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Border Collie: Breed profile

Border Collie
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Quick stats

Life expectancy: 10-17 years

Average weight: Male: 30 to 45 pounds (13-20kg); Female 30 to 40 pounds (13-18kg)

About the same as: 10 bags of sugar

Border Collies are a medium-sized, intelligent, enthusiastic and highly energetic breed. As a pet, they are loyal and eager to learn and mostly obedient – but that intelligence and boundless energy means they must be kept entertained and thoroughly exercised to avoid them becoming frustrated, destructive and disruptive.

Bred as working dogs, they are most suited to adult/teenage households, as their strong herding instinct can kick in when they see smaller children, causing them to nip at their heels or even knock them over. They need regular access to outside spaces, so aren't suited to apartment or small home city life. Border Collies are sociable animals and prefer to live inside with the family rather than being kept on their own. They are alert, graceful and have a high stamina, with genetically strong bones that allow them to run through fields all day protecting and herding animals.

The exact origins of the Border Collie are lost to history, but there is little doubt that they were bred from sheepdogs in Scotland and England to help protect flocks of grazing animals. As such they have an innate need to herd everything they see and can have a strong guarding instinct. Their high intelligence level means they are mostly used as working dogs on farms, on search and rescue missions, in police detection work and are regular winners of sheepdog trials. They are currently the 38th most popular breed in the United States.

How much exercise does a Border Collie need?

If you bring a Border Collie into your home, don't expect a sedentary life – they need lots of exercise. They are designed to run for miles without getting exhausted, so an active outdoor lifestyle is essential if you don't want them getting stressed, barking a lot and destroying your house or garden.

Regular long bouts of dog exercise are essential, a minimum of two hours a day, but ideally a lot more. It's incredibly hard to exhaust a border collie, and even if you manage it, half an hour later they will be back to their bouncing, pouncing self, ready to do it all again. You will need to replace their natural instinct to round up sheep on a farm with long open runs in areas without livestock and entertain them with tasks such as fetching balls and frisbees.

Facts for potential owners

Suitable for: Extremely energetic pet for those with active lifestyles

Not suitable for: Those with small children or who work during the day

Exercise level: Very high (2 hours per day minimum)

Temperament: Intelligent and high energy

Shedding: Moderate

Are Border Collies easy to train?

Border Collies are incredibly intelligent, which is both a positive and a negative when it comes to training and obedience. They pick up new skills quickly, but that intelligence also means they often over-analyze your body movements and vocalizations. If they can't work out what you want them to do, they can get overstrung and excited, or even become completely shut down. This is compounded by the fact that they naturally try to anticipate what the next task is going to be, rather than actually watching what you are instructing them to do.

They are also easily distracted, particularly by movement, and have a tendency to try to out-think you – remember Collies have been bred to get other animals to do what they want. As such, training should start from a young age, ideally in a pet training school where they can learn to socialize with other dogs. Training also needs to be positively reinforced throughout their lives, so you need to be prepared to put the effort in. Once trained though, they are incredibly obedient and loyal.

What does a Border Collie eat?

As they have a voracious appetite, it's best to get Border Collies into a routine of being fed twice a day with the best dog food you can afford. The average amount you should budget for is two cups of dry dog food daily (or a daily calorific intake of 1,400 calories), but this will vary depending on your dog's activity level and metabolism.

Dog treats and other extra food should mean reduced meals if you want them to stay trim and healthy. It's also best to avoid free feeders as Border Collies have difficulty self-regulating how much food they eat – if it's there, they'll eat it! To help them control their eating, it may be worth investing in a slow or puzzle feeder.

Due to their active lifestyle, Collies require a lot of protein, so if you don't want to supplement your dog's meal with the best wet dog food, ensure that the kibble you choose isn't full of fillers and contains real meat.

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Border Collie

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are Border Collies good with kids?

Although they are loyal and friendly to their family members, it's important to remember that Border Collies were not bred to be household pets. Due to their inquisitive and energetic nature, they can be trouble – unless you have the right kind of active environment for them.

They are not suitable for small houses and apartments. They are also not good for those with young children as they have a tendency to try to round them up, often knocking them over in the process. A running child is a great temptation to Border Collies to nip at their heels, and while your family may be okay with that, your neighbors may not be so tolerant. Potential owners with families might be better considering a Golden Retriever or even a German Shepherd. This is due to the fact that Border Collies have an innate need to herd everything – they have been bred to do so – and this includes kids, other animals, bikes, cars and even buses. They are also incredibly sociable: if you have a 9-to-5 job and plan to keep your dog at home or in the yard on its own while you do it, a Border Collie is not for you.

If you don't keep your Border Collie entertained, it will entertain itself by chewing everything from furniture to fences. Left to its own devices for long periods in a garden or yard, your Collie will get bored and try to escape. And they are brilliant escape artists – they can easily leap a 5ft fence if they decide there is something more entertaining on the other side, or will attempt to dig under it or chew through it. They are also clever enough to work out how door latches work. Puzzle feeders and the best dog toys, as well as large amounts of task-based exercise such as fetching balls, are a great way to help them use that intelligence in the right way.

Do Border Collies shed a lot?

Although Border Collies do shed, they are low maintenance compared to other breeds. Their coat is double layered – with a longer, smoother feathered outer coat and a shorter rougher undercoat. They shed a lot more in the Spring and Fall, but a twice-weekly brushing routine should be enough to remove most hair at other times and keep their coat in good order. Unless your dog is particularly mischievous, you should be able to do this at home.

Baths are only necessary every three months or so (more if you regularly go on muddy walks, of course). Use a mild dog shampoo to keep them smelling clean and fresh, and to bring out the gloss and colors in their coat. Border Collies need to have their nails trimmed about once a month. Again, you can do this at home with your own pet nail clippers.

Grooming info

Amount of shedding: Moderate

Easy to groom: Yes

General health: Prone to some genetic diseases

Potential for weight gain: Moderate

Border Collie health issues

As with all dogs, Border Collies can suffer from health problems, with some caused by their genetics. They are prone to hip dysplasia (where the joints don't fit together properly, which can cause arthritis over time, epilepsy (causing seizures), and Collie eye anomaly (CEA). 

The latter is a common inherited congenital condition – around 70 to 97 per cent of Border Collies in the United States and Great Britain are affected by this. It is caused by a mutation in the gene that determines the development of the eye, and causes the blood vessels that support the retina to be underdeveloped. You should ensure they have regular health, eye and hearing tests at the vets to watch for early signs of any of these ailments.

Should I get a Border Collie?

Provided you are ready to get active – and we mean really active – and are planning to spend a lot of time with your dog, Border Collies will be a great companion on your adventures. They are not for small houses – ideally, you should be able to provide a large outdoor walled space for them, as well as lots of outdoor exercise.

They are a big responsibility though. You need to provide a lot of mental stimulation, be willing to give them attention all the time and be ready to go out for long bouts of exercise several times a day at the drop of a hat. Untrained Border Collies are not suitable for homes with small children, but if you are an adult sporty household, they will be a loyal and fun companion on jogs, hikes and bike rides.