Border Collies

Border Collies

by cathleen timmons


The Border Collie has been bred for centuries for working ability rather than appearance. Shepherds wanted a dog that was intelligent, trainable, sound, and able to control the flock – a true working dog. The same intelligence, trainability, intensity and energy that makes them superior herding and obedience dogs can make them unsuitable for the average pet owner. Anyone who desires a Border Collie must be willing to spend time training and exercising the dog daily.

What’s the best thing about a Border Collie?

They’re super smart, incredibly athletic, overly energetic, and very independent thinkers.

What’s the worst thing about a Border Collie?

They’re super smart, incredibly athletic, overly energetic, and very independent thinkers.

Some veterinarians recommend the Border Collie as “easy to train”, and “good family dogs”; statements that are NOT always accurate. Although the breed is incredibly smart, not all of them could be described as “easy” — sometimes quite the opposite is true. There is no other breed of dog with a higher work ethic than the purebred Border Collie, and it almost cruel not to train and work them.

On behalf of all overwhelmed and outnumbered Border Collie rescuers, please think carefully and honestly about your lifestyle before getting a Border Collie. In spite of being incredibly smart dogs, they are not the best choice of family pet for most people. The number of Border Collies in rescue has greatly increased in the last few years as the breed becomes better known. Most of the dogs come into rescue simply because they are behaving like typical Border Collies — herding and nipping children, chasing cars, chasing bikes, harassing the neighbors livestock, or so bored from being confined to just the house and back yard that they become destructive and problematic.

These dogs can do just about anything better than any other breed. But if you don’t provide something to keep the dog busy (a job to do) he will think up things you’ve never dreamed of, and you probably won’t be pleased. We sometimes say that if you don’t give a Border Collie a job, he will take up interior decorating or landscaping as a profession! The Border Collie was bred to spend 24 hours a day working with his shepherd, and to be there to do whatever was needed. This can be a wonderful trait, if you are the kind of dog person who truly wants that. But if you’re the kind of dog person who wants a dog just to greet you at the door when you come home, and take for short walks around the block and then relax on the couch, a Border Collie will drive you crazy (and you’ll drive the dog crazy!).

Here is a guideline to help you decide if a Border Collie might be a good or bad choice for you:


  • You don’t want to spend a significant amount of time doing “dog” stuff daily.
  • You don’t like going outside (in all weather).
  • You have several young children.
  • You are a couch potato.
  • You don’t like getting dirty and cold and wet.
  • You have a busy work and life schedule that a dog can’t participate in.
  • You can only think of SIT, DOWN, and STAY to teach your dog.
  • You want a dog to stay in your house and backyard only.
  • You care deeply about your landscaped yard and flowerbeds.
  • You care deeply about your expensive matching furniture and white carpeting.
  • You like going to the bathroom alone.


  • You are serious about sheep herding.
  • You want a dog to do everything with.
  • You don’t mind being outsmarted by a dog.
  • Your dog isn’t “just like a member of the family”- it IS a member of the family.
  • You like to spend a significant amount of time outdoors EVERYDAY, no matter the weather.
  • You want a “hot dog” kind of dog athlete.
  • You wake up thinking, “what can I do with my dog today?”
  • You want a dog that can excel in EVERY dog sport.
  • You want a dog you can’t ignore.
  • You want a dog that makes you think.
  • You don’t mind a tennis ball being poked through the shower curtain at you.
  • You have experience living with and training a dog.

Living with a Border Collie can be great fun, but it can also be the opposite. The breed can be challenging for most people. Even if you have experience as a dog owner, the Border Collie may put you to the test. They can test the patience of even the most professional dog trainer/owner. Being one of the most intelligent dogs on earth can make them the most difficult to live with as well.

Although excellent at herding farm stock, these dogs require experience and training in order to control their impulse to simply chase and bite. No Border Collie should be left unattended or unobserved around farm stock, children, cats, or traffic. They must be safely confined away from farm stock, children, small family pets and moving vehicles when not under close supervision.

