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Border Collies: The Ultimate Guide For Future Owners

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

Close up Border Collie face

Thinking about adding a Border Collie puppy to your family? You’re in for an exciting adventure! Border Collies are renowned for their intelligence, boundless energy, and loyal companionship. Whether you’re looking for a working dog or an active companion, a Border Collie could be the perfect fit.

Our breed expert, Robin Penland-Elliot from On The Lamb, shares her insights on what makes these dogs special. From their unique temperament and physical traits to health, diet, and training needs, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know to provide the best home for your new puppy. Get ready to embark on a journey with one of the most remarkable dog breeds out there!

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Border Collie Key Points

  1. Border Collies are known for their exceptional problem-solving skills and quick learning ability.
  2. They require plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy.
  3. Bred for herding, they excel in tasks that involve controlling and moving livestock.
  4. Border Collies form strong bonds with their owners and thrive in environments where they are included in activities.
  5. They excel in various dog sports and activities, making them suitable for active families and individuals.

Border Collie Profile: Temperament & Physical Characteristics

tricolor Border Collie showing herding behavior as part of temperament and personality

Border Collies are renowned for their intelligence and independent thinking, making them exceptional problem solvers. They are the second most intelligent dog breed after Poodles.

“Border Collies are bred to be your independent thinking, problem-solving partner that’s willing to take your directions,” says Robin Penland-Elliot from On The Lamb. They are highly sensitive and emotionally attuned to their owners, often forming strong bonds with their human companions. This breed thrives on mental and physical stimulation, requiring an active lifestyle to keep them happy and well-adjusted.

Border Collies are well-suited for active, outdoor-oriented households where they can engage in various activities such as herding, agility training, and obedience trials. Their natural herding instinct and high energy levels make them ideal for environments where they have plenty of space to run and play. 

“Border Collies can herd anything — sheep, goats, geese, ducks, hogs, cattle, emu, ostrich. They have the drive and will to go hunt them out in a pasture and gather them all up,” Robin adds. These dogs excel in rural settings, farms, or homes with large yards but can adapt to other environments if given sufficient exercise and mental challenges.

Physical Characteristics

Border Collies are medium-sized dogs, typically weighing between 30 to 55 pounds and standing 18 to 22 inches tall at the shoulder. According to the AKC breed standard, they possess a well-balanced, athletic build that contributes to their agility and endurance. This breed is known for its keen, alert expression and intense gaze, often referred to as the “Border Collie stare,” which they use to control livestock.

The coat of a Border Collie can be either rough or smooth. The rough coat is medium-length and feathered, while the smooth coat is shorter and coarser. Both types are weather-resistant, helping to protect the dog in various climates. You also get a very rare, curly-coated variety but these aren’t in the breed standard.

 Border Collies Come in a Variety of Colors, Including:

  • Black and white; 
  • Red and white; 
  • Tricolor; 
  • Blue merle; and
  • Others. 

Each dog’s coat pattern and color can be quite unique.

Distinctive physical traits of the Border Collie include their expressive eyes, which can be brown, blue, or a combination of both. They have a well-defined stop, a strong muzzle, and ears that can be either erect or semi-erect, adding to their alert and ready-for-action appearance. Their tail is bushy and carried low when relaxed, but it may rise when the dog is excited or focused on a task.

Overall, the Border Collie’s combination of intelligence, sensitivity, and physical prowess makes them a standout breed for those who can meet their needs for exercise and mental engagement. As Robin Penland-Elliot notes, “Border Collies are born with all this natural ability and instinct to herd livestock, but they’re not born knowing how to use those tools. That’s where training comes in to help them harness their potential.”

Is the Border Collie a Good Pet? Pros & Cons

Gorgeous merle tricolor Border Collie what are pros and cons of having a Border Collie
Highly IntelligentHigh Energy Levels
Border Collies are exceptionally intelligent, making them quick learners and capable of understanding complex commands.They require significant daily exercise and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and destructive behavior.
Loyal and AffectionateCan Be Overly Energetic Indoors
They form strong bonds with their owners and are very loyal and affectionate.Without adequate exercise, they can become restless and overly energetic indoors.
Excellent Working DogsRequire Experienced Owners
Bred for herding, they excel in working roles and various dog sports like agility and obedience.Their intelligence and energy levels can be challenging for first-time dog owners.
Versatile and AdaptableProne to Herding Behavior
They adapt well to various dog sports and activities, making them versatile companions.Their strong herding instinct can lead to them trying to herd children, other pets, or even cars.
Trainable and Eager to PleaseSeparation Anxiety
Their eagerness to please makes them highly trainable and responsive to positive reinforcement.They can develop separation anxiety if left alone for extended periods.
Strong Work EthicNot Suitable for Inactive Lifestyles
They thrive on having a job to do and excel in tasks that require problem-solving and independence.Border Collies do not do well in inactive or sedentary households.
Good Health and LongevityCan Be Destructive When Bored
Generally healthy with a lifespan of 12-15 years, providing long-term companionship.Boredom can lead to destructive behaviors such as chewing, digging, and excessive barking.
Excellent in Agility and SportsGrooming Needs
They excel in agility, flyball, and other dog sports, providing plenty of opportunities for physical and mental stimulation.Their coats require regular grooming to keep them free from mats and tangles, especially the rough-coated variety.
Strong Instincts and FocusCan Be Intimidating to Small Animals
Their strong focus and instincts make them exceptional in tasks that require precision and attention.Their intense stare and herding behavior can be intimidating to smaller pets.
Alert and ProtectiveMay Bark Excessively
They are naturally alert and can be protective of their family and home.Without proper training, they can develop a tendency to bark excessively.

