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Nick Ridley, Animal Photography
Barbara O'Brien, Animal Photography
Some people say the Border Collie is the smartest dog breed. His ability to impose his will on sheep makes him the best sheepherding dog in the world -- but watch out, because he'll try to impose his will on you, too.
Border Collies are known as herding dogs, but a BC currently holds the Guinness World Record for Fastest Car Window Opened by a Dog. Striker, a Border Collie from Hungary, opened the non-electric window in 11.34 seconds. Impressive!
Arguably considered the world’s best herding dog, the Border Collie is a smart, intense workaholic who lives for order and values employment above all else. His focus is legendary -- and so is the havoc he can wreak when he’s bored. Popular for his good looks and medium size, the Border Collie’s drive to work and strong desire to keep his people together at all times can come as an unpleasant surprise to families who may know him only from his charming starring roles in movies such as “Babe” and “Hotel for Dogs.”
A good Border Collie can be the companion of a lifetime, but only if he is paired with a clever owner who can keep him busy with dog sports -- agility, flyball, flying disc games, herding trials, obedience, tracking -- or who will teach him to do chores around the house or farm. If you want the talented Border Collie you’ve seen starring on the silver screen, be aware that it takes a lot of time and effort to keep him occupied to his satisfaction.
If you're ready to provide loving leadership to your dog, train him consistently and fairly, and give him plenty of exercise and an outlet for his considerable intelligence, then yes, the Border Collie can be right for you.
Don't underestimate that intelligence, either. This is among the smartest of all dog breeds, and one whose owners need to pay attention lest they find themselves outsmarted. Expecting a Border Collie to spend his days in the backyard and his evenings keeping you company while you watch your favorite TV shows is a sure way to create a barking, bored, destructive dog instead of the calm, well-behaved, loyal companion you thought you were bringing into your home.
The Border Collie’s herding traits -- an intense stare, crouching, creeping movement, and gathering behavior -- will be turned on children, other pets, and vehicles if the dog isn’t provided with guidance, training and an outlet for his instinct to round up and bring in people or objects in motion. Never let this go uncorrected, and then redirect the behavior by giving your Border Collie demanding and interesting tasks or games that will provide him with exercise and mental stimulation.
Like most herding breeds, which have an inborn protective streak, the BC can be wary of strangers. Early and frequent socialization is essential to prevent him from becoming shy or aggressive in the presence of people he doesn’t know. He is also highly sensitive to sound and may develop noise phobias, especially to thunderstorms, if he is not accustomed to loud or unexpected noises. On the plus side, he’s an excellent watchdog and will always alert you to anything or anyone out of the ordinary.
Because of these characteristics, it’s essential to purchase a Border Collie from a breeder whose stock is temperamentally sound and who understands the importance of early exposure to many different people, noises and situations that come with life in a family home. Run far away from breeders who raise their pups in a barn or a pen out in the backyard. A Border Collie that is to be a family companion needs plenty of socialization.
Although he loves the great outdoors, the BC is by no means a yard dog. He is bred to work in partnership with people. If your Border Collie is a family pet, he needs to live indoors. Otherwise, he'll be lonely, bored and destructive – and less, rather than more, likely to warn you of trouble.
Alert watchdogs, Border Collies can be barkers, so help yours develop appropriate barking behavior when young so it doesn't become a nuisance later on.
You should also know that there are two types of Border Collies: those bred strictly for their herding talents and those bred for the show ring and AKC performance events. During most of the 20th century, BC breeders chose dogs based on their working ability, and the dogs varied widely in appearance. But in 1995, the AKC recognized the Border Collie -- much to the fury of many of its adherents -- and since then the breed has split into show and working lines.
The show dogs tend to be small and blocky with heavy coats, while the herding dogs are more diverse in size, coat type and overall appearance. Breeders who select for herding ability would rather have their dogs recognized for the way they work than the way they look.
