Living with a Border Collie
Text and Photos: Diana Andersen, Animalinfo Publications
The Border Collie breed is widely reputed to be amongst the smartest of all dog breeds. Breed popularity lists feature Border Collies in the top ten in many countries. You might think you can’t go wrong choosing a breed with these credentials, but the Border Collie breed is not for everyone. As a working breed, they need time, training and commitment from their owners to direct their energy and challenge their intellect.
Border Collies are intelligent, eager to learn and loyal. Males are often more affectionate than females. However, while affectionate with their owners, they can be very discerning when it comes to strangers. Farmers bred dogs to work, not socialise with other dogs or strangers that might threaten livestock.
The Border Collie breed is often referred to as biddable, meaning that they are eager to please, control, and train, in effect, to do their owners bidding. Being biddable also means that they will look to their owners for direction and are not necessarily independent thinkers.
In a farming situation where a dog is being used to control livestock, this is a desirable trait. They need to look to the farmer for direction when working. However, they also need to be able to problem-solve and be adaptable to achieve the farmer’s goal, as livestock can often be unpredictable. Border Collies can be driven and stoic, always willing to work even when injured.
Working line Border Collie herding sheep
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Border Collie Behaviour
The traits that make the Border Collie breed so appealing as a working breed can lead to difficulties for pet owners, especially if they are inexperienced and unfamiliar with good training techniques. Their intelligence, combined with good memory and the ability to problem-solve, can easily result in Border Collies turning the tables on inexperienced owners. The trainer can quickly become the trainee before they realise what has happened!
The drive to work can also be a problem. Regardless of generations bred as pets, they still retain the innate herding instincts of the breed. Without stimulation, Borders can become bored, anxious and develop behavioural disorders such as obsessive ball catching, chasing flies, car chasing and herding children and other pets. Exercise alone is not the solution to keeping a Border Collie stimulated. Excessive exercise, play, and a busy urban environment can be detrimental to Borders. They can become overwhelmed and over-stimulated, resulting in mental fatigue and anxiety.
Modifying Breed Behaviour
To get the best from your Border Collie, reward them for calm behaviour. Training needs to include activities that challenge their intellect. Problem-solving and using their brain will wear them out more rapidly than physical exercise. Border Collies enjoy nothing more than being part of the family.
Being involved in daily family activities is far better for a Border Collie than being locked outside all day with nothing to keep them occupied. Twenty minutes of intense ball catching at the end of the day is no substitute. It can result in obsessive behaviour and damage to the joints of growing puppies. By involving them in daily activities and household chores, they are far more likely to relax when you do at the end of the day.
Working line Border Collie cooling off in a water trough.
Border Collies are still widely used throughout the world to control livestock. The breed possibly originated from the area along the Anglo-Scottish border. Being a cool climate, the classic, well recognised black and white dog with a longer coat was suitable for working. However, when the breed became popular in warmer areas, farmers developed working lines of Border Collies with shorter, lighter coats. Working line Border Collies also come in many colours and marking variations and tend to be taller, leaner dogs, bred primarily for their ability to work rather than their appearance.
Although these lines’ type and temperament can vary a great deal, these dogs tend to have very high working drives. While well suited to farm life, they may not be ideal in a family situation unless the owner is very dedicated and provides some form of substitution for work on a regular, preferably daily basis, such as participating in dog sports.
Border Collies bred for the show ring and as family companions are commonly the more traditional black and white dog with a moderate double coat. Anyone considering a Border Collie needs to accept that regular grooming and hair shedding is part of living with a Border. While Borders from working lines may have much easier coats to deal with, grooming any dog is necessary. You need to either budget for someone to do this or make it a part of your weekly routine.
Temperament of Border Collies
Individual Border Collies’ temperament can be variable, regardless of whether they originate from show or working lines. It is not uncommon to find dogs that can be fearful, exacerbated by a lack of early socialisation. Others can have outgoing solid temperaments even from the same litter. Fear aggression can be a problem in more timid dogs, but many will get on well with dogs that they have become acquainted with through proper socialisation.
The most important thing is to locate a good breeder who knows their lines’ temperament and trust them to guide you in choosing a puppy that is well suited to your home and family situation. Avoid breeders that allocate you a puppy from a week old without knowing anything about you or allowing the puppy to develop enough to assess its temperament. Safe socialisation from eight weeks, calm, positive training, enrichment, and activities that don’t involve excessive exercise will positively impact your puppy’s temperament.