A “That’ll Do” is an absolute requirement to turn the “off button”. You must be able to “stop” the dog in his tracks and “quit” the undesirable behaviors. Owners must be careful to always be in charge of the Border Collie, not the other way around. The dog should not have decision-making powers in the household.

Quirks: Border Collies are often very quirky and will exhibit odd behaviors. Being extremely sight and sound sensitive, they respond to things that surprise their owners (clicks, dings, pops, shadows, insects, thunder, etc.). The toaster, the blowing heat vents or air conditioning, the fireplace flickering can all send a typical Border Collie into a frothing dither. They can also be upset at the sounds of cutting tin foil, running hair dryers, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners; Let alone gunshots, thunder & lightening and fireworks.

They may chase and bite at moving objects such as lights and shadows, bugs, motorcycles, lawnmowers. While traveling in a car, if allowed to, they probably will lunge at passing motorists or car lights, so crating or verbal controls (“lie down”) are often required. Anything that moves is fair game to a Border Collie, unless told otherwise. They may crouch low to the ground and stare at things, even at you, and can hold a stare for a very long time.

They can be obsessive-compulsive when it comes to having a job to do and will stop at almost nothing to accomplish their goal. They may continually circle and herd other family pets. They may nag an owner incessantly to “throw the ball”. They prefer anything that keeps their mind and body in motion. However, they can and should be taught to be peaceful and quiet, to lie down, to stop nagging and relax.

Borders love to learn new things and excel in all forms of training classes. It is just as important to exercise their mind as it is to exercise their bodies. Without training, Border Collies can become frustrated and irritable. Border Collies also are extremely affectionate, observant, intuitive, intelligent and eager souls. They make excellent athletes & performers, and prefer to be their owner’s constant shadow.

Destruction Vs. confinement: Left alone for even short periods, most any dog (any breed) will redecorate their home – usually in ways not appreciated by owners. Dogs have been known to rip up carpeting and linoleum, destroy draperies and blinds, chew completely through walls and doors, demolish furniture, and even break windows. This is a worst case scenario and not every dog will do such awful things. But better to be safe than sorry. I suggest that one never trust their newly adopted dog loose inside their home without constant supervision – in your sight at all times, at least for a few months after moving in. Keeping a leash on the dog inside the house is an acceptable way to stay connected at all times.

To avoid household destruction, we recommend providing a safe and secure enclosed area for the dog to stay while you are away from home – for a few months at least. Suggested enclosed areas would be a comfortably-sized shipping crate (indoor kennel) inside the house (but crated for no more than 4 hour intervals); or an outdoor Kennel Run a minimum of 6’x6’x12′; or a securely-fenced yard. Be aware that some Border Collies are extremely agile and if determined enough, could climb over or dig under a kennel run or backyard fence. Once the dog is happy and feels secure in his surroundings after bonding with a new family, the likelihood of destruction and escape is greatly reduced.

EXERCISE: Although occasional hiking, camping, walking and Frisbee tossing can be wonderful forms of fun for you and your dog, I must point out the absolute necessity of providing regular DAILY exercise for a Border Collie. And by daily exercise, I mean running hard, off leash, until panting and tired. Occasional ball tossing (2 or 3 times a week) is simply not going to be sufficient for a Border Collie. A Frisbee or ball toss may be adequate if offered twice daily for at least 30-minutes each. Skip a day of routine exercise and the dog will let you know he is not happy about it. The dog may appear stressed out and bad behaviors may result.

Few if any Border Collies can be adequately exercised while on a leash, even a Flexi-Lead. A leash walk around the neighborhood is just not enough. They must be provided the freedom to burn off energy by running free (with supervision), in a fenced area if necessary.

If you feel that a Border Collie would fit in your lifestyle, then by all means start the adoption process.