Bred and born to herd sheep, Border Collies possess keen intelligence and high energy levels that delight active and committed pet parents who can provide the challenges and activities this breed needs. Border collies form strong bonds with their owners and are affectionate with their family members. Like other herding breeds, border collies tend to be suspicious of people they don't know, and they need to be introduced slowly to new people and situations. Although many people enjoy the special challenges of owning a border collie, others find it frustrating or impossible to work with these clever, energetic, obsessive dogs.
Initially bred by farmers in the border area between England and Scotland, border collies have a unique herding style. They make wide, sweeping runs to gather the flock and move it as the handler directs. Border collies intimidate the sheep by crouching and giving the sheep a fixed stare, called the "eye." The herding instinct is so strong in this breed that many border collies will try to herd the family cats, birds flying overhead or squirrels found roaming around the yard. Some border collies try to herd moving, non-living items, such as brooms, vacuum cleaners, mowers or cars -- frequently with disastrous results.
Border Collies and Children
The herding instinct innate in this breed means that border collies, particularly those with intense herding instincts, are not good pets for families with young children. Many border collies wind up in rescue for that reason. These herding dogs can fare better in households with older children who can understand how to control the situation by standing still if the dog attempts to herd them. Younger children at play may attract the herding instincts of a border collie when they run. Responding to instinct, the border collie will go to work to round up a running child. The dog's predatory stance, combined with the "eye," can terrify a small child. If the child tries to get away, the situation escalates. In its attempt to do its job, the border collie will cut off the escape, bark, and may bite the child. This instinct to herd cannot be trained out of such a dog. For this reason, a high-drive border collie should not be left unsupervised around small children or other family pets.
Border collies are bred for endurance and hard work, and they typically possess very high energy levels. Your border collie needs a long walk, hike or jog at least once a day. Daily training sessions of 30 minutes or longer can help keep border collies mentally stimulated. If you don't keep your border collie physically and mentally active, the dog can be very destructive in the search for ways to burn off excess energy.
When exercising or playing with your border collie, make sure you watch the dog for signs of fatigue and heat exhaustion. Border collies often are so focused on an activity that they won't quit even when they are exhausted or overheated.
The keen intelligence of border collies makes them extremely quick to learn new tasks and tricks, and they often will pick up commands the first time around. This high level of intelligence also makes them a bit obsessive about exactness, however. When training your border collie, you must use the exact words, tones and gestures each time you give a command. If you hold your hand slightly higher, speak in a slightly deeper tone or raise your arm at a slightly different angle, these dogs will notice the subtle difference and think you are giving an entirely new command. Some owners find this need for precision very frustrating and have difficulty working with these dogs. Others find they can make use of it to give a border collie very exact direction from a distance.
Border Collies and Sports
You can often channel your border collie's herding instinct, energy and intelligence to excel at canine sports. Border collies have excellent records in agility. In fact, some agility organizations in England run border collie trials separately from the other breeds so the other dogs can have a chance at winning something. Border collies also excel in obedience trials, flying disc competitions and flyball events.
Border collies need a lot of room to run. They do best in a country setting with at least several acres. This isn't the breed for apartment dwellers or folks with small yards. Border collies make wonderful companions for people who are willing and prepared to put in the time and dedication this hardworking breed needs. These dogs thrive with owners who can spend several hours a day training and exercising them. If you don't have that much free time, then a border collie might not be the right breed for you. Honestly assess your lifestyle, training skills and the amount of time you can spend with your dog before adopting a border collie.
More on Border Collies
References & Resources
American Border Collie Association: Choosing Your Border Collie
United States Border Collie Club, Inc.: Living With Border Collies
American Kennel Club: AKC Meet the Breed: Border Collie
Border Collie Rescue: Do I Really Want a Border Collie?
United States Border Collie Club, Inc.: Border Collie Characteristics
All Border Collies: About the Border Collie