This table provides a comprehensive overview of the pros and cons of owning a Border Collie, helping you make an informed decision about whether this breed is the right fit for your lifestyle and household.

Common Health Issues & Lifespan in Border Collies

Border Collie puppy at veterinarian what are Border Collie health issues

Border Collies typically live between 12 to 15 years, making them long-term companions with proper care. Their longevity can be attributed to their generally robust health, although they are prone to certain genetic and health issues that require attention.

For an in-depth look into the health predispositions of Border Collies, refer to Dr. Alex Gough’s book, Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. Below is a summary of some common health issues and their implications for Border Collies.

Genetic Disorders

Hip Dysplasia: A common issue where the hip joint doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket, leading to arthritis and pain. Neutered male Border Collies are particularly predisposed.

Epilepsy: Often juvenile onset, Border Collies are prone to this neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures. This breed tends to have a severe course of the disease and drug resistance is common.

Collie Eye Anomaly: A congenital condition affecting the eyes, leading to vision impairment. It is inherited and has a prevalence of about 6% in Border Collies.

Other Health Concerns

Allergies: Border Collies can suffer from environmental and food allergies, leading to skin irritations and digestive issues.

Hypothyroidism: A condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, causing symptoms like lethargy, weight gain, and skin problems.

Cardiovascular Conditions

Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA): A congenital heart defect that Border Collies are at risk for. It involves an abnormal blood flow between the aorta and the pulmonary artery and can lead to heart failure if untreated.

Drug Reactions

Vincristine-Associated Myelosuppression: Border Collies with the ABCB1 wild-type gene can develop severe bone marrow suppression when treated with vincristine, a chemotherapy drug.

Endocrine Conditions

Diabetes Mellitus: Border Collies have a higher incidence rate of diabetes compared to mixed breeds, necessitating careful monitoring and management of their diet and health.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Congenital Portosystemic Shunt: A liver condition where blood bypasses the liver, leading to toxin buildup. Symptoms usually appear in young dogs.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Border Collies are at a higher risk for this chronic condition, which causes gastrointestinal distress and requires dietary management.

Selective Malabsorption of Cobalamin (Vitamin B12): An inherited condition where Border Collies cannot properly absorb Vitamin B12, leading to various health issues.

Haematological/Immunological Conditions

Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome: An autosomal recessive condition affecting the immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to infections.

Infectious Conditions

Cryptococcosis: A fungal infection that Border Collies are more susceptible to, particularly if they live outdoors or are exposed to bird droppings.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Achilles Tendon Rupture: Border Collies are prone to this injury, which requires surgical intervention.

Hip Dysplasia: As mentioned, this is a significant concern, particularly in neutered males.

Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder: A condition affecting the cartilage and bone in the shoulder joint, leading to arthritis.

Neoplastic Conditions

Lingual Haemangiosarcoma: A type of cancer that affects the tongue and is more prevalent in Border Collies.

Neurological Conditions

Border Collie Collapse: A condition triggered by intense exercise, leading to disorientation and lack of coordination.

Epilepsy: As previously mentioned, this is a common and severe neurological condition in Border Collies.

Ocular Conditions

Chronic Superficial Keratitis (Pannus): An inflammatory eye condition that can lead to vision impairment.

Lens Luxation: A condition where the lens of the eye dislocates, often requiring surgical correction.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): A degenerative eye disease leading to blindness.

Best Food for a Border Collie

Gorgeous Border Collie sitting what are the best foods for a Border Collie

Border Collies are highly active and intelligent dogs, requiring a diet that supports their energy levels and overall health. A well-balanced diet is essential to maintain their physical condition, support cognitive function, and ensure they have the stamina to keep up with their demanding lifestyle.

