Border Collies

Arguably considered the world's best herding dog, the Border Collie is a smart, intense workaholic who lives for order and values employment above all else. His focus is legendary--and so is the havoc he can wreak when he's bored. Popular for his good looks and medium size, the Border Collie's drive to work and strong desire to keep his people together at all times can come as an unpleasant surprise to families who may know him only from starring roles in movies such as "Babe" and "Hotel for Dogs."

Traits, Personality and Behavior

If you're ready to provide loving leadership to your dog, train him consistently and fairly, and give him plenty of exercise and an outlet for his considerable intelligence, then yes, the Border Collie can be right for you.

Don't underestimate that intelligence, either. This is among the smartest of all dog breeds, and one whose owners need to pay attention lest they find themselves outsmarted. Expecting a Border Collie to spend his days in the backyard and his evenings keeping you company while you watch your favorite TV shows is a sure way to create a barking, bored, destructive dog instead of the calm, well-behaved, loyal companion you thought you were bringing into your home.

The Border Collie's herding traits--an intense stare, crouching, creeping movement, and gathering behavior--will be turned on children, other pets, and vehicles if the dog isn't provided with guidance, training and an outlet for his instinct to round up and bring in people or objects in motion. Never let this go uncorrected, and then redirect the behavior by giving your Border Collie demanding and interesting tasks or games that will provide him with exercise and mental stimulation.

Like most herding breeds, which have an inborn protective streak, the BC can be wary of strangers. Early and frequent socialization is essential to prevent him from becoming shy or aggressive in the presence of people he doesn't know. He is also highly sensitive to sound and may develop noise phobias, especially to thunderstorms, if he is not accustomed to loud or unexpected noises. On the plus side, he's an excellent watchdog and will always alert you to anything or anyone out of the ordinary.

Because of these characteristics, it's essential to purchase a Border Collie from a breeder whose stock is temperamentally sound and who understands the importance of early exposure to many different people, noises and situations that come with life in a family home. Run far away from breeders who raise their pups in a barn or a pen out in the backyard. A Border Collie that is to be a family companion needs plenty of socialization.

Although he loves the great outdoors, the BC is by no means a yard dog. He is bred to work in partnership with people. If your Border Collie is a family pet, he needs to live indoors. Otherwise, he'll be lonely, bored and destructive -- and less, rather than more, likely to warn you of trouble.

Alert watchdogs, Border Collies can be barkers, so help yours develop appropriate barking behavior when young so it doesn't become a nuisance later on.

The Border Collie has a double coat that can be short or medium in length. Expect to brush him two or three times a week to remove dead hair and keep shedding to a minimum. Active Border Collies often wear their nails down naturally, but it's a good idea to check them weekly to see if they need a trim. Otherwise, just keep his ears clean and bathe him if he gets dirty.

Variations of the Border Collie

You should also know that there are two types of Border Collies: those bred strictly for their herding talents and those bred for the show ring and AKC performance events. During most of the 20th century, BC breeders chose dogs based on their working ability, and the dogs varied widely in appearance. But in 1995, the AKC recognized the Border Collie--much to the fury of many of its adherents--and since then the breed has split into show and working lines.

The show dogs tend to be small and blocky with heavy coats, while the herding dogs are more diverse in size, coat type and overall appearance. Breeders who select for herding ability would rather have their dogs recognized for the way they work than the way they look.

All of that is to say that it's important to know the dog's background before purchasing a puppy. If you plan to actually work stock with your Border Collie, you will want a puppy from working lines. A Border Collie from show lines may still have a strong herding instinct, but even dogs that do well in AKC herding trials are not generally considered good enough to do real work on farms. They will, however, be super competitors in agility, obedience and other dog sports.

The black-and-white Border Collie is most familiar, but the breed comes in all colors and combinations of colors and markings. They can be solid, bi-color, tri-color, merle and sable. They frequently have white markings that are clear or ticked or random white patches on the body and head. Avoid Border Collies that are primarily white. The gene for deafness is linked to white coloration.

Health Issues Common to Border Collies

A spectacularly hardy dog, the Border Collie nonetheless can be affected by some genetic diseases. One of these is hip dysplasia, a genetic malformation of the hip socket. Dogs with hip dysplasia may appear perfectly normal, but because the head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, over time the bone begins to wear away. The constant inflammation leads to arthritis.

Hip dysplasia is treated with surgery, usually total hip replacement, at the cost of thousands of dollars per hip. Untreated, the dog will suffer pain and lameness. A puppy's hips can't be evaluated, but by the age of two you can know if a dog is or isn't affected. This condition can only be diagnosed by X-rays that then need to be evaluated by an orthopedic specialist. It's impossible to know if a dog has hip dysplasia simply from examining him or watching him move. Only obtain a puppy whose parents were both tested with normal hips after the age of 2 by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHIP).

Border Collies are also affected by Collie Eye Anomaly, a group of eye disorders ranging from minor to serious. They are present from before birth, and can be detected in puppies by 5 or 6 weeks of age. Fortunately, there is a genetic test to determine whether or not a dog is clear of CEA or carries it. Make sure your puppy's breeder has had the eyes of all the dogs in the litter tested before selling them, and that the parents were tested as well. Never buy a puppy from a breeder who has not done this testing.

Border Collies do not suffer from a high incidence of other eye problems, but a breeder who has obtained Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) clearances on her breeding animals is to be preferred over one who has not.

Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (CL) and trapped neutrophil syndrome (TNS) are two fatal genetic disorders of the Border Collie. Fortunately there are DNA tests that allow breeders to screen for them, so only obtain your puppy from a breeder who has cleared the parents of CL and TNS.

Epilepsy also occurs in the breed, and there is currently no screening test for seizure disorders in Border Collies.

In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and prevent any new ones from emerging, the Border Collie Society of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). It requires that breeders participate in a breed DNA depository, and test all their breeding dogs for hip dysplasia and the eye diseases that occur in the breed. They also recommend a number of other tests, although they're considered optional.

A good breeder will be able to discuss how prevalent all health problems, those with and those without genetic screening tests, are in her dogs' lines, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Border Collie before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia High $1,500-$6,000
Follicular Dysplasia Medium $200-$500
Optic Nerve Coloboma High $100-$300

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Border Collie Puppy

Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Border Collie Society of America or the United States Border Collie Club. The BCSA is the AKC's parent club for the Border Collie and has a Code of Ethics by which members are expected to abide. The USBCC is not a registry, but its website has lots of great information about the breed, including what to look for--and avoid--in a breeder. It focuses on working Border Collies.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Because many young Border Collies are a handful, and many health defects do not appear until maturity, you can avoid both problems by adopting an adult Border Collie (or mix) from a rescue group.

The best breeders will be proud to show you their dogs' test results for genetic health problems that can affect the Border Collie. These include Collie Eye Anomaly, canine hip dysplasia and deafness. Bad breeders will tell you they don't need to do those tests because they've never had problems in their lines, their dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the thousand other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on genetic testing of their dogs. The minute you hear something like that, walk away.

Puppy or adult, take your Border Collie to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about how best to monitor your dog for potential health risks.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store, from an Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or a website that ships dogs with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Border Collies

Pet insurance for Border Collies costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Border Collies are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Border Collies are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your BC is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.