Thanks to the enduring power of Eric Knight's "Lassie Come Home" and Albert Payson Terhune's "Lad, a Dog," not to mention TV series and movies, the Collie has a reputation as dog with super powers, able to leap deep wells in a single bound and communicate complicated messages, even without the aid of speech. While the breed certainly has qualities that bolster that impression, it's a disservice to any dog to load it up with baggage that it can't possibly carry. The Collie is gentle, affectionate and sensitive, but Collie puppies don't come fully trained and ready to rescue Timmy from the well.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Collie is a herding breed, which means he is smart, quick to learn and very tuned in to his people. While he is nowhere near as intense as the Border Collie and the Australian Shepherd, the Collie still needs daily exercise as well as training and play that will challenge his mind.

Collies respond best to consistent, reward-based training, and they enjoy the attention that comes with performing, whether doing tricks or competing in agility, obedience or herding competitions. He can also be an excellent therapy dog, tall enough to stand at a bedside for petting, with a calm and welcoming personality.

On the down side, the Collie is vocal with a bark that can be exceptionally irritating. If left to his own devices, he can become a nuisance barker. He's not trying to tell you that Timmy's in the well; he's telling you that he's bored, bored, bored. The Collie is family-oriented and should live in the home, not out in the backyard.

He also has a tendency to nip at heels in play, another sign of his herding heritage. While it's interesting to see instinct in action, it's not a behavior that should be permitted. It can be frightening to children and annoying to everyone else, including other animals.

Variations of the Collie

Although hardly anyone seems to know it, the Collie comes in two coat varieties: rough (long and abundant with a harsh texture) and smooth (short, flat and dense) and colors beyond the classic Lassie markings. Sable Collies range from light golden tan to rich mahogany with a white ruff and black trim, but Collies can also be tricolor (black overcoat, white ruff and tan trim), blue merle (a mix of gray and black hair, possibly with one or both eyes blue) or white (mostly white with sable, tri or blue markings). Completely white collies aren't common, but four of them once shared the White House, with the Coolidge family.

Both coat types require a thorough weekly brushing, with the rough coat taking a lot longer to complete. The coat sheds annually, and during that time the coat will need more frequent brushing -- and a tolerance for shedding. Other than that, the only grooming a Collie needs is regular ear cleaning, tooth brushing and nail trimming.

Health Issues Common to Collies

Collies can be affected by a number of genetic health problems, including Multiple Drug Sensitivity (MDS). Dogs with MDS can have fatal reactions to a number of common veterinary drugs including the common heartworm preventive ivermectin. Screening not only your puppy's parents but your dog for these conditions is a lifesaving necessity. The test is very simple and requires only a cheek swab; information on how to test your dog can be found here.

Eye problems are also of serious concern in the breed. One of the most intractable is Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), but fortunately the gene for its detection was recently identified and a genetic screening test will be available as soon as this year, after which time all breeders should have PRA clearances on all their breeding dogs.

Collie Eye Anomaly is a group of eye disorders ranging form minor to serious. They are present from before birth, and can be detected in puppies by 5 or 6 weeks of age. Your puppy's breeder must have the eyes of all the dogs in the litter tested before selling them. Have your Collie's eyes examined annually until the age of 5 and every two years until the age of 10 by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Unfortunately, Collies can also be affected by a number of health conditions for which there are no screening tests. These include epilepsy as well as "bloat and torsion," a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will prevent the stomach from twisting in the future.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) Medium $1,500-$7,500
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) Medium $500-$1,500
Degenerative Myelopathy Medium $2,000-$4,000
Lupus Erythematosus High $1,000-$10,000
Optic Nerve Colobomas High $100-$300
Pemphigus High $500-$3,000

7 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Collie Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes or that ships 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.

Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Collie Club of America, which offers a breeder referral service; choose one who has agreed to be bound by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores and requires them to take lifetime responsibility for any puppies they sell if their owners are unable to care for them.

Ask your breeder to show you Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification that the parents' hips are free of dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that requires costly surgery to repair and can lead to arthritis in later years. University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) hip certification is also acceptable. Additionally, the breeder needs to have Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) clearance on your puppy's parents' eyes, done within the previous year.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of all these problems, or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Collies. Look for your puppy elsewhere.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Collies aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Collie can live 10 years or more, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Collie 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.

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 Collies

Pet insurance for Collies costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because 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 Collies are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Collie 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.