Breed Love: Border collie

Border collie chilling. Which is unusual. Source: Flickr, user idizc

When my dog obsession bloomed in my early youth, my mom was kind enough to take me to a local herding trial. I was about 11 years old and I fell in LOVE with border collies that day. Watching those black and white dogs fly over the fields and move those sheep with such grace and ease, well, it was a thing of beauty. I had also been reading James Herriot’s beautiful books since I was a small child. Herriot tells stories about his life as a veterinarian in the English countryside and his tales often feature heroic and preternaturally intelligent border collies (or perhaps English shepherds).

Childhood obsession aside, border collies have become somewhat well known in the public eye. By this point, it’s widely accepted that border collies are the geniuses of the dog world. Stanley Coren ranks them as #1 on his list of the most intelligent dog breeds. We’ve heard about Chaser, the border collie who understands grammar and can recognize more than 1,000 words. And if you’ve ever met a border collie or spent any amount of time with one, these statements come as no surprise to you. Border collies are always watching, always thinking.

A border collie’s unbelievable intelligence is a great asset to his or her shepherd. Working border collies need to not only make decisions about how to keep the sheep in line, but they also need to accurately read the behaviors and cues of their handlers. Border collies are the best at what they do and they thrive on the mental and physical stimulation that herding provides.

Toby's first time with sheep
Doing what border collies do best: Boss sheep around. Source: Flickr, user allyeska

I love the unreal drive of these beautiful dogs–but it’s also the drive that makes me slightly wary about getting one. I don’t own any sheep. I may never own sheep. To me, it would seem somewhat cruel to purchase a fluffy border collie puppy in my suburban setting and expect her to grow up content and well-adjusted. To a breed of this drive and overpowering intellect, keeping a border collie in downtown Charlottesville would be something akin to abuse.

I read a good deal of border collie blogs–there seem to be a lot of them–and these people are extremely serious about their dogs. Most of the border collie owners and bloggers live on farms where the dogs are training or working as sheep herders. If the collies are not herding sheep, their owners are running agility or flyball courses with them. The dogs demand that they be taken seriously. If you don’t give them a job, they’ll create a job of their own, which would probably be something like herding the neighborhood kids, digging trenches, killing bunnies, or barking at every animate object.

That said, here are some reasons why I love the breed, and some reasons why I’d shy away from getting one:

Border collie pros:

  • Smartest dogs around.
  • Athletic.
  • Loyal and trustworthy.
  • Fast.
  • Tons of energy!

Border collie cons:

  • Tons of energy!
  • Can actually be difficult to train if you’re not a very precise trainer. They’re so intelligent that they often won’t respond to simple but inconsistent training.
  • Very vocal.
  • Can be quite shy.
  • Must have a job to do or they’ll drive you and themselves crazy.

I think I just need a farm.

Border collie links: