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What Were Border Collies Bred For? Origin & History

Written by: Rachel Giordano

Last Updated on May 16, 2024 by Dogster Team

female border collie standing on grass

What Were Border Collies Bred For? Origin & History

When you think of Border Collies, odds are you think of herding dogs, right? That’s because they are among the best herding dogs on the planet. These dogs are scary intelligent (we mean that in a good way), and they have an incredible work ethic in the dog world.

They have great stamina and are athletic, which makes them excellent herding dogs, which is what they were bred for. In this article, we’ll explore this fascinating breed in-depth, and if you’ve ever wanted to know the history of these charming dogs, read on to learn more!

The Origin of Border Collies

It’s not exactly known what the Border Collies’ origins are. Some believe that they were around during the Roman times in 43 AD when the Romans invaded Britain, while others believe the Vikings brought them when they invaded this particular part of England in the 8th and 9th centuries. These dogs were known as Spitz-type dogs.

Happy brown and white border collie dog with tongue sticking out
Image By: Lioneska, Shutterstock

What Is the History of the Border Collie?

To understand this breed, let’s start at the beginning. For starters, let’s explore the name. Border Collies originated in Scotland but flourished on the border of Scotland and England in a beautiful county called Northumberland. “Collie” is a Scottish word used to describe sheepdogs, and because these dogs flourished on the border of Scotland and England, they became known as the “Border Collie.”

The 1800s

Have you ever heard of a dog named Old Hemp? If not, let’s shed some light. Old Hemp was a stud owned by Adam Telfer, a world-renowned sheepdog breeder and trainer who had an enormous involvement in competitive dog trials. Old Hemp was born in 1893 and was a natural at herding sheep, which was hugely profitable for Telfer because herding sheep was big business during this time period, and Telfer was an English farmer.

Old Hemp had a keen ability to read sheep, and he was quiet as he worked, giving intense stares and moving effortlessly and tirelessly in a mild-mannered way. Telfer, being the genius he was, used Old Hemp to sire over 200 puppies. Many historians believe that Old Hemp was the progenitor of the modern-day Border Collie.

Border Collie
Image By: Pickpik

The 1900s

Let’s go into another era, shall we? It wasn’t until 1915 that the term “Border Collie” was ever mentioned. James Reid, who was the secretary of the newly formed International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS), used this term to separate these dogs from other Collie breeds. ISDS established the first Border Collie registry, and Old Hemp was entered into the registry posthumously as ISDS 9. Old Hemp passed away in 1901.

At the turn of the century, dog shows were becoming increasingly popular, and collies were often entered into the shows. Shepherds in Britain provided the collies for the shows but soon realized that breeding these dogs for dual-purpose shows and working dogs would equal disaster.

Shepherds continued breeding their collies for the purpose of working dogs rather than show, and the show collie gradually became known as Rough Collies in their own right. Lassie, the famous collie from television, was a Rough Collie. Border Collies, on the other hand, continued in their roles as the hard-working and strong herding dogs that they still are today.

Modern-Day Border Collies

The modern-day Border Collie is one of the most popular dog breeds to own, especially for farmers, ranchers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Border Collies are very intelligent, but they require moderate attention and exercise. They are happiest when they are in motion or have a job to do.

These dogs need daily physical and mental stimulation, and if you’re a homebody, this breed is probably not suited for you. Border Collies do well with people who include them in any activity, whether it be going on a hike, swimming, jogging, or a game of fetch at a park

border collie puppy practicing tricks
Image By: Geertes, Shutterstock

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The Athletic Border Collie

Border Collies have a wealth of energy, and they are extremely athletic. These dogs excel at flyball, agility courses, and obedience and rally events. Don’t forget about catching a Frisbee! These types of activities stimulate them both physically and mentally, which is detrimental to their overall health, not to mention that it keeps them from becoming destructive. A good saying when owning a Border Collie is this: A bored Border Collie is a destructive Border Collie.

happy border collie
Image By: Pixabay

Search and Rescue

Not only are Border Collies incredible herding dogs and athletes, but they also make exceptional search and rescue dogs, which begs the question: what can these dogs not do? You’d be hard-pressed to find the answer to that one.

With their intelligence and learning drive, these dogs can learn how to search and rescue with ease. They may have less sensitive noises compared to other search and rescue dogs, but they make up for this with their training ability and hard-working drive.

A Breed Fit for a Queen

Apparently, Queen Victoria loved Border Collies, and in the early 1860s, she became a Border Collie enthusiast. In 1866, she took in a Border Collie named Sharp, and he was a great comfort to her after her husband, Prince Albert, died.  Sharp was automatically thrown into royalty and was even photographed with her.

When Sharp passed away in 1879, the Queen buried him in her garden in Berkshire under an extravagant tomb with an epitaph that reads “favourite and faithful dog of Queen Victoria.”

border collie
Image By: Piqsels

Border Collies in Poetry

Just when we thought we were done, we uncovered another interesting fact about these amazing dogs. Robert Burns was a famous Scottish poet in the mid to late 1700s who owned a Border Collie named Luath. Burns loved Luath, and when the dog tragically died, he wrote one of his famous poems, “ The Twa Dogs, ” to honor Luath.


Border Collies have a rich history and are known as one of the smartest dogs to own. We speculate that these dogs have existed since 43 AD, and they have evolved into one of the most sought-after breeds globally.

They serve such an excellent purpose for farmers and ranchers, and they also have the ability to make exceptional family dogs as long as the family is active. In the end, you can’t go wrong with owning one. If you do add a Border Collie to your family, be prepared to keep your collie both physically and mentally stimulated.

Featured Image Credit: Arnold.Petersen, Shutterstock

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