Unveiling the Secrets of Border Collies: What Vets Want You to Know

border collie panting in lawn

Last Updated on 2 months by Dr. Shannon Barrett

We’ve all seen the adorable black and white Border Collie helping herd sheep on TV.  

Perhaps your neighbor has one, and you thought, “Maybe a Border Collie would be a great fit for me?”

As a vet, there are certain things we think about when an owner asks us about Border Collies. Although each dog is unique, they share some fundamental characteristics.  

Let’s dive into what makes Border Collies an extraordinary choice for your next furry friend!

Key Takeaways

  • Border Collies are brilliant and active dogs. They come from Scotland.
  • These dogs love to learn new things. They need mental games and lots of exercise.
  • Caring for a Border Collie’s health and coat is essential. Regular checks at the vet help keep them healthy.
  • A good environment is critical for this dog breed; they flourish in outdoor spaces with room to run around, play, and work out their high energy levels.

Overview of the Border Collie Breed

close up image of border collie face surrounded by leavves

The Border Collie is a remarkable breed, revered worldwide for its intelligence, agility, and herding prowess. With a slim but muscular build, these medium-sized dogs stand about 18-22 inches tall at the shoulder.

They have an intense gaze known as “the eye,” used to control flocks. Their appearance varies widely, with some having long, dense coats while others sport short, sleek fur – all featuring various colors from black and white to blue merle or red tricolors.

With exceptional stamina and high energy levels, this intelligent dog breed thrives in active environments where they can channel their instincts into productive work or activities such as sheepdog trials and canine sports.

Breed Characteristics

border collie standing in forest surrounded by leaves

Border collies are full of energy.

They can work all day without getting tired.

These dogs are extremely smart and like to learn new things.

With their muscular bodies, they can run fast and jump high.

They use a unique stare called “the eye” to control sheep working on a farm.

Border collies have thick hair that keeps them warm in cold weather, but it also means they shed a lot!

Their size is right, not too big or too small – perfect for city living or country life.

Some may bark more than others, but with the proper training, this trait can be managed well.

Border Collie Appearance

border collie surrounded by flowers

Border collies are stunning dogs.

They have upright ears and a feathered tail that adds to their charm.

A crucial part of their look is the double coat.

They have medium-length, straight hair that comes in many hues.

Some border collies are black, red, or white.

Their coat can be a solid color or two or three colors.

You may also see Merle and Sable border collies around.

A close look at this breed shows more than just color variation.

The texture of their fur is another interesting aspect of this breed’s appearance.

This coat isn’t just pretty but useful, too – it protects them from harsh weather conditions.

History of the Border Collie

Black and white image of border collie
Old Hemp, “Father” of the Border Collie

Old Hemp, born in 1893, is considered the founding sire or “father” of the Border Collie breed. 

He was used as a working dog to herd sheep. 

Old Hemp’s style of herding was different from that of other sheepdogs of his time, as he worked far more quietly and intensely. 

His mother, Meg, was a strong-eyed black sheepdog, while his father, Roy, black, white, and tan sheepdog with a good-natured temperament. 

Old Hemp was tri-colored.

black and white sheepdog

Old Hemp was bred extensively, siring over 200 pups, and all modern Border Collies can trace their ancestry back to him. 

Old Hemp’s lineage is responsible for the propagation of the Border Collie breed.

His unique herding abilities and rough coat have been passed down through generations, and many Border Collies today still resemble him in appearance and herding style. 

He is remembered as the father of the Border Collie breed and a shining example of the breed’s capabilities.

Old Hemp’s offspring played a crucial role in developing the Border Collie breed. 

As the founding sire of the breed, Old Hemp sired over 200 pups, and all modern Border Collies can trace their ancestry back to him. 

He was known for his unique herding style, working quietly and intensely, which differed from the louder sheepdogs of his time. 

This herding style was passed down through generations and became known as the Border Collie style.

In medieval times, shepherds’ dogs, including early Border Collies, were exempt from dog taxes and were marked by their docked tails. 

This exemption was likely because these dogs played a crucial role in managing and herding livestock, making them valuable assets to their owners and the community. 

Docking the tails of these dogs served as a way to identify them as working dogs and exempt them from taxes.

Today, tail docking is not a part of the official AKC breed standard for Border Collies, and it is not as common as in other breeds. 

Some farmers and breeders may still dock a Border Collie’s tail to prevent injury and improve working abilities, but it is generally not a widespread practice.

