The Breed History
Scotland and Northern England were the birthplaces of this breed. Many varieties of collies including Scotch Collie, Welsh Sheepdog, and Highland Collies are intermingled in the history of this region and likely contributed to the bloodlines of the Border Collie. This breed received full recognition status in 1995. It is thought to have arisen in the 1700s.
Breeding for Function
Developed primarily for sheep herding but also used for cattle herding, these dogs are often thought to be the "top dog" of sheep herding breeds. They were developed as gatherers not drivers, but they can be trained to do the latter also. Trainability, speed, agility, and livestock sense were key features bred into these dogs. They were also bred to love their work, and so will willingly work all day. So strong is the emphasis on breed functionality that the registries discourage showing for conformation only. Border Collies also excel at obedience and tracking and agility. Other jobs that they excel at include search and rescue, narcotics and bomb sniffing, and guide dog and assistance work.
Height at Withers: female 18-21" (45.5-53 cm), male 19-22" (48-56 cm).
Weight: females 27-42 lb (12-19 kg), males 30-45 lb (13.5-20.5 kg).
Coat: Very dense smooth, rough, or medium coats are found; rough and smooth are the only permitted forms in the AKC standard. Colors include black and tan, tri-color, merle, sable, and black, usually with white markings. Solid white is not accepted. These dogs are average shedders, and should be brushed very regularly. The dense undercoat sheds out in Spring.
Longevity: 12-15 years.
Points of Conformation: The Physical Characteristics of the Border Collie are not considered a high priority, except how they contribute to their ability to work. These dogs are medium sized, and they possess a very alert expression. Their skull is broad with a moderate stop. Ears are set up and semi-erect, oval eyes are dark brown usually, though blue is acceptable in the merle, and their nose is black. A moderately arched long neck, level topline, deep thorax and well-sprung ribs characterize these dogs. The tail reaches to at least their tarsus, and though usually carried low, may be held level when excited. The body is a bit longer than high and dewclaws may be removed. Compact feet, straight limbs, and a smooth, long, low, way of going is characteristic.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported traits include: If kept as a pet, activities such as obedience or agility are recommended to keep them challenged. They do not do well as sedentary house pets or backyard dogs because they need plenty of mental stimulation, lots of exercise, and human fellowship. They are easy to train, and love to please. If left on their own too much, they may become bored and destructive. They should not be allowed to run off-leash unless working since they may chase. They should be properly socialized as puppies and may be snappy around children as they try to herd them. They make good alert dogs for home or farm.
Sound sensitivity is reported at a frequency of 28%, and nervousness 13% in the 2007 BCSA Health Survey.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Merle Coat Color: Caused by a dominant mutation in the SILV gene. Breeding two merle dogs together should be avoided, as homozygous dogs can be born with multiple defects, including blindness, deafness, and heart anomalies.
MDR1 Mutation (Ivermectin/Drug Toxicity): Autosomal recessive disorder in the MDR1 gene allows high CNS drug levels of ivermectin, doramectin, loperamide, vincristine, moxidectin, and other drugs. Causes neurological signs, including tremors, seizures, and coma. A genetic test is available, showing 0.3% affected and 1.3% carrier. In Germany, 0.3% test homozygous affected, and 0.6% test as carriers.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 10.9% affected. Reported at a frequency of 7.1% in the 2007 BCSA Health Survey.
Collie Eye Anomaly/Choroidal Hypoplasia/Coloboma (CEA/CH): Autosomal recessive disorder of eye development that can lead to retinal detachment and blindness. A genetic test is available through Optigen, that reports 2% of Border Collies test as affected, and 28% test as carriers. Worldwide test results on the Border Collie Health website reports 0.7% affected and 24.8% carrier. Reported 0.7% affected in Switzerland. Reported in 1.64% of Border Collies CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Border Collie with CH.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 1.4% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 1.1% affected.
Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS, Static Neutropenia): Congenital autosomal recessive disorder causing mature neutrophils to become trapped in the bone marrow. Affected pups have recurrent infections and fail to thrive. Reported in Border Collies worldwide. This disorder is distinct from cyclic neutropenia. Worldwide test results on the Border Collie Health website reports 0.8% affected and 19.2% carrier. A linked marker genetic test is available.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): X-linked recessive mode of inheritance. Age of onset 1-2 years of age. Reported in 0.45% of Border Collies CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Border Collie with PRA. The causative mutation is not known, and a genetic test is not available. There may be more than one form of PRA in the breed.
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL): Autosomal recessive, degenerative progressive neurological disease causing hyperactivity and later aggression, gait abnormalities, blindness and dementia. Onset between 16 months and 2 years of age. Dogs do not survive more than 6 months from the onset of clinical signs. Worldwide test results on the Border Collie Health website reports 2.6% carriers. A genetic test is available.
Cobalamin Malabsorption (Methylmalonic Aciduria): Autosomal recessive disorder presenting with chronic, nonregenerative anemia, and methylmalonic aciduria. The disorder responds to parenteral vitamin B12 therapy, and affected animals have a good prognosis with treatment. A phenotypic urine test is available.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 11.2% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%). Reported at a frequency of 2.9% in the 2007 BCSA Health Survey.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 6.31% of Border Collies CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Epilepsy (Inherited Seizures): Studies show a strong founder effect with a major recessive mode of inheritance. Epilepsy in the Border Collie often has a severe clinical course, with dogs who first seizure under 2 years of age having a diminished life expectancy. Cluster seizures and status epilepticus occur at a higher frequency in the breed. Up to 71% of Border Collies can show anticonvulsant resistance. Dorn reports an 8.79x odds ratio of developing epileptic seizures versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 3.3% in the 2007 BCSA Health Survey.
Lens Luxation: Breed predisposition identified in the Border Collie. Age of onset 3-5 years of age. Often progresses to secondary glaucoma. CERF does not recommend breeding any Border Collie with lens luxation.
Deafness: Congenital deafness can be unilateral or bilateral. Diagnosed by BAER testing. OFA reports 0.6% of Border Collies BAER test as affected. A study in the United Kingdom showed 2.0% unilaterally deaf, and 0.4% bilaterally deaf. Correlated with blue eyes, with white head pigmentation, and/or the merle gene. In a multi-breed study; for single merles (Mm), 2.7% were unilaterally deaf and 0.9% were bilaterally deaf. For double merles (MM), 10% were unilaterally deaf and 15% were bilaterally deaf.
Portosystemic Shunt (PSS, Liver Shunt): Abnormal blood vessels connecting the systemic and portal blood flow. Causes stunting, abnormal behavior and possible seizures. Seen at a higher prevalence in the breed compared to other breeds. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder/Stifle: Age of onset of lameness usually 4-7 months of age. Male predominance. One study identified three affected out of five Border Collie littermates. Reported 15.0x odds ratio for shoulder OCD versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 1.9% in the 2007 BCSA Health Survey. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Cataracts: Anterior or posterior punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Reported in 1.34% of Border Collies presented to veterinary teaching hospitals. Identified in 1.23% of Border Collies CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Border Collie with a cataract.
Diabetes Mellitus: Caused by a lack of insulin production by the pancreas. Controlled by insulin injections, diet, and glucose monitoring. Age of onset 6-12 years. A Swedish study showed an increased incidence in the breed, with the majority of affected Border Collies being female. Unknown mode of inheritance.37 Separation Anxiety: The breed may have a tendency towards separation anxiety.
Retinal Dysplasia: Focal folds and geographic retinal dysplasia are seen in the breed. Dogs with the geographic form should not be bred. Identified in 0.75% of Border Collies CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cerebellar Abiotrophy (CA, Ataxia): Identified in multiple siblings of Border Collies presenting with signs of progressive ataxia and hypermetria beginning at 6-8 weeks of age. Pathology demonstrates extensive loss of the cerebellar granular cell layer, with relative sparing of Purkinje cells. Presumptive autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.
