The Border Collie is perhaps one of the most well known dog breeds and certainly one of the top popular breeds within the herding dog group. According to the registration number for the American Kennel Club the Border Collie in the US is the 51st most popular breed, however in the United Kingdom it is number 10 on the list and in the Australian National Kennel Club the breed is number 6 over all.
Besides just being a popular breed, the Border Collie universally ranks as in the top 5 smartest breeds of dogs with most organizations listing the Border Collie as number 1. They are also considered to be one of the top 10 easiest breeds to train, generally because of their very easy going temperament, high level of intelligence and true desire to please their owners.
Like most herding breeds, the Border Collie has been bred for work ability and stamina rather than for a specific and completely uniform physical appearance. In different areas different types of Border Collie dogs can be found, depending on the preferences of local breeders and owners. Generally most Border Collies will weigh between thirty and forty-five pounds when fully grown, although females tend to be lighter at between twenty-five and forty pounds when mature. Heights at the shoulder also vary between males and females with males between 19 and 22 inches and females between 18 and 21. Within the breed there are significant differences with some dogs being much leggier than others, leading to slightly taller animals. Again, as herding dogs, the actual size uniformity is not an issue, however with show dogs judges look for balance in body shape and structure and extremely large or small dogs may be disqualified.
The coat of the Border Collie can vary in both type as well as color. There are two unique and very distinctively different coat types but both will be double coated dogs with a very dense and soft undercoat covered by a coarser, thicker outer coat. The rough coated Border Collie has a longer outer coat, often slightly wavy and moderately coarse to the touch. The length of hair should be uniform over the main body at about 3 inches in length with heavy fringing on the legs, the ruff around the neck and the tail. The short coated variety, sometimes referred to as the smooth coat, is still dense and coarse but it is only about one inch in length and always straight on the body. They may have some slight to moderate feathering on the legs and the tail.
Coat colors come in a real array from the standard black body with white on the face, legs, feet, belly and tail through to red and white and merle colorations. In addition there are also sable and yellow colors in Border Collie although these are rarely seen in the show lines. The amount of white on the Border Collie can range from just a small patch on the chest through to predominantly white over the entire head and body with just the occasional fleck or ticking in black. Tri-colors of black, brown and white; red, black and white or red, brown and white can and do occur in both the show and working lines. Merle colorations can be red merle or blue merle. In merle dogs or dogs with predominantly white faces blue eyes, either full blue color or parti-colored are possible. Often eyes on these dogs are mismatched, one blue and one brown or brown with spots or flecks of blue in one or both eyes. This is not a sign of blindness nor is it always linked with hearing problems.
The head of the Border Collie is very similar to the Australian Cattle Dog with short hair over the face, a longer, slightly tapered muzzle and a noticeable stop. The eyes are well-set and alert, constantly scanning the environment. The ears are usually half-pricked but may be fully erect when the dog is highly focused. There is often significant fringing along the cheeks and around the ears but the hair over the skull is short and sleek, giving a slightly rounded appearance to the head.
The body is longer than the dog is tall, and the back tends to be level or slightly sloping to the hind quarters. The body is well developed but not heavy or cobby and the legs are moderately boned but should not appear stocky or heavy. The front legs are well positioned and straight and the hind legs are strong and muscular and may have hocks that turn in just slightly. The tail is carried low in a gentle curl at the hocks and will be carried down when the dog is in working mode. The movement of the Border Collie will be naturally very jaunty and graceful but when they are preparing to herd or work they will often crouch down and seem to slink forward across the ground. When running these dogs are able to change directions incredibly quickly and they are very athletic in both running and jumping.
The personality of the Border Collie is not quite as variable as their physical characteristics, but each dog will have his or her own distinctive temperament. As a whole the breed is very gentle and loving, however they are protective and will make excellent watchdogs.
The Border Collie is a watcher. They will watch what the family does, watch what other pets do and particularly watch what their owner does. These dogs seem to be able to learn by observation, which is probably why they are such outstanding herding and working dogs.
Early training and socialization is important for this breed as they can be somewhat independent and dog aggressive if not properly worked with. The males in particular tend to be more aggressive towards other males if not neutered, but again there is a lot of variation between dogs. Socialization can minimize this trait even in intact males.
Very intelligent, the Border Collie is also extremely sensitive to even the slightest change in tone of voice. They should never be trained using any type of harsh punishment or negative training, positive reward training works perfectly for these dogs. The very sensitive puppies need to be carefully socialized to prevent them from becoming timid as adult dogs.
The Border Collie is a wonderful dog for people that are prepared to work with the dog daily, provide lots of exercise, and interact with the dog on an ongoing basis. Learning about both the physical as well as personality characteristics of the Border Collie is an important first step when considering the breed.