Border Collies are the most intelligent of all dog breeds. Their name derives from the border territories of England and Scotland, where they were developed specifically to herd sheep in open territory. The breed’s herding instincts are acute.
WHAT IS THE BORDER COLLIE’S ANCESTRY?
Herding breeds are members of the Nordic group of dogs, and are descended from Canis lupis, the northern wolf. Nordic dogs retain the wolf’s weather-proof coat, made of a dense undercoat and a longer topcoat to shed rain and snow. The fur is thickest at the chest and throat, for added protection of vital organs. Invading Romans brought the northern wolf to the British Isles, where the domesticated wolves were used for herding livestock. The next wave of invaders, from Scandinavia, introduced another branch of the Nordic dog family tree, but these dogs were smaller and more agile.
More recent ancestors include various droving and gathering breeds, known generically as Shepherd’s Dogs, such as the now extinct Cumberland Sheepdog, which was a black dog with a white blaze, chest, feet and tail tip. The classic Border Collie clearly derives its physical characteristics from this bloodline.
Many of the most outstanding herding dogs are the descendants of a tremendous athlete named Old Hemp (b. 1893, d. 1901.) Old Kep was born the year Old Hemp died. Naturally gentle and friendly, Old Kep was the first dog known to use “the eye,” the technique of staring down the herded animal.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A TRUE BORDER COLLIE?
Although dog fanciers breed them for purely physical characteristics, the International Sheep Dog Society recognizes a true Border Collie as being bred for its herding abilities, and by no other criteria. The American Kennel Club (AKC) dismayed aficionados of the working dog by recognizing the breed in 1994. The danger of AKC recognition is that, as a standardized appearance is sought, the herding instinct could disappear from the breed.
HOW ARE SUPERIOR BORDER COLLIES RECOGNIZED?
Sheepdog trials are the standard for judging a superior animal. The first recorded competition was in 1873, but shepherds conducted informal local trials long before that, to single out the most talented dogs for breeding.
Dogs are judged on their ability to move sheep around on an open field or herd them into an enclosure, at the specific direction of their handler. Border Collies have a keen sense of hearing and can detect variations in the handler’s whistle, signifying distinct commands.
Ideal dogs are those that are swift, obedient, and that do not terrorize the sheep, instead eliciting respect through intense eye contact.
WHAT ARE THE BORDER COLLIE’S PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS?
o Body: medium sized, longer than it is tall.
o Skull and muzzle: approximately equal in length, with a moderate stop.
o Teeth: strong, meet in a scissors bite.
o Eyes: Oval, set well apart.
o Eye color: brown. In “merle” colorations, the eyes may be blue.
o Ears: medium sized, set well apart, carried erect or semi-erect.
o Tail: medium length, brushy.
o Coat: short and sleek (1 inch long); or coarse and rough (3 inches long,) but always short and sleek on face, front legs and ears.
o Color: black and white is the classic coloration, with all black and all white sometimes seen. Merle (solid base color with patches or spots). Other variations are: red and white, yellow and white, tri-color, and sable.
o Lifespan: average 12 years.
WHAT ARE THE BORDER COLLIE’S PERSONALITY TRAITS?
o Hard working
DO BORDER COLLIES MAKE GOOD PETS?
Border Collies are not for the neglectful owner. With their superior intelligence comes a need for the mind to be exercised as well as the body. A bored herding dog can become hyperactive and destructive, or might find its own work to do, such as herding family pets and small children.
In the appropriate setting, Border Collies are fantastic companion animals. Their high degree of trainability and superior agility make for daunting competitors in dog sports competitions. They are loyal dogs that enjoy a close relationship with their owners and do not like to be left alone. Once familiar with the breed’s unique characteristics, many dog lovers feel they could never own any dog other than a Border Collie.