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Origin of the Name

border collie herding sheep

 In old Gaelic, “collie” was the rural term for anything useful, so a “collie dog” was a useful dog.

Queen Victoria became a fan in the 1860s.

This made them loved by many people.

We know their intelligence has also gained them many admirers.  

Some have even broken records for being so clever. Many border collies have been on TV shows and in films because of their intelligence.

Famous Border Collies

Some famous Border Collies from film and TV include Nana, Fly, Murray, Bandit, and Jessie.

Nana is a Border Collie featured in the film “Snow Dogs.  Nana is one of the sled dogs in the movie, known for her intelligence and agility.

Fly and Rex are two Border Collies from the 1995 movie “Babe”. 

Murray is a Border Collie played by Maui in the TV series “Mad About You”. 

The series aired from 1992 to 1999, and Murray was the dog owned by the central couple in the sitcom

Bandit was a stray Border Collie on the TV series “Little House on the Prairie”. 

Jessie: Jessie is the main character in the TV series “Jess the Border Collie”  The show follows 11-year-old Jenny Miles and her dog Jessie, who live on a sheep farm in the Scottish countryside.

Some celebrities with Border Collies as companions include James Dean, Jon Bon Jovi, Cheryl Cole, and Megan Gale. 

Facts About Border Collies

border collie snuggling with owner and labrador

Border Collies are renowned for their intelligence, adaptability, and all-around friendliness.

Due to their herding abilities and high energy levels, these active and intelligent dogs require extensive training and mental stimulation.

Chaser, a Border Collie, was known as the “world’s smartest dog” due to her exceptional intelligence and ability to learn.

Black and white border collie in snow
Chaser “The Worlds Smartest Dog”

She worked with Professor John W. Pilley at his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, starting at the age of eight weeks old. 

Dr. Pilley spent that time training her in a formal research project, and Chaser could identify and retrieve 1,022 toys by name. 

Chaser’s intelligence has been compared to a human toddler’s, and she demonstrated a deep understanding of language and grammar. 

Her achievements have contributed significantly to understanding canine intelligence and the potential for dogs to learn human language. 

It is assumed that most dogs can learn over 150 words, including names, places, actions, and toys.  However, in my experience, dogs know more than this!

border collie jumping into air to catch frisbee

Border Collies are an extraordinary breed with numerous qualities that make them stand out.

OriginThe breed originated in Scotland, specifically in the region bordering England.
IntelligenceRecognized as the world’s most intelligent dog, Border Collies can learn a significant number of words and commands.
Work EthicKnown for being workaholics, they are happiest when assigned daily tasks to perform.
HeredityBred originally for herding sheep, they excel at this task thanks to their strength, stamina, intelligence and tenacity. They are also known for using “the eye,” an intense stare to control herds.
Entertainment SkillsBorder Collies have been featured in numerous films and TV shows such as “Babe,” “Animal Farm,” “Snow Dogs,” and “Mad About You.”
Record BreakerThey have broken various records, including skateboarding, balancing, and rolling down car windows.
Rescue SkillsApart from herding and entertainment, they also excel in search and rescue operations.


Border Collies are quick learners. They can master many tasks and adjust to different settings with ease.

This skill makes them excel in herding sheep and search and rescue work.

You need more than regular dog runs or fetch games to keep your Border Collie happy.

Their sharp minds crave tasks that make them think hard.

Giving them mental challenges each day helps stop bad habits from forming out of anxiety or boredom.

You also use their strong wish to guard family and home well by training them as watchdogs!

All-around friendliness

happy family playing outside with border collie

Border Collies love to be around people.

They get on well with kids and adults alike.

This breed is known for its strong bond with the family.

A Border Collie will always guard you and your home well.

Yet, they are warm towards guests, too.

Their intelligent nature helps them figure out who is a friend fast!

Health and grooming needs

border collie sitting in a basket

These dogs have a few needs to keep them looking and feeling their best.

  1. Brush the dog’s coat often. They have a double coat that needs regular care.
  2. They should not be bathed too often. I recommend only when they start to get a greasy coat or smell. 
  3. During shedding seasons, brush your Border Collie more frequently.
  4. Their coats are good with not leaving hair everywhere; they are average shedders.
  5. Besides coat care, check your dog’s ears and teeth weekly.
  6. Exercise is critical for Border Collies. They need lots of it to stay happy and healthy.
  7. Mental games or work can help keep them from getting bored.
  8. Regular vet checks are essential, too, for any health issues that may arise.


border collie puppy teething on owners finger

Border Collies are stars at learning new things.

