Working Wednesday: The Border Collie

This week we are looking at the Border Collie - a dog which belongs in the pastoral group for the UK Kennel Club as it is a herding dog and has been for many centuries. The Collie is a fantastic working dog with incredible intelligence, speed, agility and an innate herding instinct.

Working Border Collies:

Collies are a farmers best friend as they spend most of their day out in fields with usually only their dog to keep them company. They are extremely intelligent dogs that have an amazing capacity to learn - this has been shown by some notable Border Collies like Rico, who understands more than 200 words!

Collies were bred to herd sheep/cattle or other cloven footed animals and a very handy tool for their owner as they do as much work as it would take 3 humans to do, in larger areas of land it would sometimes take 8 people to do the job.

When herding, they can take directions by using voice commands or by a whistle, the most common commands for a herding dog are:

  • "Come bye" - dog sent left around the flock (clockwise)

  • "Away" - dog sent right around the flock (ant-clockwise)

  • "Lie Down" - stop and lie down

  • "There" - stop and wait

  • "That'll do" - stop working and return to handler

  • "Come" - towards the handler

  • "Walk up" - move towards the stock

  • "Get back" - move away from the stock

There are also more commands and people choose to do them in their own way and may have different commands for different dogs, so that if they work more than one dog at a time then they don't get confused.

Sheepdogs compete in trials which are used to assess the dogs instinct to herd sheep in a controlled manner and under the instruction of the handler. There are four main objectives for the trial which are 'Outrun', 'Bring/Fetch', 'Balance' and 'Drive'. To learn more about sheepdog trials, click here.

Border Collie Fun Facts:

  • A Border Collie name 'Chaser' is thought to be one of the most intelligent dogs in the world.

  • They 'crouch' due to a space in-between their shoulder blades - this helps them herd with extreme precision.

  • They have other jobs as well as herding such as therapy dogs, search-and-rescue, agility and medical alert dogs.

  • Most Collies can be traced back to one dog - Old Hemp.

  • There are currently 50 colours of the breed recognised by the UK Kennel Club

History of the Breed

The place of origin for the Border Collie was on the Anglo-Scottish border, hence the name 'Border'... the 'Collie' part of the dog is an old Celtic word for 'useful' and the full term was first used together in 1915 when James Reid used it to distinguish between the Kennel Club's Collie (Scotch, Rough and Smooth) between this type of Collie.

Many Border Collies can be traced back in their lines down to the same dog - Old Hemp who lived from 1893 to 1901. Old Hemp began herding sheep at 6 weeks old.

"He displayed not only a preternatural talent for the work, but also a unique style, herding sheep much more quietly and less aggressively than other sheepdogs, yet without any loss of effectiveness."

His ability and temperament inspired the creation and codification of the Border Collie breed.

He is considered as the 'foundation sire' for Border Collies and has sired approximately over 200 puppies as his stud services were widely sought after. He had a medium sized build and a rough, dark coat which is still a very commonly seen trait in Border Collies from Old Hemp.

Memorial to Old Hemp and Adam Telfer

Old Hemp


Border Collies are very suited for agility as their speed and motivation is one of their biggest assets which is great as agility is all about speed. They are outstanding at agility as they're usually the ones with the most speed, grace and athletic ability. However sometimes speed can sometimes be a problem and if the handler doesn't keep up with the speed of the dog then he will just begin to do what he wants. There is a saying that most Border Collie owners know very well which is "you have to teach a Collie not to anticipate even before you teach him what he is anticipating" this proves that they are very head strong dogs who need an owner who is equally as fast to keep up with their dog.

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