Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Which dog is right for you?

Two Border Collies and two Australian Shepherds running across the grass
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to the Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie, there’s very little separating these two dogs with both of these intelligent, highly active and friendly breeds making for wonderful family companions. 

Raised to herd sheep and livestock, the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie are neck and neck when it comes to their energy levels, with both breeds able to work tirelessly from dawn to dusk without complaint. 

While they’re pretty evenly matched across the board, where they do differ is in their level of smarts, with the Border Collie being the most intelligent breed in the world, capable of mastering new commands in less than five attempts.

Don’t get us wrong though, the Aussie Shepherd is no slouch in the brains department, and while they may not be quite as quick to catch on, they’re keen learners who are incredibly eager to please.

Aside from a difference in intelligence, the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie have very similar health issues, grooming and exercise needs, but where they diverge slightly once again is temperament.

The Aussie Shepherd tends to be affectionate and good-natured with absolutely everyone, including children and other pets, whereas the Border Collie can be standoffish and even snappy with those outside their human flock if not properly trained and socialized. 

All things considered, there isn’t a great deal separating these two exuberant pups, with both being a great choice for active individuals, couples and families. They are best suited to experienced owners, as their high intelligence levels means they’ll easily run rings around novice pet parents. 

To help you decide if one of these dogs is for you, below you’ll find everything you need to know about the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie, including more on their individual temperaments, health issues, and grooming needs. 

Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Origins

If you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking the Australian Shepherd is from, well, Australia, rest assured you’re far from alone. While their name would suggest that they hail from the land Down Under, the Australian Shepherd actually originated in the Western United States. 

Descending from both European collies, as well as sheepdogs found in Spain and Germany, the Aussie Shepherd was introduced by Spanish immigrants who settled in America in the 1500s and were used to help tend large flocks of sheep in California, New Mexico and Colorado. 

It’s not clear why the Aussie Shepherd was given such a misleading name, although some believe it may be because of the blue merle patterning that it often sports across its coat, which is similar to that found on many of the dog breeds that originated in Australia. 

Descended from landrace sheepdogs that were once found all over the United Kingdom, the Border Collie got its name thanks to the outstanding work it did herding vast flocks of sheep along the border between England and Scotland. 

Although the Border Collie breed as it’s known today wasn’t officially recognized until the late 1800s, their origins extend for thousands of years prior to that, having originally been brought to the British Isles in the first century when the Romans invaded. 

Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Size and appearance

Border Collie and Australian Shepherd tugging at a rope

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When comparing the size of these two beautiful dogs, there really is only a very slight variance with the Aussie Shepherd coming in neck and neck in the height department, measuring 18-21 inches for females and 20-23 inches for males.

They do, however, differ by a few pounds in the weight department, with the Border Collie tending to be leaner at anywhere between 30-55 pounds and the Aussie Shepherd tipping the scales at a more muscular 40-65 pounds. 

The easiest way to quickly tell these two dogs apart is in their coat markings, which are very different. The Australian Shepherd has a stunning multi-colored coat that makes them stand out from the crowd and their eyes can be blue, brown, marbled or bi-colored. 

In contrast, the more understated Border Collie traditionally has a mostly black and white coat with dark brown eyes, although rarer colors and patterns, such as red and white, are possible. Both breeds have a double coat, with the Border Collie’s coming in both rough and smooth varieties. 

Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Temperament

They may be super active, but the Aussie Shepherd is also one heck of an easy-going dog who loves playing with children and tends to get on well with almost anyone - including other pets. 

Eager-to-please, affectionate, intelligent and good-natured, the Aussie Shepherd makes for a wonderfully loving companion, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they are also highly protective of their family and so they do require early training and socialization to help them learn what behavior is and isn’t appropriate.

Tenacious, loyal, and highly responsive, the Border Collie is a quick and keen learner and loves being praised for a job well done. Energetic, friendly and playful, they adore their family (including children) but they can be shy and sometimes snappy around strangers.

Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Intelligence and trainability

Australian Shepherd puppy standing outside with soft toy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to intelligence, both of these breeds are super sharp dogs who love to learn, but it’s the Border Collie who comes out on top time and time again, being ranked the most intelligent dog breed in the world. 

So, what exactly does that mean? Well, a Border Collie can learn a new command in just five repetitions or less, which is incredibly impressive. And while the Australian Shepherd is certainly no slouch in the brains department, it does take them a little longer - around 25 repetitions.

The Border Collie is also able to obey their new command on the first try with a 95% success rate, whereas an Aussie Shepherds first try with a new command has a 50% success rate.

Still, while it may take them a little longer to master something, the Aussie Shepherd always wants to please their owner, which means they will happily persist until they master something, and, once they’ve done so, they’ll carry out their task to the highest standard.

Given their impressive intelligence, it will probably come as no surprise that these two dogs are an absolute joy to train. That being said, their intelligence can also serve as somewhat of a double-edged sword, with the Australian Shepherd in particular taking great delight in trying to hoodwink their owner.

As you’ve probably guessed from the fact that these breeds have their roots in herding, both the Aussie Shepherd and the Border Collie will happily roundup small people and pets as well as livestock if given half the chance, nipping at their heels to get them to fall into line.

Because this is so heavily wired into their DNA, both breeds require obedience and socialization training from a young age so that they’re able to understand how to channel their instincts in an appropriate way. 

Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Exercise needs

You’re going to want to lead a very active lifestyle if you plan on welcoming either or these two pups into your family as they need a lot of exercise to keep them mentally and physically happy and healthy.

These are high-energy working dogs who will go and go and go from dawn until dusk, but if you don’t live on a farm or ranch where they can put their herding instincts to good use all day, rest assured there are other options.

You’re looking at a minimum of 60 to 90 minutes per day of vigorous, high-intensity activity - think walking, hiking, swimming, agility courses, and a mix of outdoor and indoor games for dogs.

While the physical side of things is important, equally so is ensuring that these breeds stay mentally stimulated to avoid them becoming bored and getting into mischief. If you must leave them on their own and you want to avoid any destructive behaviors, we recommend investing in one of the best dog puzzle toys to give their brain a workout and keep them entertained in your absence. 

Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Health and grooming

Border Collie with tennis ball in his mouth

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Both the Aussie Shepherd and the Border Collie are classified as breeds of average health and tend to live for around 12-15 years. Because they’re so active, they tend to be prone to elbow and hip dysplasia later in life as well as various eye problems, such as cataracts and Progressive Renal Atrophy.

Multi-Drug Sensitivity, where the gene that is meant to transport prescription drugs away from the brain is faulty causing the medication to poison them, is also a condition that affects both breeds. 

Alongside these commonly shared health issues, roughly 10% of Border Collies are born with Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome, a condition where the white blood cells are not released properly by the bone marrow. This prevents the immune system from fighting diseases and infections and is fatal. 

If you’re adopting your pup from a breeder, it’s vital that they’re able to provide you with the parent’s health information and certificates as this gives you the best chance of being able to identify early what health issues your dog may suffer with later on. 

These dogs are both moderate shedders, so you can expect plenty of fur on your floors year-round with these two, especially during the spring as they start to get rid of their winter coat. That being said, twice-weekly grooming sessions with a good dog brush tends to be all that’s needed for both the Aussie Shepherd and the Border Collie, so overall, they’re fairly low maintenance.

Because they’re highly active, they’re prone to getting dirty and will need a good monthly bath with the best dog shampoo to ensure their coat stays looking in tip-top condition. 

Try to avoid bathing them more than this unless they’re super filthy, as more regular bathing will strip the skin of its natural oils, making it dry and itchy.

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.