This dog breed loves a good challenge and can pick up on tasks quickly.

They shine in dog sports like agility, herding, obedience, nose work, tracking, and dock diving.

With their strong herding instinct, they do well at jobs such as rounding sheep into a pen or bringing them to a handler.

Training this breed needs both mental workouts and physical exercise every day.

Without enough exercise and challenges for their brains, they may feel anxious or act out through bad habits.

Exercise needs

Border collie running on beach

Border Collies are dogs with high energy levels.

They need a lot of exercise every day.

There needs to be more than a short walk around the block for this breed.

They love to run, play ball and frisbee, or do agility training.

These dogs also like mental challenges along with physical ones.

You can teach them new tricks, let them solve food puzzles, or play hide-and-seek games.

If they don’t get enough exercise and fun tasks, they may start making their own fun by chewing on things at home!

Ideal Environment for Border Collies

woman and border collie walking in a yard

Border Collies need a lot of room.

They love to play and run. A big yard is best for them.

This helps them make use of their herding skills.

Fences around the yard will keep Border Collies safe, even though they don’t often try to escape.

They are not lazy dogs; they need tasks to do all day long.

If Border Collies have nothing to do, they might get sad or break things at home out of boredom.

Owners must spend a lot of time with them each day.

Training these energetic dogs can help control loud barking and other bad habits that come from their high energy levels.

Ideal Human Companion for Border Collies

border collie running with male and female

Border Collies need people who are kind and intelligent.

They do well with owners with a lot of energy and love being active. Couch potatoes need not apply! 

These dogs also want to work out their minds so they can stay sharp.

They also like those who understand their barking or running in circles is how they tell you something’s wrong or that they need some fun time.

Owners should know when the dog wants to play fetch, go on long walks, or needs a task at home, such as finding toys hidden around the house.

Happy Border Collies are ones with jobs or duties because it makes them feel useful.

You must socialize them and ensure they often meet other animals and humans.

This way, Border Collies learn not all things move just for them herd up alone.

Training Your Border Collie

border collie jumping agility pole

The Border Collie, known for its passion and energetic nature, requires consistent training from a young age.

Prioritize agility drills in their routine to keep up with their high energy levels.

Addressing the breed’s inherent high prey drive can be challenging but rewarding.

Training should also include activities like flyball or herding to tap into their innate skills.

Incorporate mental stimulation exercises such as fetch or agility to entertain this the most intelligent dog breed breed effectively without triggering anxiety or destructive behaviors.

However, don’t forget about obedience training – it’s crucial for establishing boundaries and achieving peaceful coexistence between

Border Collies and other pets at home.

How to address a high prey drive

Start the training early to control a Border Collie’s high prey drive.

Exercise should be regular. Setting rules and limits helps your dog know what is expected of them.

Use fun rewards like treats or toys when they do well.

Keep your pup’s body and brain busy. Give them puzzle games, teach new tricks, or play fetch with them.

This can keep their minds off chasing things around. A tired Border Collie is a happy Border Collie. 

For more help, talk to your vet or a dog trainer who knows about high-prey dogs.

They can show you techniques that work best for your pet.

Other behavioral concerns

Border Collies may show some behavioral concerns. Here are a few to watch for:

  1. They might get anxious. This breed needs a lot of mental and physical fun. If they don’t get it, they can become worried or upset.
  2. Some Border Collies like to chew on things. If bored, they might chew on shoes, toys, or furniture.
  3. These dogs always want to herd due to their high energy levels and drive for work.
  4. A scared Border Collie might try to flee in panic.
  5. Training is critical as these dogs are super clever and fast learners.
  6. An unhappy Border Collie may bark a lot.
  7. You must give your Border Collie a job; otherwise, they will make up their own games, which may not be safe.

Encouraging downtime

Even though Border Collies are full of energy, they also need rest.  

Downtime is good for their health and well-being.

Make a soft bed where the dog can relax.

Turn down loud sounds so they do not get scared or nervous.

Give your pet quiet toys to play with during this time.

This will help them calm down while keeping their minds active.

Giving your dog times of peace will make them happier and healthier overall.

Border Collie Grooming and Care

Merle colored border collie in grass

Taking care of a Border Collie means taking care of their grooming needs. Good grooming keeps your dog healthy.

