top of page

The History of the Border Collie lies in the working collies used by shepherds in the Border counties of Scotland and England in the 18th and 19th Centuries. These were often powerful dogs, difficult to control and rough with stock.

The Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, English Shepherd, Kelpie and McNab are all cousins, descended from working collies possessing traits that particular breeders found desirable for their purposes.

The keen herding instinct and great power over sheep that working collies possessed were such useful assets that it was worth trying to find a milder-natured type to cross with them. A Northumbrian farmer, Adam Telfer, succeeded in finding the right blend of types in 1894. The Border Collie of today is descended from Telfer's dog, "Old Hemp". Not only various temperaments, but a variety of working styles and skills, were combined in Hemp to produce the Border Collie.

Many of the best Border Collies today can be traced back to a dog known as Old Hemp.

In 1915, James Reid, Secretary of the International Sheep Dog Society in the United Kingdom first used the term "Border Collie" to distinguish those dogs registered by the ISDS from the Kennel Club's "Collie," which originally came from the same working stock but had developed a different, standardized appearance following its introduction to the show ring in 1860.

Old Hemp

Old Hemp, a tri-colour dog, was born September 1893 and died May 1901. He was bred by Adam Telfer from Roy, a black and tan dog, and Meg, a black-coated, strong-eyed dog. Hemp was a quiet, powerful dog that sheep responded to easily. Many shepherds used him for stud and Hemp's working style became the border collie style.

Wiston Cap

Wiston Cap (b. 28 Sep. 1963) is the dog that the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS) badge portrays in the characteristic Border Collie herding pose. He was a popular stud dog in the history of the breed, and his bloodline can be seen in most bloodlines of the modern day collie. Bred by W. S. Hetherington and trained and handled by John Richardson, Cap was a biddable and good-natured dog. His bloodlines all trace back to the early registered dogs of the stud book, and to J. M. Wilson's Cap, whose name appears occurs sixteen times within seven generations in his pedigree. Wiston Cap sired three Supreme Champions and is grand-sire of three others, one of whom was E. W. Edwards' Bill, who won the championship twice.

Bred for hill conditions, the Border Collie is outstanding when it comes to working sheep. Able to perform a variety of tasks, he is born with instinct to "gather" the sheep to the shepherd, a trait that makes him most useful on the hill. A Border Collie's ability to control sheep is measured by the "eye" (the amount of concentration on sheep that the dog shows). Because they must often work far from their handlers, Border Collies must be intelligent and independent.

Border Collies can be taught to herd a variety of livestock. Many will naturally herd anything that moves; Ducks, Chickens, Sheep, Cattle, Bicycles, Motorcycles, Cats, Cars and Children. For this reason, Suburban and City dwelling Border Collie owners must be especially mindfull.

Natural versatility makes them excel in fields other than herding and sheepdog trials. Today you will see Border Collies winning Obedience, Agility, Flyball and Frisbee matches for their city and suburban owners.

Introduction to New Zealand and Australia

In the late 1890s James Lilico (1861?–1945) of Christchurch, New Zealand, imported a number of working dogs from the United Kingdom. These included Hindhope Jed, a black, tan and white bitch born in Hindhope, Scotland in 1895, as well as Maudie, Moss of Ancrum, Ness and Old Bob.

It is unclear whether Hindhope Jed was a descendant of Old Hemp. Born two years after him, she is mentioned in a "British Hunts and Huntsmen" article concerning a Mr John Elliot of Jedburgh:

Mr Elliot himself is well known for his breed of collies. His father supplied Noble to the late Queen Victoria and it was from our subject that the McLeod got Hindhope Jed, now the champion of New Zealand and Australia.

At the time of her departure to New Zealand, Hindhope Jed was already in pup to Captain, another of the then new "Border" strain. Hindhope Jed had won three trials in her native Scotland, and was considered to be the "best bitch to cross the equator."

In 1901 the King and Mcleod stud, created by Charles Beechworth King (b. 1855, Murrumbidgee, NSW), his brother and Alec McLeod at Canonbar, near Nyngan (north-west of Sydney), brought Hindhope Jed to Australia, where she enjoyed considerable success at sheep dog trials.


In general, border collies are medium-sized dogs without extreme physical characteristics and with a moderate amount of coat, which means not much hair will be shed. Their double coats vary from slick to lush, and come in many colours, but we will talk about that in more detail later...

Eye colour varies from deep brown to amber or blue, and occasionally eyes of differing colour occur. (This is usually seen with "merles"). The ears of the border collie are also variable — some have fully erect ears, some fully dropped ears, and others semi-erect ears (similar to those of the rough collie or sighthounds). Although working border collie handlers sometimes have superstitions about the appearance of their dogs (handlers may avoid mostly white dogs due to the unfounded idea that sheep will not respect a white or almost all white dog), in general a dog's appearance is considered to be irrelevant. It is considered much more useful to identify a working border collie by its attitude and ability than by its looks.

Dogs bred for showing are more homogeneous in appearance than working border collies, since to win in conformation showing they must conform closely to breed club standards that are specific on many points of the structure, coat and colour. Kennel clubs specify, for example, that the border collie must have a "keen and intelligent" expression, and that the preferred eye colour is dark brown. In deference to the dog's working origin, scars and broken teeth received in the line of duty are not to be counted against a border collie in the show ring.

Height at withers: Males from 19 to 22 in (48 to 56 cm), females from 18 to 21 in (46 to 53 cm). (See various breed standards for details.)


Border collies require daily physical exercise and mental stimulation.