Types of High-Quality Dog Food

Dry Kibble

Orijen Original Dry Dog Food: Packed with protein from free-run chicken, turkey, and fish, this grain-free formula supports muscle maintenance and overall health.

Taste of the Wild High Prairie: This grain-free kibble includes roasted bison and roasted venison, providing highly digestible energy for active dogs.

Wet Food

Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe: This wet food offers balanced nutrition with real meat as the first ingredient, providing an excellent source of protein and moisture.

Merrick Grain-Free Wet Dog Food: Rich in high-quality protein and essential nutrients, this food supports muscle growth and overall vitality.

Raw Food Diet

Instinct Raw Boost Mixers: Adding these freeze-dried raw pieces to your dog’s kibble can enhance their diet with the benefits of raw nutrition, such as improved digestion and increased energy.

Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Patties: These patties offer a convenient way to feed raw, with ingredients like cage-free chicken and organic fruits and vegetables.

Homemade Diet

Consult with a veterinarian to create a balanced homemade diet. Include lean meats, vegetables, and grains (if not grain-free) to ensure your Border Collie gets all essential nutrients.

Importance of Balanced Nutrition

Balanced nutrition is crucial for Border Collies to maintain their energy levels, support cognitive function, and promote overall health. Here are key components to consider:

  • High-quality protein sources are essential for muscle maintenance and repair. Look for foods with meat as the first ingredient.
  • Healthy fats provide energy and support skin and coat health. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are particularly beneficial.
  • Carbs provide a quick source of energy. Choose complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and brown rice for sustained energy release.
  • Ensure the diet includes essential vitamins and minerals to support various bodily functions, including immune health and bone development.
  • Fiber aids in digestion and helps maintain a healthy weight. Vegetables and whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber.
  • Always provide fresh water to keep your Border Collie hydrated, especially if they are on a dry food diet.

Feeding your Border Collie a high-quality, balanced diet tailored to their activity level and health needs will help them thrive and maintain their energy and vitality. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet.

Routine Care Needs for Border Collies

Border Collie jumping in agility course

Border Collies are one of the most active dog breeds, requiring substantial daily exercise to keep them physically and mentally healthy. Aim for at least 1-2 hours of vigorous activity each day to meet their high energy levels.

Types of Activities

  • Border Collies thrive on running. Whether it’s a jog with you or free running in a secure area, they need space to stretch their legs. These dogs get bored and frustrated with short slow walks around the block. 
  • This breed excels in agility sports, which provide both physical exercise and mental stimulation. Set up an agility course or join a local agility club.
  • Playing frisbee engages their natural herding and retrieving instincts, providing a fun and energetic activity.
  • A classic game of fetch helps burn off energy and keeps their minds active as they focus on retrieving the ball.

Mental Stimulation Needs

In addition to physical exercise, Border Collies require significant mental stimulation. Without it, they can become bored and develop destructive behaviors.

Puzzle Toys and Interactive Games

  • These toys challenge your Border Collie’s problem-solving skills and keep them engaged. Look for toys that dispense treats when solved.
  • Games like hide-and-seek with their favorite toy or treat can be both fun and mentally stimulating.

Advanced Training and Dog Sports

  • Continue their training beyond basic commands. Teach them complex tricks and commands to keep their minds sharp.
  • Involvement in dog sports such as obedience trials, herding trials, and flyball can be incredibly rewarding for a Border Collie.

Grooming Needs Based on Coat Type

Grooming and deshedding a Border Collie

Border Collies have two main coat types: rough and smooth. Both require regular grooming to maintain their health and appearance.

Brushing Frequency and Techniques

Rough Coat – Needs brushing at least twice a week to prevent mats and tangles. Use a slicker brush or an undercoat rake to remove loose hair and debris.

Smooth Coat – Requires less frequent brushing, typically once a week. A bristle brush or grooming mitt can help keep their coat sleek and clean.

Bathing and Trimming

Bathe your Border Collie every 2-3 months or as needed, using a dog-friendly shampoo. Avoid over-bathing as it can strip the natural oils from their coat.

Regularly trim the hair around their paws and ears to keep them tidy and prevent dirt buildup.

Importance of Dental Care

Regular dental care is essential to prevent periodontal disease. Brush your Border Collie’s teeth several times a week with dog-specific toothpaste. Dental chews and regular vet check-ups can also help maintain oral health.

Ear and Eye Care Routines

  • Check their ears weekly for signs of infection, wax buildup, or debris. Clean their ears gently with a vet-recommended ear cleaner.
  • Wipe their eyes daily with a damp cloth to remove any discharge and prevent tear staining. Regular vet check-ups can help monitor their eye health and catch any issues early.

By following these routine care guidelines, you can help ensure your Border Collie stays healthy, happy, and well-groomed. Their high energy and intelligence make them a rewarding breed for those who can meet their needs.