  1. Brush the double coat once a week.
  2. Clip their nails as needed.
  3. Keep them on flea and heartworm prevention year-round. 
  4. Bathe them only when needed so their skin does not dry out.
  5. Always follow each shampoo with a doggie conditioner. 
  6. Keep eye care a priority to avoid eye problems.

Border Collie Health

Border Collies are prone to certain diseases, like all dogs, based on their genetics.

Having them examined by their veterinarian at least once a year is essential. Conditions we see in Border Collies include: 

  • Hip dysplasia 
  • Deafness, which we see more commonly in those with Merle coloring 
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
  • Collie eye anomaly
  • Border Collie Collapse

Border Collies with Children and Other Pets

Border Collies can be great pets for families with kids or other animals.  

1. They can be good with kids if you work to ensure your dog gets adequate mental and physical stimulation daily. 

2. A well-trained Border Collie is calm around other pets too.

3. With the proper training, they can live in peace with cats as well other dogs.

Border Collie Rescue Groups and Breed Organizations

Border Collie Rescue Groups and Breed Organizations play a big part in helping this breed.

They step in to help when dogs need new homes. Here’s what they do:

  1. Find new homes for Border Collies that need one.
  2. Make sure the dogs’ needs come first.
  3. Only place dogs in homes that can meet their needs.
  4. Work with vets to keep the dogs healthy.
  5. Use money from donations and events to pay for dog care.
  6. Teach people about Border Collies and how to care for them well.

Similar Breeds to Consider

woman walking with several dogs on leash in city

Pet lovers exploring adopting a Border Collie should consider other breeds with similar characteristics.  

1. Australian Shepherds: Known for their energetic nature and exceptional intelligence, similar to Border Collies. Their size ranges and fur types can also be quite similar.

2. Shetland Sheepdogs: They trace their roots back to the “Collie” lineage, meaning “Sheepdog” in Scottish. They’re very trainable and boast a long, rough coat, much like some Border Collies.

3. Rough Collies: Rough Collies have a similar look with their long, rough coats and are known for their trainability.

4. Blue Heelers (Australian Cattle Dogs): Another breed known for their high energy level and intelligence. Their eye colors can vary, presenting a unique characteristic similar to some Border Collies.

5. Belgian Malinois: This breed has a similar arrival timeline to the United States as Border Collies in the early 1900s. Their intelligence and trainability align closely with those of Border Collies.

6. English Springer Spaniels: Like Border Collies, they are high-energy dogs requiring significant exercise. They’ve appeared in media and popular culture, much like Border Collies.

7. German Shepherds: They share similarities with Border Collies in size, work ethic, and intelligence. Their coat can vary from short to long, like Border Collies.

8. Labrador Retrievers: They are very family pet-friendly, intelligent, and are often trained as service dogs, similar to Border Collies. Their adaptability is notably comparable with Border Collies.

These dog breeds also may provide alternatives for individuals attracted to the Border Collie’s characteristics but interested in exploring other options.


Border Collies are truly special. They shine in many areas with their brains and hard work.

From herding sheep to starring in films, they can do it all!

With a long, healthy life ahead of them, Border Collie owners have many great years to enjoy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a Border Collie?

A Border Collie is an intelligent and energetic dog breed known as herding dogs. They are medium-sized dogs that excel in dog sports due to their own herding dog instincts.

Are there possible difficulties when owning a border collie?

Border collies need lots of exercise and mental stimulation because they are active dogs with high intelligence levels, so that constant engagement will be required from you.

Is there any fascinating history related to border collies?

It’s believed that Queen Victoria popularized them while the word “Collie’ links back to its history as Highland or northern sheepdogs; today, this versatile breed excels at tasks such as search and rescue missions!




Dr. Shannon Barrett brings an exceptional blend of academic excellence and professional expertise to the world of veterinary medicine. With a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Western University of Health Sciences, where she graduated with honors, and dual Bachelor degrees in Biological Sciences and Psychology, her depth of knowledge is extensive. A member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Barrett's insights and contributions to pet health have been featured in leading publications such as Rover, MarketWatch, and Newsweek.

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Dr. Shannon Barrett

Veterinarian with a Passion for Educating Pet Parents

Pets change our lives for the better and we are always trying to do the same for them. This site is a combination of tips and product recommendations to enhance the lives of our pets and the people owned by them.  Thanks for stopping by!

Dr. Shannon Barrett

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