Ciliary Dyskenesia, Corneal Dystrophy, Cyclic Hematopoiesis, Malignant Hyperthermia, Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, Pannus, Patent Ductus Arteriosis, and Pelger-Huet Anomaly are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Sensory and Motor Neuropathy: A 5-month-old female Border Collie was evaluated because of progressive hind limb ataxia. Sensory nerve conduction velocity was absent in the tibial, common peroneal, and radial nerves and was decreased in the ulnar nerve; motor nerve conduction velocity was decreased in the tibial, common peroneal, and ulnar nerves. Pathology included nerve fiber depletion and axonal degeneration in remaining fibers. A littermate was similarly affected. In another study, two Border Collie littermates were diagnosed with a purely sensory distal peripheral neuropathy.
Superficial Necrolytic Dermatitis (Hepatocutaneous Syndrome): Two Border Collies were identified in a study of 36 dogs with diagnoses of superficial necrolytic dermatitis, suggesting a breed prevalence. Affected dogs present with erythema, crusting, exudation, ulceration and alopecia involving footpads, peri-ocular or peri-oral regions, anal-genital regions, and pressure points on the trunk and limbs. Average age of presentation is 10 years. Diagnosis is by biopsy.
Aortic Elastin Dysplasia (Dissecting Hematoma): Two cases of sudden death in a Border Collie and a Border Collie cross. Pathological findings were pericardial tamponade with dissection of the ascending aorta, and unusual splitting of the elastin within the wall of the aorta, as described in Marfan syndrome.
Nemaline Rod Myopathy: Case study of a 10 month old Border Collie with exercise intolerance, abnormal electromyography, and the presence of nemaline rods in fresh, frozen, and glutaraldehydefixed biopsies from proximal appendicular limb muscles.
Cervical Syringomyelia and Hydrocephalus with Scoliosis: Case study of a 6-month-old female Border Collie with a 1-month history of progressive curvature of the cervical spine. Suboccipital craniotomy and laminectomy of the first cervical vertebra were performed, improved the scoliosis and syringomyelia.
Myasthenia Gravis and Dysautonomia: A two year old male intact border collie with diarrhea, coughing, vomiting and stranguria had megaoesophagus, flaccid bladder, poor pupillary light reflexes, an absent gag reflex, poor anal tone, and aspiration pneumonia. Testing revealed coexisting autoimmune myasthenia gravis and dysautonomia.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for Collie Eye Anomaly/Choroidal Hypoplasia is available from Optigen. (Recommended for breeding dogs)
Direct test for Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL) is available from Optigen and the Animal Health Trust.
Direct test for MDR1 Mutation is available from Washington State Univ. vetmed.wsu.edu/depts-VCPL/test.aspx. (Recommended for all dogs) Direct tests for black, brown (red) and true red coat colors, and black and brown nose are available from VetGen and HealthGene. Linked marker test for Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS) is available from University of New South Wales bordercollie.org.au/pdf/TNSsamplinginternational.pdf Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs, CERF eye examination (annually until age 7), and participation in the CHIC DNA repository. Optional tests include elbow and shoulder radiographs, thyroid profile including autoantibodies, BAER test for deafness, cardiac evaluation, and gene tests for CEA/CH, NCL, and TNS. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend patella evaluation.
Urine test for Methylmalonic Aciduria is available from PennGen.
- Breed name synonyms: BC
- Registries: AKC, CKC, UKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 53 (2,104 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Border Collie Society of America: bordercolliesociety.com
American Border Collie Association: americanbordercollie.org
United States Border Collie Club (working collies): bordercollie.org
United States Border Collie Handlers Association: usbcha.com
Canadian Border Collie Association: canadianbordercollies.org
Border Collie Club of Great Britain: bordercollieclub.com
Border Collie Health: bordercolliehealth.com
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