Border Collie Training and Socialization Tips

Border Collies are incredibly intelligent and thrive on mental challenges. To keep them engaged, incorporate advanced training techniques and puzzle games into their daily routine. Use interactive toys that require problem-solving skills, and teach them complex commands and tricks to stimulate their minds.

Importance of Short, Frequent Training Sessions

Border Collies have a high capacity for learning but can become bored or frustrated with long training sessions. Short, frequent sessions are more effective, keeping them focused and motivated. Aim for multiple 10-15 minute training sessions throughout the day rather than one long session.

Gentle Guidance

Due to their sensitive nature, Border Collies respond best to positive reinforcement and gentle guidance. Avoid harsh corrections or punishment, as these can lead to fear and anxiety. Use praise, treats, and affection to reward good behavior and reinforce commands.

Behavioral Management

Border Collies have high energy levels and need ample physical and mental stimulation to prevent destructive behaviors. Ensure they get plenty of exercise and engage in activities that challenge their minds. Providing a variety of toys and changing up their routine can also help keep them occupied.

Managing Excessive Barking and Herding Behaviors

Border Collies are natural herders and can exhibit excessive barking and herding behaviors if not properly managed. To address these issues, provide them with appropriate outlets for their herding instincts, such as agility training or herding exercises. Consistent training and socialization can help reduce excessive barking.

Expert Advice on Raising a Border Collie Puppy

According to Robin Penland-Elliot from On The Lamb, early training and socialization are crucial for Border Collie puppies. “When you get one, it should be a puppy so that they can learn your lifestyle. Once you have a puppy, they will put their mouths on everything,” she advises. Start training as soon as you bring your puppy home, focusing on basic commands and socializing them with different people, animals, and environments.

By following these training and socialization guidelines, you can help your Border Collie develop into a well-behaved and well-adjusted companion. Their intelligence and eagerness to learn make them highly trainable, but they require a dedicated owner who can meet their mental and physical needs.

Finding a Border Collie

multi color litter of Border Collie puppies for sale

When looking to bring a Border Collie into your home, it’s crucial to find a reputable breeder who prioritizes the health and temperament of their dogs. Here are some tips to help you find the right breeder:

  • Start by researching breeders through the Border Collie Society of America (BCSA) and other reputable organizations.
  • Visit the breeder’s facility to see how the dogs are raised and interact with them in person.
  • Ask the breeder for references from previous puppy buyers and contact them to learn about their experiences.

Questions to Ask Breeders

When you contact a breeder, ask these important questions to ensure they meet high standards:

  • How long have you been breeding Border Collies?
  • Can you provide health clearances for the parents, including tests for hip dysplasia, eye conditions, and other genetic disorders?
  • How do you socialize your puppies?
  • Can I meet the puppy’s parents?
  • What kind of support do you offer after I bring the puppy home?

Importance of Health Screenings and Certifications

Health screenings and certifications are vital to ensure the puppy you’re getting is healthy and free of genetic disorders. Reputable breeders will provide documentation for health tests, including:

  • Hip dysplasia evaluations
  • Eye exams by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist
  • DNA tests for known genetic conditions

Adoption and Rescue Options

Adopting a Border Collie from a rescue organization is a wonderful alternativ-e-archive to buying from a breeder. Several organizations specialize in rescuing and rehoming Border Collies:

Adopting a rescue dog can be highly rewarding and offers many benefits, including giving a dog a second chance at a happy life.

Cost Overview

Owning a Border Collie involves both initial and ongoing costs:

Initial Costs

  • Purchase/Adoption Fees – Expect to pay between $800-$2,500 for a puppy from a breeder, while adoption fees typically range from $150-$400.
  • Vaccinations  – Essential vaccinations in the first year can cost around $75-$100.
  • Spaying/Neutering – This procedure usually costs between $200-$500.
  • Initial supplies, including a crate, bed, toys, and grooming tools, can cost $200-$300.

Ongoing Costs

  • High-quality dog food will cost around $50-$100 per month.
  • Regular grooming tools and occasional professional grooming sessions can cost $30-$70 per month.
  • Annual check-ups, vaccinations, and dental care can cost around $200-$500 per year.
  • Pet insurance can help cover unexpected health issues and typically costs $30-$50 per month.


Border Collies are highly intelligent, energetic, and loyal dogs known for their herding abilities and problem-solving skills. They require substantial physical exercise and mental stimulation, making them suitable for active families or individuals who can dedicate time to training and activities.

Before bringing a Border Collie into your home, consider your lifestyle and commitment level. These dogs thrive in environments where they can be active participants in daily activities and receive ample mental challenges. Owning a Border Collie is a rewarding experience but requires dedication and effort to meet their needs.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.