Complete Guide To Border Collies: Health, Exercise, Grooming, and More

Border Collies are faithful companions with a warm personality and a keen sense of fun. Born to herd, they thrive on both work and play, gracing pastures, parks and show rings with their extraordinary intelligence and agility.

This guide has been written by a veterinarian with over 20 years experience treating Border Collies and another 10 years prior to that working in large kennels and veterinary hospitals. I’ve seen hundreds of “Borders” in my career and absolutely love this breed.

What Do Border Collies Look Like?

Border Collies average 30-45 pounds with stocky shoulders and a lean but muscular build. They stand roughly knee-height and are always prepared for a sprint. Brown, amber, or yellow eyes are wide-set and thoughtful — ears are pointed or semi-erect with an endearing quizzical look.

What Are Border Collies’ Coats Like?

Coats come in two varieties — a short, smooth length and a longer “rough” coat with feathers. Colors range from black and white, the most common, to more exotic shades, including:

• Blue
• Blue Merle
• Gold
• Brindle
• Lilac
• Sable
• Red
• Red Merle and more

Ticked patterns and contrasting points are common markings, and all colors are equally welcomed for showing or breeding. Border Collies are often mistaken for the smaller Shetland Sheepdog or furrier Keeshond.

What Is The Typical Personality Of A Border Collie?

Border Collies are smart and energetic, so it’s no surprise they’re happiest when they’re on a mission. While not opposed to an occasional nap, they need plenty of exercise and games that challenge their intellect. If you let them get bored or restless, don’t be surprised if they make mischief.

Watchful and loyal, Border Collies are ideal for active families and happy to exhaust you and your children. They’re easygoing within their social group but wary of strangers and benefit from extensive socialization as puppies. Bred to herd sheep, they’re not above nipping at your heels, so training should begin early.

What Kind Of Grooming Is Needed For Border Collies?

Border Collies have weather-resistant double coats — a soft, dense layer close to the skin topped with short or mid-length fur for comfort in most weather conditions. Unlike the name suggests, the smooth coat is coarser than the rough, but both need similar care. Longer hair can be trimmed for warm weather or hygiene.

Grooming twice weekly with a flexible pin brush keeps the top coat free of tangles and debris. An occasional pass with a rake or metal comb thins the undercoat. Increase grooming to every other day during the spring and fall to control seasonal shedding.

Bathing requirements for Border Collies depend on their exercise habits. Every six months is plenty for dogs who spend more time indoors than out. Working dogs appreciate a bath more often to keep their skin fresh.

Use only gentle, pH-balanced shampoos — harsh formulas strip skin oils, leaving hair brittle and dry. Don’t forget to trim their nails and clean their ears at bath time. A few drops of cleansing solution on gauze or a cotton ball removes excess wax and controls unpleasant odors.

How Much Exercise Do Border Collies Need?

Border Collies are always looking for something to do. It doesn’t have to always be physical, but they need something to do. Long walks, trips to the dog park, going for a swim, or doing an agility class – these are all activities that the Border Collie will love.

They are not couch potatoes. In fact, if you leave your Border Collie at home for a decent part of the day without first tiring them out you’ll likely come home to a frustrated dog and a bit of a destructive mess.

On top of all the physical stimulation, they need to use their minds. This is one of the smartest breeds of dogs out there and they need to be challenged. They will learn basic commands and tricks quickly. Challenge them with more complex tricks and toys.

How Long Do Border Collies Live?

Based on information provided by the American Kennel Club (AKC), Border Collies are expected to live between 12-15 years.

What Health Conditions Can Border Collies Have?

Although they are typically a very healthy breed, some of the health conditions that I associate with a higher risk in Border Collies include:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Anxieties
  • Deafness
  • Epilepsy

For a more detailed breakdown of these health conditions, please see the article I wrote here going into more depth about maintaining the health of Border Collies.

Where To Find Out More About Border Collies:

These sites are also a great place to start looking for a reputable breeder.

What Is The Best Dog Food For Border Collies?

Because of the massive amounts of activity that Border Collies generally put themselves though, they are a breed that needs the most calorically dense food you can find. However, that doesn’t always mean that it should be the most expensive.

One strategy for feeding a highly caloric-dense food is to simply keep your dog on the same puppy food it was raised on. That might be the most economical decision on which dog food to choose. Certainly the easiest.

Below are three diets that I’ve been told by my Border Collie owners helped their dog. None of them are even close to being super expensive and all three have had a great deal of research behind them to prove their quality.

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

One of the coolest things you can do with your Border Collie (that may not work with other breeds) is to engage their mind at the same time that you are feeding them. My favorite toy/feeding strategies include:

Snuffle Mat Actually Uses Border Collie To Market

Interesting Facts about Border Collies

Every dog has a story, but some are more surprising than others. Here are some intriguing facts about Border Collies.

• They Weren’t Officially Recognized Until the Mid-1990s

Despite being one of the 40 most popular dogs in the United States, the Border Collie was only officially accepted by the AKC as a distinct breed in 1995.

• Border Collies May Be the World’s Smartest Dogs

According to the world-renowned psychologist, Stanley Coren, Border Collies top the list for intelligence. With dedicated training, they can learn dozens of commands. One fine example with an astounding memory understood more than a thousand words and could identify hundreds of common objects.

Their Ancestors Hail from Rome

Herding dogs were first introduced by the Romans. Unable to handle the climate in the British Isles, the Celts bred a hardier version known as “colleys,” meaning faithful.

• Border Collies are True to Their Name

Border Collies were once a breed without a name. But James Reid, Secretary of the International Sheepdog Society through 1948 made their moniker official, adopting the term “Border Collie” to reflect the breed’s Northumberland origin on the border of England and Scotland.

• They’re the Extreme Athletes of the Canine World

Border Collies thrill audiences at agility trials, winning the Westminster Masters Agility championship in six of the last seven years. They’re regular fixtures in parks and can be seen on social media performing stunts from skateboarding to skydiving.

• Border Collies Love the Camera

From the 1995 blockbuster movie Babe to The Little House on the Prairie, Border Collies have played dozens of starring roles in Hollywood. They’re the breed of choice for many directors because they’re easy to train and a pleasure to work with. Paparazzi-ready, they strike a pose with famous owners, including actress Anna Paquin, rocker Jon Bon Jovi and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

• They’re Modern Day Geese Herders

Few creatures are more stubborn and territorial than geese, but they’ve met their match in the Border Collie. Dogs are used alone or in pairs to control the nuisance population in public parks and on golf courses. They’re environmentally friendly and work for treats!

• Border Collies Excel at Search and Rescue

They don’t carry barrels of brandy around their necks, but Border Collies have a reputation for finding needles in haystacks. Their stamina and ability to focus make them top search and rescue dogs.

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