Since its inception as a breed, the Border Collie was always intended as a working animal. It is noted for its exceeding intelligence, strong work ethic, agility and endurance.
The Border Collie's desire to work is noted as the most prevalent characteristic of the breed. This is a dog that was born and bred expressly for this purpose for centuries, and it shows.
Originally the work of the Border Collie was herding livestock back to the shepherd. Today, this is still the most popular working use of the dog, but herding subjects have sometimes changed. Border Collies in older times herded mostly sheep, cattle, and farm livestock. Now, Border Collies are used to herd any variety of animals including small birds and free-ranging poultry, large birds like ostriches and emus, pigs, and deer.
The Border Collie is an insatiable worker who thrives on having a function. As family pets, Border Collies are happy for this function to be playful, sporting, and athletic in nature, but because the dogs require so much exercise their needs are very difficult to meet by any home that is not very, very active. Border Collies are known to be so intense in their work that they will work themselves to exhaustion and injury if not supervised appropriately.
Border Collies perform their work in a herding and gathering fashion. This is different compared to the work of other working dogs known as heelers who perform by nipping at the heels of herd members to move them. In contrast, the Border Collie will work in wide, circular, sweeps to keep the entire herd moving as a whole in the desired direction.
The Border Collie working ability and instinct has been harnessed in a number of ways. Besides being used as herd dogs, Border Collies have been used to chase birds and animals from airport runways and golf courses. Border Collies have also been worked successfully as tracking dogs, search and rescue dogs, and therapy dogs.
Border Collies continue to prove their worth on farms, ranches, golf courses, runways, and in many more places. Border Collies prove to be a very cost-effective farm addition; it has been estimated that one border collie can replace the work of 3 to 5 men in herding livestock.
Border Collies are not the right dog breed for many (probably the vast majority of) dog owners. Their innate work drive makes them a very demanding animal with strong needs for physical activity and mental stimulation; this is difficult for many dog owners to maintain, but for those who can, or have a real working use for the Border Collie, the return on investment in a Border Collie is incalculable.