Choosing a Border Collie



While almost all Border Collie pups bred from good working parents will become useful herding dogs, not all Border Collies have been bred for working ability from working blood lines. The safest way to get a good herding dog is to buy a pup registered with a working registry such as the ABCA rather than from a show/sport registry such as the AKC.

There are many excellent Border Collies who earn their keep on ranches and farms, but puppy buyers without agricultural contacts can find their working dog by attending an open sheepdog or cattledog trial. To find a trial near you, check your local club or the following national organizations:

United States Border Collie Handlers Association
National Cattledog Association

These trials were designed by farmers interested in testing their dogs’ abilities against the toughest competition, and are open to any dog, any age or sex, any breed, registered or unregistered.  They are easy to enter, very difficult to win.

At your first trial you’ll see dogs with different working styles and levels of training.  It can be hard to separate the dog’s ability (heritable), training (partly heritable) and its handler’s skill.  Go to several trials and watch different dogs on different stock.  You can meet handlers, talk to them about their dogs and their breeding.  The working Border Collie community is friendly and most handlers will be helpful.

As you are evaluating dogs, pay attention to their personalities.  Some dogs are assertive and outgoing; others are not.  Some “hard” dogs require more control than “soft” dogs do.  A “soft” dog can be turned off or set back by too much discipline.  Ask yourself what kind of a dog handler will you be?

As you narrow the prospects, ask the breeders if you can visit the dogs at home.  In this more relaxed atmosphere, you’ll learn what you can expect in your puppy, what the breeder is breeding for, and why.  While no breeder can guarantee a pup’s working abilities, they can tell you how their pups have performed in the past.  They ought to be able to name satisfied puppy customers you could talk to.

Be comfortable enough with the breeder that you can later telephone with questions about what you should do when you and your young pup are having problems.

Because they’re not bred for appearance, Border Collies don’t all look alike.    They can vary in weight from 25 to 55 pounds, with coats that may be smooth, medium, or rough. Colors are typically black, black with tan, and reddish-brown, all usually with white markings, but merle, brindle and predominantly white Border Collies can also be found. Since appearance is not linked with working characteristics, choose a puppy whose appearance pleases you.

The parents are your best indication of what the pups will be like, so learn as much about them as you can.  The pup is likely to have traits from both parents that directly reflect their working style, personality, and strengths and weaknesses.  Watch both parents working, if you can, and ask yourself if they are able to do the type of work you need done, and in a way you would like to see it done.   If you like the sire but not the dam, keep on looking.  There are plenty of fine working dogs, so spend the time and study to find the one most suited to you.

If you are new to training border collies and herding, there are many training books and videos for purchase to help you prepare for what is ahead.  Also it’s invaluable to get personal help from a competent trainer.  Many give private lessons and clinics.  While the border collie works off instinct, you must learn how to channel  the instincts and control your dog.

You can find other helpful information about Border Collies at the US Border Collie Club web site.



Border Collies were designed to work long and hard in all sorts of weather.  They are high-energy dogs, intense and reactive to movement.  They are intelligent, but that can be a two-edged sword – they need attention and training to make sure their intelligence is directed into constructive channels, not destructive ones.  Before getting a Border Collie as a pet, look honestly at your lifestyle and the amount of time and effort you are willing to devote to your dog.  Border Collies can make fine pets for those who can give them the extensive time, training and exercise they require, but if you are unable to make that commitment of time and effort, you would be better off choosing another breed—or finding a less-demanding dog at your local animal shelter.