Planned family activities should include your Border Collie.
The Ideal Border Collie Owner
It is hard to understand why anyone would want a pet dog but not want the dog to share their home and become part of the family. With Border Collies, this type of pet ownership can only lead to behavioural issues as the Border Collie breed needs to be part of the family and, as a working dog, they need a role or a ‘job’ in that family.
The ideal Border Collie owner is someone who understands that this intelligent breed needs mental stimulation, not just exercise and who wants to spend time with their dog. Planned family activities should include your dog. If your dog must be outside during the day while their owner is working, they require enrichment in the form of activity toys. If not, they become quite creative in entertaining themselves. Having a family job can be as simple as riding in the car or supervising the family while going about their daily activities like gardening, house cleaning, or taking out the garbage. You can involve your Border Collie in more structured activities like learning tricks or some other form of training.
Providing Activities for Active Borders
Border Collies are an agile, athletic and versatile breed regardless of whether they originate from pedigree show lines or working lines. They excel in dog sports such as agility, herding, obedience, doggy dancing and dock dog competition with the proper training. They are also good scent dogs doing well in tracking competition. Hiding objects for them to find around the house is also a good enrichment activity.
Training and socialisation for Border Collies must be consistent, begin early, and all family members need to understand the principles. It also helps the owner to avoid making mistakes that can result in long term behavioural problems. It is essential to observe your Border Collie’s behaviour and learn to listen to what your dog is trying to tell you.
Border Collies excel in dog sports.
Border Collies are an agile, athletic and versatile breed.
If you have never owned a dog before, a Border Collie may be too much of a challenge. If you have done your research and feel that the breed is right for you, make sure you select a good breeder to guide you while learning what it means to have a Border Collie in your life. The breed may not be ideal for older people unless they have owned a Border Collie before and understand its commitment.
Many responsible breeders do not recommend them for couples with young children. They are inclined to chase and nip running and screaming children, triggering their intrinsic herding instincts. Parents of young children and workaholics often have insufficient time to provide their dog with the attention they deserve and require. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules, so it is best to discuss your home situation with the breeder and be guided by them.
Border Collie Health Information
Like many purebred dogs, Border Collies are prone to several hereditary health issues, one essential factor to consider when locating a puppy. Responsible Border Collie breeders are working to reduce the conditions’ prevalence through genetic and other health screening in their breeding dogs and puppies. These tests are expensive. It is unlikely that someone with a couple of Border Collies of unknown pedigree and background will have gone to the trouble of testing their dogs before breeding a litter. Buying a puppy under these circumstances leaves the buyer at risk of obtaining a puppy that may result in a health condition.
Getting a Border cross does not eliminate the risk either, as different breeds are still dogs. The genes for hip dysplasia are the same in all dogs, so getting a crossbreed does not eliminate the disorder’s risk. There is also the possibility that your puppy may inherit other breeds’ genetic problems in its background. It is unlikely that the breeders of a Border Collie cross will have done any health testing. If the puppies come from a pet store, they may have originated in a puppy mill. There are many breeders of Border Collies that do extensive testing. With some research, you should be able to locate a good breeder that participates in health screening.
Genetic Health Conditions
Recognised health conditions worldwide in Border Collies include Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS) and Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (CL). All breeding stock should be DNA tested for these three conditions, but there are several other tests available that some breeders screen for. Breeders may also carry out eye screening for cataracts, glaucoma and persistent pupillary membranes (PPMs).
In the USA, Baer testing for hearing is common. The testing has identified that many Border Collies are unilaterally deaf (deaf in one ear). These should not be bred from but can still make good pets. Raines Syndrome also affects Border Collies. It is an autosomal-recessive condition resulting in the deterioration of teeth beginning at an early age. Removal of all affected teeth is the only treatment. Dogs carrying the gene should be removed from breeding programs.
The breed can also suffer from Lupus, an autoimmune condition. There are two forms of Lupus, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE). Systemic Lupus is less common and can be devastating. Dogs that suffer from the more common Discoid Lupus, affecting the skin on the dog’s nose primarily, can live normal happy lives with medication and skin protection from UV.
Screening for hip and elbow dysplasia is essential for Border Collies. Viewing the parents’ hip and elbow scores is a must, but if a breeder can show you good hip and elbow scores for several generations, even better. Of course, other factors influence the likelihood of a dog developing hip or elbow dysplasia. Allowing puppies to gain weight too quickly and letting adult dogs get too fat combined with excessive exercise can result in hip and elbow problems regardless of the parents’ scores.
Other Health Considerations
Another mistake is to choose or request a puppy based on colour. The merle colour combinations are becoming increasingly popular with pet buyers, but the merle gene is associated with eyesight and hearing genes. Merle to merle mating produces a 25% chance of puppies being deaf or blind or both.
Cancer is on the increase in all dogs and is one of the biggest killers of the breed. Lymphoma appears to be the most common form in the breed and is sometimes diagnosed when the dogs are relatively young. There is no testing that can help you avoid getting a dog that will develop cancer. The only thing you can do is keep your dog healthy with a good diet and regular exercise.
The extent to which good breeders test may vary depending on the country they reside in. Some health conditions may be less prevalent in that country’s breed lines. A breeder who does not discuss potential health issues is either ignorant of the problems or avoids discussion. Both are reasons to avoid the breeder and continue looking. Puppies are hard to resist, so it is better to ask these questions before viewing a litter of adorable Border Collie puppies.
Cute Border Collie Pups
How to Recognise a Good Border Collie Breeder
So how do you recognise a good breeder? Talk to breeders before looking at puppies and meet their adult dogs if possible. You should not be surprised if they have more questions for you than you have for them! Good breeders may have a waiting list for their puppies, a positive sign though some may not take your details until they have a litter planned. The best breeders tend to breed rarely. For them, it is more about improving the breed and finding good homes for their pups than producing large numbers of puppies.
If they have determined that you understand your responsibilities, most will want you to be involved in the litter’s progress in the form of photos and regular updates. Some breeders use social media to connect with puppy buyers, allowing them to share their thoughts on the breed, training and ongoing care of your puppy. It also helps them keep track of their puppies, and owners are encouraged to share birthday photos and other milestones. It makes it easier for them to assist you with any puppy problems that you may encounter.
The breeder may invite you to meet the puppies before collection, but disease transmission is always a concern, so that may vary if, for instance, there is an outbreak of Parvovirus in your area. It helps the breeder assess your personality and choose or recommend a puppy that is a good fit for your family. As puppies require a midday meal for several weeks, they will also have questions for you on how you will manage the first few weeks of your new responsibilities.
Collecting Your Puppy
On collection, you should receive a puppy pack that includes helpful information on your puppy’s ongoing care, including diet, training and enrichment, vaccination and worming records, and future schedules for both. The puppy pack will usually include some food to ensure that the puppy doesn’t experience diarrhoea from a sudden diet change. It may have suitable toys and a blanket that has been with their mother to give the puppy a sense of security and reduce stress.
You should also receive microchip certificates, registration papers, details of health testing performed on the parents, and your puppy contract. It may include a non-breeding agreement and require the puppy to return to them rather than being sold to anyone else if you need to re-home. Most good breeders prefer to refund a buyer and take the puppy back rather than see the puppy go on to another potentially unsuitable home.
It may include a sterilisation clause. For puppies, particularly males, there is increasing evidence that sterilisation before 12 to 18 months can result in health and developmental reasons.
Reputable Border Collie breeders want the best for their puppies and the lifetime support you receive from a good breeder is invaluable. It can make the difference between having to re-home a dog that has become part of the family or experiencing devastating health or behavioural problems that cause you to regret your decision to bring the wonderful, intelligent and beautiful Border Collie breed into your home.
For those that want the statistics –
Colour genetics in Border Collies can be complex, so only the basic principles are covered here. Black and white is the dominant colour, with the white being restricted to a blaze up the centre of the face, on the chest and forelegs, a white collar around the neck, white hind feet and a white tip on the tail.
Other colours include red, blue, lilac, chocolate, sable, liver, merle, and combinations such as chocolate sable, red merle and blue merle. These colours can also be solid, bi-colour or tri-colour.
Weight: Female: 12–19 kg (26–42 lb), Male: 14–20 kg (31–44 lb)
Height: Female: 46–53 cm (18–21 in), Male: 48–56 cm (19–22 in)
Life Expectancy: 10-17years (Average 12years)
Border Collie Puppy
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