Border collies are an intelligent breed. The breed has an instinctive desire to work closely and intensely with a human handler. Although the primary role of the border collie is that of the working stock dog, dogs of this breed are becoming increasingly popular as pets.

True to their working heritage, border collies make very demanding, energetic pets that are better off in households that can provide them with plenty of play and exercise with humans or other dogs.

Border collies are happiest with a job to do. However, a job to a border collie isn't necessarily working livestock. An activity such as Frisbee, chasing and retrieving a ball, or just simply playing chase will suffice.

As long as the border collie is in the herding/working position (crouched down, tail tucked between legs, eyes firmly fixed on the matter in hand) it considers it work.

A border collie's tail, based on position, shows the mindset the dog is in. A raised, wagging tail is called a "gay tail" by shepherds because it usually indicates the dog is excited and not concentrated on work. The tail lowered or tucked between the legs indicates the dog is focused and ready to listen/work.

Border collies are now also being used in showing, especially agility, where their speed and agility comes to good use.

Though they are common choice for household pets, border collies have attributes that makes them less suited for certain people. As with many working breeds, border collies can be motion-sensitive and they may chase vehicles occasionally.

Most Border collies are afraid of loud noises like thunder, fireworks, vacuum cleaners, etc. They can quickly associate the loud noises with the things that cause them harm.


The natural life span of the border collie is between 10 and 17 years, with an average lifespan of twelve years.The median longevities of breeds of similar size are usually 12 to 13 years.

Leading causes of death were cancer (23.6%), old age (17.9%) and cerebral vascular afflictions (9.4%).

Common health problems

Hip dysplasia, collie eye anomaly (CEA), and epilepsy are considered the primary genetic diseases of concern in the breed at this time.CEA is a congenital, inherited eye disease involving the retina, choroid, and sclera that sometimes affects border collies. In border collies, it is generally a mild disease and rarely significantly impairs vision. There is now a DNA test available for CEA and, through its use, breeders can ensure that they will not produce affected pups. There are different types of hip testing available including OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) and PennHip. Radiographs are taken and sent to these organizations to determine a dog's hip and elbow quality. The mutation responsible for TNS has been found in border collies in English working dogs, in show dogs that had originated in Australia and New Zealand, and in unrelated Australian working dogs indicating the gene is widespread and probably as old as the breed itself. TNS was identified by Jeremy Shearman in the laboratory of Dr. Alan Wilton of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales. There is no cure, but a DNA test is now available to detect carriers as well as affected dogs. Elbow dysplasia or osteochondritis, deafness, and hypothyroidism may also occur in the breed.

Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL) is a rare but serious disease that is limited to show border collies. NCL results in severe neurological impairment and early death; afflicted dogs rarely survive beyond two years of age. The mutation causing the form of the disease found in border collies was identified by Scott Melville in the laboratory of Dr. Alan Wilton of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales. There is no treatment or cure, but a DNA test is now available to detect carriers as well as affected dogs.

Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome or TNS, is a hereditary disease in which the bone marrow produces neutrophils (white cells) but is unable to effectively release them into the bloodstream. Affected puppies have an impaired immune system and will eventually die from infections they cannot fight. TNS has been found in border collies in English working dogs, in show dogs that had originated in Australian and New Zealand, and in unrelated Australian working dogs indicating the gene is widespread and probably as old as the breed itself. TNS was identified by Jeremy Shearman in the laboratory of Dr. Alan Wilton of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales. There is no cure, but a DNA test is now available to detect carriers as well as affected dogs.


Border collies are one of the most popular breeds for dog agility competitions. They also excel at competitive obedience, Canine Disc, flyball, tracking, and Sheepdog trials and herding events.

Livestock work

Working border collies can take direction by voice and whistle at long distances when herding.

Their great energy and herding instinct are still used to herd all kinds of animals, from the traditional sheep and cattle, to free range poultry, pigs, and ostriches. The border collie uses a direct stare at sheep, known as "the eye", to intimidate while herding.

The use of dogs for herding sheep makes good economic sense. In a typical pasture environment each trained sheepdog will do the work of three humans. In vast arid areas like the Australian Outback or the Karoo Escarpment, the number increases to five or more. Attempts to replace them with mechanical approaches to herding have only achieved a limited amount of success. Thus, stock handlers find trained dogs more reliable and economical.

Shepherds in the UK have taken the most critical elements of herding and incorporated them into a sheepdog trial. The first recorded sheepdog trials were held in Bala, North Wales, in 1873. These competitions enable farmers and shepherds to evaluate possible mates for their working dogs, but they have developed a sport aspect as well, with competitors from outside the farming community also taking part.

Dog sports

Border collies excel at several dog sports in addition to their success in herding trials. Because of the high instinct of herding, they are excellent at this sport. Herding instincts and train ability can be tested for when introduced to sheep or at noncompetitive instinct tests. Border collies exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in sheepdog trials and other herding events. They perform well at some higher jump heights at dog agility competitions, so much so that in England, competitions often include classes for ABC dogs, "Anything But Collies" . There are also many border collies competing in Flyball.

The border collie's speed, agility, and stamina have allowed them to dominate in dog activities like flyball and disc dog competitions. Their train ability has also given them a berth in dog dancing competitions.

Border collies have a highly developed sense of smell and with their high drive make excellent and easily motivated tracking dogs for Tracking trials. These trials simulate the finding of a lost person in a controlled situation where the performance of the dog can be evaluated, with titles awarded for successful dogs.

Search and Rescue

Because of their skills, border collies make excellent search and rescue dogs in lowland, mountain, and urban areas. They have been trained in air-scenting, ground-scenting and as cadaver dogs.

bottom of page