Border collies are best known as working dogs and herders of sheep. The dogs are medium sized, 18 to 22 inches tall and weighing in the range of 25 to 65 pounds. Border collies are usually black and white, but their coats can display black, tan, red, liver and yellow coloration, and white markings are typical. Variations in their coats include merle, sable, bi- and tri-color patterns. While their eye color may be amber, brown or blue, lighter eye color is usually present in dogs with body coloring other than black.
Border collies are obedient, adept at reasoning out problems and constantly learning. In 2010, a border collie was named the “World’s Smartest Dog,” able to understand over 1,000 words. Border collies recognize visual, vocal and behavioral cues -- to name only a few -- and react to nuances of those cues, such as pitch and delivery. These athletic, agile animals are active, high-energy companions and have an average lifespan of about 15 years.
Begin training your border collie early and be consistent. Their ability to reason makes this intelligent breed hard to train. Present your commands with precision. According to the Border Collie Rescue website, the dogs are poor at generalization, so commands must use the same tone of voice and involve the same physical signals every time. Use positive reinforcement in your training and avoid strong negative forms of correction. Correct your pet’s negative behaviors every time they occur but reward positive ones only intermittently after your dog becomes familiar with your expectations. Address inappropriate herding behaviors, such as chasing cars, immediately. Train your dog to not pull on his lead. Keep your pet with you during your daily chores to familiarize him your routine, suggests the United States Border Collie Club.
Understand the temperament of the breed. Border collies can become aggressive due to fear, intrusion into their personal space or through learned behavior. Handle your pet frequently from puppyhood. Border collies can develop a dislike of restraint and prolonged contact, so even grooming will be a struggle unless you condition your dog to accept such treatment. Do not approach or handle your dog suddenly from behind. Avoid reacting to shows of aggression by backing down from the confrontation, as even slight indications that aggressive behavior will cause you to stop or shy away reinforces to your dog that aggression is an effective response.
Address any noise sensitivity as it arises. A fear of noises is common in border collies and may develop into intense fear reactions, leading to negative behaviors, according to the ASPCA. The dogs may startle easily, bark, become anxious or aggressive, or run from the situation and into danger. Treat mild fear reactions by using play or treats, training your dog to associate the noise with pleasure. Dogs with intense fear reactions may need intervention from a professional dog trainer or animal behavior specialist.
Provide your dog a safe space of his own, such as a dog crate. This allows your pet a place to go to rest or escape stress and gives you a way to safely control and confine him when necessary. Border collies need quiet time, particularly after training sessions. Offer your dog chew toys to reduce stress and promote tooth health.
Groom your dog weekly. Try a variety of brushes to find the most effective type. The breed has three different types of coats: rough, medium and smooth. Rough coats have a straight or wavy topcoat over a dense undercoat that is shed in warmer weather, while smooth coats tend to be both coarse and short. Feathered areas attract burs and plant debris, and some dogs’ coats tend to mat, so your pet may need brushing daily or every other day. Brush to reduce stray hair loss from shedding. Use grooming sessions to evaluate your dog’s general health, but keep the sessions short and pleasant. Offer rewards for good behavior. Avoid causing your dog pain so he will not come to view grooming as a stressful event.
Exercise your border collie for at least two hours a day. Involve your dog in an activity that engages his mind as well as his body, such as agility course work. Interactive exercise improves your dog’s general health and reduces excitability, nervousness and negative behaviors such as noise-making.
Avoid long runs as exercise, even though this breed shows endurance. The ASPCA warns that border collies are made for short bursts of speed and are prone to developing blisters on their feet, so the organization recommends exercising your border collie on cool, soft surfaces or using protective boots to preserve his feet. Herding behavior may make biking or skating difficult on even short excursions.
Keep your pet on his leash in unsafe areas, as he may fail to notice environmental dangers or respond to commands if his herding instinct is engaged. Take frequent breaks in hot weather; border collies may work or play until they develop heat exhaustion.
Have your dog evaluated for hereditary diseases common to border collies. These include deafness; diseases of the eye, including the retinal disorder collie eye anomaly; epilepsy; hip dysplasia; and osteochondritis dissecans, a form of lameness affecting the shoulder. The breed is also prone to athletic injuries, due to its active nature.
Reconsider selecting a border collie as a family pet if you have children, particularly young children. The dogs easily learn bad habits, including aggressive behaviors to stop unwanted contact. Normal childhood behavior can trigger the dog’s herding instinct. Part of the herding process includes biting to induce a herded animal to respond, which can lead to a bad reputation for the dog, an upsetting encounter for the child, and the potential for injury. Dog owners must be aware and capable of dealing with the behavior or acquire a border collie that demonstrates poor herding instincts.
Pair border collies with canine companions that have similar habits and energy levels, as the behavior of a border collie can easily overwhelm other pets.
Items You Will Need
- Dog crate
- American Kennel Club: AKC Meet the Breeds: Border Collie
- ASPCA: Animal Welfare News: Border Collie Named World's Smartest Dog After Learning 1,000 Words
- United States Border Collie Club: Living With Border Collies
- ASPCA: Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Grooming Your Dog
- United States Border Collie Club: Border Collie Characteristics
- ASPCA: Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Exercise for Dogs
- Border Collie Rescue: Can't Touch This: Protective Aggression
- ASPCA: Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Fear of Noises
- American Border Collie Association: Health and Genetics of Border Collies -- A Breeder and Buyer's Guide 2002
- United States Border Collie Club: Border Collie Health: Veterinary Information
- United States Border Collie Club: Tips on Getting a Border Collie
- Border Collie image by Scott Griessel from Fotolia.com