Get to Know the Border Collie: The Canine Brainiac

Border Collies are unrivaled in herding -- their wits, energy and responsiveness make them ideal.

Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by

Border Collies are smart. Not just “sit-stay-come” smart, but E=mc2 smart. And they’re active. Not just “Let’s go for a ride” active, but “Let’s drive it like we stole it” active.

And they’re responsive. Not just “Okay, sure, I’ll do it in just a sec!” but “What now what next did you point oh sorry you just twitched but I’m already committed …” responsive. Those sound like good things, right? They are — unless you’re not just as smart, active and quick.

Border Collies are unrivaled in the world of herding. Their wits, energy and responsive make them the ideal dog for herding flocks of flighty sheep. That talent is still in use today as unequaled agility dogs.

More interesting things about Border Collies

  • The Border Collie originated around the border between England and Scotland. At the time, most herding dogs moved sheep by nipping and barking.
  • In the late 19th century, a dog named Old Hemp was so successful moving the sheep by staring and stalking that herders wanted dogs like him. His more than 200 offspring also used this technique (called “giving eye”) and Hemp is considered the father of the breed.
  • Early Border Collies were selected only for working ability, and the first breed standard, drawn up in 1906, addressed only ability, not appearance.

  • Border Collies have a distinctive stalking, crouching movement, with the head held low, which they use when herding.
  • In 1915 the dogs, formerly referred to as simply sheepdogs, were named Border Collies.
  • Many Border Collie enthusiasts fought against recognition by the AKC. They were concerned that the emphasis would change from function to appearance.
  • The AKC recognized the Border Collie in 1995. The majority of Border Collies, especially working ones, are not registered with the AKC.

  • AKC show Border Collies tend to be slightly stockier looking, with more coat, than traditional working dogs.
  • In 2005 a Border Collie won the Herding group at the Westminster dog show. None has yet won Best in Show there.
  • Most people think Border Collies just come in black with white trim, but they can also be fawn, brown, or merle instead of black. In fact, for show purposes they can be any color except pure white, and they don’t even have to have white trim. The original Old Hemp was a tricolor (black and tan with white trim).

  • Merle Border Collies should not be bred to one another because, on average, a quarter of their offspring will be double-merles, which are predisposed to visual and auditory problems.
  • Some people confuse the Border Collie with Australian Shepherds. The Border Collie always has a long tail, is finer boned, and is usually (but not always) black with white trim. The Border Collie’s ears may be pricked or semi-pricked.
  • Border Collies dominate the sport of dog agility so much that some British organizations have classes for “anything but Border Collies” to give other breeds a chance.

  • The Border Collie is considered by many people to be the smartest dog breed. A Border Collie named Chaser can recognize the names of hundreds of her toys and retrieve them on command. Other Border Collies have been recorded as recognizing hundreds of names of items. Tests have shown they are not simply memorizing them, but categorizing them and using deductive reasoning to identify toys they’ve never seen before.
  • Border Collies have appeared in movies such as Babe, Bingo, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills and in books such as Nop’s Trials and A Dog Year.
  • A Border Collie named Striker holds the Guinness world record for “Fastest Car Window Opened by a Dog” at 11.34 seconds (no, not a power window!).

  • Owners include David Lee Roth, Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Jane Fonda and Michael Keaton.
  • The Border Collie is the AKC’s 44th most popular breed, up from 65th a decade ago. These rankings underestimate the breed’s popularity, as the majority are not AKC registered.

Do you own a Border Collie? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.

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