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For centuries in the UK, dogs have been used to help shepherds tend to large flocks of sheep. One particular type of dog was selectively shaped to undertake this job utilising its speed, agility, intelligence, stamina and manoeuvrability to help the shepherd in all weather and on all terrain. This is the dog we know today as the Border Collie. Very aware of their surroundings, the Border Collie has developed a unique and more importantly, a very successful range of techniques and behaviours which help control and herd sheep as the shepherd commands it to do.
As a breed, the Border Collie appears to be quite 'new'. It is rarely mentioned in text prior to the 19th Century when a type of dog appeared referred to as a 'Colley' and recognisable as the breed we know today. A notable dog around this time was named 'Old Hemp' who was photographed showing the typical appearance of a black and white Collie. A legend in his own lifetime, Old Hemp started sheep trailing aged one and never lost a trail from that day onwards. In his 8 years, he went on to be a successful stud dog and many pedigree Border Collies today can trace their lines back to him.
As the name suggests, it is accepted that Border Collies originated in the Scottish Borders and the breed is thought to have been descended from a combination of the dogs used by Vikings to round Reindeer, the Persian Sheepdog and the droving dogs used in England at the same time.
Average height to the withers: Males around 19" to 22â€œ, females from 18" to 21".
Average weights: between 14kg-20kg for males and 12kg-19kg for females.
Border Collies are generally medium-sized dogs, usually with a double coat which can vary from slick and fine to wavy and course. They come in many colours, although traditionally black and white with the white blaze, collar and legs is the most recognisable. Tricolour (black/tan/white or sable and white), red or chocolate and white, and red tricolour (red/tan/white) are also found, with other colours such as lilac, red and blue merle and brindle occur. On occasion, Border Collies may also have single-colour coats however, this is rarely seen.
The eye colour varies from deep brown to light amber, and occasionally eyes of differing colour occur, such as one or being blue. This is a characteristic, called hetrochromia, is either a lack or excess of melanin and is harmless. It is usually seen in Merle coloured Collies or Collies presenting the majority of their coat in white. The ears of the Border Collie can be carried erect or semi erect.
As Border Collies are generally bred for intelligence and ability to work, the general conformation can vary - any famer will tell you what determines a Border Collie is not what he looks like but what is in his head.
The working nature of Collies makes them a demanding dog to own as a pet, and one in which the owner must be someone who can invest time and energy in the dog and who likes to walk a lot! If the owner is prepared for this and understands the needs of their Border Collie, they will get a lot more out of their pet.
Border Collies were bred to be a working/ herding dog and this instinct to work is one which the domestic owner will neglect at their own peril; however, when their desire to work is acted on coupled with the correct training and stimulation, even in a domestic setting, Collies can thrive.
Often cited as being in the top 3 for high levels of intelligence in dogs breeds, Border Collies are famous for being high energy, high drive and high stamina dogs that require either a job or frequent exercise and varied mental stimulation. Without this, Collies can rapidly develop behavioural issues such as destructive and repetitive, stereotypical behaviours (for example, chewing, pacing and digging) to relieve their boredom. That said, it is these characteristics that can mould them into the 'canine super- athletes' of this world when this drive to work is mixed with their receptiveness to be trained. This has made Collies popular dogs for competitive sports such as agility and flyball where their natural speed and focus makes them ideal candidates.
Due to their highly strung nature, Collies are not always the ideal house pet, given that they may try to round everything up in sight, including children, other pets and family members. Also known as the 'eye', this herding instinct is so innate that it can at times be dangerous to themselves and others, for example they may try to round up moving vehicles or may nip at or barge (sometimes at the shoulder of other animals and smaller children), the things they are trying to round up. This can be problematic especially with younger children who may not be able to understand what is happening and react in a way which serves to make the dog more excited. With a combination of early socialisation and correct motivation and training, the risk to children and other pets can be mitigated; however, they are not always the best choice for a family pet.
Border Collies live between 10-17 years generally, with an average life span of around 12 years. Considered to be a hardy and healthy breed, the Collie does not suffer from as many genetic ailments as some other breeds but there are some of which prospective owners should be aware.
Hip Dysplasia and Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) are both conditions which can commonly affect Collies.
CEA is an inherited and congenital disease of the eye which affects certain parts of the eye. It is usually a mild disease that does not affect them to any disadvantage, however, breeders of Border Collies can now utilise a DNA test to ensure their dogs do not produce any pups which carry the disease.
Hip Dysplasia (HD) can affect all breeds of dog but is more prevalent in some breeds than others. It is caused by the abnormal formation of the hip ball and socket joint. Normally the ball would form a pivot point in the socket; however, some dogs are born with a genetic predisposition for HD. This means that at birth their hips are normal but as they grow, the hip joint does not grow correctly and as a result the ball no longer fits as it should. After the age of a year or so, the owner can opt to have their dog 'hip scored'. Hip scoring is a method used by vets to determine the degree of HD in dogs and involves the vet assessing a number of criteria during a diagnostic examination. If the dog is then found to have a high probability of HD, remedial action can be taken.
Collies can also be more prone than other breeds to Epilepsy; however, this is usually something which can be controlled, under veterinary advice.
Border Collies can often be allergic to fleas and as a result, proper care of its coat and skin is paramount. Regular brushing will not only keep the coat is tip top condition, but will also give you the chance to look for signs of flea infestation. Do not over shampoo and only use when necessary.
As mentioned previously, it is imperative this breed is provided with enough and suitable exercise and mental stimulation because, ultimately a bored Border Collie will not make a good pet.