All of that is to say that it’s important to know the dog’s background before purchasing a puppy. If you plan to actually work stock with your Border Collie, you will want a puppy from working lines. A Border Collie from show lines may still have a strong herding instinct, but even dogs that do well in AKC herding trials are not generally considered good enough to do real work on farms. They will, however, be super competitors in agility, obedience and other dog sports.
The black-and-white Border Collie is most familiar, but the breed comes in all colors and combinations of colors and markings. They can be solid, bi-color, tri-color, merle and sable. They frequently have white markings that are clear or ticked or random white patches on the body and head. Avoid Border Collies that are primarily white. The gene for deafness is linked to white coloration.
The classic working farm dog, the Border Collie originated in the border country between Scotland and England. Farmers bred their own individual varieties of sheepdogs for the hilly area. As Borders often tended their flock alone, they had to think independently and be able to run around 50 miles a day in hilly country.
At the royal castle in Balmoral, Queen Victoria fell in love with a Collie, and that's the point at which the differences between today's Collie and Border Collie began to form. Soon after that, sheepdog trials began in 1876 when 100 wild Welsh sheep were brought to London for a demonstration. Around the turn of the last century, what we think of as a Border Collie arrived. However, the name Border Collie didn't come into use until after World War I when they needed to differentiate working and show dogs.
Border Collies from good working lines are still the best sheepherding dogs in the world, and highly prized for their work ethic and capabilities. The Border Collie was admitted to the ranks of American Kennel Club breeds in 1995, much to the dismay of many of his adherents. Since then, the breed has split into show and working lines. The Border Collie ranks 47th among the breeds registered by the AKC, up from 64th in 2000. Working Border Collies remain popular with shepherds, farmers and ranchers everywhere.
Borders will herd anything: the family, the kids playing in the yard, ducklings, or a bag of apples you’ve dropped. Be aware that he will herd or chase after cars and bicycles. Furthermore, he will follow you around the house unceasingly. Borders form tight bonds with their family and want to be with them every second they can.
A Border Collie can excel at any performance activity: sheepherding, agility, obedience, flyball, freestyle, and Frisbee. The Border can also do search and rescue work. His drive, ease of training, and desire to please often put him at the top of the list for serious competitors in dog sports.
Border Collies can focus like nobody's business. One feature of the Border Collie is his use of "eye," a hypnotic stare that compels sheep to move and turn. The “eye” is actually a measure of how much the Border Collie can concentrate on the sheep. A Border will have no qualms whatsoever using it on you to get what he wants.
Borders tend to have many seemingly compulsive behaviors, such as chasing bugs, waiting for the cat to wake up, or waiting for the dishwasher cycle to end. It can seem like Borders are a little crazy. Border owners find this kind of thing amusing and take it in stride. However, chasing lights and shadows can be a true compulsive problem, one about which studies are conducted. Behaviors are defined as compulsive when they have no purpose. Chasing a Frisbee has a purpose, but chasing light and shadows does not. Other compulsive Border behaviors include twirling in circles constantly or bouncing up and down. This type of compulsive behavior (as opposed to herding) usually occurs in stressed-out Borders or those without sufficient mental stimulation.
Because they are herding dogs, Borders usually get along with other animals. Whether other animals will enjoy living with a Border is another question. Cats can live with some Border Collies, but the cat has to be pretty darn tolerant of being herded and checked on all the time. Some cats end up liking it, and some won't put up with it. Smart cats can deduce that it is their movement that sets the herding activity in motion, so if they stay still, the Border Collie will leave. Some cats will swipe at the Border Collie and then run to initiate some play. Some Borders have such strong prey drives that cats will never be safe. If you have or want a cat, consider adopting an adult Border that can be cat tested.
You could keep a Border Collie in an apartment as long as you are extremely physically active, doing something your dog can also do, such as training for marathons or cycling races. If you’re not that active, a BC in an apartment is a truly bad idea.
Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. With a Border Collie, multiply the destructive potential by a factor of 10. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Border Collie, the “teen” years can start at four months and continue until the dog is about 16 months old.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Border Collie doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Border, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Border Collie can develop certain healthproblems. Here’s a brief rundown of what you should know.
A spectacularly hardy dog, the Border Collie nonetheless can be affected by some genetic diseases. One of these is hip dysplasia, a genetic malformation of the hip socket. Dogs with hip dysplasia may appear perfectly normal, but because the head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, over time the bone begins to wear away. The constant inflammation leads to arthritis.
Mild cases can be managed for a time with pain medication, but severe cases may require expensive surgical repair in the form of a total hip replacement. Untreated, the dog will suffer pain and lameness. This condition is usually diagnosed by X-rays and manual examination of the hips. It's impossible to know if a dog has hip dysplasia simply from examining him or watching him move. Only obtain a puppy whose parents were both evaluated as having normal hips after the age of 2 by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHIP).
Border Collies are also affected by Collie Eye Anomaly, a group of eye disorders ranging form minor to serious. They are present at birth, and may be detected in puppies as early as 5 to 8 weeks of age. Fortunately, there is a genetic test to determine if a dog is clear of CEA or carries it. Make sure your puppy's breeder has had the eyes of all the dogs in the litter tested before selling them, and that the parents were tested as well. Never buy a puppy from a breeder who has not done this testing. Border Collies do not suffer from a high incidence of other eye problems, but a breeder who has obtained Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) clearances on her breeding animals is to be preferred over one who has not.
Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (CL) and trapped neutrophil syndrome (TNS) are two fatal genetic disorders of the Border Collie. Fortunately there are DNA tests that allow breeders to screen for them, so only obtain your puppy from a breeder who has cleared the parents of CL and TNS.
Epilepsy also occurs in the breed. It usually appears early in life, and there is currently no screening test for seizure disorders in Border Collies.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Border Collie Society of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center. Before individual Border Collies are issued a CHIC number, the breeder must submit hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) or PennHIP; a CERF eye clearance; and a DNA sample for the OFA/CHIC DNA Repository. Optional test results that can be submitted are OFA elbow, shoulder, heart and thyroid evaluations; an OFA evaluation for congenital deafness based on the BAER test; an Optigen CEA test result registered with OFA; an Optigen CL test result registered with OFA; and a TNS test result.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
A good breeder will be able to discuss the prevalence of all health problems in her dogs' lines, those with and without genetic screening tests, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Border Collie at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Border Collie has a double coat that comes in two types. One is short and smooth, sometimes with a bit of feathering on the front legs. The other, known as a rough coat, is medium to long with hair that is flat or slightly wavy. Either way, expect to brush a Border Collie once or twice a week to remove dead hair and keep shedding to a minimum.
Otherwise, just keep his ears clean and bathe him if he gets dirty. The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed. Active Border Collies often wear their nails down naturally, but it’s a good idea to check them weekly to see if they need a trim. Brush the teeth frequently for overall good health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Start your search for more information about the breed at the website of the breed’s AKC parent club, the Border Collie Society of America. Other good sources of information about the BC are the American Border Collie Association and the United States Border Collie Club, both of which focus on the working Border Collie. They are the place to go if you want to find a Border with real-life working ability. Even if you don’t want a working Border, you should still check out their websites, which have great information on finding a breeder and living with a Border. If you are looking for a Border from show lines, find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the BCSA and who has agreed to abide by the terms of its code of ethics, which include screening all dogs being bred for genetic diseases, selling only with a written contract and guaranteeing a home for any dog they breed if the owner becomes unable to keep him.
Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Border Collie puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring, a working home or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, herding titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Border Collie might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Border Collie in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Border Collies available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Border Collie. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Border Collie rescues in your area. Most people who love Border Collies love all Border Collies. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Border Collie Society of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Border Collie rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Border Collie home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Border, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Border Collie to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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