The Border Collie

The top obedience dog in the US is OTCh Heelalong Chimney Sweep UDX, a multi-titled black-and-white Border Collie owned by Richard Guetzloff of Prescott, Arizona.

Closer to home are a dozen or more happy, hard-working Borders owned by members of Queen City and Kuliga and Hamilton dog training clubs.

Border Collies excel in agility as well as obedience competition, but their crowning achievement is in the sheep pasture where they gather the flock and, at the shepherd's direction, move it to greener pastures or to close confinement in paddock or barn.

Borders are the overachievers of the dog world, eager to please and gluttons for more work or play. The adage "Idle hands are the devil's playground" applies in spades to the Border Collie -- unless this dog is given a job to do, he can become destructive or neurotic or both.

Breed history

The Border Collie was born in the British Isles and grew to maturity in the border country of England and Scotland. There are several theories surrounding the derivation of the "Collie" portion of his name, but no doubt as to his purpose in life. Some historians claim that "colley" derives from a Gaelic word meaning something useful, some say it comes from "coalie," a word meaning black, and a third source trace the meaning from the name of a breed of Scottish sheep. But few would disagree that the Border Collie is the finest sheepherding dog, a marvelous competition dog, and a suitable if somewhat hyperactive pet for lively households.

The British Isles are home to about three dozen breeds of sheep. These animals had to be brought in from the fields periodically for shearing or driving to market or moved from one field to another as the seasons changed. Several breeds -- Smooth and Rough-coated Collies, Bearded Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Shetland Sheepdogs -- developed to do these tasks, but none is as fanatically dedicated as the Border.

Donald McCaig, farmer, Border Collie owner, and author, describes succinctly and colorfully the Border Collie style in Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men:
"A Border Collie moves livestock by controlled intimidation. He pushes them along with a threatening glare. This glare is called 'eye' and is probably related to the wolves' tactic of selecting a victim in the herd by catching its eye and asserting dominance before starting the attack run." Today the Border Collie is one of the few breeds that is still used for his traditional purpose in his homeland and in the US. The US Border Collie Club is dedicated to maintaining the breed's skill as a shepherd's dog; many club members depend on their dogs to tend the flocks and many train their dogs to compete in herding tests and trials to prove their prowess.

Border Collie as pet

The Border Collie temperament is well suited to life in the suburbs as long as there's plenty of work to do. No busywork for this dog, no occasional jogs around the block -- such may occupy his time and his body, but his mind will not be satisfied. The job must take into account that this is a dog possessed, driven as strongly as any corporate executive to fulfill his destiny.

He's a good watchdog, affectionate to his family and their friends, and quite intelligent. He'll play ball or Frisbee, herd the kids or cars or anything else, and learn more tricks than the average dog. (That's a Border Collie in the aluminum foil commercials, skateboarding to the recycling bin and sending her pups off to school with a well-packaged lunch.)

But skimp on the career opportunities and the Border Collie may become compulsively riveted on things with moving parts, things like analog clocks or dripping faucets, neighborhood cats, or the youth soccer team at the playground, and either stare fixedly for hours or try to coordinate the last great roundup. Left to his own devices, he may become an escape artist, all the better to chase cars, frolicking children, deer, or livestock, all without rancor but with the innate drive to herd. His compulsion can be the death of him if he runs into the street or chases and nips at children. Unlike some breeds that are active outside and quiet inside, the Border Collie can be a household busybody, into anything or everything to assuage his curiosity and his Type A personality.