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Origins of the Border Collie

It must be remembered that before anything else the Border Collie is a working dog. The Border Collie is renowned as the world’s greatest sheepdog and would have to be the most widely used working dog around today.

The Border Collie was originally developed in and for the conditions existing on the vast tracts of land on the Welsh and Scottish borders with England. Here the terrain varies from mountains to sweeping moorlands, the winter weather conditions being very bleak with snow, wind and sleet. Land such as this was suitable for very little except sheep and with the introduction of sheep grew the need for a suitable herding dog.

It is believed the Border Collie comes from a very mixed ancestry of larger and less sensitive dogs such as the Bob-tailed sheepdog and the Bearded Collie. The Border Collie, as we know him today, probably emerged over two hundred years ago from this more rugged but intelligent stock. Selective breeding helped develop a dog that could cope with the harsh conditions and the work required. Size and agility to cope with the mountainous terrain, stamina and economy of movement to cope with the moorlands, coat and ear type for the weather conditions.

Sheep can be anywhere from nervous/frightened to aggressive. The ‘stealth’ referred to in the Standard is the Border Collies’ ability to ‘work’ his flock in a manner that does not disturb or distress them – a light footed, quiet movement, not drawing attention to itself until required.

The first sheepdog trial was held in 1876. With the introduction of International Sheepdog Trials in 1906 the outstanding ability of the Border Collie became apparent to the whole world and he subsequently became very much sought after in other countries, e.g. New Zealand and Australia. In conjunction with these very early sheepdog trials there was often held a competition to find the ‘best looking’ dog entered – a forerunner to our modern dog show.

The Border Collie is still very close to his working origins. In Australia in the early 50’s several states had drawn up their own standards for the breed but it was not until 1963 that the ANKC adopted a national standard for the Border Collie. Successful breeding to type was often difficult during these early years, one factor being that until the early 60’s Border Collies from working stock, or with unknown pedigrees, could be registered for breeding and the showring. In UK, where the breed originated, it did not enter the showring until 1976 when it received Kennel Club recognition, and in USA the Border Collie was not given full recognition as a show dog in the Herding Group until 1995.

Description and Characteristics

The Border Collie is a medium sized, energetic working dog. The body is slightly longer than it is tall. The relatively flat skull is moderate in width. The skull and muzzle are about the same length, with a moderate stop. The strong teeth meet in a scissors bite. The oval eyes are set well apart and brown in colour, except in merles where one or more eyes may be blue. The medium sized ears are set well apart, either carried erect or simi erect. The front legs are straight when viewed from the front but slightly sloping when viewed from the side. The medium sized tail is set low reaching at least to the hock, raising somewhat when the dog is excited. Dewclaws are usually removed. The double coat is weather resistant, dense and close-fitting. There are two coat varieties: a short, sleek coat (about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) long) and a coarse, rough coat (about 3 inches (7.6 cm.) long). The Australian recognised coat colours come in black and white, tri-color (black/white/tan), red & white, chocolate and white, blue and white blue merle. The longer haired variety should have a mane and tail brush. The hair on the face, ears and front legs is always short and sleek. Since Border Collies are bred for working ability and intelligence rather than for physical beauty, conformation varies widely.

The Border Collie is very intelligent and aware of their surroundings. They are able to be trained to a high degree. This is one of the hardest working dogs thriving on praise. Border Collies are represented among the leaders in competitive levels in various sports, excelling in agility skills, obedience, sheepdog trials and Frisbee (TM). These competitions are right up their alley, and they are commonly used and often win. For those who wish to reach high levels in dog sports, the Border Collie is a gift from heaven. Farmers are also happy with them, as they were originally bred as a farm hand.

The Border Collie is highly energetic with great stamina. Provided they get sufficient activity to keep them occupied and ample exercise, the Border Collie will get along quite happily with other dogs, and children. This breed can be sensitive and should be very well socialized as a puppy to prevent shyness. To be truly happy, they need a lot of consistent leadership, extensive daily exercise, and a job to occupy their minds.

This breed lives for serving you day in and day out. They are not ideal pets for people who have no plans to spend a lot of time with them. These dogs are too intelligent to lie around the house all day with nothing to do. If you are not willing to put many hours a day into keeping these dogs well exercised in both mind and body, then it is recommended you do not adopt a Border Collie. If there is insufficient activity then it will find its own work to do, and that may not be what YOU had in mind when we say the word WORK. When not challenged daily they can and will become destructive.

Health Issues

Prone to epilepsy, hip dysplasia, and deafness. Some lines are known to carry Lupus – an auto-immune disorder whereby the body’s immune system will attack the skin of the dog, often concentrating on the nose, but can be anywhere on the body. Other genetic diseases in the breed include but not llimited to, Collie Eye Anolomy (CEA),Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (CL) and Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS), Cobalamin Malabsorption: Cubilin Deficiency (Border Collie Type), Degenerative Myelopathy, Glaucoma, Ivemectin Sensitivity (MDR1), Myotonia Hereditaria, Primary Lens Luxation, Raine Syndrome Dental Hypomineralisation, Von Willebrand’s Disease Type II, Sensory Neuropathy and Adult Onset Deafness.

Sometimes allergic to fleas. Some dogs carry a MDR1 gene which makes them sensitive to certain drugs (especially Ivermectin), that are otherwise okay to give another dog, but if tested positive for this gene can kill them. Good ethical breeders will DNA test their breeding stock for these genetic diseases, hip/elbow X-ray and score complete the relevant health tests as recommended by the breed clubs and ensure they are not breeding affected offspring. Please see below on DNA Testing and other health tests.

Life Expectancy

Between 12-15 years.


The Border Collie needs regular combing and brushing to keep the coat gleaming and to prevent tangles and dread-locks. Extra care is needed when the soft, dense undercoat is shedding which for males is generally once/twice a year and females before each breeding cycle. Regular warm hydro-bathes and blow drying assist during the shedding period and keep the coat clean and healthy. Check the ears and coat regularly for ticks. This breed is an average shedder.

Health Testing Ethical and Responsible Breeders Conduct

With the increase in science and DNA research, there are new testing continually becomming available for border collies. An ethical breeder will test their breeding stock for any and all of these tests voluntarily. It should be noted that NONE of these tests are compulsory.

There are a number of DNA testing facilities in Australia and overseas. In most cases a buccal swab is only required to obtain a DNA sample. In some cases, a blood sample may be required. Many of the testing laboratories will have authorised collection agents. This means that you may not need to go to your local vet to have a DNA swab taken.

The gold standard other health testing which is conducted on breeding animals include:

  • Hip, Elbow and Shoulder Xray and Scoring. Some breeders will also Penn-Hip score their animals
  • Ophthalmology Eye Testing for various eye disorders, such as glaucoma, distichiasis (extra eye lashes) and other eye issues
  • Pedigree research and avoidance of repeating known animals of other genetic issues such as lupus, epilepsy and border collie collapse.

It is important your breeder knows of the issues in their lines and are upfront with puppy buyers of potential health issues of the breed.

I am an authorised collection agent for Orivet Genetic Pet Care. Obtaining a buccal swab only takes a few minutes and does not harm or hurt the dog. It is obtained by placing a little plastic brush into the cheek of the animal and swirling around for a few seconds.

If you would like a DNA swab collected, please contact me via my contact page. I do not charge a fee for the collection of DNA samples, however I may request a small amount toward fuel costs if I need to travel distance from my home.