showing the dog, it doesn't matter what size or color your border collie is.

Well I think he is handsome even if AKC doesn't think so!   His major faults would be his short height, excessively white coat with brindle coloring, his flag-waving tail and uneven coat.    
The dog book I have says that Border Collies range in size (Weight): 30-44 lbs. and Height: 18-21 inches. 

Here is a sire from Blizzard's family tree (his great grandfather on his dam's side of the family). This dog is an AKC Champion show dog, meaning this dog meets all the standards put forth by the AKC, including color pattern, height, build, coat and stature. They do not check for the dog's working ability in a conformation show, though AKC does have herding activities as well.
What kind of work is suited for a Border Collie?

Rosie keeps the cats under control in my house.

"git im!" Rosie and her Kitten, Solace
Border collies are intelligent enough to be able to do almost any job put before them with sufficient training under his collar. There's the old shepherd's belief that a border collie is only happy when herding. This could not be further than the truth! These dogs are loving, compassionate and intuitive animals (will discuss negatives later). They have excelled in Therapy work (a dog trained to visit people in hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers to comfort or even to help with rehab), Assistance/service dog work (which is a dog that is trained to assist individuals with disabilities function better in their community), competitive athlete, herding, working golf courses chasing geese, and being Search and Rescue or Drug sniffing dogs. They can excel in being a domestic house pet as well, but will perhaps need more of a purpose than that. My dog, aside from being a service dog (alerting to my medical condition & assisting me in other ways) also is the tattle tail in my house. If the cats are clicking the furniture, playing too rough for the older one, or otherwise acting out of control, she will not just let me know that is going on, but will jump down and go "git em". One cat (I call him "her kitten") likes to dart out the door and into the hall of the apartment building. I give her the command (if she has not already begun) and she will dash out the door after him. I sometimes think he darts out the door just to get a rise out of Rosie. I know he clicks the chair in the living room to get her to "play" as well. Very smart cat!Rosie also used to "herd" my pet rats. The rats were let out to run around on top of the cages, and a few learned how to climb down  onto the floor. Rosie not only will alert me to the misbehaving rodents, she will "git em" also and chase them back up on to the cages. I think that a border collie could do something similar with children as well.

Rosie accompanies me at the Orono Bog Boardwalk.  No dogs allowed, so she is always at work, leashed and vested when we go to visit the bog.

At Play: Like goes with Like

A Rough-coated and a smooth- coated border collie play herding games with a Puggle. This Puggle (Beagle/Pug cross) is only used to one border colle chasing her. The game just looked too fun for this young, smooth-coated new comer to pass up!
Like many breeds, border collies tend to gravitate towards other border collies. It makes sense since border collies often have their own way of doing things.

A young Rosie plays with her new friend, Cinco. Border Collies seem to have a special way of playing that only other border collies understand. As a result, they are often drawn to each other and enjoy playing herding games, or "tag" with each other... usually a "no contact" rule. I have found that not all dog breeds have this "no contact" rule in place. If they break that sacred rule, Rosie will make it the end of the game. Rosie was about five months and Cinco was about 9 months at the time of this photo.
Rosie and Huxley play fetch with one ball. This tends to be a tense game at times as one dog gets to the ball and the other must be willing to back off and deal with not having the trophy ball to carry back.
Young Rosie and Meg meet each other and their friend ship takes off from there. Unfortunately we never saw Meg again. Meg is about 8 in this picture. Rosie is probably not even 1 yet here.
This was a beautiful union. This is the day Rosie and her littermate sister were reunited for one last playtime. Rosie (the one with the flatter coat) and Lady (the one with the shaggier coat) had not seen each other in 2 years at this point. They didn't spend much time sniffing... Rosie just kind of jumped out of the car and started running. They chased and ran together all over this large yard. It was simply beautiful to watch them, so graceful and fast... works of art in motion.

**This page is still under construction. Did I miss some important information? Do you have photos to donate?  (don't forget to give credit to the photographer, and name of dog etc.) E-mail me (or comment) and let me know.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Such a great blog!! I am looking for a service dog prospect as a psychiatric service dog since i have anxiety disorders that keep me from functioning on some days, and limit my function on others. My top choices are border collies and aussies, the question I have for you is:

I work as a graphic designer at an office monday through friday and i'm not sure if border collies can be happy to relax and generally watch me as I work and alert to certain behaviors i do to help curb anxiety attacks among other things. Could they handle the low key office days while having up to 2 hours a day minimum of normal "dogtime"?

My general plan is to engage in activity with the dog an hour before work, an hour at lunch, and at least 30 min before the drive home. I would also do constant training/agility/"something that keeps a border collie happy" all year round and at least once a week to keep them happy. Do you think that would be enough for a border collie? Hopefully i didn't overload you with information, any feedback would be helpful, thank you so much!