Similarities and differences between the Border Collie and the Australian Cattle Dog

Similarities and differences between the Border Collie and the Australian Cattle Dog

The Border Collie and the Australian Cattle Dog are both livestock herding dogs with a great many traits in common, for all that they originate from literally opposite sides of the world!

Both breeds of dog were bred and trained for their superior intelligence and skills at herding livestock such as sheep and cattle, and both breeds have bags of energy, lots of stamina, and natural herding skills. While both breeds of dog are popular as pets both in the UK, Australia and worldwide, they can both be challenging to keep successfully and happily within the domestic home, due to their natural instincts for herding and their high energy levels! In order to manage either a Border Collie or an Australian Cattle Dog, you will need to provide clear training, allow for lots of time spent outside and have a very active lifestyle!

If you are not sure about how the Border Collie and the Australian Cattle Dog differ in terms of their traits and care requirements, this article will explain the basics for you. Read on to learn more!

The Border Collie

The Border Collie hails from the Scottish borders, and during the 1800’s, sheep farmers in the region began to deliberately combine the most desirable and useful traits of the various different collie and herding dog types in the area to produce the perfect dog for herding sheep. And so, the Border Collie was born, a dog with superior herding instincts, a very quick turn of speed and an intelligence rating that is second to none. Bright, alert, cheerful and energetic, the Border Collie can happily work outside all day in all weathers, and is capable of working independently when outside of the range of their handler’s commands too.

The Border Collie is a Kennel Club registered dog breed, and while some dogs are bred mainly for the purpose of improving conformation, colour patterns and desirable breed traits for showing, many Border Collie strains are used solely for working purposes, and are still very widely used as sheep herding dogs.

The Australian Cattle Dog

Around the same time that the Border Collie was first deliberately bred from other local collie breeds and types, on the other side of the world, the early settlers in Australia found themselves faced with the challenge of breeding and training a dog that was suited to cattle herding in Australia’s unique outback environment.

With its rough terrain and often inhospitable climate, this proved to be a real challenge, and the work and selective breeding that ultimately produced the Australian Cattle dog took around a century to get just right! Due to the various different breeding programmes that were ongoing across Australia and the great many different dog breeds that contributed to the Australian Cattle Dog’s creation, there is still some controversy and uncertainty as to the full genetic make up of the breed. Some of the breeds that are known to have contributed to the Australian Cattle Dog’s creation include the Dalmatian, the Dingo, the Highland Collie and the Kelpie. There is also potentially a little Bull Terrier within the breed as well.

The Australian Cattle Dog as a breed in its own right first began to receive official recognition in the 1900’s.

What do these two breeds have in common with each other?

There are definitely a great many similarities between these two geographically remote breeds, and the chances are that they share some common ancestry way back in the early days of their creation too.

The two breeds are similarly sized, both falling within the medium size category and coming to around 20” tall at the shoulder. They are both incredibly high-energy breeds that rarely tire out, and are both at the top of the scale in the Coren ranking of canine intelligence, with the Border Collie coming in first, and the Australian Cattle Dog in tenth place (out of 110 breeds in total).

They can also both be obsessive, headstrong, hyperactive and quick to pick up bad habits when bored! In order to keep either breed within a domestic home, they require clear, unambiguous training and handling by an experienced owner, and plenty of chances to run around and work off their energy.

In terms of health and longevity, both breeds tend to be relatively long-lived and healthy, but both breeds may also be prone to genetically inherited health conditions including hip dysplasia and certain inherited eye anomalies.

The differences between the two breeds

The core difference between the Australian Cattle Dog and the Border Collie is in their herding style and natural herding drive, which manifests itself rather differently in each breed. Cattle and sheep each move and respond rather differently to herding and driving, and so the herding styles of the two dog breeds evolved rather differently.

The Border Collie responds to hand signals and often complex whistle commands by their handler, and works at high-speed around the sheep that they are herding in concentric circles. The Australian Cattle Dog, however, herds in what is known as a “heeler” style, as they drive cattle forwards from the rear of the herd by nipping at their heels.

Both breeds are intelligent and switched-on enough to be able to herd independently and keep working when out of range of their master’s commands.



Pets for studWanted pets

Accessories & services

Knowledge hub


Support & safety portal
Pets for saleAll Pets for sale